"The Fly is Blues and Gospel, Heaven and Hell. The Fly can see both sides but he isn't quite sure which one he's on."
Transcript of When Alastair Campbell Met Bono
October 27, 2004
Alastair Campbell (Voiceover): One of the biggest rock stars in the world. But he's become, in his own words, that most suspect of characters, a rock star with a cause.
Bono:Rock stars they have two instincts. They want to have fun and they want to change the world.
(On Blair) It's clear he's at least operating out of conviction. Even if you want to slap him around the head, you have to give him that.
(On religion) Catholicism is kind of the glam rock of religion. You've got the smoke and the best gear. The best stage gear.
(On the band) Sometimes they're very uncomfortable when they see me shaking hands with some dodgy politician.
(On the future) Two crap albums and we're out.
Bono: I'll tell you this, our time will be remembered for three things -- the Internet, the war against terror and what we did or did not do about Africa. That's it. In the history books, your grandchildren will be opening books and going. "You what?!" 20 million AIDS orphans running around? 23 million died from this disease. You just let it go on and on? And the war on Iraq, we see it every night, but I want to talk about this other war against this tiny little virus that is taking millions of lives. Dwarfing what's going on in the Middle East. And the idea that 6,500 people can die every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs you can get in any chemist, that one day will look absolutely ridiculous and obscene that we could let that go by. And not just let it go by, but not describe it as an emergency. Because once you describe it as an emergency, I think people will respond to it as an emergency and things will change.
Alastair Campbell: Is that more important to you now than your music?
Bono: Sounding the alarm for this? No. Um, it's more important in...real-world terms. But for me, it's a job that I have kind of by default, because other people aren't doing it, and...I think I'm a good communicator of this type of stuff. But it's not the same as waking up with a melody in your head and going to see your band to figure out what that is, what the song that comes with that might be. That's actually who I am.
Are they separate people? Is there a bad Bono who likes to be a rock star, and be rich and famous...
...and have women chasing him, and good Bono who likes to do good for the world?
Could be. Um...I think in the end, though, our band came out of a moment in time, you know. Punk rock was just over. It was the late '70s. And music was always about change in the world. Rock stars have two instincts -– they want to have fun and they want to change the world.
But how does rock music change the world?
I think I'm really talking about my megalomania there, rather than any, er...serious objective. Music may not change the world, but it can certainly change the… temperature. You know, when you're 17, or even younger, you know. I was 14. I listened to John Lennon. I really felt that the world was...much more malleable, really, than anyone else was telling me. That you could give it a good kicking and that it might change shape. That things do not have to be the way they are.
How important is religion to you, as an individual?
Well, I mean, I come from Ireland. People...don't talk about anything else but sex and religion, really. Um...But you come from Ireland, you see what religion has done to our country. It makes you very cynical about it. And I suppose I have been, and sometimes still am cynical about religion. I have a faith in God. My belief in God is very important to me. But I've always just...been very wary of the kind of people who, you know, sidle up to you and talk about God. I sort of...I get nervous. I break out in a rash. You know. I'm sorry, but I don't do God, Alastair.
(Laughs) You have this background as well. Your dad was a Catholic, your mother was a Protestant. That must've been pretty weird in Dublin, wasn't it?
Yeah, it was all mixed up in those days. Messed up rather. And what it bred in me, was just a suspicion...of the kind of organised religion. When I was young, I really didn't like it. I found it dead. I just used to go to church and nod off. I thought the words were great but the tunes were crap.
And, er...actually, though, now I'm a little more open to it. I find myself sneaking into the back of the cathedral in New York or something and...and, you know, I’m happy, I'm equally as comfortable or uncomfortable in a Catholic or Protestant church. I mean, Catholicism is kind of the glam rock of religion. You know, you've got the smoke and the best gear. The best stage gear. But I like also, I like the revival tent. I love all that stuff -– Elvis, America. It's a big thing. These questions are big questions and I do take them seriously...
But all that stuff about you out on the road sitting round together reading the Bible with the band and the rest of it's all nonsense?
No, that's not nonsense. I still read the Bible when I can. I'm probably one of the only people who will take out one of those Gideons that you find in a hotel. When I wake up with a sore head, "Ooh, what does it say here about hangovers?"
How important is it in what you're doing with regard to Africa?
I don't think your faith means anything if there isn't action to it. So, if there's anything to the Judao-Christian tradition um...outside of personal redemption, it must be dealing with the poor.
What were you like at school?
Clever? Rebellious? Difficult?
Er...all of those. And...but I liked school...after a while. We met the band. U2 met. You know, we were a school band. Um...
When you were back there, is there anybody still alive who calls you Paul? Or are you now Bono and that's it?
My father, um, he used to call me Paul, um...before he died. Um...it's a strange one because...people sometimes still, um, do it. And it makes me kinda oddly nervous, because I always think it's my old man, and I've done something wrong. "Paul?!" That kind of thing. Since I've been 14, 15, I've been called Bono, so...
Your next album is -–
(In a Liverpudlian accent) Paul is dead.
(In Liverpudlian accent) Paul is dead.
(Laughs) Your next album -–
A Beatles joke again. Pardon?
It's about your dad, you were telling me. The album.
Yeah. Well, Irish people and grief, you'd think we'd have got good at it by now. Um, but actually, er...in Ireland, you're supposed to be over it. And I thought I was. And, but, um...it was a big deal losing my father. And, um… that kind of cut me in ways I wasn't expecting.
I'd be walking down the road a year later, tears going down my face. I didn't know why. I wouldn't even be thinking about him. Something like that. Um, all kinds of things. Um...is your father alive?
No. It's probably why I'm asking you. He died a few weeks ago.
Oh. It's really...it's just...
But the album's about dismantling a nuclear weapon.
How does that bridge across?
The album's called How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. It probably should be called How to Dismantle an Atomic Bob. That was my father's name. Bob. It's funny because people expect a big political record from us right now. It's our most personal.
Actually, I didn't have a choice. I just found I was writing these very personal songs about family, about friendship, about love, about… You know, that's just what came out.
Is there a U2 philosophy, and did all four of you sign up to it or are you kind of just the driving force through the songs?
No. There's four really impossible people. There are four people with very clear ideas about how they want to live their live and play their music. I think being in a band is really important because of the friction. Because of having to negotiate somebody else with a different point of view, and respect that difference. I think it's a very difficult thing to pull off. I don't know how they as a band have put up with somebody like me. Um, but, you know, they have their moments too.
But if it doesn't feel like John, Paul, George and Ringo, it feels like Bono and the other three. Is that wrong?
That's what's striking about U2, is that we have two lives as a band. We have this one line, life, under the wire, you know, which is our relationship with our audience. You know, it's a huge audience. Like, we're the biggest cult band in the world, really. And...then you've got this other one, the one that's in the media. And that might look, might have Bono-itis a little bit.
Does that bother the other guys? Or do they just say that to you so you can get on with it?
No. I mean...sometimes they're very um...uncomfortable, you know, when they see me shaking hands with some dodgy politician.
Go on, name them.
I can't and you know that. But you know, they plead with me not to meet certain people.
The Edge was really hacked off with you met Bush, yeah?
(Laughs) Er, he's not a big fan of President Bush. No, he's not. And, er...but he's amazed to see what President Bush has pulled off on AIDS.
So, if I said who'd you want to win, Bush, Kerry?
I wouldn't tell you.
I wouldn't tell you.
Not even that one?
I wouldn't tell you. Can't tell you. Can't get into it.
(Voiceover: I asked Bono whether cancelling Africa's massive debt is a matter of charity or of justice.)
You know, in the Nineteenth Century, they used to put people in prison for bad debts. It was barbaric and it was very inefficient. The family could not make any money and pay back the debts, or whatever. We've stopped doing that now to people, but we're still doing it to countries. Holding these poorest of the poor to ransom for debts of their grandparents. The U.K. is a board member of the IMF and the World Bank and they're still demanding. They still want their money back. So in Zambia -– no schools being built, you know, no hospitals being built because they're still servicing the debts. This is bananas. And I've been to Uganda, by the way, and seen the fantastic success story of debt -– cancellation. I remember this American politician, very tough, congressman from the South, saying, (in Southern accent), "I know where this money's goin'! It's goin' down a rat hole!" He used to call me Bonny-o. And, I'm not kidding. And I went back with pictures of water holes. You know. I said, "Congressman, there's a water hole and I've seen three times more children are going to school in Uganda because of debt-cancellation."
But Live Aid and Band Aid, which I think you recalled at the time, raised enough money to write off about a day's debt of some of the smaller countries that were affected. So...
That's how the Drop the Debt campaign was started. That's how I got involved. It was realising the enormity of the problem, but how complicit we are in it. As I say, if you sort out areas of trade, if you sort out this debt burden. You can really...Africans want to look after themselves! They wanna put their products on our shelves. They don't want our aid, they want to trade. We can help them. We really can. We can do that. It might take 20 years. It might take 40 years, but you can make poverty history. I really believe that. Not poverty in the simple sense. In the stupid sense. You know, where kids are dying for lack of immunisation that costs 20 cents. Or children are dying for lack of food in their belly in this age of beef mountains, sugar mountains. THAT we can actually end. And So Make Poverty History is...do you want to be part of the generation that says no to that. This generation it is possible. I mean, really, one of the most important people in my life is Bob Geldof, and I followed him on his African adventure, I really did, after Live Aid I was so moved by it myself. And I knew some of this poverty couldn't be explained by natural calamity. Some of it was structural. And you can't fix every problem, but the problems that you can, you must. I suppose I learned from Bob Geldof a real impatience with the word "no." I don't think he...recognises the word "no."
You're much more pragmatic than he is, aren't you?
Yeah. You'd think I'm the zealot, but actually, no.
You said Tony and Gordon (Blair and Brown) were John and Paul (Lennon and McCartney), so are you and Geldof George and Ringo?
I'm not...I'm not going there. It's more like the Monkees, than the Beatles. I said they were the John and Paul of the global development stage, which is to say...their tunes are on the radio right now. What they say is the most important, most dominant message out there. And as it happens they are on-side, OK, and in the right direction, but they're not there. All right, but they're going somewhere. They share a real passion. That's remarkable. You've got the greatest finance minister in 100 years, probably, and this extraordinarily gifted prime minister whatever people think, including me. I'd have him in a headlock over Iraq and over other things, you know, would want to strangle him. But I recognise...
I'd be steppin' in before you got there.
I know you'd be stepping in, and have been! I've seen that! In fact, I remember him with Bob and myself...And Bob had the Prime Minister in a headlock -–
Yeah, in Cologne.
You were actually in Cologne. You were actually pulling them apart, which was very cool. I think at one point Tony said, (impersonating Tony Blair), "I believe you've got a Greatest Hits coming out..." and just sort of, "get him off me," and Geldof's, "you f***ing this, you f***ing that." Um, no, but for all the rows that we've had, and will have...you know...he is an extraordinarily gifted man. Even if you wanna slap him. Clip him around the head.
When you stood up there at the Labour Party conference were you a rock star, were you a celebrity, were you a politician...were you a political crusader...what were you? When you're standing there with George Bush, and he's going like that (waves) and you're going like that (gives victory "V" sign).
That was funny.
It was. But what are you?
You're a politician.
I'm oscillating. A little bit between...I mean, the humour of it doesn't pass me by, as I think you saw. And, by the way, as I'm walking there with the leader of the free world, and he sees, he's just about to go into Afghanistan. I'm doing the V sign. He goes (imitates George Bush), "You know that's the front page, don't you?" And I said, "Why do you think I do it?" And, so, you know, I do laugh a little.
How much of that is about YOU? Try and be really frank here. How much of it is about you and how much of it is about the cause?
Erm, you mean is ego a part of this?
I think ego is always at the wheel. It must be. And, you know, I can't stand rock stars that...oh, I didn't want to be famous, man. It's just like you could have become a potter. You know. There are cottage industries for you, my friend. And so, you know, if you're standing in front of a rock and roll band with a drummer kicking you up the arse and a Marshall stack deafening you, there must be something of the exhibitionist in you. It's how you use that. And celebrity is ridiculous, as we all know. It's silly. It up-ends God's order of things. I mean, nurses, firemen...you know, the real heroes are underpaid. They're actually saving lives, all of that. And then you have rock stars and film stars. It's kind of obscene. But celebrity is currency. And I want to spend mine well. And it doesn't really matter if it's my ego in the end. Or Bob's. Or whomever's. If children are being inoculated, if there's wells being dug, because of the fuss we kick up. It doesn't really matter.
Do you think there's something a bit odd about the fact that you can get more publicity for these causes than ultimately the politicians who are going to make the decisions that count?
They can get more publicity than any of us can, just by doing something historic. If Bush and Blair and Chirac...if they really say it's time at the start of the 21st Century to, you know, reorganise this relationship between the northern hemisphere and the south. If they really do it, and they're serious, they will not just get all the publicity and the front pages. They'll get the history books. And they'll deserve it. This is a real moment in time. This is where we want George Bush and Tony Blair, Gerhard Schroeder, all these people. At this moment in time, they're nearly there. We should be encouraging our leaders to take this historic opportunity. Don't blow it.
A lot of your anger is in that direction. How angry do you get at the African governments that do have a record of spending money in the wrong places, and the corruption and the waste and all the rest of it?
It's the biggest problem. It's bigger than AIDS as a problem in Africa. It's bigger than natural calamity. In fact, debt-cancellation in a lot of places was tied to tackling corruption, and a thing called the Millennium Challenge, which we worked out with the Bush administration where they doubled foreign assistance to Africa -– 15 billion dollars over 3 years. And I'll tell you how we got there, if you want to know?
Because I went to see the secretary of the treasury and he'd worked in Africa, in ALCOA. He said, "It's awash with corruption. Please, leave it out. Africa can sort itself out before we can help." I said, "You're wrong, there's plenty of countries with good leadership." And he said, "I'll believe it when I see it." That's why we ended up on that trip to Africa together.
What about politics? You don't fancy a legit political career yourself?
I wouldn't want to move to a smaller house. Yeah...I just...I like to be able to say what I want. Politicians can't.
Power with responsibility?
Nothing wrong with it.
I think...I do. I think that's the job of the artist. And here I am, you know. And I don't want to die stupid. You know. I don't want to die chokin' on my own vomit or something unromantic like that. All my heroes are survivors. They come out with a little bit of dignity. This is unhip work. The politics. Very unhip.
But you're kind of into it big time now.
Yeah. And the band, I have to say, I said earlier, they kind of wince and cringe, which they do. But they also support me financially to do it.
How long are you gonna prance around on stages pulling moderately pretty girls out of the audience?
Oh, that's...er...I think I've got impeccable taste in the girls I pull out of the audience. And, erm, I think I can still pull. And I don't have a choice about being a musician or a singer. You know. It's just one of those things. I like to think I'd know when to quit. But we have an incredible band right now, and when we walk out on stage, the four of us, there's a chemistry between us which is just...undeniable. And I feel it, people who come feel it, we've got great tunes. And, you know. But to answer your question -– two crap albums and we're out.
© Alastair Campbell meets Bono 2004