Throughout U2’s career, they’ve been human rights activists, both through music and deed. Among their many charitable works, they’ve been involved in the ONE campaign, which fights extreme poverty, and RED, which provides help for AIDS drugs in Africa. Musically, myriad U2 songs also reflect their activism, including The Joshua Tree‘s “Bullet the Blue Sky.” In the new video above, Bono discusses the origins of the 1987 song.
In the clip, Bono details his visit to El Salvador in 1986, which culminated in the band crafting “Bullet the Blue Sky.” At the time, Ronald Reagan was president and the U.S. was involved in the region’s civil war. Bono says he visited with some Americans who were “offering solace to refugees in the war in El Salvador.”
The small group he was with went into the country’s hills. “I remember the ground shaking and I remember the smell I suppose of being near a war zone,” the singer recalls. And while he says he didn’t feel they were in danger at the time, he knew lives were being lost nearby. “And it upset me as a person who read the Scriptures, to think that Christians in America were supporting this kind of thing, this kind of proxy war because of these Communists.” Later he adds, “I was not a Communist, but I felt it was wrong.”
Though he said he saw things there “that are really hard to explain,” he felt that through the band they could communicate what was happening via song. “I’m blessed because I’m part of the U2 group and they’re really good. They have an ability to express inexpressible thoughts,” he says.
He spoke with Edge about what he’d been through in El Salvador, and with a “nod to Jimi Hendrix,” Edge put the “fear and loathing” into his guitar solo on the song. “We strapped my feelings to the song ‘Bullets the Blue Sky,” he recounts.
He then went on to explain how the lyrics developed. “I used the language of the Scripture to describe the situation: ‘In the howling wind comes a stinging rain / See it driving nails /Into the souls in the tree of pain / From a firefly, a red orange glow / See the face of fear / Running scared on the valley below/ Bullet the blue sky.”
As for the character Bono created that’s described in the lyrics as having a “face red like a rose in a thorn bush” and who’s “peeling off those dollar bills”? That was Ronald Reagan. “As a student of non-violence I had a violent reaction to what I was witnessing,” he explains.
The video is part of Louder Than Words: Rock, Power and Politics exhibit, which will premiere at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on May 20th and will run through November 27th. The exhibit, which explores important socio-political topics in the U.S. through rock music, features more than 50 artists and political figures. It will also show exclusive interviews with artists, including Bono, David Byrne, Dee Snider, Tom Morello, Lars Urlich, Gloria Estefan, Gregg Allman, Jimmy Carter and others.