"Some people expect U2 to come on like a political band. . . . Other people see us as prophets. Some see us as pop stars. . . . And we're not any of those things. We're probably all of them. I don't know what we are."
Like A Video: Bullet The Blue Sky (San Jose, 2015)
June 24, 2015
[Ed. note: This is the 28th 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.]
"Bullet The Blue Sky" - San Jose, May 19, 2015
I’ve never been a fan of “Bullet The Blue Sky.” I’ve seen it performed in every tour it’s been a part of since 1992’s ZooTV tour. I couldn’t connect to the political message it represented as I saw the complex problems as something I couldn’t change. There was no call to action, rather just to be angry about it. That anger resonated in a way that made me uncomfortable. I’m not attracted to anger nor do I find it helpful. Anger serves as a distraction.
I came to be a U2 fan in high school in the late ‘80s. I’d have discussions with my friend Steve B. before English class about what U2 was up to, how to join the band’s fan club and why anyone would pay $20 for a fifth-generation cassette recording of a U2 concert. We’d discuss the band’s involvement in Amnesty International and Greenpeace. Once I went to college, I joined our university’s Amnesty International chapter, which was headed up by another U2 fan.
I felt like if I went through the motions of doing what U2 supported, it made me a “better” fan of the band. It certainly connected me to others who felt a similar passion for U2, leading me into discussions and debates about world affairs and the injustice – even in my own country.
Thanks to U2’s fan club Propaganda, I found myself up against a concert barricade in Hartford, Connecticut, on March 12, 1992. A few months shy of being 19 (n-n-n-nineteen), pumping my fist in the air during “Bullet The Blue Sky,” channeling the anger in the song. That’s an age where you think you can change the world, and I firmly believed that if I wrote more letters and showed up at rallies, I could. The trouble was, the message conveyed by those my age at that time was just, “You’re wrong, we’re right – now change…or else!” The us vs. them mentality and such ultimatums don’t get you very far.
I did not miss “Bullet The Blue Sky” on the U2 360 tour. To be fair, I thought it finally made the transition out of U2’s repertoire of songs. Almost nine years after it was last performed, it re-emerged as part of the Innocence + Experience tour with a new theme: Compromise. Gone was the railing anger against governments. Now the song is about maturity and moderation. It’s looking at that teenage angst of “You’re wrong, we’re right – now change…or else” with a realization that raging hormones and a limited world view will not solve crises: compromise will. To make the change, you have to be the change.
Our family has had to do its fair share of compromising over the past few years. We have been through hell and back with our son during his journey through our public school system, especially around unwillful seclusion and restraint of students in public schools. I wrote a little bit about his disability in a Like A Song column last year. Since I wrote that column, our family has been active in Massachusetts trying to enact reform on this topic. We have collaborated with state legislators, advocacy groups, town officials and members of our community to see to it that no child is subjected to the same treatment our then 5-year-old was. That fiery anger could have consumed us, distracting us from getting the real reform in place. I am happy to say that Massachusetts did enact the much-needed reform, but not without a lot of compromise. We knew that to make the change, we needed to be the change. Through this process, our son has healed as well and is doing much better.
Seeing the Innocence + Experience tour in Vancouver and the live concert streams since, this transformed “Bullet The Blue Sky” connected with me so completely. Up on the screen during the song were the words “Fire consume you,” as the images of temptation, excess, power, protest and the like blurred across at a breakneck speed. The visuals reminded me of just how fast things are connecting in your brain, and in your youth it’s hard to filter to make sense of it all. As yellow radiates from the screens, sometimes blinding the audience, the words “wisdom” and ‘911” appear timed with Larry’s drumming. That color of caution tints the visuals as Bono leads into his spoken word. For me, the anger that resonated has been redirected into action – take a step back and compromise. There’s no use just saying something is wrong; instead, offer a viable solution to the issue.
Now that I’m in my 40s, I look back at how I handled these situations in my 20s and 30s with a realization that I could have channeled my activism differently. However, I probably wouldn’t have listened to the advice. That is what Bono’s doing with “Bullet” this tour – holding up that mirror and having an honest discussion with his younger self. Most nights, part of his spoken word at the song goes like this:
And I try to tell the young man
Compromise. Maturity teaches you that issues are not black and white, rather every shade of gray. The right thing to do differs based on perspective, so compromise is important. “Bullet The Blue Sky” encapsulates the theme of the entire U2 tour as it demands the innocence to confront the experience head-on. It is also the point in the show where Bono uses himself as the case study, but it requires you as the audience member to do some soul searching as well. Bono told Greg Kot in a recent Chicago Tribune interview, “Eventually, through trial and error, you learn compromise is not a dirty word.”
On a personal level, had it not been for U2’s leadership on activism, my worldview would not have been shaped in the way it has. Using Bono’s model for relentless activism, I am inspired to continue on the path of educational reform for kids like my son. This band continues to sound the alarm, the “911,” to not be complacent. The youthful idealism that makes you think you can change the world should never be extinguished. Fan the flames so it doesn’t consume you and instead enable you to do what’s right. Bono told Kot, “Somebody should probably survey our audience. A lot of them are involved in some way in their local community. It’s not de rigueur for being a U2 fan, you can come and slash around, you don’t have to get into the deep water to be a U2 fan. But a lot of them want the world to be better, they want to be part of a solution and are getting involved.”
Night after night, the Innocence + Experience version of “Bullet The Blue Sky” inspires that way of thinking. I am glad this song has matured in such a way.
©@U2, Lawrence, 2015