Several times in its history, U2 has responded to acts of terrorism with words and music
The band's concerts in Paris last weekend were canceled after Friday's terrorist attacks
On the morning of July 7, 2005, Islamic extremists detonated three bombs on trains and a bus across London, killing 52 people and wounding hundreds.
That night, U2 performed at a stadium in Berlin, where during “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” frontman Bono donned a headband bearing the word “Coexist,” designed to incorporate a Christian cross, a star of David and an Islamic crescent.
“Jesus, Jew, Mohammad, it’s true. All sons of Abraham,” he chanted, pointing to the symbols to plead for religious tolerance during a time of war – a gesture Bono repeated throughout the tour.
“Father Abraham, speak to your sons. Tell them, ‘No more!’ “
Ten years later, Islamic terrorists have struck another major European capital in the midst of a U2 tour. As a coordinated flurry of attacks jolted Paris on Friday, killing at least 129 people, the band was in the city rehearsing for a Paris concert that was to be broadcast live by HBO. The concert was canceled, along with another show there, although HBO and French authorities have rescheduled it for December 7.
And once again, members of U2, who also devoted part of their 2001 “Elevation” tour concerts to honor victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks, find themselves in the unenviable but not-unfamiliar role of responding to the violence – including a mass shooting at a concert venue that has shaken many musicians.
“Music is very important. I think U2 has a role to play, and I can’t wait till we get back to Paris and play,” Bono told Irish DJ Dave Fanning in a radio interview Saturday, adding that the band refuses to be cowed by terrorists.
“This is an illness that’s in the world now. And we just can’t give in to it,” added the singer, who joined fellow band members The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. in laying flowers Saturday on the pavement near the scene of Friday’s attack at the Bataclan Theatre. “We can’t let them decide how we live.”
The postponed U2 concerts resurrect old questions about the appropriate role of entertainment in times of tragedy. When considering whether to cancel or reschedule events, performers must weigh duty to their fans against a proper show of respect for the dead and wounded.
It can be a tricky balancing act – just ask Madonna, who told a concert audience Saturday night in Stockholm, “In many ways, I feel torn. Like why am I up here dancing and having fun when people are crying over the loss of their loved ones?”
Other artists, including Coldplay, Prince and the Foo Fighters, have canceled European shows in the wake of the Paris attacks.
U2’s music has long grappled head-on with tragic events such as the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (“Pride (In the Name of Love)”) and the 1972 massacre of Irish protesters by British soldiers near Derry in Northern Ireland (“Sunday Bloody Sunday”).
The band also understands firsthand the cathartic power of music to help audiences grieve and heal. Four weeks after the 9/11 attacks, U2 launched a North American tour that brought the band to New York’s Madison Square Garden for three emotional shows in late October. Each night, New York police and firefighters joined them onstage during the encores.
Three months later, U2 turned its Super Bowl halftime show into a tribute to the nearly 3,000 victims of 9/11.
“The feeling of Madison Square Garden was just unbelievable. … The feeling was just ‘this is who we are; you can’t change us,’ ” Bono said Saturday. ” ‘You’re not going to turn us into haters, or you’re not going to turn us around in the way we go about our lives.’ That was the feeling of Madison Square Garden back then, and I hope that will be the feeling at Bercy (the arena in Paris) when we get back there.”