MLK is musically kind of dreary. Just a few different notes repeated back and forth. No drum, no bass. The words are repeated (mostly). A fairly short song overall. But this song is not about the music, and only partly about the words. This song is possibly the closest to a prayer that U2 have done. It does fit fairly well into The Unforgettable Fire, the entire album is kind of quiet and thoughtful.
Personally what I like about it is mostly that it leads into With Or Without You, and yet I’m not sure it has even done that very often. It did in the Rattle And Hum movie, and that’s where I’ve seen it played the most, where WOWY follows right after. For all I know (and I’m not going to do the research), it might have only played that way one time.
It was also sung for Aung San Suu Kyi at some points, which compares her to Martin Luther King. I suppose that could be a valid comparison, both are fighting for their people. Not in the same way, but good enough. I think they’ve also dedicated it to others over the years, which may tend to dilute the message.
On this day we get to pause and reflect about Martin Luther King (and literally as I write a commercial for the movie Selma came on tv). I have to say that I come from a point of privilege, being a white male, and so I’ve never had to live the experiences that many people go through. I can read history though - and much of the news that happens today - and my own liberal leaning tells me that we have a long way to go. The message from the song is that even if there are problems in the short term - the thunderclouds that pass rain - they will be gone one day and dreams will be realized. The question, of course, is how long it will take the dreams.
I have long had the theory that it takes the current leadership dying to produce progress. This applies to race and gender and probably many other things. In the 1960s the leaders of the country were old white men, and the up-and-coming leaders had pretty much the same views. As time goes by they lose power, or die off, and younger people slowly get more tolerant of many things. The arc of history is long but it bends towards progress. Or something like that. The question is how long to wait for progress. We see progress in women’s rights. We see progress in gay marriage. I’m not sure I see this happening in the black community in the same way. It is much more a case where white people are actively working to keep black people poor and in need, rather than enabling them to step up and improve their lot in life. This is why studies consistently show that poor people perform worse in life, and black people are a large subset of poor people, largely for historical reasons.
So how long until we see MLK’s dream realized? How long must we sing this song?
My rating for MLK: 4 / 10