If a shot did ring out in the Memphis sky early on the morning of April 4th 1968, it wasn't because Martin Luther King Jr was being shot dead – that didn't happen until past 6pm. There are those who would forgive Bono for his slapdash recollection of one of the saddest days in the history of civil rights (he was, after all, only seven years old at the time). But there are many who would seize any opportunity to criticise the singer of Pride (In the Name of Love) in spite of a very public and inspiring catalogue of charitable works and more than 30 years of waking up the public to some of the key issues of a generation.
Nevertheless, with a superior rock riff and anthemic singalong (albeit largely meaningless) lyrics, you could do worse than listen to Pride as a way of honouring one of America's greatest political and spiritual leaders on the 50th anniversary of his murder by escaped criminal James Earl Ray (his family believes that it was all a conspiracy, but that's another story).
That day is recalled by Jesse Jackson in The Guardian this week.
“Every time I think about it, it’s like pulling a scab off a sore,” he says. “It’s a hurtful, painful thought: that a man of love is killed by hate; that a man of peace should be killed by violence; a man who cared is killed by the careless.”
Pride (In the Name of Love) was released as a single in the UK in September 1984 and reached Number 3, their biggest hit to date. The album Unforgettable Fire followed in October and with it U2 emerged from the alternative post-punk rock circuit to become a world class stadium rock giant. When the band played Live Aid the following July, introduced via satellite to the USA by Hollywood legend Jack Nicholson, they ascended to rock stardom and never looked back.
For all his charity work, such as initiatives to end poverty and AIDS in Africa, Paul David Hewson (aka Bono) is considered a sanctimonious prig by many, not least in his home nation of Ireland. Those people cringe when he displays his trademark peace sign and waste no time mentioning U2's questionable history of tax avoidance (as opposed to illegal tax evasion).
Why do people hate Bono, and by extension U2, so much? In truth it's probably part jealousy and part harsh - but deserved – criticism; but a big part of it is cultural: the tendency throughout the British Isles to tear down the most successful among us, to take them down a peg or two and remind them they're no better than us.
But in a week when we might pause to remember the dream that Martin Luther King Jr fought and died for, we have to conclude that we're better off when we applaud those who try to make positive change, rather than ridicule them. And to honour and respect our neighbours rather than antagonise them.
“Dr King believed in multiracial, multicultural coalitions of conscience, not ethnic nationalism," says Jesse Jackson. "He felt nationalism – whether black, white or brown – was narrowly conceived, given our global challenges. So having a multiracial setting said much about his vision of America and the world, what America should stand for as well as the world.”
You can learn more about U2 here
About the curator: Jon Ewing
After graduating from the University of Keele in England with a degree in Politics and American Studies, Jon worked as editor of a music and entertainment magazine before spending several years as a freelance writer and, with the advent of the internet, a website designer, developer and consultant. He lives in Reading, home to one of the world's most famous and long-running music festivals, which he has attended every year since 1992.
4 March 2021
A high-speed combination of punk chorus and ska verse, Mustard Plug’s singalong Unite and Fight is just one of a sensational 28 tracks on the Ska Against Racism album compiled by Bad Time Records in 2020 to raise funds for non-profit organisations working to improve education, opportunity and justice for black people in the USA and beyond. With a barrelling momentum and a repudiation of violent action, this uplifting song is a call to arms for those of us committed to disarmament.
8 September 2020
Celebrating the determination of “one hundred thousand teenagers” to take over the streets of London to save their future from calamity, KIDSTRIKE! by novelist and singer songwriter JB Morrison – aka Jim Bob – is taken from the UK Top 40 album Pop Up Jim Bob released in August 2020 and inspired by the real life activism of countless young activists. But the song is run through with a rueful recognition of the singer’s own fading urge to save the world.
28 July 2020
Inspired in part by the fatal shooting in New York of a ten-year-old black boy by a white plain-clothes policeman, the audacious centrepiece of Stevie Wonder’s experimental 1973 album was a seven-and-a-half-minute meditation on the brutality of black America: Living for the City…