30 July 2003
Closer To The Music
"We are getting closer to making the music we have always wanted to make.' says Bono, in an interview with Ireland's Sunday Independent.
'There is a difference between the music that you hear in your head and what you put on a CD. Your grasp is sometimes further than your reach, and right now this band is on fire and about to do its best work. That excites me.'
Here's a few choice extracts:
' If Bono has thought hard about what it is that propels him to perform, writes Aengus Fanning, he has spent equal energy working out the most effective way to do it. It is this ability to connect, to reach out from the comfort zone of normal performance to spark something unexpected, that he now uses to persuade world leaders to part with vast reserves of government cash to aid the Third World. He is adamant, however, that the act of performing for an audience can never be relegated to second place in his life.
"I have always had this thing about the stage and the audience, principally because we were a band that came out of the audience and onto the stage. The mark of U2 shows, whether it is the giant spectacle of Zoo TV or PopMart, or crowd surfing or climbing PA stacks or pushing PA stacks over, the point was always the same, to try to rid ourselves of that division, that convenient division. When I see some performers on film or in theatre or wherever, I need to know that I am watching somebody who might actually get down off that stage and follow me home or get into the car with me and make a nuisance of themselves."
We are talking in the Four Seasons Hotel in Dublin, after Bono's speech to the World Association of Newspapers conference. He has spoken on Africa, and on the injustice of the scourge of AIDS.
"This is where newspapers can play a real role," he says. "Bill Gates uses the example of the neighbourhood; if you saw the kind of despair and want and loss of life in your own neighbourhood, you just wouldn't accept it. You would get to work with your neighbours on fixing their problems. That's what newspapers can do -- make a neighbourhood on the other side of the world feel like your own.
"That is one of the benefits of media, that we are able to bring people's lives that we wouldn't normally see into our home, by writing about it and putting flesh on the bones of statistics. Statistics are one of the reasons why people don't respond to what is going on in Africa, it is just too much. Numbers overpower us, but a great journalist makes those statistics live -- and they are lives.
Africa, and the continent's overwhelming needs, clearly consume a good part of Bono's energies. What might have exhausted him, though, has instead proved inspirational.
"In terms of the work that I am doing in politics -- and I have no interest in getting into politics, but we can't escape it -- it is an exciting thing to be part of a generation that might actually not accept say, for instance, that an accident of latitude and longitude can decide whether your child lives or dies. That an accident of latitude or longitude can mean that AIDS is a death sentence or not. I think there is excitement that people want to wrestle the world away from the sort of foolishness that accepts that."
Bono believes potential is everywhere, and it is vital not to stereotype, to react to people in conventional ways.
"I don't see people in generational terms. I have met 17-year-olds as reactionary, old-fashioned and conservative in a way that would shock. I have met 70-year-old men who are radical and fresh. So while our audiences are predominantly, I suppose, 18 to 35, I don't feel any necessity to be in touch with the next generation, but I suppose I am through their music.
"From the people I know who are in that age bracket, the Edge's kids and other people who I have come into contact with, I will say this, they are so sensitised from the overload of sex to sell products, newspapers, whatever, that I think they are more, I think, in pursuit of something that you might call authenticity -- a real and genuine dialogue seems to me what they want. They are not shocked and they are not easily provoked in terms of controversy. The next generation is interested in ideas, I think. It is inspiring."
Bono's great political hero is Nelson Mandela. "His ability to forget and forgive is really remarkable. It is unfathomable. And staying in South Africa, Archbishop Tutu is a mind blower. I remember meeting him -- it was very funny, they call him the Arch, we were introducing the Arch to the Edge."
In music, he says, there are no greater heroes than the Beatles. "The most important influence for me personally would be the Beatles, finally, with John Lennon's ability to stick his head over the parapet and take the custard pies for his convictions. I love that.
"I have a kind of sense that an artist is the kind of person who will break the bone in their chest and pull open the ribcage and be raw and be vulnerable even if that means you make a complete prick out of yourself. You may have spotted and followed that one! That map I found as a fan of John Lennon.
"But going further back, the spectrum of the Beatles' music is so wide. Most artists only have a couple of colours or sounds that you associate with them -- the Beatles seemed to be so many colours.
..... So the Beatles are large but then so are Bob Marley and Marvin Gaye. Bob Dylan is like the Picasso of rock music, as far as I am concerned, and we all just carry his luggage."
U2 fans might even sense, in the band's love of the grand gesture, that opera was also an insidious influence on Bono.
"I grew up with opera," he says. "My old man was a really good tenor and he conducted the stereo with knitting needles. We listened to a lot of opera, and at the time I remember thinking he should turn it down a lot, but it sort of crept into my life. I think there is a sort of opera in our music, looking for those big melodies and the sort of tragic scenarios, and yet the joy of it, the passion, all of that. I like religious music too, but not the contemporary stuff. Even medieval music. I kind of like that."
He agrees that in many ways his career is only beginning.
"You're absolutely right, and that sounds to some fatuous, when I talk about it like that, but I know it. I know it as a singer, I can get to a place I couldn't have got to before, as a writer the same. This band, as dysfunctional as we all are, there is a certain chemistry between us that every year makes more, and that's really it.
"I believe that if you were a poet, a painter, a novelist, this is the age that you would just be getting going. I suppose that rock 'n' roll music has a big burn-out factor and most of the great rock 'n' roll bands were kind of shooting stars. They burned brightly but quickly and burnt out. I hope that is never going to happen to us."
Bono tells of a recent visit to a exhibition of photographs taken by Anton Corbijn, who has worked with the band on most of U2's album covers. As he toured the show, one portrait caught his eye.
"I saw a picture of myself," he says. "I guess I would have been 21, just about to make one of our first videos, and there was a look in the eye that was really striking, and I think it was naivete.
"And somebody, a journalist standing by, asked me, 'What would you say to that person -- like your son -- who is starting out on his journey?'
"And I said: 'You're right.' And there was no arrogance in that remark because I was right in a way then more than I am now.
"Because you learn fear. You learn to walk your step. You sacrifice your innocence for experience. You think that that is what will make you a better writer. You think that, but you're wrong. Clarity is what makes you a better writer, clear thinking. You have all that, in your first face."