Today I am writing about what I believe to be the greatest song ever recorded – U2’s “Bad”, from The Unforgettable Fire. When I was in college, I once wrote an essay about this song for a class, and I was never quite happy with what I turned in. It’s bugged me for years, so today is my chance to get it right. I suppose I should start out by giving a little of the song’s history. The song was originally written against the dangerous drug heroin, which Bono apparently had some second-hand experience with. Different versions of the song’s origins have been given in the past, but the current story, which I believe to be true, states that this experience came via Andy Rowen, brother of Bono’s dear friend Guggi and of Peter Rowen, the boy from the covers of Boy, War, and The Best of 1980-1990. “Bad”‘s main claim to fame, for the more casual U2 fans in the world, anyway, came when an epic nearly-thriteen-minute version of the song was performed at Live-Aid back in July of 1985. Bono’s on-stage antics as he desperately reached out and tried to connect with the audience made a huge impact with viewers around the world. U2 were one of the stars of the day thanks to the amazing performance they gave, and I will probably always think of that as the definitive version of “Bad”. Since then, the song has been played on every tour, although not as often as I might wish.
Bono has been critical of the song’s lyrics in the past, calling them “unfocused” and “unfinished”, and it’s true that the lyrics have a surreal, trippy quality to them, but it has always seemed to me that the lines in the middle of the song, “Dislocation, separation, condemnation, revelation in temptation, isolation, desolation” are clearly about someone trying to kick their drug habit and going through withdrawal when they experience a moment of clarity. The chorus of the song is Bono begging his friend to let go of his addiction before they “fade away”, IE before it kills them.
Because of the unclear meaning behind much of the song’s lyrics, the words take a bit of a backseat to the stunning music at some points. A repeated guitar motif swells in intensity, aided by the building drums, until the explosive climax at the song’s end. Listening to “Bad” gives me the greatest feeling of catharsis I’ve ever experienced. In fact, every time I’ve heard the song live, (and many times listening to it at home) I’ve been moved to tears. I got the impression a few years ago that the band was surprised by the song’s popularity, and I’m pleased that they’ve continued to make it a recurring element at this tour’s shows, but I wouldn’t mind hearing “Bad” every night. Whether that wish will ever come true or not, only time will tell, but in the meantime I think that the band knows better than to eliminate the fan-favorite song altogether.