Friday, May 22, 2015

the ever evolving bullet blue sky: U2’s innocence and experience

The U2 innocence and experience tour began last weekend in Vancouver. It included Bullet the Blue Sky, a song which had disappeared from the U2 360 tour.

This is fascinating given I have previously written about how Bullet the Blue Sky as a song has evolved over time. In “Bullet the Blue Sky” as an Evolving performance (in Exploring U2: Is This Rock ‘n’ Roll?: Essays on the Music, Work, and Influence of U2) I focus on a number of evolutions.

  • “See the Sky ripped open” describes the origin of the song, back in 1986. Bono asks the Edge to put the conflict in Nicaragua and El Salvador through his amplifier. They stuck pictures around the studio and the song emerged, as a contemporary psalm of lament.
  • “And I can see those fighter planes appears” on the Elevation tour, in Dublin, in 2001. It evolves from a psalm of lament to a moment of confession. A spotlight shines upward, searching for fighter planes, then focuses on both the crowd and Bono. Graphics note the worlds five biggest arms traders – USA, UK, France, China, Russia – which are then linked to the IRA and the British army. What was a song focused on American influence in Central America is now focused on all countries that traffic in bullets that rip on the skies of Ireland.
  • “Outside it’s America,” occurs in Chicago in 2005. A number of song samples (Jonny Comes Marching Home, Gangs of New York) are used. Bono adopts a number of theatrical postures, that reference prisoners blindfolded in the Iraqi war, while a fighter jet is projected behind him. This is followed by a prayer “for all the brave men and women of the United States.” It feels like a prayer of intercession, in which the impact of the war in Iraq is considered.

I then use theory of installation art to understand this evolving performance. I note the use of samples (song snippets, visuals, performance posture) and how these create connections and awaken communal memory. The work of De Oliveria, Oxley and Petry (Installation Art in the New Millennium: The Empire of the Senses) is a rich resource. They talk about the creation of an experiential space which allows “a viewing of the self contemplating the external world.”

I apply this to the evolving performance of Bullet

The self can lament at the external world at Paris; the self can confess at Slane Castle and the self can both confess and petition in Chicago. U2’s use of sampling crafts an experience that allows introspection with regard to how one should act in the relation to the wider world.” (Exploring U2: Is This Rock ‘n’ Roll?: Essays on the Music, Work, and Influence of U2, 94).

The reappearance of Bullet in the new U2 Innocence and experience tour is thus yet another, quite distinctive, evolution. The lyrics undergo a dramatic change, with new verses written to reference not the conflict in Central America but talks in Davos and the use of cell phones. There is a song sample, which needs further discussion. What is most intriguing is what seems to be an interplay during the performance of Bullet between young Bono (19) and Bono (now). He seems to be “patting himself” down. The adolescent is engaging with the rock star, including the rock star so mocked for his social justice activism (including going to Davos).

This adds another whole dimension of “a viewing of the self.” It is a contemplating of the self in the external world, when young, and now middle-aged. This is perhaps what is at the heart of the innocence and experience tour, a self looking back. This introspection can allow a contemplation of what has become. Whether this is lament, confession or intercession depends on the actions of the self.

Importantly, having reflected, having “patted oneself down”, one is now freed to consider not only what one has become, but what one is becoming.

Posted by steve at 11:10 AM


  1. I think another thing that is happening in this young-Bono vs old-Bono scene is that he’s afraid the younger is judging him for his “compromise,” a word that Bono himself used in Vancouver. And that is a difficult word in Ireland, where it has been criticized as a strategy for ending the Troubles. The last decade has also seen Bono slide up to the most powerful politicians in America, as well as the most wealthy corporate CEOs. I’m not sure how comfortable he is with himself at this point, but he certainly knows the younger Bono would write him off as a sell-out, something he is constantly critiqued for.

    Thanks for pursuing this song and project with such interest. I always love to hear your thoughts.

    Tim Neufeld

    Comment by Tim Neufeld — May 23, 2015 @ 5:02 pm

  2. I attend the May 15 concert in Vancouver and recorded “Bullet” on my cellphone. In the rapid-fire images seen on the large screen, near the beginning of the song you one see (if you freeze fame) the words: “Jesus saves”


    a Jesus fish, several crosses, and a crucifix with Christ on the cross.

    Comment by DB — May 24, 2015 @ 2:51 pm

  3. Correction: on screen, the “S” in SAVES begins under the first “S” of JESUS.

    Comment by DB — May 24, 2015 @ 2:55 pm

  4. Thanks DB. It would be interesting to know what images come before and after. In the ZOOTV tour, the slogans were often ironic, so it would be interesting to see what context is around those images.


    Comment by steve — May 24, 2015 @ 6:32 pm

  5. Before or after these images (or perhaps both) it shows close-ups of casino tables, people making bets, etc.

    I thinking…

    eg. the *love* of money? Judas sold Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, etc.

    Comment by DB — May 25, 2015 @ 4:46 am

  6. I’m thinking a set of visual images of a typical Las Vegas mainstreet – a culture in which religion is visible – strangely


    Comment by steve — May 25, 2015 @ 11:40 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.