In 1986, Greg Carrol, a roadie and good mate of U2's was killed whilst running an errand for Bono on his Harley. Greg was a Maori (native of New Zealand) and One Tree Hill, a hill in Auckland, NZ, was of special cultural significance to him. U2 flew out for the funeral and wrote the song in memory of him. (check out the dedication on the sleeve of the Joshua Tree album) The song was released in NZ as a single with TV New Zealand creating a video for it. The clip consists of pictures of Greg, U2, the funeral and OTH. A cool song. It may have deaper messages and themes, but on the surface it's a song in the memory of Greg.
Tom Roberton tomiconz.co.nz (contributed before the 20:th of February 1998)
This song is a brilliant poetic attempt at the intellectualization of grief: it combines the profoundly private with the universal, the Biblical with the Post-Modern, the common with the epic. The song's imagery (representation through language of sensory impressions) is vivid and very accessible; it describes the universal discomfort of being human. The natural elements (the sun, the moon, enduring chill, day, and night, etc) are familiar to all, so they effectively communicate states of consciousness. Grief, for example, is blinding, like the sun which leaves no shadow. The powerful sound symbolism in scars carved (with sharp painful associations) is contrasted with the soothing image of the river rolling to the sea, which evokes the mythical river Lethe, the river of oblivion, of pain relieved by time. The repetition of the river image inverts the Lethe notion to an apocalyptic vision of a river of innocent blood, which is congruous with the Biblical allusion to the totemic crime of fratricide of Cain and Abel in his brother's blood still cries from the ground. This chilling image introduces the culmination of the song in the theme of Judgment Day, when the final Justice will be done onto all. Interestingly, Bono does not say he is looking forward to seeing Justice prevail (although this is presumed). What he really wishes for is to see his friend alive one more time, whatever the circumstances. This detail returns the song to the theme of private human grief and the ultimate pain of loss. The philosophical last lines convey a wish for comfort, for release from the unbearable, even for oblivion. He takes comfort in the thought that all of our lifetimes run together like a river, joining the sea of eternity.
Anastasia Gvozdikova gvozdikyahoo.com ( 7:th of February 1999)
At U2.com there is a short description of this song and the story behind it. Go to the "Singles" section and look for the single with the same name as the song: (I haven't added the text here since I have a policy of not copy or duplicating other people's books or websites, and then there is the issue of copyright, which is something I respect.)
The song is named after the highest volcanic hill in Auckland and was dedicated to Greg Carroll, who had become Bono's personal assistant after the September 1984 concerts in Auckland. Carroll was killed in a motorcycle accident and Bono and his wife Ali, Larry and his girlfriend Anne, and crew members Joe O'Herlihy and Steve Iredale attended Carroll's funeral in Wanganui, New Zealand on July 10, 1986. The lyrics Jara sang his song a weapon, in the hands of love / You know his blood still cries from the ground referred to the Chilean folk singer/songwriter Victor Jara. When dictator Pinochet overthrew the government, Jara was tortured by having both his hands cut off and made to play the guitar while he bled to death.
Thanks to Faethin (chinolouhotmail.com) for pointing it out.
Jonas Steverud (Maintainer of U2MoL) (12:th of December 2003)
I would simply like to add a comment about when Bono expects to see his friend again. In one of the most chilling lines from the song I'll see you again when the stars fall from the sky, and the moon turns red over one tree hill, he is clearly referecing the prophetic vision of the end of the great tribulation. Indeed, The stars shall fall from the heavens and The moon shall be as red as blood, as written by John in the book of Revelation. Bono expects to see him again on the day of judgement.
Jacob Drollinger jdroli1070yahoo.com (19:th of January 2004)
This song is one of the suite of death as The Edge has called them. The other two are Exit and Mothers of Disappeared.
Jonas Steverud (Maintainer of U2MoL) (5:th of November 2004)
Bono was not speaking of Cain and Able in One Tree Hill, rather as the verse states:
And in our world a heart of darkness
A firezone where poets speak their hearts
Then bleed for it
Jara sang his song a weapon
In the hands of love
You know his blood still cries from the ground
Is not about any biblical reference but rather a verse about Victor Jara (1923?-1973). Jara was an influencial musical force in Chile during the Allende era. He was an outspoken critic of the government. He sang his songs as a weapon against the tyranny and in 1973 was rounded up in a Chilean Stadium with hundreds of others and was tortured and killed. The reference to the hands of love refer to the fact that the Chilean torturers first broke his hands and taunted him to play his guitar and sing. It was reported that he stood up and sang a verse from one of his songs in defiance and was killed by gunfire. He was buried in a mass grave, hence his blood still cries from the ground. Everything I say may be substantiated by a simple google search of Victor Jara, an inspiration to us all.
Steve Sukel spsesq90aol.com (9:th of September 2005)
The geography of One Tree Hill also helps some with the song. The wind up there can give you the "chill" the song refers to, and the sun can be unrelenting on a bright day, particularly considering the ozone problems that they have in New Zealand. Most importantly, you can see the way that local rivers and streams literally "run into the sea." The song's imagery was much more real for me after actually visiting the spot.
Caleb Borchers caborchersharding.edu (2nd of June 2007)
When travelling to Auckland from Wanganui one would usually take the Parapara Highway which is a 90km windy road through rugged country, which cuts up to half an hour off the trip. This road follows the Wanganui river for part of the way and then the Mangawhero river. The countryside is a mass of rugged, steep hills, not high, but the view is spectacular in some parts. About half an hour's drive from the Wanganui end is a sharp pointed hill, not far from the road, with an old Totara tree right on the top. This is locally famous for being "One Tree Hill" and, though smaller, it certainly looks more impressive than the Auckland counterpart due to its steep sides, and the fact that the top is so pointed there is room only for the tree.
I am sure that at some stage Bono would have made this road trip with Greg and the landmark pointed out. The connection with the river is obvious, with the famous Raukawa Falls along the way. Travelling the road is unforgettable due to its length and unrelenting corners, and it is a real wilderness experience for many people, with only one small tea shop over the whole distance.
This local setting for the song strikes a chord that few but the locals would know. I once visited a house in Wanganui to deliver some furniture and noted several gold discs mounted on the wall. I was afterward told that this was Greg's parents home. I was struck by the connection between those of fame and fortune and ordinary people, and how the tragedy cut through to the basics - like travelling a hard road with a good friend.
Paul Manning paul.suannaxtra.co.nz (10th of February 2008)