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"Love, in the highest sense of the word, is the only thing that you can always take with you, in your heart. At some point you are going to have to lose everything else anyway."
—Bono talking about the inspiration for the song 1
In March 2000, U2 were awarded the Freedom of the City of Dublin at a ceremony where the Burmese academic Aung San Suu Kyi was honoured but absent. The band had never heard of Suu Kyi prior to that and soon developed an interest in learning about her.1 The group found out that her activism and fighting for freedom in Burma led to her being under house arrest since 1989 (a sentence that was later ended in 2010). "Walk On" was subsequently written about and dedicated to Suu Kyi. It was written in the form of a supporting, uplifting anthem, praising her for activism. Bono explained that the song is about "nobility and personal sacrifice, about doing what's right, even if your heart is telling you otherwise".1 He compares the subject of the song to a Biblical passage in Corinthians.1
The album version of the song runs for 4:55. The album's title was derived from the song's lyrics, "The only baggage you can bring is all that you can't leave behind". "Walk On" originally consisted of two different songs which, according to bassist Adam Clayton, that had great riffs but sounded terrible separately. The group combined them and ended up with the arrangement that forms "Walk On".
Ban in Burma
All That You Can't Leave Behind album was banned in Burma because "Walk On" was dedicated to Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest for her pro-democracy activities. Democratic Voice of Burma correspondent Myint Maung Maung told British music magazine NME, "The album was banned because it included a song, 'Walk On,' which was dedicated to Aung San Suu Kyi and the democracy movement in Burma." Anyone who attempted to import the album, All That You Can't Leave Behind, to Burma could have faced a prison sentence lasting between 3–20 years.2 When the album was released, U2.com had a page addressing attention to the political situation in Burma, where they say 8 million people have been consigned to forced labor and half a million people are the target of ethnic cleansing campaigns.3
U2 in Rio de Janeiro. Screenshot from the international video.
The first video for "Walk On" - titled "International version" - was directed by Jonas Åkerlund. Filming took place in November 2000 and was filmed in Rio de Janeiro during U2's two day promotion there.4 Some shots, including the football scene on the beach and the band meeting fans, were improvised and the video was made to be documentary styled. Åkerlund stated it will always be one of her favourite music videos.5 Later in February 2001, a second video - titled "US version" - was directed by Liz Friedlander and filmed in London.5 Both were featured on the compilation DVD U218 Videos.5
Also, during the same tour, in some cities such as Hannover, Barcelona, Coimbra and İstanbul, Amnesty International and ONE volunteers went on stage and walked on the outer circle of The Claw during the performance of the song, carrying either Suu Kyi masks or Amnesty International lanterns.8 In June 2012, Bono performed the song live for Suu Kyi during the Electric Burma concert in Dublin in her honour.citation needed
Release and track listings
"Walk On" was released on 20 February 2001 in Canada and on 19 November 2001 in the UK and Europe and on 26 November 2001 in Australia. The same photograph is used for each release though the colouring varies. The cover pictured here is the European two track CD. "Walk On" has been re-released in its edit edition for the charity album, "Songs for Japan".