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Sunday Bloody Sunday And Zombie English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2112 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Triggered by the widely felt frustration and enragement at the seemingly endless series of atrocities in Northern Ireland, Irish rock band U2 penned Sunday Bloody Sunday in 1983, expressing through the song their exasperation at the seemingly endless violence of the time and pleading for peace. Singing wearily, “How long, how long must we sing this song?”, lead singer Bono refers to not only the historic second Bloody Sunday Massacre, but a number of bloodletting events that dated back to approximately 1920. These unfortunate events all combined to coin a term identified as “The Troubles” – a time of mass political unrest and conflict in the region primarily between the Irish/Catholic minority and the British/Protestant majority. Characterized by violence, discrimination, famine and political pandemonium, the Troubles forms a dark chapter in modern Irish history, the scars of which continue to mar the land.

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Satirically contrasting the Bloody Sunday (a day that was subject to shocking barbarity wherein British troops opened fire and killed 13 unarmed Irish civilians in the middle of a civil rights protest) with Easter Sunday (a day on which both Catholics as well as Protestants celebrate peacefully), the band protests against the Catholic/Protestant conflict that spurred the bloodshed on Bloody Sunday – a conflict that, as the song elaborates, only served to contaminate the message of a religion that they were once supposedly fighting for. A song inspired by similar events is The Cranberries’ 1994 hit single, Zombie.

Also an Irish band, The Cranberries indicate that Zombie was shaped by their distress at not only the deplorable acts committed during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, but also at the sickening state of past and current social and political affairs of the world. Zombie focuses not only on the unremitting savagery, but also delves to a more psychological plane, dissenting the frustrating manner in which people find themselves capable of acts of revolting viciousness in their quest to attain a goal that they ultimately seem to have lost focus of amidst the carnage, while exploring the effects that these levels of violence have on the human mind, making not just the ones murdered, but the ones committing the murder as well, victims.

Inspired by the unwarranted death of a little boy that was caught in the middle of a perpetual struggle between the Irish and the British, lead singer Dolores O’Riordan wrote Zombie as a form of protest to the brutalities humans had been proving themselves capable of, occasionally making references to the Troubles and, in some cases, the First World War. For instance, her apparent reference to the Easter Rising of 1916 when she sings “It’s the same old theme, since 1916” is not entirely so. Though a pivotal part of Irish history during the Troubles, the Easter Rising is only what she is referring to on the surface. On a deeper analysis, Dolores is in fact referring to the times of the World War in 1916, which was a year when some of the most flagitious events in the history of mankind occurred.

Sunday Bloody Sunday and Zombie may originate in entirely different times and genres, but their content embodies the same motive and message nonetheless.

Asserting U2’s nonpartisan stance in the Catholic/Protestant conflict in Sunday Bloody Sunday with “I won’t heed the battle call”, lead singer Bono endeavours to invoke a sense of realization as he moves on to sing “There’s many lost, but tell me who has won?”, pertaining to the fact that in war, neither side is the right one; that one act of violence only invites another; that the vicious cycle of violence only serves to turn men into vacuous zombies with a fierce thirst for blood. The Cranberries employ the term “zombie” as a metaphor to describe what the people of the world had proven to become. Using the British/Irish conflict in Northern Ireland and seemingly endless battle for Irish unification purely as an example, both U2 and The Cranberries express through these songs their frustration at the fact that the violence and war in the world has persisted for so long, that it has almost become a part of our lives. As Zombie elaborates further, the violence seems to have almost become a part of our routine, where we do nothing to end it and pretend instead that it doesn’t affect us. Like a zombie – a soulless, mindless creature bereft of a conscience that is dead yet walks the Earth – Dolores elucidates how the people of the world seem to have turned into mindless, soulless creatures that only do what they are commanded to; that commit horrific acts because they are told it is for a just cause despite their silent disagreement; that trudge in an empty circle, devoid of moral sense, assuming the pretense of obliviousness.

Sunday Bloody Sunday begs audiences to come together and overlook their differences, imploring listeners to unite and help put an end to the violence and discrimination, while establishing the band as neutral spectators in the midst of a bloodbath – as impartial citizens of the world sympathizing with neither the Irish nor the British, condemning and questioning the idea and necessity of war and violence. Zombie as well draws similar views, stating that “The violence causes silence”, implying plainly that the incessant slaughtering will only result in the silencing of thousands of innocent lives.

An essential component of both songs and the way with which the band communicates its message to audiences is not the lyrical significance of the song, but in fact the manner of its instrumentals.

Opening with a warlike, militaristic beat layered with Steve Wickam’s electric violin, Sunday Bloody Sunday is essentially a rock ‘n’ roll song – a prevailing genre of the 80s. The heightening advances in the technology of the age, especially with the introduction of MIDI, permitted a broader range of sound effects and fluxing for the song. These effects comprised of the electric violin in the intro, assertive snare-drum and memorable guitar riffs in the verse, harmonic echoes in the chorus, and the layered vocals towards the end – all of which have been blended in proficiently to produce harsh, aggressive verses characteristic of the genre to express the band’s anger and frustration at the severity of the persisting savagery, while in the chorus the song adopts a more hopeful, elating quality with the development of major chords and The Edge’s echoing backing vocals, contrasting considerably with the aggressive guitar riffs and lyrics in the verses. These instrumental and harmonic manipulations imprint a deeper message than the lyrics of the song do, the purpose of which being solely to question and to give hope – the lyrics and angry instrumentals in the verses question and condemn, while in the chorus, the fury subsides to grant a more hopeful, optimistic approach – an aspiration for change, a message for peace.

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In Zombie, it is the vocals rather than the instrumentals that hold a higher degree of significance over the lyrics. A key characteristic of the song is the way in which Dolores portrays it, bringing out the yodel-like quality of her voice, the instrumentals complementing her vocals perfectly. Crossing over from their usual alternative rock style, for Zombie, The Cranberries chose instead to make room for a wider sonic palette with a heavier, grunge/alternative metal sound – one that, at the time, was rapidly seizing mass appeal. Featuring a grating guitar riff, Dolores chooses a more aggressive stance in this song as compared to her other work, presenting a trembling timbre in the verses to emphasize the grimness of its substance and angrily crying out the word “Zombie” in the chorus. The metaphor isn’t referring just to the soldiers, mercenaries and terrorists that perceivably pull the trigger – Zombie is also a term for the people that choose to ignore the severity of the ongoing violence and play the blame-game instead, pulling a metaphysical trigger and hence inadvertently nurturing these bestial acts. Hence when she says “With their tanks, and their bombs / and their bombs, and their guns”, she demonstrates the way human beings tend to choose almost instantly to blame someone else the minute a grievous situation arises instead of acknowledging the problem and trying to do something about it. She also verifies with the lyric her non-partisan political positioning, which lies within the fact that she refers to the British in the first section of the line, and to the Irish in the latter half.

Boasting aggressive instrumentation coupled with Dolores’ yodel-like cries, Zombie incorporates typical grunge elements to produce a coarse, harsh sound distinctive of its lyrical content. U2, on the other hand, mixes both aggressive as well as melodic components to create a contrast between the harsher verses and the unexpectedly lighter, more harmonious chorus to accentuate their comparison between Bloody Sunday and Easter Sunday. The band educes the song’s religious bearing with the usage of metaphors and biblical references, for instance when it concludes with “The real battle has yet begun, to claim the victory Jesus won / On Sunday, bloody Sunday”. The lyric points out how an unceasing bloodbath in order to claim for one’s own religion a victory that Jesus won for us all only serves to maculate that which He fought for and triumphed over, for us all.

While Sunday Bloody Sunday exhibits a religious stand, Zombie provides a more psychological one. Right from the opening line, when Dolores sings “Another head hangs lowly”, she talks not only of the mourner’s state of mind, but also that of the soldier – the mourner’s head hangs low in grief, while the soldier/mercenary’s does so in shame. Zombie portrays what the horrors of war can do not just to the victims of murder, but to the soldiers committing those acts, not daring to stray from their superiors’ orders. Zombie is a song that sheds light on the then rarely-uttered truths about what war can do to debase one’s moral constitution. The line “Another mother’s breaking heart is taking over” impresses the way in which the unceasing cycle of violence is often triggered- one man’s murder will only evoke another on a quest for vengeance, eventually stirring “zombies” consumed with a seemingly insatiable thirst for blood. Thus begins a vicious cycle that takes one so far down its path that one forgets what it was they were fighting for to begin with, enslaving them to the violence.

Adopting a more descriptive than politically univocal stance, The Cranberries drop subtle hints at the events Zombie is based on, in contrast to U2, who seek a more straightforward approach.

Resorting to simplicity rather than elaborate tactics, one of the most stirring perceivable features of Sunday Bloody Sunday is the way in which U2 chooses to protest against not only the butchery in Ireland, but in the history of the world as well, when Bono waves a white flag screaming “No more!” in an act of resistance to the violence, yielding a haunting blend of aggression and aural delight. Zombie, on the other hand, appeals to the enthrallingly progressive technology of the 90s, generating heartrending visual images in the music video, illustrating the heavy toll that war takes on one’s life and land, seeking – much like U2, but by different means – to invoke in audiences a sense of awareness and appeal for peace.

That these songs prove to be greatly similar despite the stark differences in genre and era, there is no question about. Resolving that which inquires just what it is about these songs that renders them their appeal however, there is some debate to. Be it the gritty veraciousness; the intense exasperation yet entreaties for compassion; the heavy, rough guitar riffs and drums revealing distinctly memorable melodies; the absence of partisanship in a song centered on political frustration; the unusual yet refreshing conflation of aggressive conviction giving way to an element of hope; or, perhaps, simply because these songs are anthems that will be revered by generations to come: anthems that protest, yes – for peace.


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