On November 13, 2015, six locations in Paris, France were raided by gunfire and suicide bombs and resulted in 130 deaths; 89 of those occurred at the Bataclan Theater where the band Eagles of Death Metal played to 1500 fans. It was the deadliest attack on Paris since World War II. At that time, U2 rehearsed for their final shows of their Innocence & Experience tour at their venue in Bercy Village, Paris, the AccorHotels Arena. They were evacuated and locked down until it was over.
The members of U2 are no strangers to the violence of terrorism. They grew up with it. They responded the only way they know how; to help. Somehow. This was an attack on art, on music. Fellow musicians were affected. They offered their jet to the Eagles of Death Metal (which they graciously declined since they found their own way), but the best thing they could do was buy them phones since the band left theirs behind when they fled the Bataclan.
In a New York Times article, Bono describes ISIS and other extremists as a “death cult”, to which he responds that the band is a life cult” and goes on to say that, “Rock ’n’ roll is a life force, and it’s joy as an act of defiance. That’s what U2 is. That’s at the very heart of our band.” If there is one word to describe the attitude of U2 in this situation, it is DEFIANCE. Do any of us know them as anything different? It’s not the first time U2 has followed up in the wake of terrorist attacks.
Bono’s own brush with terrorism that resulted in 33 deaths-by-car-bomb (he was spared because he took his bike to school that day) is the reason he writes the way he does. Social justice and amnesty are subjects covered in many of the songs they’ve written. Exploding car bombs were somewhat of a regular occurrence. Bono got really good at writing about these experiences. They personally know people who have lost family and friends in these attacks, some still suffering the effects of PTSD as a result of their experience.
Defiance has been further illustrated in songs such as Miss Sarajevo which tells the story of how, during the siege in Bosnia/Herzegovina (i.e. longest siege in modern history lasting just shy of four years), a beauty pageant was held in the midst of the siege and one woman refused to go to the shelter and kept on playing the piano. This song honors the people of Sarajevo who would not surrender their day-to-day lives in the face of the conflict.
For most of their performing career, U2 always acknowledged The Troubles in Ireland (which spanned 30 years between 1969-1997) and had not always been limited to Northern Ireland. While The Troubles were never about religion, but rather constitutional status. The country was split between Loyalists (who happened to be Protestant) who wanted Northern Ireland to remain with the UK and Nationalists (who happened to be Roman Catholics) who wanted a unified, Irish, Ireland. Their song Please from POP, while not as “in your face” as their earlier political songs (like Sunday Bloody Sunday), still addresses The Troubles, yet Bono’s delivery is a bit softer in delivery yet cynical in nature.
After the 9/11 attacks in New York back in 2001, U2 was the first band allowed back into the city to perform (exactly like their return to Paris) and again, their message was one of defiance: the show must go on. We will not be bullied nor terrorized. When I saw these post-9/11 shows, it moved us to tears seeing the names of the 3000 victims of the heinous attack. I can tell you that I didn’t have to be in the immediate area of the trade center, or the Pentagon, or that field in Shanksville, PA to feel the deep sense of loss, fear, and insecurity.
During the section of that show after the victims’ names floated around us like angels, The Edge came out to the center of the acoustic round stage at the end of the catwalk and performed one of the most beautiful renditions of Sunday, Bloody Sunday I ever heard. Here was a song I had taken completely for granted. A fist-pumping anthem of defiance if I’ve ever heard one. But that night, it was transformed. It morphed into a new song I’ve never heard before. Those lyrics took on an entirely new meaning for me, and I’m sure for others. I now had something relatively in common with this band and I felt my whole relationship with them had changed. I could now totally relate to this song. Suddenly, I understood it like I never had before. It was one of those epiphanies and I remember how I stood, frozen, in my space by the stage putting my head around the whole thing.
Bullet the Blue Sky? Sounds like a war even without the lyrics. We can thank Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy in South America for this gem.
The band’s live show has always been fueled by passion with a twist of anger. The show in Paris last night certainly did not disappoint and could be their best show to date. There was plenty of emotion in that venue as people gathered in defiance solidarity for a show that embraced consoled them.
“What do you want? Do you want us to be afraid? To turn away from our neighbors? You will not have our hatred. You will not have our hatred. We choose love over fear. Love over fear!” — Bono, Paris, December 7, 2015