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.:: A SORT OF HOMECOMING ::.    [back to top]

Record:  I've read that The Unforgettable Fire is the title of a collection of poetry from the survivors of Hiroshima, and I wondered if that's where you took the album's title from.

Bono:  That's right -- in fact, it's more than that.  I wish was talked about a lot more.  The Unforgettable Fire is an exhibition of paintings, drawings and writings done by survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  They were done by people of all age groups, from 7 to 70 years old, by amateurs and professionals, and they are an art treasure in Japan.  We had come into contact with them through the Chicago Peace Museum, because we were part of an exhibit in the museum in '83, the Give Peace A Chance exhibit.  And the images from the paintings and some of the writings stained me, I couldn't get rid of them.  Their influence on the album was a subliminal one, but I realized as the album was moving on, that this image of "the unforgettable fire" applied not only to the nuclear winterscape of "A Sort of Homecoming," but also the unforgettable fire of a man like Martin Luther King, or the consuming fire which is heroin.  So it became a multi-purpose image for me, but it derived from that exhibition.

(from "The Fire Within -- An Interview With U2's Bono" by Wayne King, Record magazine, March 01, 1985)

[...]  U2 may not be the most obviously Irish of bands, but they have always mixed their global rock influences with an Irish sense of soul and passion, and they've tried to use language in a different, Irish way.  Even at school Bono says he loved the work of Seamus Heaney, whom he describes as "an amazing man, very funny, and with a PC brain" -- by which he means computerised, rather than politically correct.  He describes his own 1984 song "A Sort Of Homecoming" as "trying to play around with Heaney's style a little bit."

(from "Playing With Mr. Big" by Robin Denselow, The Guardian, October 13, 1995)

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.:: PRIDE ::.    [back to top]

Bono:  "I originally wrote 'Pride' about Ronald Reagan and the ambivalent attitude in America.  It was originally meant as the sort of pride that won't back down, that wants to build nuclear arsenals.  But that wasn't working.  I remember a wise old man who said to me, don't try to fight darkness with light, just make the light shine brighter.  I was giving Reagan too much importance then I thought Martin Luther King, there's a man.  We build the positive rather than fighting with the finger."

(from "Call U2 Unforgettable" by Gavin Martin, New Musical Express, October 27, 1984)

Bono:  I read a book on the life of Martin Luther King and it told about him as this aggressive pacifist, and it just seemed to fit the music.

(from "U2's Pride (In The Name Of Songs); Achtung, Babies: Bono And Edge Evaluate One Critic's Choices For The Group's 10 Best Recordings, From 'I Will Follow' To 'One'" by Robert Hilburn, Los Angeles Times, September 12, 1993)

After "Sunday Bloody Sunday", political morality became a U2 staple, fitting their religious concerns.  They dedicated Pride to Martin Luther King.  [Edge:] "Because of the situation in our country non-violent struggle was such an inspiring concept.  Even so, when Bono told me he wanted to write about King, at first I said, 'Woah, that's not what we're about.'  Then he came in and sang the song and it felt right, it was great.  When that happens there's no argument.  It just *was*."

(from "Boys To Men" by Phil Sutcliffe, Q Magazine, November 1998)

When asked about the significance of receiving this award from the King Center, Bono replied, "Honestly, I'm trying not to think too much about this award because if I think back to being a teenager in Ireland to when the troubles in the North of Ireland were really turning ugly and the arms struggle, as it was called, was taken up to defend the Catholics who were definitely being brutalized, we despaired for the lack of vision of the kind Dr. King offered people in the South in their struggle.  I wrote that song with our band, 'Pride (In the Name of Love),' in a way out of that feeling.  John Hume was the nearest we had... he was a great peer of Dr. King.  But we didn't succeed obviously the way Dr. King did in establishing non-violence as actually the most successful route in conflict resolution rather than the arms struggle."  (John Hume was the leader of the moderate nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party and shared the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize with David Trimble for their efforts in furthering Irelandís peace process.  He has also received the King Center's highest honor -- the Martin Luther King Jr. Non-Violent Peace Prize.)

(from "Irish Rock Star, Rare With Attitude - Bono Wins King Center Award" by Laura Page,, January 20, 2004)

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.:: WIRE ::.   [back to top]

[Bono introducing "Wire":]  You know, the Unforgettable Fire... in some ways... is... it can be... An unlifting [sic?] thing... it can also... It can also drag you down... it can be a consuming force... it can be the drug heroin... It can be the song "Wire."

(live at Los Angeles Sports Arena, Los Angeles, California, March 4, 1985, transcription by Michael Reiter)

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.:: THE UNFORGETTABLE FIRE ::.   [back to top]

[More generally on the album and title:]

The title The Unforgettable Fire comes from a series of paintings done by Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors.  But for Bono the meaning extends way beyond that.  "People like Martin Luther King and Gandhi had the 'unforgettable fire.' So did Elvis Presley..."

(from "Fire Down Below" by Greg Taylor, Star Hits Magazine, January 01, 1984)

[Again, more generally on the album and title, thought this was interesting:]

N:  How was the title of the album reached -- because that has connotations which go beyond just a name on a record sleeve?

[Adam]:  Well on the last American tour the Chicago Peace Museum contacted us, and they were putting on an exhibition basically of various peace-type statements -- not so much in a Sixties way -- it was more various people in the public eye's contribution to peace in a general sense rather than the peace movement or anything, and of course Yoko Ono was seriously involved and was donating bits and pieces of John's, bits and pieces that were no longer of any use to her.  (laughs)  And they contacted us and we in fact exhibited the stage set of the "War" tour, but the mainstay of the exhibition was a series of paintings -- Japanese paintings -- called the "Unforgettable Fire" paintings.  Now they are in fact Japanese National Treasures, and what they are -- they are scribblings and paintings and sketches by the victims of the two A-Bombs, and they're basically first hand information on what those people saw.  They didn't necessarily have any technical background, they just had the fact that they'd gone through this horrific experience and this was the only way they could communicate what it was like.  So, essentially they're crude, but I think they display the message.

N:  Presumably that had a fairly profound effect on you...

A:  Yeah, not in a particular gory way, because that wasn't the feeling that comes over in these things.  What is interesting in what comes over in these pictures that actually can be explicit at times is the utter sadness that mankind has actually got to this point where it can inflict this sort of suffering on each other for a crazy ideal, or perhaps not so crazy if one is trying to defend peace, but it certainly seems an extreme to go to.

N:  Do you think that the theme of the album will come very much to the fore in the live shows?

A:  I don't think that by calling the album after that exhibition the similarity necessarily goes any further than just endorsing that.  I don't think it's all album of songs about peace.  I think just the feelings and the textures and the colours of those paintings, and the emotions, are the things that are transcending themselves onto the album, rather than any special message.

(from "Adam Clayton In Conversation With Neil Storey" by Neil Storey, republished in U2 Magazine, No. 12, October 01, 1984, original publication unknown)

Bono says he writes his lyrics instinctively, and only later discovers what his songs are really about.  He admits he's just realized that "Bad" and "The Unforgettable Fire" are both partly about that darkest passion, heroin.  The drug has found a sizable market among the melancholy Irish, and U2 are finding old friends with holes in their arms.

"I'm not saying that's what those songs are completely about," Bono says carefully.  "I don't want to tie them down.  Not having been a junkie I didn't want to write about junk.  But I suppose, living on the street where I live, seeing people that I've kicked football with have their lives rearranged by this love of a drug, it just seeped subconsciously into the record."

(from "Soul Revelation and the Baptism of Fire" by Bill Flanagan, Musician, February 01, 1985)

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.:: PROMENADE ::.   [back to top]

U2's new record has a song called "4th of July," just as Morrison has his "Almost Independence Day" and Springsteen his "4th of July, Asbury Park."  But the spiritual connection [between U2 and Van Morrison] is most obvious on "Promenade," a lovely song about watching rockets explode over a seaside town that ends with Bono intoning, "Radio, radio, radio, radio."

Bono says most of "Promenade"'s Van/Bruce connections were unconscious.  He was describing a real place in Ireland.  "The song was written in one take.  I went to the microphone with a piece of music and just sang it.  In some ways it's complete coincidence.  The 'radio' image just came to me -- and obviously I turned it into that Van lick: 'Radio, radio, radio.'"

(from "Soul Revelation And The Baptism Of Fire" by Bill Flanagan, Musician, February 01, 1985)

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.:: BAD ::.    [back to top]

You've seen people who were friends turning to drugs as one sort of escape route -- as people in Dublin have done in increassing numbers recently.  Would that ever have been a possibility?

Bono:  I really understand the attraction... I don't come from the viewpoint of someone who is completely unsympathetic to drug users.  I understood it then and I understand it even more now because of, for instance, being onstage for two hours and then not being able to sleep for six or seven or eight hours.

What was the impact personally of seeing people going through the ordeal of drug abuse?

Bono:  Ah, I wrote the song, didn't I?  I just wrote "Bad."

(from "The World About Us" by Niall Stokes, Hot Press, March 26, 1987)

[Bono:]  This is... this is a song about the city we grew up in.  A song about Dublin city.  And a song about a drug called heroin that's tearing our city in two... that's tearing the... the heart out of the city of Dublin... tearing the heart out of the city of Chicago.  Rich people stuff dollars in the back of their pocket while poor men lie in gutters with needles stuck in their arms.  Screw them, I say.  This is a song about a friend of mine who was given on his 21st birthday enough heroin into his bloodstream to kill him.  This is a song called Bad.

(from "Rock's Hottest Ticket" bootleg, recorded at Rosemont Horizon, Chicago, Illinois, April 29, 1987)

Bono:  The idea was about a friend of mine who was strung out very badly on smack.  The song was made up on the spot.  Unfortunately, we never went over it, because it was felt the recording was a moment and should be left that way.  I don't think I've ever sung the exact lyric that is on the record.  I play with it every night, which is something I like.

(from "U2's Pride (In The Name Of Songs); Achtung, Babies: Bono And Edge Evaluate One Critic's Choices For The Group's 10 Best Recordings, From 'I Will Follow' To 'One'" by Robert Hilburn, Los Angeles Times, September 12, 1993)

"It's about a guy we knew who ended up in a bad way because of heroin addiction," says Edge.  "Bono knew the family, he'd talked to the brothers about it.  It was new for him as a lyricist, writing in the first person from someone else's point of view I don't think there's ever been a song about addiction that captures the feeling so vividly."

(from "Boys To Men" by Phil Sutcliffe, Q Magazine, November 1998)

[I believe Bono has also talked about "Bad" being not only about drug addiction in particular, but addiction in general, such as the addiction he himself says to have to performing... this must have been during some live show or other, and I've been looking and looking for backup, without founding any... anyone able to confirm? :) ]

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.:: INDIAN SUMMER SKY ::.    [back to top]

Bono:  "That album [TUF] was, in many ways, a contrast between bricks and mortar and music with the sky over its head.

..."Indian Summer Sky" was actually written in New York City and it had a sense of wanting to break through a city to an open place.  Most of it was cinematic and very fast -- I'm getting away from that now, so I can talk about it."

The "Indian" in the title is a reference to the native American people, who were systematically wiped out during the nineteenth century.

Bono:  "A lot of cities in America are built on civilizations long since buried by the American.  A friend of mine, a wise man I know, spent a lot of time within the city -- it was Toronto, so cool and so shiny -- and he felt extremely troubled and torn in two.  There had been a lot of massacres of Red Indian people in that area and he felt in some way as if there were troubled spirits still there.  What I was trying to get across was a sense of a spirit trapped in a concrete jungle -- something like that.  Again these are just glimpses, these songs.  A lot of the subject matter is very impressionistic."

(from "The Homecoming" by Liam Mackey, Hot Press, June 21, 1985)

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.:: ELVIS PRESLEY AND AMERICA ::.    [back to top]

It is little difficult to discern just what Bono is saying -- both thematically and literally -- in the "Elvis" song.

"Well, you've just sussed it out," responds Clayton.  "You can't work out what he's saying, right?"  Right.  "Could anyone work out what Elvis Presley was saying?  That is the whole point."  Say what?

"Elvis Presley was an inarticulate man, except when he was performing his art and he got behind the microphone and he sang with that voice and moved his body in that way.  Then everyone thought, 'Wow, this is a very interesting guy -- we want to interview him.'  So you interviewed him, and everyone said, 'Oh, the guy's stupid.'  He couldn't communicate in real life except when he was moving and singing, and I think the song says that.  Evidently it says that, if everyone's so pissed off at it," Clayton laughs.

(from "U2: Anthems Away" by Chris William and Lori E. Pike, Bay Area Music Magazine, December 12, 1984)

Bono:  "It was partly a reaction to the Albert Goldman book which tried to portray him as the archetypal r'n'r idiot, but the way he held the mike, the way he sang into the mike -- this was a genius.  But his decline just tore at me and when I picked up the mike, it was a completely off the wall thing and I just began to sing.

"And I think it does evoke that decline, the stupor, the period when -- if you've seen the clips of him -- he forgets his words and fumbles."

At first Bono didn't want to release the track.  Normally, because of the way he works, he would have developed and structured the original idea but both Eno and The Edge persuaded him to put it out, as raw as it was.  In hindsight Bono agrees that it was the right thing to do, because he believes it allowed people a glimpse of 'the original spark" of a U-2 song.

(from "The Homecoming" by Liam Mackey, Hot Press, June 21, 1985)

There have been times when your work has not been so revealing.  I think one reason some folks had problems with The Unforgettable Fire is because some of it seemed not ambiguous but confused, and confusion is irritating, such as on "Elvis Presley and America."

Bono:  There is confusion in that.  That is genuinely confused.  But we were not at all confused in making the decision to put it there.  A jazzman could understand that piece.  He would just listen to it.  Was it self-indulgent?  Yes.  But why not?  The Unforgettable Fire was a beautifully out-of-focus record, blurred like an impressionist painting, very unlike a billboard or an advertising slogan.  These days we are being fed a very airbrushed, advertising-man's way of seeing the world.  In the cinema, I find myself reacting against the perfect cinematography and the beautiful art direction -- it's all too beautiful, too much like an ad.  And all the videos have the same beauty and the beautiful shadows and...

Your videos, too!

Yeah.  And if I had made a film a few weeks ago, it might look like that.  But something is happening in me that makes me want to find a messier, less-perfect beauty.  I'd like to see things more raw.

(from "U2's Passionate Voice" by David Breskin, Rolling Stone, October 08, 1987)

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.:: MLK ::.    [back to top]

The most moving part of his [Bono's] speech for me was when he talked about his song "MLK" being written "as sort of a lullaby for an idea that was dying in our country: the idea of non-violence...  All inspired by a black reverend from Atlanta who refused to hate because he thought love would do a better job."

(from "In the Name of Love: Kingís Legacy Lives On" by Michelle Watson, The Daily Journal, January 24, 2004)

[MLK stands for Martin Luther King]

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