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"We grow up with this rather juvenile idea that people who are not like us don't get it -- the suits don't get it -- but it doesn't make sense anymore. Sometimes the enemy is your own indifference."

-- Bono

@U2 home page

Bono Biography

by Maddy Fry

Paul David "Bono" Hewson
Born: May 10, 1960
Instrument: Vocals, guitar

BonoLIFE

As the lead singer of U2, one of the most popular and influential rock bands of the last 30 years, Bono is a figure adored and admired both within and outside of the music industry. As a rock star, his music with U2 has earned him legions of devoted fans across the world, whilst as a humanitarian and crusader for the world's poor, co-founder of organisations such as DATA and the ONE Campaign, he has gained deep respect from politicians and global statesmen as well as music fans. His rare ability to effectively straddle the spheres of both entertainment and politics remains rivaled by few in the realm of popular culture, and his determination to change the world for the better continues to inspire millions on both sides of the political divide.

It's perhaps unsurprising that Bono's unusual adult existence was preceded by a less-than-ordinary upbringing. Born in the north Dublin suburb of Ballymun, Paul Hewson was the second child of Catholic father Brendan Robert Hewson (always called Bobby), and Protestant mother Iris Elizabeth Rankin – a highly unusual arrangement in then deeply sectarian Ireland. As a child Paul Hewson was a precocious, outspoken and thoughtful boy whose early experiences did much to shape his later life as one of the most important figures in Irish history.

As a child, his education started at The Inkwell, a small Protestant Church of Ireland junior school, before eventually continuing on to St. Patrick's Cathedral Choir School. But his time there was unsuccessful; as Bono put it, "I spent a year at St. Patrick's, not being happy, and basically they asked me to leave." This was largely a result of the young Paul throwing dog feces at his Spanish teacher, which subsequently led to his enrollment in 1972 at Mount Temple Comprehensive School, a controversial establishment that was Ireland's first co-educational, non-denominational high school. Paul settled in very quickly and soon became well-adjusted and happy in his new environment.

But at the age of 14, he suffered a tragic and devastating loss when his mother died of a brain hemorrhage whilst attending the funeral of her own father.

From this point onwards, Paul's home life became considerably traumatic. Despite his father's attempts to hold the family together, Bono claims that he and Bob Hewson "didn't get on very well." As a result, father and son never enjoyed a particularly close relationship. In fact, Bono would later claim that the inarticulate Bob Hewson's unspoken message to his children was "to dream is to be disappointed." The singer has often cited this as a key reason for his forming such big ambitions and becoming even more determined to follow his dreams.

It was not long after his mother's death that Paul also got his new name. Originally 'Steinhegvanhuysenolegbangbangbang,' it evolved to 'Bonavox of O'Connell Street' after a hearing aid store in the centre of Dublin, before eventually being shortened to 'Bonavox,' 'Bono Vox' – cockeyed Latin for 'good voice' – and finally 'Bono.' Credit for this goes to his mate Guggi (real name Derek Rowan), a childhood friend, who along with Bono was a member of the group Lypton Village. This was a gang of disaffected-but-creative youths that included Gavin Friday (real name Fionan Hanvey), the man who would eventually go on to form the avant-garde rock band the Virgin Prunes. Bono has often cited Lypton Village as a key source of inspiration and support both before and during his time with U2.

At Mount Temple, Bono describes himself as being "a bit wide-awake, a bit bright, a bit experimental." Although he was far from exceptional as a student, he had a flair for history and art, and became a keen and expert chess player. However, he was perhaps the most adept at navigating the field of romance, entertaining many girlfriends. In 1976, he started dating Alison Stewart (b. March 23, 1961), commonly known as Ali, with the two eventually marrying on August 21, 1982. They went on to have four children: Jordan (b. May 10, 1989), Memphis Eve (b. July 7, 1991), Elijah Bob Patricius Guggi Q (b. August 17, 1999), and John Abraham (b. May 20, 2001). To this day, the family continues to make their home in Dublin.

Despite his initial ambition to be an actor, it was arguably Bono's tendency to be, in his own words, "promiscuous with my ambitions, flirting with all kinds of things" which led him to respond to a notice posted on the Mount Temple bulletin board appealing for musicians. Those interested were told to assemble at 60 Rosemount Avenue, Artane, the house of 14-year-old drummer Larry Mullen Jnr.

As well as Bono, the other boys who made it to that first session were 15-year-old guitarist David Evans (later nicknamed The Edge), 16-year-old Adam Clayton, who couldn't actually play bass guitar but certainly knew how to talk as though he did, Larry's friend Peter Martin, Ivan McCormick, and David Evans' brother Dick. Ivan and Peter were, to quote Adam, "weeded out" early on, whilst Dick eventually left the band to study engineering at Trinity College Dublin. The four remaining boys were initially named Feedback (supposedly after the ear-splitting wailing that always seemed to emanate from the guitar amps), before becoming the Hype, and then eventually U2.

Shortly after the band's formation, Bono, Edge and Larry became involved in the Dublin-based Christian group Shalom. From an early age, the controversy caused by the marriage between his Protestant mother and Catholic father had made Bono extremely suspicious of organised religion, with him later describing it as having "cut my people in two." Therefore, the non-denominational nature of the Shalom group provided Bono and the two other believing members of U2 with solace, harmony and strength.

However, Bono, Edge and Larry's involvement with Shalom later caused friction within U2, as the non-believing Adam felt that the latter three's more devout friends were trying to make them prioritise their faith over the band. The three believers did eventually leave Shalom, as they felt that the group was trying to force upon them the false assertion that a commitment to rock n' roll and a commitment to God were mutually excludable principles. Since then, Bono's Christian faith has played a big role in his life, but in a way that has largely been free from the influence of the mainstream church.

PERFORMER

Right from the beginning of his time with U2, Bono cultivated a reputation for being able to connect physically and emotionally with fans to an astonishing degree during the band's performances. He honed his technique initially during U2's earliest gigs in small pubs and clubs across America and Europe, where as he put it, he would "walk out on tables, kissing people's girlfriends and drinking their wine." Later on, in the 1983 War tour, the singer would regularly climb the stage tresses in order to prevent the crowds' attention from wandering.

However, perhaps the most well-known example of Bono's on-stage theatrics was during Live Aid in 1985, when mid-way through "Bad" he leapt off the stage and over a security barricade to the floor of the stadium, pulling a girl from the crowd to dance with her. Since then, he has brought girls (and occasionally boys) up on stage to be sprayed with champagne and filmed with handicams (Zoo TV), danced with (PopMart), to play songs (Elevation) and even just to be hugged (Vertigo). Over the years, these exploits have sealed Bono's reputation as one of the all-time great performers, as well as U2's reputation as a band with a heartfelt and profound love for its audience.

But his on-stage antics were not always received positively. At the end of the '80s, Bono had become something akin to a Messiah figure, with his often politically-charged, on-stage sermonizing causing U2 to suffer a considerable amount of ridicule from detractors, who accused them of earnestness, pomposity and egotism. Their decision to relocate to Berlin in order to re-tool their sound and image produced some startling changes in Bono's public persona.

The first of these, appearing on the Zoo TV tour in 1992, was The Fly, a character described by Bono as a man making "a phone call from hell, but liking it there." Others emerged, including the infamous MacPhisto. The latter was an incarnation meant for the European crowds during the 1993 Zooropa tour, apparently intended as a depiction of the Devil as a tired, old pop star who's been reduced to playing the Las Vegas circuit.

These fun and frivolous experiments with various alter-egos did not last the decade, though. On the 2001 and 2005 Elevation and Vertigo tours, Bono became a more low-key version of his late-'80s onstage self, seeking to educate audiences politically and spiritually as well as to entertain.

ACTIVIST

Bono has long been involved in a variety of causes outside of U2. His work as an activist, due largely to his Christian beliefs, began in earnest when, inspired by Live Aid, he traveled to Ethiopia to work in a feeding camp with his wife Ali and the charity World Vision. Bono also went to Central America in 1985 to see the damage wrought by US-backed operations in Nicaragua and El Salvador, after which he and U2 toured as part of the Amnesty International benefit tour, A Conspiracy of Hope.

In the 1990s, he campaigned with Greenpeace against the nuclear power plant Sellafield in the north of England, and drew attention to the conflict raging in Bosnia by collaborating with the US journalist Bill Carter during the Zoo TV tour to create the award-winning documentary, Miss Sarajevo.

Since the millennium, he has rallied numerous actors, artists and campaigners to the cause of ending Third World debt in his role as spokesman for the Jubilee 2000 project, as well as trying to end AIDS and extreme poverty in Africa by co-founding the lobbying organisation DATA (Debt, Aid, Trade, Africa) in 2002, the ONE Campaign to Make Poverty History (USA) in 2004, and the Make Poverty History movement (UK) in 2005. The latter two are coalitions of NGOs, faith groups and individuals working to end extreme poverty. Bono was equally key in performing in and helping to organise (along with friend Bob Geldof) the Live 8 concerts in 2005, a series of events across the globe designed to pressure world leaders to increase aid, cancel Third World debt and improve the terms of trade with the world's poorest countries.

Also in 2005, Bono and Ali, along with fashion designer Rogan Gregory, created the socially conscious clothing line EDUN. This range of clothes for men and women seeks to promote fair trade and sustainable growth by basing their means of production in poor communities, without the use of sweatshop-like conditions, encouraging them to use their skills in an environmentally friendly way to create garments that can be sold at a fair price.

In 2006, Bobby Shriver and Bono co-founded the Product (RED) campaign. This initiative seeks to persuade large companies with global brands to sell specific lines of products from which a portion of the profits will be donated to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and malaria.

As well as illustrating Bono's staggering amount of energy and commitment, these initiatives have earned Bono numerous honours and awards. He was presented with the Free Your Mind Award at the MTV Europe Awards in Dublin, in acknowledgement of his work on behalf of the Jubilee 2000 project; he received a knighthood in Britain, the Légion d'honneur in France, and at least two nominations on separate occasions for the Nobel Peace Prize. He has also had various degrees bestowed on him from some of the world's top universities, and has sat as the editor for the publications Vanity Fair (USA) and the Independent newspaper (UK).

EXTRA-CURRICULAR

Beyond politics, Bono's activities outside of U2 have included dabbling in the film industry. In 1999 he composed and performed the music for the Wim Wenders film The Million Dollar Hotel, which he co-wrote with screenwriter Nicholas Klein. Bono also made a brief appearance in the movie, his second film role after having previously appeared as himself in Entropy, an indie flick made by Rattle and Hum director Phil Joanou. He also appeared in Julie Taymor's 2007 film Across the Universe, playing Dr. Robert, a psychedelic guru from the Beatles song of the same name. In addition, he starred alongside his band mates in U2 3D, a movie of the band's Vertigo tour concerts in South America filmed in a ground-breaking 3D format, and Daniel Lanois's musical exploration Here Is What Is.

On top of this, Bono has dipped his toe into the literary world, writing the intros for American economist Jeffrey Sachs's 2005 book The End of Poverty, Irish Christian author Adam Harbinson's 2002 critique of the established church They've Hijacked God, and an edition of the Psalms for the 1998 Pocket Canons series. He has also had a book published, 2007's On the Move, in which he lays out his vision, in a single speech, for the changes that could be brought about in the Third World by minor increases in aid provision on the part of the West.

Yet despite all his influence among the wealthy and famous, Bono's greatest impact arguably lies with the millions of ordinary individuals whose lives he has touched and transformed, many of whom have been inspired by him to try and make the world a better place. His capacity for action, his unwavering belief in the potential for individuals to change the world, and his extraordinary powers of persuasion when faced with those hostile to his cause remain unrivalled both within and outside of the music industry. His life has been, and still is, a remarkable example of the triumph of optimism in the face of cynicism and indifference, not to mention how to resist the rock n' roll cliches.


Related stories:

May 10, 2010 - @U2 - 50 Things to Love About Bono on His 50th Birthday
February 03, 2006 - Religion News Service - Bono, After Years of Skepticism, Finds Partner in Religion
December 19, 2005 - Time - The Constant Charmer
September 18, 2005 - New York Times - The Statesman (Pt. 1)
September 18, 2005 - New York Times - The Statesman (Pt. 2)
September 18, 2005 - New York Times - The Statesman (Pt. 3)
September 26, 2004 - The Observer - The Observer Profile: Pro Bono
February 23, 2002 - Time magazine - Bono's Mission
October 16, 2001 - @U2 - He's Got the Job

 

Adam Clayton
Bono
Larry Mullen, Jr.
The Edge
Adam Clayton, bass
Bono, vocals
Larry Mullen, Jr., drums
The Edge, guitar
Adam's Bio
Bono's Bio
Larry's Bio
Edge's Bio

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