Aug
01
2013

'Songwriter and Showman'

6
01 August 2013
'Songwriter and Showman'
To mark the 70th birthday of his friend Mick Jagger, Bono spoke to the journalist Martin Scholz for Germany's Welt am Sonntag.
The pair had a wide-ranging conversation ranging from how Bono got to know Mick to the continuing influence of The Rolling Stones and Martin kindly agreed to translate the interview into English for U2.com. (Add your own thoughts in the comments window below.)

Die Welt: Bono, is it true, that, as a young man, you once fell asleep while attending your first Rolling Stones concert?
Bono: That's true. That was in Madison Square Garden in New York. But it didn't have anything to do with the performance of the Stones. It had to do with the fact that on that day I had just arrived in New York from the other side of the world. And during the concert the jetlag just brought me to my knees, I was so tired.

Die Welt: A Stones concert in general isn't associated with silence, you have to be pretty exhausted to fall asleep with all that noise surrounding you.
Bono: Even if this may sound peculiar to you, I can easily fall asleep when the music is really loud. I once dozed off during a Sonic Youth gig: that didn't have anything to do with their music either, but with my exhaustion on that evening. As far as the Stones concert in Madison Square Garden is concerned, I remember clearly that I found it very exciting when I saw them for the first time live. I thought to myself: "Okay, Bill Wyman is the mother, Charlie Watts is the father. And then there are these three unruly kids, Mick, Keith and Ron, running around the stage."

Die Welt: When did you and Mick Jagger meet for the first time?
Bono: I believe it must have been 1983 in a recording studio in New York. I remember he was wearing what looked like a sort of navy double-breasted jacket and yachting shoes. He was very English and old-fashioned in a good, traditional way. And this Mick Jagger standing before me was very unlike the persona he unleashes on his audience. It just struck me, this difference between his private self and the public persona. In later years when we met and became friends, this discrepancy often astonished me.

Die Welt: Mick Jagger will be 70 years old on the 26th of July. Until just recently he has been on tour for several weeks. What goes through your mind when you see this man running across the stage for more than two hours, dancing, shaking, singing without stopping, as he has done it for more than, well, 50 years now?
Bono: You know, there are a lot of things that I admire about Mick Jagger. He looks like Baryshnikov, he is like a ballet dancer from another age. And he has a very beautiful face, and it is made even more beautiful by all the lines on his face. Why? Because he wears them so well. I love the lines on his face.

Die Welt: On the one hand we are used to the fact that former rebellious rock stars are getting very old and continue to make music. But the older they get, more urgent questions occur: how long will this go on? Or, more cynical: when will they finally call it quits? And no other icon in that process has been under more critical surveillance by the media than Mick Jagger. Blues and Jazz musicians, even people like Joe Cocker, are allowed to get older without being rated or judged by the public. In the case of Jagger the question 'how long?' arises new each time. Why is that so?
Bono: I think it has to do with the fact that he is still remarkably fit. And to achieve that he is working extremely hard, there is an incredible discipline at work. His father was a gym-instructor, and I think it's just part of who he is. Not only is he keeping his body in shape, he also managed to keep his voice in the finest shape as well, it's still very powerful. But he is working very hard to achieve that. He does take his fitness and vocal training very seriously. And it's that discipline that made The Rolling Stones the phenomenon that they are. Mick has ensured that the band didn't get screwed up by the sixties or seventies like so many other great bands in that era, who first got taken by the time and then were spat out by it. The Rolling Stones did have some very hard times, for example with their former manager Allen Klein.

Die Welt: ...who ripped them off of all the copyrights of many of their most important early records.
Bono: Yes, at that time the Stones had lost a lot of money. But in this period, there was someone in the band, who brought them back on course and that was Mick Jagger.

Die Welt: What is the biggest misconception of Mick Jagger in the public eye?
Bono: People often wonder why Mick is so savvy, they criticize that he is so good with the numbers and money. Why? Because the Stones have lost a lot of money in earlier years. And believe me, in that band all know, that Mick is the reason why they have the life that they do in terms of their remuneration. Now he knows that he couldn't have the artistic life that he has without his compadres. It's that left-brain-right-brain-thing that I particularly admire, the combination of the creative and the management-part which is a rare thing among artists, musicians – not amongst filmmakers or architects though.

Die Welt: Steven Spielberg for example is someone, who often complains that as a director he suffers by having too many ideas, whereas as a producer he has to take over the opposite role, when he has to oversee budgets and make sure they are met.
Bono: Yes, it's a bit like that, Spielberg is a good example, Mick is a kind of Spielberg character of Rock. With the exception that in the public eye he is perceived differently. By taking care of the business side as well he was also destroying the image of the carefree bohemian. The image of the troubadour who is just blown down the road by whatever wind or inspiration that is taking him. But that's not who Mick Jagger is. He is in charge of the wind and the weather.

Die Welt: Sounds like a fantasy about omnipotence.
Bono: Let me put it this way: Some artists are made by their time and some artists make their time. He is the latter. He has an incredible gift as a lyricist to describe the moment he is in, the times he was in. His lyrics in the sixties were very deft and detailed, describing the psychological malaise of the time – whether it's 'Mother's Little Helper' or 'Street Fighting Man', a song which made him become a part of the whole '68 student uprising movement in Paris.

Die Welt: 'Street Fighting Man' in particular was used for a long time as a metaphor for Jagger himself. One of many mythical romanticizations of Mick Jagger, from which he distanced himself in later decades. He had never been a Street Fighter, nor had he been their voice, he often said.
Bono: He may have grown out of some of the postures. But that's not what I was referring to. If, today, you want to get a feeling of those times, then listen to those recordings, they are like little polaroids. But songs like 'Street Fighting Man' are just one facet of the variety of expressions the Stones had in their songs. There are other, more timeless songs like 'Gimme Shelter', which are really hard to fathom in their greatness.

Die Welt: You tried it once, in 2009, when you performed 'Gimme Shelter' with U2 and Mick Jagger at Madison Square Garden, a place where you once fell asleep while seeing the Stones…
Bono: We performed with him at the 25th anniversary of the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame. Not just with him, but also with other artists whom we have admired for a long time, Patti Smith and Bruce Springsteen for example. I think we found a new feeling for 'Gimme Shelter' on that night, almost a Moroccan feeling. I am very pleased with it and relieved that we got it right, because we were so tired on that night. I hadn't slept for days. Before we got there we had just finished the first leg of our world tour, we were all incredibly tired.

Die Welt: It seems there is always some kind of tiredness involved if you are in the same arena with Mick Jagger.
Bono: The tiredness and exhaustion were all of a sudden gone, the very moment he joined us on stage. But that's almost an understatement: We had already started with the song, when I turned around and saw how he emerged out of the darkness in the back of the stage, a whirlwind, a twister, moving directly into my direction.

Die Welt: What went through your head at that moment? 'I'll have to come up with something spectacular as well?'
Bono: No, at first I was a bit perplexed, then I instinctively moved to the other side of the stage and thought, let him have it: 'The stage is all yours'.

Die Welt: It looked a bit like if a tiger and a lion were put together in one circus arena, when spectators watch magnetized and ask themselves which of the predators uses his paws first.
Bono: All I did was to try to get out of his way. On that evening I didn't consider myself a duet-partner of him, more like his side-kick who wanted to serve him. I wanted to be there to make it happen for him. But who knows, if I had had a little bit more sleep I might have stepped a bit closer to the front of the stage, even in his presence. Listen. If you stand on the same stage as Mick Jagger there is only one thing that you must not do: dance.

Die Welt: Well, what should you do instead?
Bono: Just stand there, don't move that much, best is, stand really still. It was peculiar and wonderful to stand there, sing his song with him, and to be able to watch him that close.

Die Welt: When you are talking about this encounter you sound like a mixture between fan and ethnologist. In fact you are yourself a stage dervish, who is able to move thousands of fans with a wave of his hand. Is that all of a sudden gone when Mick Jagger is standing next to you?
Bono: In that moment I really forgot to perform myself. I was just standing there and watching him. And I really enjoyed that. Mick Jagger loves to dance. And not only on stage. I've been out with him from time to time, to clubs. The moment we arrived, he was already dancing, with whoever was around. He is always very unselfconscious in such moments. I have also been with him before he was going on stage when he was dancing with his daughter. Before he goes on these big stages and starts to sing, he has to sort of step inside this other person who happens to share the same name as him: Mick Jagger. But it's not him. It's like an 'It', an alter ego. He has to step inside the skin of this alter ego. And the way he does that is by dancing. He dances himself into that place.

Die Welt: Like a shaman?
Bono: Yes, it's very shamanistic, and very powerful.

Die Welt: What is Mick Jagger for you ? A friend, a kind of uncle figure or more a kind of yoda, the old Yedi-Master of the Star Wars movies, who, despite his age, is still more punchy and powerful than all his apprentices?
Bono: I'd say I have moved from fan to friend and back again. I am content to be either. What Mick has achieved is monumental, both as a songwriter and as a showman. When I say showman I mean that in the sense of both constructing a show and being in the show as well, as a performer who moves his audience. I am in awe of what he has done. What I appreciate about him as a private person is that he is quite frank, he doesn't speak about himself a lot, he is not a narcissistic man.

Die Welt: Really?
Bono: I can imagine, that this might come as a surprise to you. But Mick Jagger is not a narcissist, not at all. The preening of a performer, the professional vanity are different matters. That's not who he is as a private person. As a man he doesn't talk about himself very much, he's a good listener, is more interested in you and what's going on in your life. The more I got to know him, the more I started to admire him, because I realized the depth he has. On his last solo album there was this remarkable song, I can't remember the title right now, it went something like 'God gave me everything I want…'

Die Welt: '...I'll give it all to you.'
Bono: Exactly, it's the most remarkable song, because it's quite revealing I think. We recorded one song for an album together, it was called 'Joy'. I was on tour with U2 during that time, so Mick Jagger traveled to Cologne, where we were playing. And this is where I recorded that song, in a very nice hotel, which was more like a castle, somewhere in the woods surrounding Cologne.

Die Welt: Have you learned something from Mick Jagger?
Bono: He showed me how to defy gravity and that it's important to keep the nose of the airplane up.

Die Welt: You have been a good student of Mick Jagger, as far as the business side of things is concerned. The last tour of U2 was, according to Billboard, the highest grossing tour of all times at $793m and 7.1m spectators. You have outshone The Stones who gathered $558m on their last tour. How has this rivalry, this ambition to present each time anew the biggest show on earth, influenced your friendship to Mick Jagger?
Bono: Only on a humorous level. If you put on big shows, people understand by now, better than a few years back, that you are spending the money on them. High production costs are investments in the audience, because you want to make sure that they get something for their money.

Die Welt: To some observers the competition between the Stones and U2 looked almost like an arms race. When the Stones brought a giant, fire-spitting Steel Cobra on their stage, the next time U2 had a steel space ship in the shape of a lemon, which served as a mini-stage for the band. Does rock'n'roll for large crowds need such Las Vegas Show elements?
Bono: I have been in the back of some field at Festivals, where I couldn't see anything, there was nothing going on, and I just heard a bit of the music. That is not a good enough experience for me, to go to an open-air show. Big shows as The Stones and U2 put on cost a fucking fortune. And it means you go home with less for yourself and deliver more to your fans.

Die Welt: What's your comment on the debate over the too-high ticket prices at the actual Stones Tour. Ticket-prices as high as $600 have shocked even devoted Stones fans, so that a lot of seats weren't sold and the band later reduced the prices.
Bono: To be honest, I haven't heard about it so far.

Die Welt: Really?
Bono: I am a bit out of touch with the rest of the world at the moment, I am down in a big black hole with U2, as we are busy working on our next album. We don't know yet when it will come out. It could be finished within the next weeks, maybe at the end of the year. We are just lost in it, and we surely don't wanna wake up out of this until the dream is done. But to come back to Stones and U2 once again, Mick once came to one of our PopMart-shows in the 90s, in which the Lemon Spaceship you just mentioned was presented. PopMart to this day is still one of my favourite U2 shows. After the concert Mick Jagger turned to our manager Paul McGuinness and said: 'Well, this is a bit like Star Wars, isn't it?'

Die Welt: Was that a compliment?
Bono: Well, he didn't mean the science-fiction film. He was referring to the space rockets Reagan once wanted to set up, to protect the USA against the former empire of evil, the USSR.

Die Welt: Are you nervous when you know Mick Jagger is standing at the side of the stage and watching you?
Bono: You bet. I am also excited. You want to be on your game if Jagger is around, you don't want to be off your game. I wanna be as good as I can be for sure.

Die Welt: When, at an MTV Award, Mick Jagger gave you a prize for your humanitarian work, he was ironically referring to you as a Jesus, wondering if you were also able to walk on water. Do such remarks annoy you?
Bono: Not at all. I think he gets it, he knows that it's not posturing. He also knows that I take the fight against extreme poverty extremely serious, and that we have actually fought things through with our organization ONE and in connection with other NGO's. He also understands the caricature that I have become in the public eye because of my campaign work. But as he has been a caricature himself, he knows how misleading one's caricature can be.

Die Welt: The photographer Anton Corbijn has often taken pictures of you and of Mick Jagger – and shown unusual portraits of you both. Once he portrayed Jagger and you dressed up as women. What did he try to reveal? Even testosterone-driven performers have a feminine side?
Bono: If that's what you see in it. More important than those photos are the mask-pictures Anton took both of the Stones and U2. I love these photos of the Stones wearing masks. I did not mind at all that it looked very similar to our session in Santa Cruz for the cover of Achtung Baby.

Die Welt: If we leave aside the record-breaking tours, the gigantic shows, what is it that connects Mick Jagger and you, the Stones and U2?
Bono: Robert Hilburn, the great music critic of the Los Angeles Times, once dealt with this question and arrived at the following conclusion. He said the Rolling Stones make you feel very good about who you are and U2 make you feel very good about the person you are standing next to (laughs). That was a funny insight. The Stones and U2, we both like the great carnival, we put on death and resurrection shows. Jagger and I, we are shamans, we are showmen.

Die Welt: Do you already have an idea for a present you'd like to give him on his 70th birthday?
Bono: I would like to see him on that day, and I hope I'll make it. As far as I am concerned, on his 70th birthday I would carry his guitar case. I once was invited to one of his birthday parties, must have been his 50th or 55th birthday, I can't remember exactly. But I do remember the place, it was in the south of France in the home of Johnny Pigozzi.

Die Welt: The French businessman and art-collector.
Bono: Yes. At the party there was a band of wandering minstrels. I was foolish enough to join in for a moment and sing with them. I don't know anymore who else joined me, but I sang a dead slow-motion version of 'Satisfaction'. It was probably the slowest version that was ever played of that song (starts to sing): 'I…. caaaaaannnnnnn't geeeet nooooooooo….'

Die Welt: That's probably a good way to sing it when you're 90.
Bono: It was a very funny thing, and then Mick also joined me in this slow-motion-version. It was a memorable occasion, for lots of reasons.

Die Welt: What else happened?
Bono: On this occasion I also realized how old fashioned and traditional Michael Philip Jagger is. By chance I witnessed a conversation between him and Jerry Hall, it was getting heated about the question if a boyfriend of one of their daughters could stay over. I thought that was wonderful, the most beautiful thing I ever heard. These two people were standing there and talking like any other parents in such moments, the best parents in the world. As I got to know Mick over the years, I realized that when it comes to very important things like family and his kids, he is very old school, quite strict, very English. It's just lovely.

Die Welt: The Stones have written a lot of songs about getting older or about the passing of time. 'What a drag it is getting old', sang Jagger in 'Mother's Little Helper', later 'Time Is On My Side' and then 'Time waits for no one'. Which of those songs best suits the soon to be 70-year-old, as you know him?
Bono: I would say 'Time Is On My Side' turns out to be a very prophetic utterance. No-one knew that there'd be so much time on his side. He himself couldn't have known either that there'd be so much time on his side. It's interesting that the heroes of The Rolling Stones were all old guys anyway, old black blues musicians, which is an interesting anachronism since they were young white guys. It seems that they somehow came full circle. Every scar, every bruise, every line on their face, every grey hair just makes them better as far as I am concerned. And I am so grateful and we all should be grateful that there was, that there is, so much time on his side.

Die Welt: Have you ever told Mick Jagger that you fell asleep at one of his concerts?
Bono: No, what do you think? I try not to tell colleagues and friends when I fall asleep during their concerts.
This article is tagged to:
Bono, Interviews, Other, Press
6  Comments
mich40 - 19 August, 2013
Birthdays....
This is great. Would have been even nicer to see something about Edge's birthday....
NanyandGonzo - 13 August, 2013
Happy B-day!!!
Congratulations to my musical god. Love the sound, love the guitars, love the performance, love the voice, jeez, he's the best of my life. Streets, Kite, Sunday, Three Sunrises, Electrical Storm, my, my and the list goes on...
PauloSilva - 09 August, 2013
the edge
happy birthday mr the edge,,8 august 1961..beautifull day for you from portugal
SagePearl - 07 August, 2013
Ah, The Memories
I remember the time I went to the Rolling Stones concert in late 1989, on their Steel Wheels Tour at the Silverdome in Michigan. Got the tickets from a local outlet in the mail service store run by a very nice man, who quickly spotted a hottest pair available and as soon sold them to me. That was several days after the tickets first went on sale. Had a closest stageside seat yet and to Mr. Jagger. Then next time I went back to Silverdome, that was in 1997, when U2 were on their Popmart Tour. If I only now get could even much closer to U2, at least as I have been with Mick.
CNF - 05 August, 2013
Quotes..
'The Rolling Stones make you feel very good about who you are and U2 make you feel very good about the person you are standing next to' :-))
xXpriJenkerXx - 04 August, 2013
Really Good Article
This was a fun article to read. I really like listening to what Bono has to say, he is so thoughtful. And the interviewer was asking the right questions. Thanks!
Newer comments    1 - 6 of 6    Older comments