“Early morning April four, a shot rings out in the Memphis sky. Free at last, they took your life; they could not take your pride. In the name of love, one more in the name of love.” U2, Pride, 1984.
Recent mainstream news coverage of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr, sadly all but hidden between stories of the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony and Prince Phillip’s hip surgery, reminded me of my introduction to Pride in the spring of 1984. A Christian student club at my school advertised a lunchtime talk about U2’s new single, Pride (In The Name of Love). Although my family were Christian, I was actively discouraged from attending school-based religious training and was excluded from scripture lessons due to parental fears that I would be taught incorrect doctrine or put more simply, ‘the wrong thing’. As a result, I had never attended SU (Scripture Union) meetings, although I was curious.
I attended this meeting, learnt a little about the band U2, was introduced to Martin Luther King Jnr, and was fascinated by the parallels drawn between him and Jesus. I’m sure I had previously heard the song Pride (In The Name of Love) and liked it, which drew me to the meeting in the first place. The Unforgettable Fire was a huge album, with considerable radio and TV coverage. This brief lunchtime meeting though, was what really piqued my interest in U2. Here was a mainstream band with a sound I liked, yet they sometimes used Christian imagery. At a time when I was struggling with discrepancies between my own floundering faith and the expectations of my parents and longing for parental approval, U2 grabbed my attention. Surely my parents couldn’t object to this band in the same way they objected to some of my other favourites like Boy George or Wham? After all, U2 included biblical references in their lyrics. Disappointingly, my parents weren’t nearly as excited as I or particularly interested in my discoveries when I shared them at the dinner table that night. They were sceptical about the band and believed the song to be blasphemous, as no man should be compared to Jesus. Approval not forthcoming.
Too late now, my interest had been awakened and soon after, I purchased The Unforgettable Fire LP. This was the first cassette tape I ever purchased with my own money. I remember visiting the record shop on my way home from school, handing over my hard-earned cash and walking proudly home, eager to play it for the first time. I still have that cassette tape, despite no longer owning the technology necessary to play it. I later also purchased the EP version, which quickly became part of my bedtime routine, much to my little sister’s annoyance, as we shared a room. This, in time, led to the purchase of most albums released by the band ever since.
“Life is filled with small moments which seem prosaic until one has the distance to look back and see the chain of … moments they unleashed.” Chris Bohjalian.
Little did I realise my early teen longing for parental approval and the purchase of a seemingly insignificant tape would lead to decades enjoying the music of U2 – songs which truly have become the soundtrack of my life.
Returning to the initial memory trigger
Although I have never formally studied modern US history, I have learnt more about Martin Luther King Jnr through documentaries, references in literature and other sources over time. A man of historical and cultural significance, often cited by others, I would like to learn more about his life and work. [Please leave a comment if you can recommend a good biography.] Many of his best known quotes pop up regularly and are still just as relevant today as when he spoke them, over fifty years ago. A Baptist minister and social activist, he preached and fought for equality between races and was a leader in the civil rights movement in the US for over a decade. He believed love was the only thing which could overcome the hatred and darkness experienced by his people and longed to serve God through serving his fellow humans. (Please excuse me for extreme oversimplification.)
Martin Luther King Jr was ‘assassinated’ on April 4 1968, making him a martyr of the civil rights movement. [Let’s be honest here and call it murder, shall we? Yes, I do realise assassination is politically motivated killing, but it’s still murder. Assassination sounds so clinical it somehow sanitises the truth.]
In memory of the late Martin Luther King Jnr, I’d like to leave you with some food for thought in the form of a few of his most famous quotes which I believe contain a challenge for us all.
“Darkness can’t drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate can’t drive out hate; only love can do that.”
“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?”
“Use me, God. Show me how to take who I am, who I want to be, and what I can do, and use it for a purpose greater than myself.”
– Martin Luther King Jnr