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
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
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
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)
THE EVOLUTION OF U2
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.
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
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
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,
(Edited by Ben McSkimming and Erik Parsons.
Photo courtesy of Phonogram Records)