[Editor's Note: It's been way too long since I've put a video under a microscope, so here it goes.]
The other day I was talking to a new friend, and after feeling each other out and making sure it was safe to admit, we realized that we both had a deep affection for U2. This has become a bit of an uncool thing to admit recently, I guess for good reason. But as uninteresting as the band's music has become and as insufferable as Bono's public persona can be, they made a handful of really fantastic albums that will always stick with me.
My friend and I noted how in the cultural and political wasteland of the 1980s, their early political moves were exciting, rather than eye rolling. In the midst of the Reagan reaction and its excess of greed, nationalism, and indifference to suffering, the live video for "Sunday Bloody Sunday" hit me upside the head with a spiritual two by four. I was a weird child, so I watched the news and was well aware of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Living in a town where Catholics and Protestants were pretty divided (at least back then) I was shocked that such differences could be a reason to murder someone. (I wasn't really apprised of the history of occupation and settlement, of course. Due to my Catholic identity I definitely had a side, though.) This song was about those Troubles, but in the midst of Reagan's rearming and the sudden reheating of the Cold War, I took it as a cry for sanity in an insane, war-crazed world.
The marching beat, descending melody of Edge reverb, and keening harmonies immediately provoke an erie, unsettling sensation. That gets magnified in the video, shot in the Red Rocks outdoor theater in Colorado. There are burning flames on the rocks under a famously blood red sky, their colors turned into kaleidoscopic flares by virtue of being shot on early and primitive videotape. (So meta. It's a video where video itself is a major player in the look of it.) The video is also notable for showing Edge with hair and without a hat, perhaps the last one to do so. His buffalo check flannel vest is kind of in style again nowadays, so you can't say this aged too poorly.
As always, Bono is the center of attention, practicing unique and less overtly macho front man moves than say Jagger or Plant. Bono sort of skip-hop marches in time with the beat, occasionally flinging his mullet, perhaps the most glorious of the 80s. The piece de la resistance, of course, is the white flag that Bono plants at the front of the stage screaming "No more!" You can call it cheesy, but it still gets me. In the midst of the glorification of military might and false lies of "morning in America" here was a song calling for humanity and peace. We need that spirit more than ever.