The "16th of June" of "Breathe"

So, about “Breathe” … have you been wondering why it starts, “16th of June …” ?  Me too.  Sure, I thought it was a reference to Bloomsday, and that might still be all Bono is pointing to.  It would work.  The lyrics read like a sort of day-in-the-life account of a joyful man, full of hope and confidence to just walk out into the sunburst street.

But when looking at the page in the NLOTH Deluxe box book, I saw there was a “Happy Birthday Nelson Mandela” version of the song with different lyrics (and a note that July18th is Mandela’s birthday).

If he had Mandela on the mind, I wonder if Bono’s thinking also went to South Africa’s Youth Day and what it memorializes:

It is a day violently etched on the South African collective conscience. Commemorated over 30 years later as Youth Day, an official holiday, it is the day that honours the deaths of hundreds of Soweto schoolchildren, a day that changed the course of the country’s history: 16 June 1976. (read more here)

So when it came time to record a version of “Breathe,” Bono went with mostly different lyrics than the Nelson Mandela version has, but might have chosen to keep a focus on South Africa’s history with this date as the opening lyric.  Did you know about The June 16, 1976 Foundation?

15 Responses to The "16th of June" of "Breathe"

  1. Anita May 13, 2009 at 11:42 am #


    what about this one…
    “Nine-oh-nine, St. John Divine…”

  2. calhouns May 13, 2009 at 11:50 am #

    Don’t know, really, but it’s nine-oh-five at the start of the song and then it’s nine-oh-nine. What’s with the four minute progression?

    Could be something about John the Gospel writer or John the “Love Supreme” jazz man. 😉

  3. Watts May 13, 2009 at 7:08 pm #

    I thought the nine-oh-nine might refer to The Beatles “One After 909”:

    I’m gonna freak/hide under my bed if my doorbell rings at 9:05 on June 16th.

    St. John Divine:,_New_York

    Bonus: Loose Electricity

  4. Jannie May 14, 2009 at 2:22 am #

    Interesting. Funny enough I was driving home yesterday afternoon listening to Breath when I really noticed the 16 June reference. I’m South African, so wondered if there was a link to our 16 June. (It used to be called Soweto Day before it became the Youth Day public holiday). The rest of the song doesn’t really fit but interesting nonetheless.

  5. Derek May 15, 2009 at 3:48 am #

    16th June 2000 is the date Israel withdrew from Lebanon (according to wikipedia) which might connect with some other themes on the album – especially the next track…

  6. onlyhype May 15, 2009 at 5:35 pm #

    …I can Breathe.

  7. OprtimaX May 22, 2009 at 12:55 am #

    Uhm… Maybe it is just a random date that Bono came up with and that he is now laughing his ass of watching everyone trying to find meaning?

  8. u2fan May 22, 2009 at 7:43 am #

    I think the reference to 16th June come’s from James Joyce’s Ulysses, which is set on that day, and sections of which are narrated in a stream of consciousness style, similar to the lyrics. It’s also set in Dublin, and the character of Leopold Bloom has several shared characteristics with Bono and with the central character in the song.

    I’m sure there are numerous other references, but I think this one in particular might be correct.

  9. joshthetree May 23, 2009 at 1:15 am #

    Interesting stuff. I love ‘Breathe’ fvaorite track on the album, it’s truly stand out. Can’t wait to hear it ‘live’ 🙂

  10. Quinny May 24, 2009 at 7:04 am #

    Yeah I think it is a reference to Ulysses. I understood St. John Divine to be a hospital, telling the character his pulse is fine.

  11. albie May 25, 2009 at 12:37 pm #

    “Nine-oh-nine, St. John Divine…”

    909/Lennon would make perfect sense. As the White album closer. It would also tie into Bonos theme of ‘real saints’. That Saint John cathedral also has a NY connection a la Lennon. Bono would argue that most of the current saints in their lifetime were in fact rebels in their own.

    As for the “doc says I’m fine or dying” it would tie into an idea of falsity in society and how everyone is a part. The cuckatoo line the author admits he is the biggest falsifier.

    The loose electricty seems to refer to his individual potential in a repressive state.
    The ‘band/striptease’ and “found grace inside a sound” are homage to musical powers to heal. There is also some inferences to the ‘music within music’ or trance elements here.

    ‘My pulse is fine’ is a reference to being ‘alive’ as oppossed to living a societal approived existance..

  12. albie May 25, 2009 at 12:45 pm #

    Breathe could be about how rock and rollers are real saints in their lifetime. However the authority figures only realize/acknowledge this after they are dead. Because they don’t want to confront the truth.

  13. Bethanne May 26, 2009 at 12:02 pm #

    U2fan has it right– by some act of the divine, I got to attend one of the “3 nights live” radio broadcasts back in March (the one at The Metro in Chicago). Bono explained that the 16th of June in Dublin is “Bloomsday,” celebrated in honor of James Joyce’s Ulysses. He said he’d always wanted to set a song on the 16th of June, and Breathe is that desire brought to life 🙂

  14. Andrea May 27, 2009 at 4:17 pm #

    It’s amusing to find the meanings of songs from a guy that wrote the line “intellectual tortoise”.


  15. Lee May 28, 2009 at 1:03 am #

    Great song! Edge on form, pulsating bass, rapturous beat and beautiful cryptic lyrics – Classic U2!

    Maybe this casts some light?