This song is about Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, a Burmese activist who was sentenced to house arrest in 1989 for protesting her government. Earlier that year, while walking with some of her supporters, soldiers blocked their path and pointed rifles at them. Suu Kyi kept walking, despite orders to stop. The soldiers threatened to shoot her, but didn't. Her actions have been closely monitored by the government, but she remains an influential leader and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. Her house arrest ended in 2010 and she was released.
"It's a song about nobility and personal sacrifice," Bono explains in the book U2 by U2, "about doing what's right, even if your heart is telling you otherwise... Love, in the highest sense of the word, is the only think that you can always take with you, in your heart. At some point you are going to have to lose everything else anyway."
The album All That You Can't Leave Behind was banned in Myanmar (Burma became Myanmar in 1989) because of this song. U2 had a page on their website about the situation in Burma, where citizens were often killed or forced into labor.
U2 and Kyi were both awarded the Honorary Freedom of Dublin award in 2000. The band met Kyi's son, who accepted the award, and became interested in her work.
Bono got the idea for this when he saw the 1995 movie Beyond Rangoon, which was about Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The film was directed by John Boorman.
U2 played this as the last song on their 2001 Elevation Tour. In the US, it was the most profitable tour of the year, making $69 million.
In 2015, Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won a majority in historic elections in Myanmar. She took the position of state counselor and assumed a leadership role in the country. In 2017, the military drove out hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims in what the United Nations termed "ethnic cleansing."
Aung San Suu Kyi came under fire for her role in the atrocity, with those who championed her aghast. "Maybe she was always a politician," Bono told Rolling Stone. "She was not a saint. She was not some sort of savior. Maybe we were always wrong, and we just have to accept we were wrong. Or maybe something terrible has happened to her that we just don't know."
The album title comes from a line in this song: "The only baggage you can bring is all that you can't leave behind."
After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the actor George Clooney helped organize the "Tribute To Heroes" telethon to benefit the victims. There was a great deal of international support for America at this time, and U2 helped out with a live performance of this song from London, where it was 1 a.m. when they played.
Dave Stewart from Eurythmics joined on guitar and Natalie Imbruglia added vocals. Stewart and U2 later collaborated on the song "American Prayer."
This won the 2001 Grammy for Record of the Year. U2 performed the song to open the show, and won the first award given out when "Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of
" won Best Pop Performance By a Duo or Group With Vocal.
For the first time in the history of the Grammy Awards, songs from the same album won Record of the Year in consecutive years. The 2000 award went to "Beautiful Day," which qualified because it was released earlier. Between the two years, music from All That You Can't Leave Behind
won seven Grammy Awards.
Bertrand - Paris, France
A remix by Nigel Goodrich was included on a 2002 album of U2 B-sides and alternate versions called U2 7.
This was the first Grammy winner for Record of the Year not to chart on the Billboard Hot 100.
The video was shot in Brazil. It was directed by Jonas Ackerlund, who also worked on the video for "Beautiful Day
After the attacks of September 11, 2001, MTV made its own tribute video showing news clips from the attacks and the aftermath set to this song.
Kelly - Wilmington, DE
This closes out the 2002 Alias episode "The Passage: Part 1" as the Bristows walk off together after a shootout. It was also used on Roswell in the 2001 episode "The Departure."