Singer and activist Deon Jones was taking part in a peaceful protest in Los Angeles after the killing of George Floyd when a police officer fired a rubber bullet at his face from close range. Had the projectile hit him an inch lower, it could’ve blinded him — an inch higher, he could have died.
As Jones recovered, his long-time collaborator, the artist Glenn Kaino, enlisted several artists, including jazz pianist/Late Show bandleader Jon Batiste and producer Butch Vig, for a new musical project — a reimagining of U2’s classic 1983 protest song, “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” Jones’ new version of the song, and an accompanying video, arrive Tuesday, August 11th, and mark the first component of Kaino’s In the Light of a Shadow exhibition, set to open at MassMoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts, February 2021.
“My doctor told me that I’m on this earth right now by a margin of an inch,” Jones tells Rolling Stone. “This song is about working through those feelings, praying with it, sitting with it. It is dedicated to all the voices that have been rising across the world and still not getting sufficient response or action. It is not only a call out of the forces of injustice in power, but it is a rallying cry to every human being that loves justice and mercy to vote those forces out like we have never done before.”
The new “Sunday Bloody Sunday” video opens with two cellphone clips that Jones filmed on May 29th and 30th. In the first, he tells the camera that he and the other protesters have been boxed in by police, and there’s a close-up shot of an officer firing something into the crowd. In the second video, Jones appears dazed with a bandage on his head, a shaky clip soon followed by a series of photographs from the hospital where Jones’ wounds were treated.
With the help of Batiste, Vig and Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche, Jones transforms “Sunday Bloody Sunday” into a simple, stark piano ballad. Kaino’s video, shot by cinematographer Larry Fong, finds Jones performing the song mainly from inside a circular cage, although it turns out the bars are made of bells, and as Jones drags a mallet across them, they ring out with lead riff of “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” The video also incorporates archival footage of the two historic “Bloody Sundays” — the 1972 protest in Derry, Northern Ireland, during “the Troubles,” and the 1965 march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge during the U.S. Civil Rights movement.
“When we started to work on the In the Light of a Shadow project with MassMoCA four years ago, we intended to connect global acts of protests and tell a story of a shared sacrifice,” Kaino says. “We could not have imagined the heightened sense of urgency and relevancy it has now, with the state of protest, the passing of Congressman Lewis, and the still necessary question of ‘How long must we sing this song?’ The answer, we think, is: ‘Until the job is done.’”
All the proceeds from Jones’ cover of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” will be donated to Fair Fight, Stacey Abrams’ organization, which promotes fair elections in Georgia and across the country.