06 February 2005
'The Souffle On My Head'
Bono on his dad, the new single, U2's image and Anton Corbijn's stunning new book. Great interview.
'Bob Hewson loved opera. Now, whenever his son Bono hits the high notes, he
can't help but think of him. U2's charismatic front man talks to Sean O'Hagan in The Observer magazine this morning, about the song he wrote for his father's funeral, how photographer Anton Corbijn taught the band to experiment and a life-changing moment in an African orphanage.'
Here we carry a little teaser, click the link to read the whole of Sean O'Hagan's excellent piece.
'It is 22 years since the most famous photographer in rock met the four gauche young Irishmen who were destined to become the biggest rock group in
the world. Back then Anton Corbijn - an implausibly tall Dutchman - worked for NME, and carried just two 35mm cameras. Back then, U2 looked like a bunch of Dublin scruffs, all ponytails and shaggy cuts, and sounded as resolutely unfashionable as their taste in headwear suggested.
'That's me wearing what Larry used to refer to as "the souffle" on my head,'
says Bono. 'That's the beret they begged me not to wear.' He sighs in a way
that suggests that they - the other three - were right. Corbijn, though, somehow made even the young, beret-wearing Bono look, if not cool, certainly
Bono has decamped to his house in the south of France on the eve of another
marathon U2 world tour, which begins in San Diego next month. He is leafing
through selected images from U2 & I, a lavishly packaged diary of Corbijn's
long relationship with the band. As the 400-odd pages attest, it is difficult to imagine another pop group whose music, in all its myriad shapes and forms, has been so defined by a single photographer. 'I think of Anton as a collaborator, visually,' elaborates Bono. 'He taught us to experiment.'
The book's trajectory of images backs up that statement. Here, for instance,
is U2 as an awkward and uneasy young group, looking all at sea in the sleek
and shiny early Eighties pop world. Flick forward a decade, and here is U2
hamming it up in drag for the quantum leap into irony and sonic
experimentation that occurred around the Zoo TV tour in 1995. Here is the
young Bono, in yet another hat, looking like a Hopi Indian, and staring at
the camera with the suspicion that it might indeed steal his soul, or, at
least, compromise his integrity.
Flick forward again, and here is Bono as The Fly, playing the role of the
world's biggest rock star to the max, lounging in a bath several storeys
above Broadway, in shades, with champagne on ice. Even without the music,
you can trace, in these images, that great leap from monochrome to
Technicolor, from po-faced to po-mo and beyond.
'There was definitely a sense, early on, that we didn't belong,' says Bono.
'I suppose we felt guilty we weren't real rock stars. We felt that we were
pretending. And we sensed disappointment from other people that we were so
From the people around you? 'No. It was a more general thing. It was, like, "Of all the people to become the biggest rock band in the world, who would have thought it would be them?" That was a prevailing attitude. That we didn't have the star thing down.'
And, for a considerable while - say, the first 10 years of their existence, an eternity in pop terms - they really didn't have the star thing down. What is palpable in the early photographs is the sense of a would-be rock group not quite knowing how to be. Though they were inspired by Seventies punk, and by the Clash in particular, there is no rebel posturing on display ere.
'Well, we tried it, but it didn't work,' says Bono, laughing. 'We tried on various guises before we found ourselves. I think the only time we were self-conscious was when the cameras came out. The thing is, we knew we didn't know how to look good. We were acutely aware of that. Our attitude has always been: if you don't know, find somebody who does. In this instance, that somebody was Anton.' Corbijn obviously saw some seed of greatness in the group, despite the hats...'
Read the whole of this great piece here
Anton Corbijn's U2&i is published by Schirmer.
An exhibition, 22:U2, sponsored by GQ, runs from 23 February to 31 March at
the Michael Hoppen Gallery, 3 Jubilee Place, London SW3.
U2's single 'Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own' is released outside
Canada, the US and South America, tomorrow.