Robert Hilburn of the LA Times talks to Bono and Edge after opening night.
"Look, I'm sick of Bono and I am Bono," the leader of U2 said playfully about how he's always in the news, either for his music or his social activism.
Given his nonstop schedule, writes Robert Hilburn of the LA Times, it was no surprise to learn on the way to an interview with him in West Hollywood last week that Bono was running 20 minutes late. It's a wonder he wasn't running days late.
As part of his crusade to combat Third World poverty, Bono has met with government leaders, industry titans and religious figures, including the late Pope John Paul II, who gave him a rosary during their visit.
"I'm not sure if it's Catholic guilt or what, but I genuinely believe that second only to personal redemption, the most important thing in the Scriptures -- 2,103 passages in all -- refers to taking care of the world's poor," Bono said when he finally arrived for lunch on the patio of a Sunset Boulevard hotel.
"Each generation has to ask itself what it wants to be remembered for. Previous generations have ushered in civil rights in America, gotten rid of apartheid in South Africa and brought down the Iron Curtain.
"I think this generation can bring that kind of energy and conviction to problems in Africa. There are 6,000 people a day dying there just because we can't get them drugs that are available in the West. If we don't do something to change that, we are going to look in history like barbarians."
For a time in the late '80s, Bono's high-profile crusading posed a threat to the band because music fans were tired of pontificating rock stars. They could have simply tuned out U2.
Against considerable odds, the 44-year-old singer-songwriter's continuing commitment to social issues and the excellence of U2's music have won over those who once mocked him as "Saint Bono."
The revelation of U2's new tour, which on Tuesday begins a two-night, sold-out stand at Staples Center, is that the activism has given the music more relevance and power.
"Pride (In the Name of Love)," "Where the Streets Have No Name" and "One" are no longer just lovely, inspiring songs. Played in a row during the tour opener last Monday in San Diego, the songs took on even greater force because all the publicity over Bono's commitment makes the issues concrete. That gives the music context and depth.
"When we started getting behind social causes, Paul [McGuinness], our manager, warned us there might be a backlash of sorts," Bono said over a lunch of salad and coffee. "He said, 'Musicians are supposed to describe the problems of the world, not fix them.'
"And that is the way it's supposed to be. But we have a unique power in this ridiculous thing called celebrity, and our job isn't finished when we write songs that grow out of concerns."
The singer's "job" now includes co-founding DATA -- Debts, AIDS, Trade in Africa, a nonprofit organization to combat poverty and disease -- which he wants to become the "NRA for the world's poor."
"We don't want to just go around with our caps in our hands and say, 'Please can you give?' " he said. "We want to organize -- churches, school groups, individuals -- so we can confront political leaders to face these concerns."
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