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Getting under Bono's skin: U2


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An Angel or a Devil in Disguise?

"There are two Bonos - one is the ... Saint with all the problems of the world on his shoulders and some of the answers in his heart. The other Bono knows that Bono is not to be taken too seriously," says Jackie Hayden in Select.

As the lead singer of Irish super group U2, Bono Vox (Paul Hewson) has been raised to the status of demi-God in the eyes of his fans. In recent times, U2's image has undergone plastic surgery, but many don't see this change as purely superficial.

"Discovering that we were slowly being reduced to cartoon characters and caricatures, made us realise we had to create an anti-cartoon to counteract that, and to become far more than people had begun to reduce U2 to," Bono reflects. "And we knew it was going to take a mammoth cartoon to balance things out. We've stopped trying to explain ourselves to this, the great outdoors... I think we've got a relationship with our audience... that's quite realistic. I think they expect us to mess with them and their perception of the group and that's what they want."

Bono refuses to be boxed in by people's expectations. "I myself really believe, very strongly, that it's of central importance to be allowed to be all the people you are, or can be. We shouldn't turn people into just one thing or another... The same person who is capable of the highest state of being is also capable of base actions." Bono loves to quote Jesus, but has felt pressure to conform to a typical, more obviously Christian image. Bono expresses it in these terms: "What does it matter what U2 think of Jesus? So what if U2 do or don't believe! Surely the point is whether Christ himself is believable."

"People think ... (being a Rock Star) ... pumps up your ego. I think it explodes your ego. It's blown out into fragments ... So, what U2 decided to do ... is to explode our egos, publicly. Blow it up, in the billboard sense and in the sense of saying: 'look, these are all the things we are'. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. I know how it feels to have that emotional charge coming at you night after night while U2 are touring." Zooropa "... was an attempt to tune into that energy and play up during the break in the tour rather than come down to earth again," says Bono. "In fact, one of the better innovations on the album was an idea of (Producer, Brian) Eno's, which was: let's stop songwriting and improvise. And there's another album in the tapes I have of what we've done."

Bono believes, "the new fascists ... rely a lot on fear. And humour and laughter, to me is the proof of the presence of freedom." Rage is an emotion frequently expressed in U2's music - even in songs about love. "Love and anger are closely related. Somebody said that hate is not the opposite to love, apathy is, and I agree with that. Rage can be an assertion of the life-force, a wailing out against everything, as in the Psalms. But people really do not understand why some of the love-songs we do are so savage, for example. That, to me, is evidence of the well of emotion within the band, more than some superficial paean (song of praise - ed.) to love in a more obvious sense. It's just that we take the back-door to saying the same thing."

"Van Morrison's philosophy is, 'more light, less darkness'. On the other hand, maybe sometimes you must use darkness to show up the light. But fear is the enemy. You should never be afraid to express even the darker side of yourself, or ourselves."

(Interview courtesy of The Source
Edited by Miriam Boxer and Erik Parsons)


John Smith - a friend of Bono's - gives his view of U2

Simplistically, U2's story goes like this: An unlikely Irish punk rock group resulted from drummer Larry Mullen's scruffy note pinned to a noticeboard. Paul Hewson (Bono), Dave Evans (The Edge) and Adam Clayton responded with nothing much in common: crude, doubtful abilities fired by Hewson's odd mixture of Catholic/Protestant parentage, Irish temperament, lively intelligence and a genuine newfound rebellious spirituality. The chemistry was there and the pilgrimage, forged by predictable fundamentalist opposition and mind shattering experiences, exposed the group to mega issues of human rights by the Central American Mission Partner's guided tours through the wreckage of El Salvador. The 'unforgettable fire' remains kindled by first hand experience of the Bosnian disaster, but the responses are a puzzle to those who neither understand the nature of artistic pilgrimage, nor the manipulations of the media age which are brilliantly exposed by the cynicism and satirical brilliance of the Zoo TV tour.

U2's Zooropa show is not merely music or entertainment but art that is full of symbolism. Manipulations of the mass media are exposed by a kaleidoscope of contradictory TV images.

Juice magazine described the tour as an "environment of mega video screens, computerised graphics and interactive technologies...slogans...psychobabble and truisms to demonstrate that it was all fatuous and profound."

The sudden projection on superscreen of past rock superstars interactive with the live band is part of a visual mockery of the deadly seriousness surrounding the electronic rock idolatry - and a daring extravaganza of self-ridicule.

Then, of course, there is lead-singer Bono's red-horned McPhisto persona. Most fans seem to miss the dark humour and cynicism. Parading as the Devil congratulating his fans, Bono reminds us we have made larger-than-life idols of rock stars like himself.

The problem for many Christians is their ignorance of modern art forms. This leads to a literalist interpretation of symbolism and satire, perceived as embracing rather than exposing the demonic.

It was during the period of the recording of The Joshua Tree that I spent in-depth time with three of the four musicians in Dublin and became aware of both the genius and evolution of U2 from soulful, passionate performers to technically and artistically avant-garde innovators in both style and content. Since then I have continued to follow the development of the band with keen interest and from time to time renewed contact both in Australia and Dublin.

U2 has an intellectual native drive to reflect on culture in innovative and outrageous ways. They have done this to the point where the medium is substantially the message. Line-by-line analysis of lyrics totally misses the point. It is a pantomime of farce; a mocking extravaganza of absurdity, "impudently sending up technology and the video age," turning their suits and shades into self mockery and the blaspheming of the pop star world.

Compared with the best of the 40's and 50's music, rock'n'roll has provided a wealth of social awareness - and U2 is a prime example. I clearly remember entering adolescence to the sounds of How much is that doggy in the window? and She wears red feathers and a hula-hula skirt! While watching U2 during their last tour, I was more convinced than ever that basically what rock'n'roll has done is introduce soul into white Western consciousness.

John Smith, President, God's Squad,

(Edited by Ben McSkimming and Erik Parsons.
Photo courtesy of Phonogram Records)

Last update: 2000-02-12 17:19:59 (EEST).
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