Via Dolorosa

daniel thomas

Emmett and I walked the Via Dolorosa while visiting Jerusalem in 1985. I sort of remember him saying, “That would be a good name for a song.” It’s the name of a street in the Old City on which Jesus allegedly carried his cross as he went to Golgotha. Every Good Friday, Christian pilgrims commemorate the stations of the cross and walk the Via Dolorosa. The name literally means “Way of Sorrow.”

You can hear the influence of U2’s The Joshua Tree in the chord progression of Via Dolorosa. It wasn’t intentional, but we liked it that way. A short version of the song went down on the ben son Beatrice demo. The live version could roll on for a long, long time. We almost always closed out our live shows with that hypnotic rambling extended version—right before the big-bang showstopper GO NO STOP.

Officially, Via Dolorsa had a only a few sparse lyrics—a couple of lines from the Civil War Era anthems “Johnny Comes Marching Home” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.” I combined them to allude to the hope of the second coming—the hope that somehow, in the end, suffering makes some sense and that, after the final curtain call, the audience says, “Yes, now I can see how all of that comes together.” Images from the crucifixion of Jesus provide a few poignant lines about personal culpability: “When I drove the crown into his head, hurrah, hurrah, hurrah. When I beat the nails into his hands and feet, hurrah, hurrah, hurrah. When I drove the spear into his side …”

During the live shows, we extended the tom-tom driven drumbeat for a long improvisation session and let the music take us wherever it wanted to go. I liked to make up lyrics on the spot or just rattle off some random thoughts. Sometimes it worked. Listening to the 1989 Glory Lights performance featured in the official video three decades later, my ramblings seem unusually prescient.

Near the end of every performance, Troy’s bassline and Jeana’s keyboards both fell silent; Austin took off his guitar and joined Emmett at the trap set. Emmett kept the rhythm going on the big tom-toms, Austin added a military snare. Something awesome and magical happened. You have to see the brothers, the one standing at the other’s side, helping him push the beat on. The audience danced and swayed, mesmerized by the scene and the relentless rhythm. The lights went down, and it was time to say goodnight to THE SWOON.

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