Bono: My love affair with Australia
December 19, 2010
What a magical place this is. Surely it's alchemy that has turned this often-parched continent into the most fertile country on the planet. Fertile lands, fertile minds.
People full of fun and mischief, up-front, no-nonsense except the nonsense we enjoy, and with a point of view like no one else's, not even us who speak, like you, some bastard version of the King's English.
The world looks here to see the Jeffersonian dream of equality in action.
The government helped advance it when Kevin Rudd, on behalf of the nation, faced up to an uncomfortable past and welcomed -- well, if not quite atonement -- some measure of dignity, of peace, of grace.
For me a love affair began in 1984, when U2 arrived in Sydney with some new songs: "Pride (In the Name of Love" and "The Unforgettable Fire."
Our band -- like countless Irish before us -- landed here, and fell over in awe.
But unlike countless Irish before us, we had no calluses on our hands, unless you count the kind that come from guitar strings and drum sticks.
We got to skip the hard work and head straight for falling in love with the place. Like all romances, it started out with frivolity, the pure joy of being in someone's company ... then blossomed into something deeper, something you can't shake.
We discovered a shared sense of humour, of history, of adventure.
In 1989, on the Love Town tour, my hotel suite was the size of a small country. It might have been the first time I felt like a rock star.
I acted like one, too -- misbehaving, and writing lyrics to fit the mood, in this case lyrics that would fill Achtung Baby, an expat's album, written and then recorded nearly too far from home.
We were already fans of the Melbourne scene, The Birthday Party, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, The Triffids and the Go-Betweens from Brisbane.
In the '90s, Michael Hutchence became a very close friend; through him we met so many more great Australians.
Filmmakers like Richard Lowenstein, artists like Troy Davies, and activist musicians like Peter Garrett, whose moral compass was setting a course even back then. Romances have ups and downs and we have not always been our best selves here.
In Sydney in 1993, the Zoo TV show was a low point in our long career: the only time one of us didn't turn up for a concert.
Adam Clayton probably hasn't forgiven himself until this tour.
Australia forgave us that and other indulgences. Among them my sanctimony. I know I can be a pain in the arse. I have an annoying gene; it's in my DNA. I even annoy myself.
When righteous anger turns to self-righteous, projectile vomit is the right response.
All I can say is that you can become traumatised as well as inspired by the lives you meet along the dirt road of extreme poverty.
Watching the bright light of life go out of some kids' eyes gets me to a place I can't explain. Sometimes I forget that I'm an artist -- but I shouldn't, because that's what I am, a working pop artist in a big F-Off rock band.
In 1998, our Pop Art opus, Pop Mart, connected here. That album is an ode to the kind of life that Australians seem better able to enjoy than us melancholic Irish. Even when we're being light we try too hard. We tend toward darkness.
Pop, which was supposed to capture the fun and frolics of the freedom U2 found in the '90s, turned out as a document of the ensuing hangover.
It is my daughters' favourite, which has me worried.
Over the next 10 years, U2 turned inward a bit. We pared ourselves down not in ambition or size but in sound, to a combo-sized feel re-engaging the shopworn idea of the "rock" single and trying to make it relevant again.
All That You Can't Leave Behind and Atomic Bomb were extremely personal albums, about the essential elements that get you through life.
Our shows in Australia in 2006 were, likewise, emotional outpourings.
My father had died; Edge's daughter Sian was extremely ill.
The contradiction of broadcasting such intimacies on giant screens still amazes me ... talk about bleeding on your audience. But the blood and guts, the rawness of emotion, the joy of release -- Australians never fear these things. You relish them. This time round, we arrive with Jay Z: The undisputed heavyweight champion of the world of hip hop and so much else.
If you never related to rap, Jay's book Decoded is the only purchase you need.
For us, the shows in 2010 have been extraordinary for a host of reasons, not least the engineering of 360.
It's like having the audience on stage with the band, as part of the show.
In Sydney we played "Love Rescue Me" for the first time in 20 years.
It was a broken version, but it made a strong case for continuing with our new practice of rehearsing in real time. On this tour we've played songs that we haven't yet recorded: In Brisbane, "North Star," in Melbourne, "Mercy."
Perhaps with a show of the scale of 360 you actually have to make yourself vulnerable -- or else it will all get too grand.
The highpoint of this tour for me has been stage left -- watching Adam disappear into the songs like he was hearing them for the first time.
His bass and presence are powerful; his physical fitness is a rebuke to the demons that had him so sick 20 years ago. His spiritual strength now sustains the rest of the band. Edge and Larry, too, seem very conscious of the moment they're in as they too go on a kind of stage "walkabout." Occasionally it dawns on us that we've been doing this for a while, but mostly we go at it like we've just put out our first album.
It's quite a lot of fun to go to work with three of your best friends. It's even better to do it in a place you love.
The romance has deepened.
It's no longer just the land, the sea, and the arts but -- believe it or not -- the politics, too. The political landscape of this vast country I cannot claim to understand, but I'm glad that in a place that loves to argue every point, there's total agreement on the commitment to fight extreme poverty wherever it resides. Both Labor and the Coalition have signed on to spend 0.5 percent GDP by 2015 on such imperatives.
While 0.5 doesn't sound like a lot, it is. Look at it this way: Australia is about to double the amount of lives it saves.
And if the resources are spent right, I'm told you can treble the lives saved with the same money.
Fighting poverty is a complicated business. There is no panacea.
But Australia has qualities and insights that can deliver bang for the buck. On corruption, for example, you could help root out dodgy dealings in the mining industry by making it legally binding for companies to publish what they pay to governments.
You are the experts in this sector and have real authority when it comes to showing poor countries rich in natural resources how to use them not to line the pockets of a ruling elite, but to kick-start their economies and lift people's lives.
On education, for example ... I discovered the amazing statistic that Australia has built more schools in Indonesia than there are schools in Oz. This tells me that you understand the other key piece to poverty reduction -- giving people the tools to get out of poverty themselves.
It was a proud moment for me on World AIDS Day 2010 to stand beside three of Australia's most powerful women, playing Charlie to their Angels, watching the Sydney Opera House and Bridge turn (RED).
The Prime Minister, the Premier and the Head of the Global Fund's support group in Australia were proud too, because they knew they were writing an important chapter in the history of the greatest health threat in 600 years.
The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria has already put three million people on life-saving AIDS medication. If we keep this kind of vigil going, by 2015 there will be no children born with HIV -- it will be the first HIV free generation in 30 years of an epidemic that has already has claimed over 25 million lives.
Premier Kristina Keneally said to me on that occasion that the reason they went to so much trouble on World AIDS Day is that they wanted the world to know what Australia and Sydney stand for. I'd picked this up earlier from Prime Minister [Julia] Gillard.
I've picked it up from Foreign Minister [Kevin] Rudd.
I've picked it up from Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan and the Liberals' deputy, Julie Bishop, who in turn said Tony Abbott and the rest of the Coalition feel the same way.
This is who you are. The decency of a nation in an indecent world.
It would appear a campaigning Irish rock star is the last thing you need around here.
© Sunday Telegraph, 2010.
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