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how long must we sing this song?


What happened today in Madrid filled me with a deep, deep sadness and incredible pain. Nearly 200 people dead, and over 1,000 wounded at last count. As far as know, the worst terrorist attack not just in the history of Spain, but in the history of Europe as well. As it happens, yesterday I was listening to the soundtrack of U2's movie Rattle & Hum, which has a version of Sunday Bloody Sunday which, though originally linking both Bloody Sunday (1971) and Easter Sunday (1920), went beyond that original link (though in doing that solidifying its intended meaning) during the Joshua Tree tour with the Enniskillen bombing. Here's the full text of the performance, including Bono's speech during the performance, on the day of the bombing.

Before it though, let me say that whoever thinks that in quoting this I'm comparing A to B or Madrid to Belfast or New York or whatever, or that the IRA is like ETA, or that anything that involves murder and destruction at this level can be somehow compared, or any other thing of that sort, should have their heads examined. I am most decidedly not doing that. The situation in Northern Ireland, thankfully, has improved since the bombing in Omagh in 1998. But it's the questions, not the event. The simple fact that, somehow, this has to stop. We have global communications but instead of learning the hard lessons paid for by others in blood and tears and suffering we just broadcast soap operas across the ocean and somehow manage to repeat the worst of ourselves, as a species, over and over.

If you read the notes at the end with quotes from interviews with Bono in which he explains what they went through in writing and performing the song, you'll understand. It's bigger than a single place or a single indicent. This is just something that I think captures the moment.

And in the end this is a lopsided way of me to ask: how much more bloodshed? How much more needless destruction? How many more murders in the name of some random "cause"? How is it that a something like this can be so recurrent?

How long must we sing this song?

Read on, and if you can, listen to it as well.

Well here we are, the Irish in America.

The Irish have been coming to America for years... going back to the Great Famine when the Irish where on the run from starvation... and a British government that couldn't care less. Right up to today, you know, there are more Irish immigrants here in America today that ever... some illegal... some legal. A lot of them are running from high unemployment... some run from the troubles in Northern Ireland... from the hatred of the H-blocks... and torture... others from wild acts of terrorism like we had today in a town called Enniskillen, where eleven people lay dead, and many more injured... on a Sunday Bloody Sunday.

[song begins]

I can't believe the news today
I can't close my eyes and make it go away
How long
How long must we sing this song
How long

Tonight
We can be as one
Tonight

Broken bottles under children's feet
Bodies strewn across a dead-end street
but I won't heed the battle call
it puts my back up,
my back up against the wall

Sunday Bloody Sunday
Sunday Bloody Sunday

And this battle's yet begun
There's many lost, but tell me, who has won?
The trenches dug within our hearts
and mothers, children, brothers, sisters, torn apart

Sunday Bloody Sunday
Sunday Bloody Sunday

How long
How long must we sing this song
How long

Tonight
We can be as one
Tonight

[Bono holds the music as he launches into an improptu speech]

Yeah! And let me tell you something... I've had enough of Irish-Americans who haven't been back to their country in 20 or 30 years, come up to me and talk about the resistance, the revolution back home. And the glory of the revolution. And the glory of dying for the revolution.

Fuck the revolution!

They don't talk about the glory of killing for the revolution...

What's the glory... in taking a man from his bed, and gunning him down in front of his wife and his children? Where's the glory in that? Where's the glory in bombing a remembrance day parade of old-age pensioners, their medals taken out and polished up for the day? Where's the glory in that? To leave them dying.... or crippled for life... or dead... under the rubble... of a revolution... that the majority of the people in my country don't want.

No more! Sing! No more!

[song restarts]

No more!

Wipe your tears away...

Wipe your tears away...

Wipe your bloodshot eyes...

Sunday Bloody Sunday
Sunday Bloody Sunday

And it's true we are immune
When fact is fiction and TV reality
And today the millions die
We eat and drink while tomorrow they die

And the battle's just begun
To claim the victory that Jesus won...

Sunday Bloody Sunday
Sunday Bloody Sunday

And here are some quotes from Interviews in which Bono and Edge talk in more detail about the song, and what it means for them:

Host: "Sunday, Bloody Sunday," one of the cuts from the current album... is that about that day in Ireland when, what, 13 people were killed in a protest...?

Bono: It's not important even what was the incident. That's not the point. It's not a rebel song. We're not taking sides. We're just saying, "HOW long must we sing this song?" I'm trying to say that worse than the buildings that have been torn down, worse than the wreckage of Northern Ireland is the BITTERNESS in peoples' hearts. That's what you've got to fight against. That's why music has the ability to LIFT people up. It lifts me up when I listen to our music, or to other peoples' music that inspires me. It lifts me up and makes me want to fight back, not with sticks and stones, but fight back in yourself -- refusing to compromise your own beliefs and standing up and saying, "NO, there's MUCH more, much more!" That's what it's about, isn't it really, when you're faced with an audience... not to hide behind your haircut, not behind your stance or your statement. Just be who you are FOR people.

(from MTV's "Fast Forward" (?) series, 1983, transcript posted on Wire by G.G.)

Bono: "'Sunday Bloody Sunday' is a day that no Irishman can forget but should forget which is what we were saying -- 'how long must we sing this song?' When I introduce it I say: 'this isn't a rebel song.' The name comes up all the time and we're saying 'how long must we have songs called 'Sunday Bloody Sunday.'' That's one area in which I agree with Bob Geldof -- history is just one mistake after anotther."

"And what I was trying to say in that song is: 'There it is. In close-up. I'm sick of it. How long must it go on?' It's a statement. It's not even saying here's an answer."

"It's just saying -- how long must this go on?"

(from "Articulate Speech Of The Heart" by Liam Mackey, Hot Press, July 22, 1983)

Bono: "It means so much to me, that song, because... I'm not sure I got it right. I mighta got it wrong, I'm not sure. I originally wanted to contrast the day, Sunday Bloody Sunday, when 13 innocent people were shot dead in Derry by the British army, with Easter Sunday. I wanted to make this contrast because I thought that it pointed out the awful irony of the fact that these two warring faiths share the same belief in the one God. And I thought how... it's so absurd, really, this Catholic and Protestant rivalry. So that's what I wanted to do. In the end, I'm not sure I did that successfully with the words. But we certainly did it with the music. The spirit of the song speaks louder than the flesh of it."

(from "Timothy White's Rock Stars", radio interview, June 01, 1987)

[...] By 1982, heavily influenced by the Clash, Bono was writing political songs. However, the lyrics to "Sunday Bloody Sunday" were actually begun by The Edge while Bono was away on his honeymoon. The guitarist who was in his seaside holiday home writing songs, was inspired by how the friendly and humorous Belfast people were being torn apart by their religious problems. "Sunday Bloody Sunday" referred to two incidents -- a football match in Dublin 1920, and the streets of Derry in 1972 -- when British soldiers opened fire on unarmed civilians. It was not an angry condemnation but, like "New Year's Day" asked for understanding and forgiveness. "How long must we sing this song?"

"The song's not specifically about those two incidents," points out the singer. "We borrowed the title to convey the power of the song. We were really nervous the first time we played it in Belfast. We told the crowd, this is about what's happening here. If you don't like it, we won't play it again. But they just went wild for it."

(from an interview in Sanity record store's magazine by Jenny Raine, November 1998)

Sunday Bloody Sunday -- Suddenly, U2 entered the political arena with a song which linked Ireland's two Bloody Sundays, 1920 and 1971, with the crucifixion ("The real battle is begun / To claim the victory Jesus won / On a Sunday, bloody Sunday"). The Edge reckons they wrote it naively, without considering the consequences. But it might have caused a more serious backlash if the guitarist had got his way. Unusually he conceived the original lyric as well as the music. It began, "Don't talk to me about the rights of the IRA." He can smile about it now: "My words were pretty clumsy, a polemic. Bono shifted it to being much less political, more of a personal reflection." After Noraid-supporting Irish-Americans misunderstood and began throwing money on the stage when U2 played the song, Bono responded with the introduction: "This is not a rebel song!" When they played it the day after the Enniskillen bombing in 1988, as immortalised by the Rattle And Hum movie, he added a raging "Fuck the revolution!" Sunday Bloody Sunday resulted in enduring opprobrium from Republicans, and prompted a denunciation from Gerry Adams. "Thankfully those days are long gone," says Edge. "We're optimistic about what's been happening."

(from "Boys To Men" by Phil Sutcliffe, Q Magazine, November 1998)

[source]

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on March 11 2004 at 5:38 PM

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