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Where the streets have no name (U2) (Ireland)
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Each night before the song 'Where The Streets Have No Name', Bono recited a prayer from Eugene Peterson, it went: "What can I give back to God for the blessings he poured out on me. What can I give back to God for the blessings he poured out on me. I lift high the cup of salvation as a toast to our Father, to follow through on a promise I made to you from the heart."

So what is this song really talking about? See under the tab Meaning to find out.

"Where the Streets Have No Name" was praised by critics and became a commercial success, peaking at number thirteen in the US, number fourteen in Canada, number ten in the Netherlands, and number four in the United Kingdom. The song has become one of the band's most popular songs and has remained a staple of the their live act since the song debuted in 1987 on The Joshua Tree Tour.

What can I give back to God for the blessings he poured out on me?
What can I give back to God for the blessings he poured out on me?
Not with time but with salvation, here's a toast to our Father, following through on a promise I made to Him from the heart.

I want to run, I want to hide
I want to tear down the walls that hold me tonight
I want to reach out and touch the flame
Where the streets have no name

I want to feel sunlight on my face
I see the dust cloud disappear without a trace
I want to dance, dance, dance in the dirty rain
Where the streets have no name
Where the streets have no name
Where the streets have no name

We're still building, then burning down love
Burning down love
And when I go there I go there with you
It's all I can do

The city's a flood and our love turns to rust
We're beaten and blown by the wind, trampled in dust
I'll show you a place with no sorrow, there's no shame

Where the streets have no name
Where the streets have no name
Where the streets have no name

Still we're building, then burning down love
Burning down love
And when I go there, I go there with you
It's all I can do

Where the streets have no name
Where the streets have no name
Still we're building, then burning down love
Burning down love
And when I go there, I go there with you
It's all I can do
It's all we can do
This is all we can do

Goodnight, God bless you.

GIVE BACK= Return something.
If I give you X and then you give it back to me, you are returning X to me. We very often use BACK to indicate that the action goes back to its origin. In this case, the object goes back to its first owner.

BLESSINGS= Good things (especially things that come from God).

POURED OUT= Poured. To pour is to make a liquid flow from a container. It is usually used metaphorically to suggest abundance (to pour = to rain heavily), so to pour blessings on somebody is to give them many many blessings (like a heavy rain of good things coming from heaven down on you). The phrasal verb POUR OUT expresses the idea of spilling liquid down from a cup or bottle, so here we get the image of God pouring out blessings from is cup of grace (an image often found in the Bible). This image of the cup echoes again next in the expression A TOAST.

A TOAST= (countable) The act of raising a glass and drinking in honour of or to the health of a person or thing. To make a toast to someone can also mean metaphorically to do or say something in honour of a person. When we make a toast we can say:
- To John.
- Here's to John.
- (Here's) a toast to John.

(don't confuse with the uncountable word "toast", which means "toasted bread", as in "I have toast for breakfast, four pieces of toast")

FOLLOW THROUGH= To carry an act, project, or intention to completion. So if he is following through that toast "on a promise", it means that he is making that toast to fulfil a promise he made to God. He probably made a promise to God that he'd have a metaphorical toast to him every time he sang this song. The original prayer comes from Eugene Peterson, so his situation was obviously different (maybe Eugene made a promise to have a real toast to God before his meals so as not to forget how lucky he was, how blessed he was).

WANT TO= Pronounced /wɒnə/ In BrE we sometimes find this pronunciation of "want to", where the Ts disappear. In AmE this short pronunciation is the usual one. You will find it many times in this song. In informal writing you will see this spelled as WANNA. It may also be "want a":
- I wanna go with you = I want to go with you
- D'you wanna book? = Do you want a book

THAT HOLD ME TONIGHT= This live version is a little bit different from the original studio version. A few changes are made, and for example, this phrase here is "that hold me inside" in the original version.

REACH OUT= Move your hand forwards in order to touch or grab something.

TOUCH THE FLAME= What fire is Bono talking about here? Why does he want to touch it? If the interpretation under the tab "Meaning" makes sense, this flame here is "God", an image drawn from Revelation 21:23 "the glory of God is its light, and the Lamb [Jesus] is the city’s lamp". Also, God appears many times in the Bible under the image of a fire (for example the column of fire guiding Israel out of Egypt). The flame may also be an image of the Holy Spirit, representing in this case God's wisdom and spiritual illumination (as the tongues of fire from Pentecostest). In any case, what Bono is talking about here is that he wants to reach God's light.

SUNLIGHT= The light from the sun.

THE DUST CLOUD= If this is a reference to the Book of Revelation, then the dust cloud that disappears is the armies from the past battle between good and evil.

WITHOUT A TRACE= Completely. A trace is a visible mark or evidence left by someone or something, so if something disappears without a trace, it disappears completely, not even a small mark is left.

I WANT TO DANCE IN THE DIRTY RAIN= The original line in the studio version says "I want to get shelter from the poisoned rain", meaning that ideal city (the city where the streets have no name) is like a shelter that will protect you from anything evil and bad (or even literally from pollution). But in this improvised live version Bono refers to the joy of victory (from the battle suggested in the previous line).

WHERE THE STREETS HAVE NO NAME= (See the tab Meaning to understand what Bono is talking about). In English we can use NOT to negate a verb and NO to negate a noun:
- I am not a doctor
- I have no friends

When the verb HAVE means "to possess", it is used as a normal verb (negative with "don't") or as a special verb with "got" (no "don't" used), but it is not often used as a special verb without "got":
- (normal) I have a house, I don't have a car
- (special with got) I've got a house, I haven't got a car.
- (special without got, not common) I've a house, I haven't a car = I have no car

WE ARE STILL BULIDING, THEN BURNING DOWN LOVE= To burn down is to destroy (by fire). So if we are building love and then burning it down, it means that we sometimes do things correctly and sometimes we do things wrong, so our society is not really advancing to perfection (or at least not fast enough)

FLOOD= /flʌd/ A flood is when everything (or a big part of it) is covered by water, for example because it rained too much and the river overflows.

TURNS TO= Becomes.

RUST= Metals rust when combined with water or damp air and they deteriorate. When iron rusts, it gets a red cover, when silver rusts it turns black, when copper rusts it turns green, when your love (your English or any other ability) rusts, it gets more difficult to use because if you don't speak English for a long time, it gets rusty and you find it much more difficult to speak it because you forgot many things. If your love gets rusty, your ability to love deteriorates, but if it "turns to rust" then all of it is rust, so now it's useless, you can't love.

BEATEN= (beat-beat-beaten) To beat is to hit or strike repeatedly.

TRAMPLED= To beat down with the feet so as to crush, bruise, or destroy. For example, if a group of horses run over you, they trample you and you are badly hurt, and of course, you are "trampled in dust", because the passing horses (or the strong wind) produce a dust cloud when passing by.

SORROW= Sadness.

GOD BLESS YOU= This verb is in the subjunctive form, so it is expressing a wish or a hope, not a present action (in that case we would use the –S for the third person singular in the present and say "God blesses you"). The subjunctive form has largely disappeared in modern English, especially in the present, but we still use it commonly when talking about God and what we wish he did:
- God save the king = I want God to protect the king.
- God bless you = I want Got to give you good things.
- God help me = I desire God's help. (compare to "God helps me" = God usually do things for me)
In modern English, this usage of the subjunctive form is more often formed with the modal verb MAY:
- God bless you = May God bless you
- May you have a nice day = I wish you a nice day

Here we'll transcribe some interpretations from different people. Let's start with Bono's own interpretation: "Where the Streets Have No Name is more like the U2 of old than any of the other songs on the LP, because it's a sketch - I was just trying to sketch a location, maybe a spiritual location, maybe a romantic location. I was trying to sketch a feeling. I often feel very claustrophobic in a city, a feeling of wanting to break out of that city and a feeling of wanting to go somewhere where the values of the city and the values of our society don't hold you down. An interesting story that someone told me once is that in Belfast, by what street someone lives on you can tell not only their religion but tell how much money they're making - literally by which side of the road they live on, because the further up the hill the more expensive the houses become. That said something to me, and so I started writing about a place where the streets have no name."
- Bono

I've always thought of this song as a metaphor for heaven, especially when Christian band MercyMe performed it on tour. I understood it to be talking about a fallen world and the glorious place we'll go after we leave. I bought the MercyMe DVD and they say something to the effect of "People always ask us what our favorite song about heaven is. And 'I Can Only Imagine' will always have a special place in our hearts. But our favorite song talks about a place where all the honor and all the glory and all the recognition will go to the Creator of the Universe. You won't see George Washington Avenue or Abe Licoln Road. All of the honor will go to God where the streets have no name."
- Sara, Quinton, OK

This song is about being hopeful for a better society, a place of peace and love. He feels suffocating in this imperfect world, he wants to run, hide and tear down the walls that hold him inside to go to that wonderful place where the streets have no name. But the song is also an invitation to join him, because he can't do this alone "when I go there, I go there with you".

In my opinion, this line is of great importance because it clarifies what he is really talking about. Many people think this song is about heaven; Bono doesn't explicitly say (he prefers to leave it more open to personal interpretation) but he implicitly admits it: he talks about a perfect place where one can finally be happy and he usually prays at the beginning of this song, so that place he's talking about must have a religious significance, and being Bono a born again Christian, that place has to be heaven. Or has it?

If it's heaven what Bono is talking about, then the line "when I go there, I go there with you" is an invitation to die with him, and the general message of the song would be something like "I can't stand this horrible world anymore so I want to die to go to heaven and escape all this, would you join me?". Well, I don't think that's the case, it would not be consistent with Bono's faith. One thing is to long for heaven, like Saint Teresa of Avila when she said "I live without living in myself, and in such a way I hope, I die because I do not die". Saint Teresa was longing for heaven, but Bono's invitation would be a call to suicide, and that is very anti-Christian, so that interpretation would not be correct.

Bono is not talking about escaping or dying and inviting people to die, he's inviting people to build heaven on earth. The heaven he's talking about is what Jesus calls "The Kingdom of God" (also under the euphemism "the Kingdom of Heaven"), which is a kingdom of peace and love that Christians are encouraged to build here on earth. That is not an easy task, considering how imperfect humans are, but we must work for it, because the kingdom is "like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches." (Matt 13:31-32) and the  Book of Revelation promises that one day that Kingdom will be completed in "the New Jerusalem" (Rev 21), and this is some of the things the Bible says about that future society:

"I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb [=Jesus] are the city’s temple.  The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, because the glory of God is its light, and the Lamb is the city’s lamp*.  By its light the people of the world will walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.  The city’s gates will never be shut on any day, because there is no night there.  The glory and the honour of the nations will be brought into it.  Nothing unclean and no one who does shameful things or tells lies will ever go into it." (Rev 21:22-27)

This city which doesn't need a temple or the sun or the moon or gates to protect it, doesn't need a name for its streets either, because the distinctions are ended. So the idea of streets names marking distinctions in Ireland's society lead Bono to think of that other perfect city with no distinctions or conflicts, a city which is our duty to build every day, and what Bono is doing is inviting everybody to join him there, not to escape or die, but to build with him that New Jerusalem we're all longing for.

*this is "the flame" Bono wants to touch in his song.


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