"I'm not sure you ever get to be an ex-rock star. You can get to be a fading star."
Column: off the record ..., vol. 12-536
October 14, 2012
As I write this week's OTR, Bono is jetting around Europe, discussing the need for greater transparency within oil and gas companies. On behalf of the ONE campaign, he and Bill Gates have met with the top leaders of Germany, France and England. The two are asking that each country demand stricter rules about the production of gas and oil, because bad policies and practices have led to the unjust treatment of poor workers in developing nations.
When a tai chi expert meets an opponent who strikes at him, he neither resists nor counters the blow. Instead, he yields before the force, thus taking advantage of his opponent's momentum ... so the opponent is thrown to the ground. This is how a mere four ounces can topple a thousand pounds. The four ounces do not defeat the thousand pounds, but rather cause the heavier force to defeat itself.
Bono has used the judo motif many times in the last few years. As the 20th anniversary of Achtung Baby rolled around, he reflected back on the Zoo TV tour with this idea in mind. In the early 90s, living under intense hostile media scrutiny (largely due to the wild success of The Joshua Tree and the relative failure of Rattle And Hum), U2 looked for a new approach as they headed into a Berlin recording studio. In one interview, Bono remembers, "We decided to call our sort of modus operandi in making the record judo, which is to use the force that is coming at you to protect yourself -- which, for us, meant taking the media and all the stuff that we felt had turned us into caricatures, and transforming it into another kind of force and having fun with it." In another interview he reiterates, "With Zoo TV, it was more us asking ourselves, 'What are we afraid of here? Our image? So, let's have some fun with image-making.' We called it judo at the time, the notion of using the force that was used against you."
"[The (Red) campaign] is judo strategy," adds Bono, "using the strength of your opponent to overthrow him." In this case the "opponent" is a criminally imbalanced world economy, where the residents of developed nations live in luxury while those of poor countries are lucky to scrape by. As Bono said at an N.A.A.C.P. event last year, "Where you live should not determine whether you live or die."
During the 2008 Millennial Development Goals summit, Bono was asked what it was like to meet with the world's most distinguished leaders and dignitaries. His answer: "Judo in a suit." I love that response. As is typical, Bono knows how to dress for the party, but the strategy he uses isn't status quo.
I know some people just tune out when the subject of Bono's philanthropic and political activity is brought up, but I find it fascinating (if you've read this far I'm guessing you might as well). Evidently, the business world has taken note. I recently had an odd but related "off the record" moment.
Continuing on the theme of Bono's activism, I was in Washington, D.C. a few weeks ago and I got to visit the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial. It was extremely moving, especially at night. Surrounded by a myriad of his own quotes etched in a granite wall, the massive rock sculpture of King was powerful. It was inspiring to read his words.
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."
"I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant."
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."
"It is not enough to say 'We must not wage war.' It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but on the positive affirmation of peace."
In an interview with Rolling Stone (November 3, 2005), Bono talked about "Pride (In The Name Of Love)." He recalled that the chorus was written first, but needed a subject big enough for the emotion of the song. King, an activist who has influenced U2 since the early 80s, became the focus. The band often references King's teachings of love and nonviolent protest while performing the song. "Pride" has become an enduring anthem, a symbol of something much bigger than the band themselves. Let's sing together, "Free at last, they took your life, they could not take your pride!"
(c) @U2, 2012.