Thursday, June 17, 2010

Ode to “Sunday Bloody Sunday”

U2's 1983 song "Sunday Bloody Sunday" has been running through my head since last night, when I read about British Prime Minister David Cameron’s apology for the Bloody Sunday killings. In 1972, British soldiers murdered 14 innocent protestors in Northern Ireland. Cameron’s unequivocal statement, which came after an expensive investigation by the British, has impressed many with its bold apology-like qualities. How often does a politician, or a corporate executive, or anyone, really, just come out and admit, “we were totally, totally wrong”? More often people apologize with a caveat. And that’s not a real apology.

Others are less impressed by the apology. For one thing, why did it take 38 years? And why did the Prime Minister who was in office in 1972 cover up the soldiers’ guilt?

I’m no expert, but this debate about the “Irish Troubles” is in my bones. I grew up in a house where it was argued regularly. So after folding up my New York Times last night, I immediately posted a live video from ’83 (the one where Bono waves the white flag) on my Facebook page, along with the song’s first line: “I can’t believe the news today.” And also a comment about his sweet mullet. I don’t think any of my friends had any idea what I was on about.

I love this song, and I love U2. I was 10 when Bloody Sunday happened, and a senior in college fresh from a Rolling Stone internship when War, the album “Sunday Bloody Sunday” opens, was released. I would ride the Stamford Local to Manhattan from my house in Westchester wearing a purple Esprit mini and listening intently to the cassette on my Walkman. It’s a fucking great song, from the military style drums that open it, to the pain in Bono’s voice, to the soaring message of hope for a peaceful future: “We can live as one.”

Bono was worried “Sunday Bloody Sunday” would be taken as a rallying cry to fuel the endless cycle of violence in Ireland. He would always introduce “Sunday Bloody Sunday” by saying it wasn’t a rebel song. Because after Bloody Sunday, the retaliation was violence. And the British Embassy in Dublin was burned down. And there was a lot of smack talk about the British amongst Irish-Americans.

The house I grew up in, the Kelly house, was no exception. I have memories of conversations around the table between my parents and their friends, England get out of Ireland this, the Protestants that. I was taught: You are Catholic, the Catholics are being oppressed and the Protestants suck. I still have vague guilt over raising my kids in a Protestant church. I feel culturally Catholic, but the Pope could learn a lesson about how to apologize from David Cameron.

It seems to me that current popular music is rarely about anything important. I mean, I guess there is MIA, but for every MIA you have a Gaga and a Miley Cyrus and a Taylor Swift. The hits are all about partying. I like party music, and I enjoy belting out cheesy party songs in the car with my kids, and actually, party music can be transcendent, but we need more than just party music. I hope Bono’s back feels better soon. I really want to know what he thinks about all this.


  1. Thank you for posting this. So often I am made to feel like I should apologize for liking U2. It's because of U2 that I even know about any of this.

  2. My favorite U2 song, and also maybe part of the reason why their more recent music gets on my nerves? Best line of your post: "the Pope could learn a lesson about how to apologize from David Cameron."

  3. I immediately thought of this song, too, when I heard about the apology. I've loved U2 for a long time now, and I always will. They're just my band. Why is there so much backlash about a singer in a band having an opinion about politics? I don't have to agree to everything Bono says because he's Bono; I just usually happen to.

  4. A agree so much about a real apology having no caveats that I just almost repeated what you said back to you. Then I re-read. Not to get too personal, but I've had conversations to this effect with, shall we say, the people I co-habitate with.
    But the decades-late official apologies are often disheartening. Are enough people who were originally and directly wronged dead? Time for official apology. I'm talking to you Japan, Australia, USA.

  5. I think that at any given time, most hit music is about partying but there are a few songs about something else. The songs about something else tend to survive and the party anthems-unless well written, don't. But then I also listen to the Beatles most of the time... I guess what I'm trying to say is I'm 20 and don't worry not all of us are defined by shitty pop. Now I'll stop procrastinating and try to finish my uni work.