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"I see myself in the role as band bodyguard, and I take that role very seriously."

-- Larry

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Book Review: Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas

@U2, April 18, 2005
By: Kelley Eskridge


I want to trip inside your head, Spend the day there...
("Miracle Drug")

Bono In Conversation book cover

Good conversation takes us into the deep places of another person. We reveal ourselves, we share, we connect. For an hour or a lifetime, we journey into each other's head and heart.

In May 1980, a young journalist in his first week of work as a music reporter for the Paris-based magazine Le Monde de la musique began such a journey with the front man of an Irish band he'd never heard of. "I found myself immediately under the spell of that voluble little guy from Dublin with the broad smile and funny name," Michka Assayas says in the introduction to his book Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas, out this week from Riverhead Books. "I remember listening to him, dreading somehow that the music wouldn't be as good as the talk."

25 years later, the music is still expansive and passionate, still searching -- and so is Bono in his talks with Assayas. My review, in brief: Go buy this book right now. This trip into Bono's head is a must-have for serious fans of the music or the man, a series of genuine conversations that are revealing, engaging, funny, intelligent, heartbreaking and in instances more raw and candid than I've ever read or seen Bono allow himself to be.

Bono and Assayas talked together, in person and by telephone, several times between late 2002 and 2004. They covered a lot of ground: family, friendship, music, God, rage, fear, death, love. As Assayas indicates in this interview with @U2, no topic was off limits, although there were times that Bono did his best to avoid some issues. Those are interesting moments: Bono evasive or aggressive, and the duck and weave as Assayas pushes back, saying, "...I will clutch at your ankles and take you back to actual feelings, people, colours, smells, individual stories. Because that will anchor everything that you have to say."

Assayas is a definite presence in the book, and this sense of relationship and dialogue gives it a genuinely conversational nature. The reading experience feels intimate even when the topic is not, as when Bono weaves recollections of relationship-building with radio station executives into a discourse on the political process of the United States Congress, and Assayas manages both threads like driving a team of horses. It's that skill that allows Bono's voice to come through, and makes it possible for the reader to trace the feelings and ideas that connect his professional, political and private lives. By the end of the book, you'll see music, friendship, rage, justice, love, and joy running through even the most casual comments.

Standouts for me: Bono's stories of a turbulent adolescence as a "sixteen-year-old little Antichrist who resents the house that he's living in." His comments on authority in rock music, and how U2 exists in a perpetual state of "coming into something." A story of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy that I'm still thinking about, because it's about something that I need to do better. The times when his family is in the room and the love comes rolling right off the page. Bono on his birthday, planning his funeral (including an extended Maori ritual similar to a wake, during which Gavin Friday will complain that Bono never returned all the Brian Eno albums he borrowed in the 1970s). His absolute reliance on Adam, Edge and Larry. Where the music lives. What he says to God, and what God says back. And this, on aging: "I've never been closer to my friends. In so many important areas in my life, I'm finding my voice, not losing it."

I understand that: it resonates with me, as do so many things in this book. The beauty of a good conversation is that when we discover something about another person, we sometimes also learn more about ourselves.

You will find moments like that for yourself in this book. What you won't find: wild stories about the big life on the road. Teary confessionals. Detailed accounts of U2's studio and concert experience. The stories behind individual songs. And this isn't a biography of Bono or the history of the band. It's not a linear read; it's more of a spiral. The talk begins with the death of Bono's father and moves in emotional circles from there, in and out, until the final conversation which brings Bono, and the book, to a center point, to the heart of the matter. I won't spoil that, but I will tell you why it was so powerful for me: because Bono discovered things about himself, and I got to share those discoveries. For that moment, I was on the journey too, part of the conversation, learning about him and about myself.

Behind the sunglasses are a busy mind, a heart of light and shadow, and a questing soul that is more comfortable throwing its arms around the world than wandering around its own back yard. Bono says, "...I'm not normally a navel-gazer, I've always thought you find yourself in other people." And so we do, in conversations like these. Go buy the book, and find a little of yourself in the man who makes the music you love.

© @U2, 2005.

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