Keep Art Alive :: Art by Loui Jover
“If you twist and turn away,
if you tear yourself in two again,
if I could,
yes I would.
If I could,
About the song:
“Bad” is track seven on U2’s album, The Unforgettable Fire, released in 1984. It has been said to be a song about heroin addiction, and is known to be one of U2’s most frequently played songs in concert.
A performance of the song at 1985’s Live Aid was considered a career breakthrough for the band.
The live version of Bad is the opening track off of the live EP, Wide Awake in America, and is often the chosen version played on the radio.
“Bad” began with an improvised guitar riff during a jam session at Slane Castle where U2 were recording The Unforgettable Fire. The basic track was completed in three takes. Of its immediate and live nature, U2 guitarist the Edge said “There’s one moment where Larry puts down brushes and takes up the sticks and it creates this pause which has an incredibly dramatic effect.”
Producer Brian Eno added the sequencer arpeggios that accompany the song.
The early 1980’s recession had led to high number of heroin addicts in inner city Dublin. In concert, lead vocalist Bono frequently introduced the song as a song about Dublin. The Edge and the album’s producers, Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, were focused on the music and less interested in the lyrics. Bono left the song unfinished.
During a July 26, 2011 concert in Pittsburgh, Bono explained before a performance of “Bad” that the song was written for “very special man, who is here in your city, who grew up on Cedarwood Road. We wrote this song about him and we play it for him tonight.” He was referring to Andy Rowen, whom the song was originally written about in 1984 and who was present at the show. Rowen is brother of Bono’s Lypton Village friend Guggi and Peter Rowen, who is featured on the sleeve artwork for the band’s albums Boy and War.
There are other versions of the story from Bono himself.
His account from a 1987 concert in Chicago indicate “Bad” is about a friend of his who died of a heroin overdose and also about the conditions that make such events likely to be repeated.
Bono once commented in another concert (in the UK) about people lying in gutters with “needles hangin’ outta their fuckin’ arms while the rich live indifferently to the suffering of the less fortunate.”
At Eriksberg, Gothenburg in Sweden 1987, he said: “I wrote the words about a friend of mine; his name was Gareth Spaulding, and on his 21st birthday he and his friends decided to give themselves a present of enough heroin into his veins to kill him. This song is called ‘Bad.'”
Art is personal and universal all at the same time. We bring to art our selves, our perceptions, our stories, our memories, our scars and our histories, and all that clouds our judgment and colors the way we take it all in. For me, reading that this song is about heroin seems strange, and foreign. For me, “Bad” has always been about love, the one that got away and full of regrets kind of love, lost love.
For me, the song is about trying to let go and get over a lost love, but failing. Its about sleepless nights of longing and wishing, of running through scenarios of what you wish you’d said, or done, differently. It is the inner dialogue one has, between the heart and the mind – the mind insisting its time to walk away, to let go, to be free, while the heart fights back, stubborn, heels dug in and arms flailed out and grabbing at anything, just to hang on, just to keep hoping, wanting, loving.
I can still remember vividly watching U2 perform “Bad” at Live Aid. I was sitting cross-legged on my living room floor, all day long, not wanting to miss anything. This performance got to me, moved me, made this song quickly one of my top 5 U2 songs ever.
The song also reminds me of my favorite book, Tiffanie Debartolo’s God-Shaped Hole, because I know Tiffanie is a big fan of U2, and this song always reminded/reminds me of Beatrice and Jacob.
Bad (live) :: U2
originally from the album, The Unforgettable Fire (1984)