This song is not a rebel song

Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Bono famously shouted in the 1983 concert film and live album, Under A Blood Red Sky, “This song is not a rebel song, this song is Sunday Bloody Sunday”. This was largely the world’s first exposure to U2 and the undeniable showmanship of Bono. Rolling Stone would later call this one of the 50 moments that changed Rock & Roll.

The sight of Bono, The Edge, Larry and Adam ripping out an anti-violence anthem under a fire lit misty night in Colorado would become a moment etched into my generations musical memory. The climax of Bono marching under a white flag only heightened its effect. No one else, save The Clash, was making as big a splash with thoughtful and powerful political statements. 1

That moment, captured nearly perfectly, showed a band that was ready to take on the world. Now, it might seem a little naïve, but you have to admit, the elements of what would make U2 the biggest band in the world were on full display that night in Colorado.

Fast forward to 1988. U2 had become the biggest band in the world and released the bloated Rattle & Hum. The film featured an inside look at then band when it was struggling with their success and their newfound position as the go to band for the politically displaced and the socially conscious issues of the day.  There is lot not to like about the film Rattle & Hum, but there is one moment that stands out even today.

It was another night in Colorado. On the day of the Remembrance Day Bombing in Enniskillen, U2 would let out another version of Sunday Bloody Sunday. This one was driven by anger, rage even, to create a moment that still sends chills down the spine. In the film, Bono says he wasn’t for including this moment in the film, since it was such a specific moment.

When Bono screams out “Fuck the revolution”, he isn’t speaking for an anti violence movement, he is speaking from his own experience. The question “How long must we sing this song?” has become real. The pain and anger is palpable. It is as pure a moment as that other night in Colorado.

Both of these videos are quite potent and I think they speak to a bigger truth. 1983 was still a bit innocent time for many of us. Twenty-four hour news was just in its infancy and all of us fell victim to Grandpa Reagan’s morning in America shtick to some extent. After eight years of hidden wars and human rights abuses and frankly some growing up for many of us, we were all weary and wary.

Bono may have felt including the 1987 performance of Sunday Bloody Sunday in the film would be without context. I would argue that today it has perfect context. We all may have become less naïve and even a little world weary, but we have held fast to the ideal of a non-violent world. Maybe it is a rebel song after all and a reminder to keep the faith.

1.) This is not to say other bands weren’t making political statements in 1983. They were, but in the early days of MTV, no one was getting as much airplay as U2 and The Clash. 


  1. Anonymous3:16 PM

    I grew up with this song...but it took me years to really know the meaning of the song... Great post!!

  2. We talked about this last night so I forgot to post about it. I think when I heard it the 2nd time on Rattle & Hum, it was obvious a lot of the audience first thought he was glorifying Ireland. The anger he felt was so raw that day, though, that pretty soon it was silent while he talked. How long? In 1983 we were all a little more naive, and it wasn't a rebel song. By the time 1987 came out we had all been through quite a lot...and if not feeling jaded we were at least wary and weary of how slow change was. And is. Brilliant post, madpoet!


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