May 08 2020

Behind "Bullet The Blue Sky"


As part of 2015's special exhibit Louder Than Words: Rock, Power & Politics, we interviewed 2005 Inductee Bono about U2's "Bullet the Blue Sky" and how his own life events and experiences influenced his songwriting.

From Interview with U2's Bono

I always want to go and see things for myself.

That's why I ended up during the famine in Ethiopia. That's why I ended up in central America during the problems there in El Salvador and even in Nicaragua. I just want to go, I just want to see for myself. 

I see things that are very hard to explain. That words, perhaps if I was a better writer, maybe I could just write journalism. But I'm blessed because I'm part of the U2 group and they're really good. They have an ability to express inexpressible thoughts. When I explained to Edge what I've been through in El Salvador, he was able to – with a nod to Jimi Hendrix actually – try and put some of that fear and loathing into his guitar solo. 

We strapped my feelings to the [U2] song "Bullet the Blue Sky." I've been there; it was an American movement that were… wonderful people who were offering solace to refugees from the war in El Salvador. I was with one of those groups visiting. It was just a few of us. We went out into the hills and maybe that was irresponsible, I don't know, because we're in the middle of a war zone. 



Bono Tells the Story of "Bullet the Blue Sky"

2005 Inductee Bono of U2

Bono Tells the Story of "Bullet the Blue Sky"

2005 Inductee Bono of U2

There was some shots fired over our heads and things like that.


I don't think it was that dangerous where we were. There was some shots fired over our heads and things like that. The sound of gunfire is out in the open – you're not in closed streets. It's very unromantic, it's like spitting... I've been shot at a few times as it happens. I think this was the first. Well, it was the first.


We just walked on. There were just soldiers playing with us really. I don't think they had any dark intentions. In the hillside across the way, they were bombing, fire bombing these villages, to get the paramilitaries out of there. They would then torch the place. I remember the ground shaking. I remember the smell of… I supposed being near a war zone.


I really don't think we were in any danger. I don't want to exaggerate that. I knew their lives were being in danger or being lost close to us. I felt for them. 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. 

Bullet The Blue Sky

I did actually, I was walking the same trip, I did see a memorable piece of graffiti, it said, "fuck Jesus." And I went, "oh, that's a bit strong, is it?" They said: "No! That's just Jesus, he lives around the corner." 

It did bother me that this was being sanctioned by religious people and brutalizing of this movement, this communist movement. I was not a communist, but I felt it was wrong, so I used the language of the scripture to describe the situation: in the howling wind comes a stinging rain; see it driving nails into souls on the tree of pain; from the firefly, a red orange glow, see the faces of fear running scared in the valley below, bullet the blue sky; a locust wind comes a rattle and hum; Jacob wrestled the angel and the angel was overcome. 

Then I had a character [in my head]... this guy comes up to me, his face red like a rose on a thorn bush, like all the colors of a royal flush, and he's peeling off those dollar bills, slapping them down, paying for the war. And he in my head at the time was Ronald Reagan. I had not a sophisticated understanding of what was going down. 

I had a non-violent, as a student of non-violence, I had that, I was having a violent reaction to what I was witnessing. I was interested in the time in liberation theology, which is people were reinterpreting the scriptures to their own specific situations. So you go into a church, a liberation theology church, and you'd see the flight from Egypt would be painted and portrayed, instead of pharaoh, it'd be like Ronald Reagan. This might have been a little simplistic, but that's where I was coming from, from "Bullet the Blue Sky." You asked, I told you.

Hero Photography: Janet Macoska

2005 Inductees U2