"What a city! What a night! What a crowd! What a bomb! What a mistake! What a wanker you have for President!"
-- Bono, in Paris, on Jacques Chirac, 1995
Like A Song: Raised By Wolves
January 14, 2015
[Ed. note: This is the 91st in a series of personal essays by the @U2 staff about songs and/or albums that have had great meaning or impact in our lives.]
May 17, 1974, and January 7, 2015, are two dark days that share a common tragedy. They’re the kind of sad, heartbreaking days that help me understand the despair and anger of U2’s “Raised By Wolves.”
The recent wave of terrorism in Paris hit me hard, as yet another unhappy story in a never-ending cycle of violence fueled by hate, a theme dealt with in many U2 songs, including “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “Bullet The Blue Sky,” “Please” and “Love And Peace Or Else.” I’m reminded again that U2’s songs of lament and rage will continue to resonate with me as long as senseless violence has its way.
Most U2 fans know by now that Songs Of Innocence is a reflection on the early years of the band, especially as the members were adolescents in Dublin. In “Wolves,” we’re given a snapshot of what Bono remembers about a tragic event in 1974. Using four car bombs, a terrorist group killed 33 people in Dublin and Monaghan. Bono recalls, “On May 17th I rode my bike to school that day and dodged one of the bloodiest moments in a history that divided an island” (from the SOI liner notes). In fact, it was the most violent day of a decades-long era known as the Troubles.
The song is written from the perspective of his friend, Andy Rowen, who was driving with his father in the family van near the Talbot Street explosion. In a Rolling Stone interview, Bono says, “The bomb tore apart the street. I escaped but one of my mates was around the corner with his father, and it was a very hard thing for him to witness and I'm not sure he really got over it.”
Face down on a broken street,
Metal crash, I can’t tell what it is
I don’t believe anymore
The horrific event scarred Rowen and became a catalyst for his heroin addiction. Bono continues in the SOI liner notes, “his [Rowen’s] dad ran to help save the victims scattered like refuse across the streets. The scene never left him, he turned to one of the world’s great pain killers to deal with it, we wrote about him in our song, ‘Bad.’ Andy says, ‘Heroin is a great pain killer until it kills you.’”
Face down on a pillow of shame
I don’t believe anymore
Fast-forward 40 years to this last week. As I write, the tragic events of recent terrorist acts in Paris are becoming clearer: Eleven people are killed by two men with AK-47 assault rifles at a newspaper office, and “Je Suis Charlie” (“I Am Charlie”) becomes a virtual cry of solidarity on social media across the globe; a police officer is executed as he lies injured near the newspaper’s office building; another police officer is gunned down in a suburb of Paris; two separate hostage situations emerge, one in which two suspects are killed and a second where several hostages are killed along with their captor.
Adding to the pain, as most of the world mourns France’s loss, Islamic jihadists praise the gunmen. For these extremists, the brutal attack was an act of defiance, vindicated by a belief that all but their own fundamentalist faction are evil and deserving of punishment and death.
Blood in the house, blood in the street
I don’t believe anymore
Whether in 1974 Dublin, or 2015 Paris, brutality brings chaos. “Where the passion is hate,” people suffer at the hands of the violent, often resulting in doubt and fear. Bono’s words ring true for me: “I don’t believe anymore.” I’ve grown up in a culture that conditioned me to think doubt is wrong. It’s taken a long time to learn that doubt isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s merely an emotion that arises out of tragic circumstances beyond my control. And it’s an expected response in times of distress and loss. I never tell someone they shouldn’t doubt. Rather, I give them space to sing along. “I don’t believe anymore.” It’s such a freeing confession.
But U2 doesn’t end the song there. As is the case with many ancient Psalms of lament in the Hebrew scriptures (something Bono is well aware of), doubt can be transcended in time and hope can emerge in a new form. Moving past disbelief, I have, even in the most dire circumstances, experienced a faith that becomes “stronger than fear.”
Fear is powerful. I fear what I can't see, and fear often blinds me to who someone really is. Suspicions often become self-fulfilling prophecies: If I think a person is evil, that person will always appear evil to me. "When I open my eyes," the false image I have of someone disappears and I see the true person. If I paint the world as an evil place, I'll miss the beauty of it. But, if I refuse to let fear blind me, I open myself up to a world of grace and joy. I don’t want to miss that.
For the families of those lost and injured in Paris last week (and in Dublin 40 years ago), I imagine the world looks pretty dark. I’ve had my dark days too. I wish I could forget some of the disturbing images and circumstances stuck in my head. That’s why a song like “Wolves” makes sense to me. Sometimes the world just seems to run wild. There are moments when I lose faith. At other times I stand strong. To deny either is to let the wolves have their way, and that would be the worst tragedy of all.
(c) @U2/Neufeld, 2015