U2’s “Walk On” Lyrics Meaning
“Walk On” is a highly-metaphorical song, as perhaps to be expected from U2. And it is feasible to conclude that it was inspired in part by teachings derived from the Gospels. In fact if we didn’t know the actual background of the song, it would likely be concluded that it is religious/spiritual in nature. But the more-grounded reality is that the lyrics were inspired by one Aung San Suu Kyi.
Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung is a prominent pro-democracy advocate from Burma, with her homeland at the time this track was released being under a type of military rule known as a junta. She in fact possesses a long and distinguished political history – for example having worked for the United Nations back in the 1960s.
But the first time Bono and the boys ever heard of her was in a more close-to-home sort of manner. In 2000 U2 – being a globally-recognized, conscious Irish band – were given a high-end honor called the Freedom of the City of Dublin. The year prior to that one of the two recipients of this award was Aung San Suu Kyi. But she was unable to actually receive it considering that at the time she was still under house arrest which began in 1989 (and had for the most part remained so until 2010).
So when the band caught wind of this, that’s what prompted them to research her background and eventually led to the composition of “Walk On”.
“Walk On” is also inspired by the Bible
And concerning our aforementioned postulation that the song was influenced by the Bible, Bono confirmed such and specifically stated that it was a passage in the Book of Corinthians which he used as a sentimental foundation.
Said passage speaks to the age-old adage of ‘you can’t take it with you when you die’. However, the narrative of the song is not about death. Rather it’s about making sacrifices down here on the earthly plane, specifically in terms of having to leave behind people that you love. Or once again resorting to Bono’s own words, this track is about “(leaving) a relationship for all the right reasons”.
And how that would relate to the story of Aung San Suu Kyi for instance is by pointing to the fact that, due to being under house arrest as a result of her political activism, she only got to see her husband five times during the last decade of his life.
However the fact that she remained in such a condition for so many years would indicate that she didn’t back down from the political convictions which landed her there in the first place. And that is ultimately the idea that this song is speaking to.
Subject of “Walk On”
The subject has made some heartbreaking choices in the name of what she feels is right. Yet she continues to “walk on” in pursuit of said goals nonetheless. And the reason we postulated earlier that this sentiment was inspired by the Gospels is because there is a similar philosophy contained therein concerning ‘leaving behind’ everything you love in the name of a higher good, on top of continuing to press forward regardless of what type of oppositions or discouragements may materialize along the way.
But what the subject is able to take with her wherever she goes is her conviction. Indeed such is that no one can “deny… sell… or buy it”. In other words, people like Aung can have their material possessions, even their very livelihoods, dispossessed from them. But no one can take away the cause which lies in their hearts and gives their lives meaning, so to speak.
So again, the titular concept of ‘walking on’ is twofold. On one hand, referring specifically to the case of Aung Suu Kyi, it speaks to leaving behind those whom you love. And on the other, it also alludes to the notion of actually being denied access to your loved ones. But both of these realities are the result of said individual choosing a path in life whereas such sacrifices may be required.
And at the end of the day the story of Aung does end somewhat on a more Mandela-ish note, as she was ultimately freed from house arrest and went on to become the president (i.e. State Counsellor) of Myanmar (aka Burma) – even if Aung did later fall out of favor with the international community.
Facts about “Walk On”
Being released on 19 November 2001, this track served as the fourth and final single from a U2 album released in 2000. This album goes by the title “All That You Can’t Leave Behind”.
Due to this song being in honor of Aung San Suu Kyi and by extension the Burmese pro-democracy movement, the entire All That You Can’t Leave Behind album was banned in Burma at the time.
There are two official music videos to “Walk On”. The first one, which was filmed in late-2000 in the city of Rio de Janeiro, is the “International Version of the clip”. And the latter, which was shot in London during early-2001, is the one created specifically for the U.S. market. The director of the former is Jonas Åkerlund and the latter Liz Friedlander.
The original edit of the International Version features a shoutout to Aung San Suu Kyi at the end. But apparently in the name of not pissing off the Burmese government and its supporters the clip, as featured on YouTube, replaces such with a support message towards the Rohingya Muslims, i.e. the victims of the Rohingya Genocide, instead.
Success of “Walk On”
“Walk On” was a big hit, peaking at number five on the UK Singles Chart and also appearing on four different Billboard lists stateside. Interesting to note though is that the Billboard Hot 100 was not amongst them. And whereas it is unconventional for a song to appear on a bunch of Billboard charts but not the Hot 100 itself, what makes this case particularly trivia-worthy is that “Walk On” still went on to win a Grammy Award. It won this prestigious award in 2002, in the category of Record of the Year.
And in doing so it became the first song ever to accomplish that feat, i.e. winning Record of the Year without making the Hot 100.
And the year prior to that “Beautiful Day“, which is another song from U2’s All That You Can Leave Behind album, also won Record of the Year.
The popularity of this track was buttressed by the fact that some people found inspiration in the lyrics in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In fact MTV even created a 9/11 tribute video with “Walk On” playing in the background.
As far as more global markets are concerned, “Walk On” was also a notable hit. That is to say that it charted in so many countries. It even managed to hit number 1 in Canada and Portugal.
Who wrote “Walk On”?
This song was written by all four members of U2. However, the primary lyricist is Bono.
There were actually two recipients of the Freedom of the City of Dublin award in 1999. In addition to Aung San Suu Kyi one Gay Byrne (1934-2019), an Irish media personality, was also honored. But it should also be noted that Aung’s award was rescinded in 2017. And this was due to what is perceived as her uncaring response to what is referred to as the Rohingya Genocide – which is still ongoing in Myanmar as of the writing of this post in 2021 – even though she was the State Counsellor of Myanmar, i.e. its de facto president, at the time.