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He is a brainy man and he thinks extreme poverty is stupid. -- Bono, on Bill Gates

Lobbying Through Music

U2 wants to change the world
Shepherd Express
Just when no one expected such idealism, compassion or humanitarianism to thrive in the world of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, there was Bono, Live Aid, the Jubilee 2000 coalition and the AIDS initiative. For three decades, super-band U2 has turned hits into lobbies for legislation, its lyrics suffused with undeniable spiritual undertones into a tool for world change. This out of the depths of the music business (whose soul-squelching mission revolves around units sold and artist exploitation) is a little like turning water into wine. For a multitude of U2 fans who faithfully buy CDs and concert tickets, its charismatic leader, Bono, is more than just another rock hero. The baby-boomer/Gen-X-now-iPod generation icon will return to Milwaukee on Sunday, Sept. 25, at the Bradley Center.

Borrowing biblical imagery for sexually charged and politically stinging lyrics and using poetry as prophecy, their most recent release, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (2004), launches a pointed attack against poverty, sickness and political/religious division with songs like "Love and Peace or Else," "Crumbs From Your Table" and "Yaweh."

In soliciting support, Bono's diplomacy and social gospel extend beyond political ideology. He is able to disarm the moralistic agendas of conservatives by quoting their own scripture. Prior to meeting President Bush about AIDS assistance, a recent New York Times article reported that Bono told the driver to "circle the block a few times" while he hunted frantically through a Bible for a verse about shepherds and the poor. Finally, arriving late, he "presented Bush with an edition of the Psalms for which he had written a foreword."

Treading between sinking into Christian stereotypes and walking on water with mainstream success, certain U2 songs, such as "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and "Where the Streets Have No Name," have crossed genres so fluidly that even as they spilled over pop charts they literally became Christian anthems.

The Power of Grace

Bono, who has been silent in media discussions regarding his faith, recently confessed in a Beliefnet.com interview, "As I said to the Edge one day, I sometimes feel more like a fan (regarding Christianity), rather than actually in the band. I can't live up to it. But the reason I would like to is the idea of grace. It's really powerful."

He continued, "I often wonder if religion is the enemy of God. It's almost like religion is what happens when the Spirit has left the building."

Setting aside contentions with fundamentalist positions on contraception, abortion and the role of women, Bono has seemingly reconciled with his Roman Catholic roots. In his new autobiography, Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas (Riverhead Books), he states, "I can be critical. But when I meet someone like Sister Benedicta and see her work with AIDS orphans in Addis Abada, or Sister Ann doing the same in Malawi, or Father Jack Fenukan and his group Concern all over Africa, when I meet priests and nuns tending to the sick and the poor and giving up much easier lives to do so, I surrender a little easier."

What propels a rock star with affluent tastes to campaign tirelessly for aid to Africa? Was it losing his beloved mother who died suddenly when he was 14? (He is a constant giver and seeker of affection.) Is it the challenge to go head to head in a G8 summit with world leaders like Bush, Tony Blair, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac? (He was playing international chess tournaments at the age of 12.) Generating 14 critically acclaimed albums with the same band and manager, remaining married to his first wife, Ali (whom he met at age 12), and avoiding the pitfalls of drugs and alcohol point to qualities of consistency and devotion.

Bono's hardworking band is in the midst of the third leg of their second North American tour, which began in February. Vertigo will encompass 108 dates, 61 cities, 11 months and an exhaustive interview and campaign calendar. Although they are taking a week off following the Milwaukee appearance, it is doubtful they will be visiting local breweries. Time is a precious thing; as Bono laments, "I walk down the street and people say 'I love what you're doing. Love your cause, Bono.' And I don't think 6,000 Africans a day dying from AIDS is a cause -- it's an emergency."

© Shepherd Express, 2005.