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Like A Video: A Celebration


Like a Video[Ed. note: This is the 26th in a series of essays by the @U2 staff about U2-related visuals and videos. Some essays may be informational and educational, while others may be more personal.]

Video: A Celebration

U2’s desire to wax nostalgic about the band’s early days renewed my interest to flip through my collection and revisit early interviews and videos so I could fully immerse myself in that same nostalgia. I was almost 8 years old when MTV first came on the air. While I wasn’t really aware of U2 in those early days of music television, I do recall watching the videos and wondering if I’d ever get to visit the places shown in them. MTV was my window to the world in those pre-teen years, and it shaped my world view in so many ways. My desire to travel to destinations like New York and London was directly influenced from MTV. Once U2’s music fully entered my life, it became a passion of mine to do the Dublin fan hajj and follow the path around the city to see for myself what I’d been reading about and watching from afar. Little did I realize how much the convergence of musicians and music video had on me until February 1999 when I first visited Dublin.

My boyfriend and I toured the city with a keen eye on all things U2-releated, and as luck would have it we even had a Bono sighting along the way. At one point in our walk, we got engaged, which made the trip a bit of a celebration. We had time in our schedule on Valentine’s Day to visit where the video for “A Celebration” was filmed: Kilmainham jail. What a romantic place to go after just getting engaged, right? 

“A Celebration” struck me as one of U2’s first social protest songs. Lyrically, it was a declaration of beliefs mixed with defiance -- “I believe in the powers that be but they won’t overpower me.” That same spirit was felt not only with each fist thrust Bono gave in the video, but by choosing to film the video at Kilmainham jail in April 1982. Director Meiert Avis captured a young U2 at a crossroads of publically taking a social and political stand with their art.

Bono’s recollection to Hot Press was, “I remember we had itinerant boys, traveler boys, as the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, riding through the back of Sheriff Street, and me in ridiculous red pants in Kilmainham jail. I think I had a badger on my head as well. Some pieces of music are obscured by the haircuts, I think it’s fair to say, and the apparel. With ‘A Celebration’, I just don’t think I can see beyond that.”

Kilmainham jail began taking men, women and children as prisoners in 1796. In 1881, it became an all-male prison until 1923 when 300 girls and women were held during the civil war. It gained notoriety by imprisoning and executing 14 men by firing squad involved in the Easter 1916 Uprising, including Patrick Pearse, Joseph Plunkett and James Connolly. 

While taking the tour, I had this overwhelming sense of sorrow wash over me with each step I took. My spirit was shaken as we entered into some of the prison cells. I had seen these same places in the video, as well as in the movies – In The Name Of The Father and Michael Collins were filmed there in the ‘90s – but I did not anticipate the core of my soul feeling such pain. Standing in the stone-breaker’s yard as the tour guide explained the executions that took place impacted me in ways I didn’t anticipate. None of my history teachers could have prepared me for it, nor could any of my relatives with Irish roots explain to me the political fallout from such a place. The jail symbolized far more than just a prison – it represented nationalistic rebellion.

It should be noted that another piece of Bono’s past also appears briefly in the video as well: Christ Church Cathedral. Bono told Hot Press, “I used to ring the bells in the Cathedral on a Tuesday. Then I got into trouble in the school – I threw dogsh*t at the Spanish teacher or something – and I got nudged out. I think I deserved it (laughs). That’s how I ended up in Mount Temple.”  Christ Church Cathedral was about 100 yards away from Bono’s first secondary school, St. Patrick’s. This is most likely the inspiration behind the lyric “I believe in the bells of Christ Church ringing for this land / I believe in the cells of Mountjoy there is an honest man.”  (Mountjoy is a modern Irish medium-security prison in Dublin.)

By 1982, U2 were preparing for their own rock ‘n’ roll rebellion, readying themselves for War. “A Celebration” was a preview of what was to come. The journey through Kilmainham jail gave me a better appreciation for where U2 were at that point in their career, and was one I would have never taken had it not been for the “A Celebration” video.

©@U2/Lawrence, 2015