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I find that I'm talking to less people but writing more songs. -- Bono, 1989

U2 Flips Zoo TV Channel To The Horrors Of Bosnia

Billboard
BULLET THE BLUE SKY: During the first show of U2's recent fournight stand at London's Wembley Stadium, the aural and visual blitz of the Zooropa show paused as one of the massive video screens picked up a live Zoo TV feed from Sarajevo. A documentary filmmaker had gathered three women -- one Croat, one Serb, one Muslim. "We want to live together," one of the women said. "We shall live together." but this was not a war, the fans filling the stadium were told, it was a massacre.

Was this an exploitative use of the horror of Bosnia, cheapened in the context of a rock'n'roll show? Some critics later suggested as much.

U2 manager Paul McGuinness says the Sarajevo segment was added to the Zooropa show earlier in the tour as "a genuine attempt to draw the attention of 50,000 people a night" to Bosnia at a time when the war had dropped off the nightly news. And with press attention again peaking, U2 has since dropped the TV exchange from the show. Yes, McGuinness conceded, the band risked criticism of its motives and methods.

Whatever financial aid U2 has contributed to victims of the war has not been publicized. But as the politicians struggle with the complexities of the conflict, artists are left with the rather simpler task of raising awareness -- and cash. It is worth asking why the music industry worldwide, for all its social consciousness, has yet to respond on a scale to match the need.

For a fan who has watched U2 from its earliest wide-eyed tours of America through the idealism of its 1986 Amnesty International tour, it was striking at the Wembley show to note how world-weary Bono sounded as he replied to the Sarajevo women: "Nobody knows what the fuck is going on; we have no answers." He remarked how ludicrous it was for someone living in the "fantasy" of a mega-rock tour to try to connect with the misery of a war zone.

"We're doing what artists throughout the ages have done in exposing contradictions," says McGuinness.

That does not mean, he adds, the artist can always offer answers.

No one is dancing on the edges of rock 'n' roll's contradictions as effectively these days as U2. The Sarajevo segment of the Zooropa show reflected how easy it has become for a high-tech society to confront, then twist and turn away from, tragedy with the ease of TV channel-hopping. And that realization, ironically, could not help making you feel that tragedy deeper still, if you were at all wide awake.

© 1993 Billboard magazine. All rights reserved.