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Walk On and Aung San Suu Kyi, a life story turned into a song

Thursday 17 May 2012, by Ping pour U2 France

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Those of you who have followed the international current events last week will understand that this article is not only a coincidence. On this first of April Aung San Suu Kyi had won the vote for a seat in parliament in her homeland Burma –and this is not an April fool’s joke. As U2 fans you necessarily know this woman even if her name doesn’t ring a bell: she is the heart of Walk On, the U2 song which refers to the story of this great lady.

Aung San Suu Kyi (Photo: ©Christophe Lovigny - Abaca)

Author: Pauline
Traduction: Ping

The Lady of Rangoon

Aung San Suu Kyi was born on June 19th, 1945 in Rangoon, Burma. The political situation of her country and the commitment of her parents have impacted her. She became very concerned in the problems of Burma that is why she started working for improving the situation of the Burmese people.

Her father was the general who negotiated the independence of Burma, which cost him his life a few months before its proclamation in 1947. Her mother was appointed Burmese ambassador to India and Nepal in 1960, after a long period trying to gain prominence as a political figure.

Nevertheless Aung San Suu Kyi started her political career only at the age of 43 when she returned to her native country to take care of her sick mother. She used to live in the United Kingdom where she studied, got married and had two children. In 1988 the stability of Burma began to decline: the socialist party lost the power in favour of the Burmese junta. The new military government exercised a dictatorship which prevented any pro-democratic movement. After this political reversal Aung San Suu Kyi founded the National League for Democracy (NLD), a Burmese political party which lauds democracy and of which she is still the general secretary.

In 1988 Aung San Suu Kyi became the embodiment of the will of a political freedom shared by the majority of the Burmese people. So began the use of multiple arrests and house arrests against her by the junta who couldn’t bear anymore the threat represented by the woman now called “The Lady of Rangoon”. In 2003 the Burmese junta tried to murder her but the attempt failed, taking many lives of NLD partisans.

A woman’s resistance against repression

During the last twenty years, it has been very hard for Aung San Suu Kyi to maintain her political activity from her watched residence she was prevented from leaving. Thanks to her courage, her commitment in politics and mainly her determination, she succeeded in obliging the junta to organize elections and set her free temporarily.

In 1990 the government, pushed by the Burmese people, was forced to hold elections. The NLD easily took 59% of the vote and won 392 out of 492 contested seats in the parliament and some claimed that Aung San Suu Kyi would have assumed the office of Prime Minister. Instead, the results were nullified and the military refused to hand over power. After this event, Suu Kyi’s international supports began to express their consternation. One year later, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In 2010 the NLD refused to stand for election – the junta would have cheated once more. Actually the political party of the junta would have won 80% of the parliamentary seats. Europe and the United States criticized ardently these elections by confirming their support for Aung San Suu Kyi and holding pressure on the junta. Six days later she was released from house arrest. This recovered freedom was a great victory for the NLD and the Burmese citizens who were systematically imprisoned if they had given praise to democracy.

In this early April 2012 general elections have been held. They were expected to be the first elections for 20 years and the NLD was insured to win parliamentary seats. Among 45 districts, the NLD stood for 44. Aung San Suu Kyi and her party finally met a great success with a far higher score than our French politicians could expect: 43 seats now belong to them, in other words 95% of them. She will become soon on April 23th 2012 a deputy of the lower house of the Burmese parliament.

However, as the Burmese parliament counts 664 seats, the achievement might seem unimportant. But this kind of evolution in the Burmese minds could lead to democracy in place of an almost hundred-years-old dictatorship. Aung Saa Suu Kyi has to be prepared to the forthcoming elections that will take place in 2015. As she said, it could be the “dawn of a new era.”

Image above: a Burmese woman raising on the face the flag of Suu Kyi’s party during the April elections, 2012. ©Pyay Kyaw Myint

Crossed lives : U2 and a poignant destiny

U2 didn’t know anything about Aung San Suu Kyi until the Freedom of Dublin City ceremony in March 18th 2000, where people from all around the world are granted for their heroic lives. This day, the four members of the band and Aung San Suu Kyi were awarded the Freedom of Dublin City. Unfortunately the Lady of Rangoon couldn’t attend the ceremony for she was under house arrest. Since then our favorite rock musicians have become ever more interested by her uncommon destiny.

Bono was immediately marked by her life because of her dedication to country as well as the terrible choice she made to renounce to see her two sons and her husband anymore. When she returned to Burma in 1988 in order to take care of her mother, her family remained in England. But facing the critical changes in the Burmese society that were occurring, she decided to have a longer stay and created the NLD.

Placed under a house arrest, she became isolated from her family. In 1995 the junta agreed to let her leave the country, but in doing so, she would have had no chance to come back to Burma (that would have mean one less political opponent). As she couldn’t give up her fight for democracy, she finally decided to remain in her homeland. She would never see her husband again. He died in 1999.

Walk On: all that she left behind

Aung San Suu Kyi’s choice was one of the most courageous decisions of the 20th century, according to Bono. The story of the Lady of Rangoon became the subject of the song, Walk On, designed to be the last of U2 latest album: All That You Can’t Leave Behind.

Niall Stokes tells us that Bono first tried to write down the song in place of the husband and the son: dreaming about what the life together would have looked like, having no fresh news about her and being in a constant worry.” Giving up this idea, Bono finally wrote a love song about the woman who put her family second to country.

Bono says about Walk On : “It’s a song about nobility of soul and personal sacrifice, about what you have to do, even if you heart says the contrary. Love, in the noble sense of the term, is the only thing you can always bring with you, deep in your heart.” From this idea has been designed the logo of the Elevation Tour, representing a suitcase with a heart in its center, and the well-known catwalk shape.

Bono continues: "At the end of the song, there is a litany of ambitions and completions (please refer to the lyrics of Walk On right here). It’s a bonfire of the vanities and you can burn everything. Whatever you desire more than love, it must disappear. It’s an excellent question: what are the things you desire more than love?” For Aung San Suu Kyi, the answer might be the freedom of her native country.

Walk On is almost a farewell song to dear relatives, so are other songs like Kite and Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of (both from All That You Can’t Leave Behind LP). Suu Kyi’s farewell when she leaves Oxford for the last time inspired the album cover image and music videos: the recurring image of the airport symbolizing the departure. The cover image was taken in the Roissy-Charles De Gaulle airport, which is the place where the music video of Beautiful Day was shot. Concerning the music videos of Elevation, Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of and Walk On (the international version for the last two), they all start with a view of an airplane crossing the sky.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s incredible story gave birth to Walk On which itself gave birth to the global theme, the artwork of the album and of the tour. Even the album name is related to her: ’All That You Can’t Leave Behind’. This is also a single phrase from Walk On that tells everything about Suu Kyi’s choice.

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"Home… I can’t say where it is but I know I’m going home: that’s where the hurt is."

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