17 January 2002
The Rock Star, The Kennedy, And The Economist
of climbing over the barricades, you've got to walk around them,'
explains Bono, profiled on Oprah.com.
The idea of the rebel-rocker is sorely tarnished in these days of
"pop lite," writes Elaina Richardson, but there's nothing sugarcoated
about the intensity Bono brings to the world. Consider these few events
from the past year in the life of U2's charismatic front man: a sold-out
tour; the All That You Can't Leave Behind album went to number one
in 32 countries; the birth of his fourth child in May; talks with
the leaders of the world's strongest economies the G8; the death of
his father in August; countless one-on-ones about AIDS relief and
trade with cabinet officials from Colin Powell to Condoleezza Rice.
Where does his stamina come from?
"God made me stubborn," Bono says with a throaty laugh that tells
you something about the state of his vocal cords. "Stubbornness and
Catholic guilt," he continues. "That'll work for you every time. And
I've had the best life that a man's ever had."
This is how Bono talks long strings of run-on sentences that can encompass
pub life, the AIDS pandemic in Africa, blues guitar and a healthy
dose of self-deprecation. The bottom line of all his speechifying
is that it's time for a major initiative that would combine debt cancellation
for the world's poorest nations with trade reform and a commitment
from pharmaceutical companies to give free HIV drugs to African countries.
Bono spouts numbers effortlessly and accurately, noting that sub-Saharan
Africa spends around $13.5 billion a year repaying debts to rich countries,
which is more than double what it spends on health care.
His charm lies in the fact that whether he's at an audience with Pope
John Paul II or singing "Beautiful Day" for 20,000 fans, his need
to communicate is palpable. There was a time when Bono harangued the
world, all the while making it clear that he didn't give a damn if
he was. A decade later he has learned a more effective path.
"Sometimes, instead of climbing over the barricades, you've got to
walk around them, and sometimes you discover that the real enemy is
not what you think it is," he says.
That attitude has led to some strange-seeming bedfellows such as Senator
Jesse Helms, the 80-year-old archconservative from North Carolina,
who became Bono's champion in the struggle to get a debt-relief plan
According to Bono, "When I first started going to Washington for meetings
on Capitol Hill, I'm sure I looked like a very exotic creature, but
eventually they didn't see me, they just saw the argument. And the
thing about the pictures of me the rock star with, say, Jesse Helms
the politician is it's really unhip for both of us, you know, it's
a bad look for the two of us!"
"I think that politicians are attracted at first by the celebrity,"
says Harvard economics professor Jeffrey Sachs, "but once they meet
him, they find that he is outstandingly capable." Along with producer
Bobby Shriver, Sachs became part of Bono's American kitchen cabinet
in 1999 in the quest to get debt relief on the agenda. In his Class
Day address at Harvard in June, Bono summed up the trio: "Sachs and
I, with Bobby Shriver, hit the road like some kind of surreal crossover
act. A Rock Star, a Kennedy and a Noted Economist crisscrossing the
globe like the Partridge family on psychotropic drugs."
The results have already been impressive: In November of 2000, Congress
passed legislation authorizing $435 million in debt relief. Last July,
President Bush and the G8 countries focused the debate on issuing
grants rather than loans to developing nations, and Bono is sure a
lot more is about to happen. "I'm confident that President Bush has
a real feeling for the AIDS pandemic. Essentially, what we're asking
for is a kind of Marshall Plan for Africa. A few months ago that didn't
look like a possibility, but post-September 11, the comparisons are
striking. When you have nothing, you are easy prey to terrorists and
to groups who keep alive the lie that the West is not interested in
your calamity. We've just seen what happens when one country, Afghanistan,
implodes. God knows what will happen if the entire continent of Africa
is left on its current trajectory, which is disaster."
Read the rest of this article from the February 2002 issue of O, The
Oprah Magazine at www.oprah.com