"I can cry when I'm singing, literally. I can get very, very into it."
Matter of Life and Death - Part 2
Hot Press Annual 2002,
December 01, 2001
Did you feel closer to him in the end?
I drew him. I have loads of drawings, which I'm glad of. I did all the kind of things he wouldn't let me do when his defences were up. I read to him Shakespeare, Shelley, this new translation I have of the Bible, Eugene Peterson's. He'd run you out of the room for that (laughs). He himself was an autodidact and at an early age, in his 20s, he'd read all the classics, and was a great tenor, a great musician, and opera filled our house. Yesterday, in Ireland, the papers had this thing that I was very angry with him, for not having encouraged me to do the things that he deeply regretted he hadn't done himself. The rage I referred to in the article was the rage I felt as a musician, in compromising the melodies I woke up with. With chord structures that I think could be so much better, had I an education in music. I do have a certain frustration in me, and there is anger in me, but it's not at him, it's at myself, that I haven't managed to overcome that.
Did you bring "Kite" to his attention or was he aware of it?
No. There's an odd one. I have this verse about taking the kids up on Killiney Hill with a kite. Then I realised, I went back in my head, and I remembered being in Rush or Skerries, one incident where exactly the same thing happened. We used to have a caravan, and I sort of felt the goodbye aspect of the song was not from me to him, but from him to me. That's the thing about songwriting -- you're the last to know what you're on about.
Are you still smoking?
No. Recently on a fairly big night, I found my hand wandering into somebody's bag whilst I was talking. I had no idea that my hand was going into somebody else's bag (laughs). And, with some dexterity, taking a cigarette out.
You should have taken money while you were at it.
I was amazed, and lighting the cigarette, before I knew. But you know about that old story: smoking may damage health but your children will kill you.
Are you aware that you're giving a bad example?
It's dumb to smoke, and it really changed my voice, and I lost the high register, and I lost the ability to fly as a singer. I had a lot of complications with my voice anyway. The doctor told me I couldn't smoke.
What age is your eldest now?
Jordan's twelve. Elijah is two and a half and it broke my heart the other day when I asked him what he wanted for Christmas, and he said he wanted a plane, and I said why, and he said, "cause Daddy lives on one." I thought: I'd better get home. I really better get home.
What does Jordan think about your man calling the cars after her?
I think she may be even faster than Eddie (laughs). I can't keep up with her. I took the kids on tour with me for a week. They often come out with Ali, but this time I took them on my own, when I went touring on the West Coast. And we had a real laugh. Ali found it difficult to get them to bed after that 'cause they were keeping rock 'n' roll hours.
At twelve, there are all sorts of new challenges coming up.
They've got a good sense of themselves. I think they've got their mother's security. They can take on whatever, they've got the stuff. I don't think they're spoilt brats. I'm the spoilt brat.
You had your fourth child this year. Do you think now that you're a better father than you were ten years ago?
Yeah, probably. Certainly the shock of it is less after a few tries. I get to spend two weeks with them every few months. I take them on the school run. When I'm around I'm really around. I probably spend more time with my kids than most. And Ali likes that space that it gives her when I am on the road. There's still a sense of mystery about her that even I can't crack. And she likes it that way. The pressures of this kind of life are not what they might be with a less secure woman or house.
Do you ever stop and think that the rock game means little or nothing compared to the life and death issues that you're actually dealing with in the songs?
One of the things that September 11th did was upend celebrity and upend the notion of what is important. So some of the issues of All That You Can't Leave Behind became very important, but singers and their vicissitudes, not so. I like that. I think we should remember that. The band has such things in a good perspective. They know that the aberration of the 21st century, where you get paid a lot of money for what in the Middle Ages you would just be given your supper. I've been saying for many years now, nurses, firemen and doctors are the ones that we need to look after, not spoil us rotten pop stars. We do bring something to the party. It's not life and death, but maybe it's inspiration to live and a place to crash when life doesn't work out right. That's what music brought to me anyway.
As regards U2, there is a joy in the music that allows us to take up the big issues and go through them. There's a sense of wonder in the music, there's a sense of faith and of possibilities and I think it has...I'd like to think it has inspired some people to get organised, to become more active in their political lives. But even if it's just in the moment, if it's a melody that lifts somebody's head up for a minute on a building site, it's worth it to me. Music and politics shouldn't be enemies, especially in Ireland; surely that's a sign of an evolved society where there's discussion between culture and government?
The Frames and David Kitt were voted 1 and 2 in our critics Albums of the Year -- have you heard them?
No. I'd like to. Doing political work, I've missed out on what's going on in Ireland. I always make a point of saying to any of the Irish talents coming through, if there's anything I can do for you I will. I've said it to the Devlins -- their album has a real mood to it. I've said it to Ronan. I've said it to the Corrs -- they're mates. But I haven't said it to the Frames, and I should.
How did you feel when "It's a Beautiful Day" [sic] was chosen as the theme tune for the Premiership?
(Lots of laughs) I just thought there's one row somebody won't have to have with Larry. Larry polices -- and that's the operative word -- the use of our music in film and TV; it's his department. That would be the easiest negotiation anyone has ever had to do.
Do you have any advice for Alex Ferguson about his current refusal to talk to the media?
Go to Celtic!
Do you think he's making a bollox of it?
That's a trick question. What does it say in the Psalm? How the Pot says to the Potter, why hast thou made me thus? (Loads more laughs)
There were times, I'm sure, during the PopMart tour, with the huge production that you took on the road, when you were looking out at the crowd and thinking, great, I'm actually paying for the privilege of singing to people tonight?
It's crass to talk about money and it's especially insensitive to people who don't have it. This tour makes a lot more sense on a financial level, and there is a point where it is mad to pay to play. We have made money on other tours, but we've also paid out money. We spent two million quid playing Australia, for instance. And playing the Middle East. It cost us to get PopMart there. It would cost you a fortune to get to Sarajevo, etc. But you know -- we're loaded! (Laughs) What's the problem? If you can't be fanciful about your art, then you're really betraying the people who have given you your freedom in the first place. Financially there's a deal that goes down, unspoken, unsaid, but very simple: you don't have to worry about your medical bills, your mortgage or when you're going to go on your holidays. But in return, just don't be dull. And don't bend over. Be true to who you are and what you do and run with it, and run amuck with it, and I think we've always done that. As annoying as we can be. At least we're not dull.
There was a suggestion, that building up to this tour, there were guys in the band saying, "Fuck off Bono, I'm not going out again, to lose a shitload of money with a production that fucking kills us." Did Larry put his foot down?
If you're going to play outdoors, it's just going to be more expensive, especially if you want to do something more innovative. We enjoyed Slane this year and that made us think, gosh, maybe you could play outdoors without being one part Pink Floyd. We did on the Joshua Tree tour, after all. The road takes the most out of Larry and myself in terms of physical effort. But Larry wasn't responsible for that. One thing Larry was responsible for was whispering in my ear, at the end of Pop -- it might have been the last day of recording -- "Why don't we actually make a pop record next time?" (Laughs) And indeed we have, essentially. It's very tightly constructed to the ideas of pop music. But if you play indoors you've [got] to play more times a week, with less chance of seeing your family. If you play outdoors you play three times a week, so your family can actually come on the road and see you, and not feel like a piece of luggage. It's swings and roundabouts. The touring operation this time was very, very tight. People like Steve Iredale and Joe O'Herlihy really shone, and the background crew, and Principle Management were at their best. We had an end of tour party in Atlanta. It was very emotional. The truck drivers, the steel riggers, coming up and saying, "This is the greatest tour I've ever been on." It had a spirit about it.
What was the source of that?
The group itself is very, very close at the moment, and I think for U2 to work, that must be so. Unlike say the Kinks or Oasis, groups that actually feed off a certain sibling rivalry, that kind of energy. We need to be able to look each other in the eye. I think in the '90s, we became a little too independent of each other -- there was still the same respect, but as you grow older you can lose the malleability to fit around somebody. Every time, in this group's life, someone's gonna be a bollox. You have to give him enough room, and then when they go too far, take them out of that. Notice how I used the word "them" there (laughs)? I have to say there were far less arseholes on the road this time than I've seen maybe ever before.
Talking about All That You Can't Leave Behind, Daniel Lanois felt very strongly, comparing it to Pop, that you had made the mistake previously of not paying sufficient respect to the people that you were working with, and that you needed to surround yourselves with people capable of making soulful music.
But no one's more soulful than Flood. Flood has a drum machine for a pulse, a heart that's made of music, and Howie's the same. Pop could have been a masterpiece. The songs are extraordinary. We just wore ourselves out and didn't quite finish them. But I'm still very proud of it as a piece of work. You make a record with Daniel Lanois, one of two things is gonna happen -- you are going to make a great record, or somebody is going to die. Either him or you. So it's a real commitment, to make a record with him. If you make a record with Brian Eno, it's gonna be making a record in the other sense of the word. It's not going to be commonplace. It's gonna have to be full of original ideas, or someone's gonna die -- but it's not gonna be him (laughs). He'll be out the back door.
Did you have any reaction to David Blunkett's decision, in the U.K., not to charge people for possession of cannabis?
Sounds smart. I don't know enough about it to comment, but I could never figure out the hierarchy of sins -- or pleasures, I should say. I could never figure out how one was supposed to be worse or better than the other. It's like alcohol or cigarettes. I think smoking weed probably gives you cancer as well, a lot slower. Like all pleasures you have to not abuse them.
Should we go whole hog now and decriminalise the fucking thing?
I would think so. Again I'm not really informed on all the issues, so I wouldn't want to make any pronouncement. I guess the thorny issue is substances that are addictive and people who are prone to them. It's difficult to make something freely available that makes someone a slave, like cigarettes, but they do. It's hard to know. The devil's revenge on extraordinary things is to make them ordinary by doing them too much. That's what access can do to people. Make the extraordinary commonplace.
Any New Year's resolutions?
I haven't thought about it, but I will, because I love that moment. I always take it seriously. We always make prayers at that moment. The kids are around and we have fireworks, we tie our prayers to the rockets and send them off. I love to be in the snow. Sometimes to be in Killiney Bay at midnight if I'm in Dublin, and have an ice cold shot of vodka afterwards. Then you become a firework (laughs). I haven't got this year's resolutions worked out, but I will have. I think I know what it will be. Just at a public level, not to let the opportunity of recent calamities pass. The way that they have brought into sharp focus the ills of this world: if we keep the concentration, we might actually be able to muster support, and to do something about them.
Have you read Salman Rushdie's latest book?
I haven't read Fear and I'm dying to. Paul (McGuinness) has and really liked it.
Did you have any fear about the fact that you were close to Salman, when he stayed in your gaff?
I didn't appreciate the Sunday Independent reminding people of the fact constantly. I think the issue of freedom of speech is very close to the heart of any person who loves rock 'n' roll. It was a moment where you had to stand up and be counted, in whatever small way, so we did. I like Salman very much, but he didn't stay as much as people suggested. There were supposed to be helicopters flying in and out of our bedroom windows. I don't take my own security as seriously as others would. But I take my family's very seriously. We have 24-hour security, and usually when people see the rocket launchers they move on (laughs).
Do you ever ask yourself: what am I gonna be doing when I'm 60?
I think I'll finally be cool. I've never wanted to be cool. I always thought that, as a band, we were hot, almost like Latin, or the way the Celts were hot. It's OK to be cool when you're 60, it's OK to be bad tempered, and -- as Gavin Friday says -- chase children across the road with a stick. I'm looking forward to making music and writing from that perspective. Most of my heroes are older men -- they always have been, from Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, Brendan Kenneally to Seamus Heaney: I've always had that respect. If you're a novelist, people say you shouldn't start writing till you're 40.
But will you still be doing it at 60?
I don't know how you approach that, or whether we'll be around as a band. We operate a two crap records and you're out principle. I don't think we've made a crap record yet. We've made a few difficult records, but not crap ones!
Have you seen it in your mind's eye, U2 as four guys, up on stage, at the age of 60?
Gosh. A terrifying thought. Standing there with deep lines. Turn around and there's Larry Mullen, still looking 14. A lot of what's going on in this tour, is that people are looking at a set of relationships that have lasted longer than most marriages, and most business relationships. And friendship is, after a number of years, a defiant thing. Every day that's added to a relationship makes it stronger and more courageous. There's an essay by Jean Cocteau about friendship where he suggests that friendship is higher than love, although less passionate, and certainly less romantic, but it has in its very ordinariness a strength that more passionate relationships haven't. It's a very powerful thing. We both know that, if there's one of U2 in the room, or two of us in the room, or three, we have our individual weight. But when there's four of us in the room it changes the molecules a little bit. That's the gang. Add Sheila and Paul and you have a whole corporation (laughs).
One final question, which I really have to ask. Are we gonna win the fucking World Cup?
Well, we're gonna get through to the quarterfinals. That's exciting. It's a young team. What U2 and Irish soccer squad have in common is that we both work best as underdogs. When people expect too much, we invariably let them down. I think it's great that they've got through.
So what about a theme song? Well, I've an idea. I was talking to Elvis Costello, and you should too, trying to get him to do a version of "Tokyo Storm Warning."
Are you thinking of going to Japan?
You'd have to. It's tricky with the family. I've got a couple of trips to Africa to do. They've been so good to me. Ali is such an independent spirit, and these kids are so generous, but I couldn't go on my own with the lads, I'd have to bring them -- but that might be tricky, seeing as they are not as keen on the game! Part of the thrill of next year will be spending time with them.
BONO'S BEST OF 2001
Craig Armstrong: As If To Nothing This is his follow-up to The Space Between Us. It's not out till February but it's a really good album. Evan Dando sings a song called "Wake Up in New York," written before September 11th -- it's deep melancholia, but he sings like an angel on it.
Ryan Adams: Gold Tracks like "La Cienega," "Wild Flowers" and "When the Stars Go Blue" are classics.
The Strokes This has a sort of '79 feel to it. I think they could amount to something.
The White Stripes: White Blood Cells They've got something going -- you can really feel it here.
Bob Dylan: Love and Theft Kept me going through the year because it made me laugh. It's just a classic.
The Charlatans: Wonderland I have to mention this because it's really great.
Peaches: "Rock Show" A single, this was the biggest blast of the year.
I've been reading a lot of treaties and economic textbooks, which is sad. But there were some good things that I got around to reading this year:
At the risk of sounding even more like God at Christmas I would have to recommend this translation of The New Testament and The Books of Wisdom by Eugene Peterson. And he's a poet as well as scholar. It's just incredible stuff.
The last novel I read was J.P. Leroy's The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things. I met J.P. -- he came to one of our shows and I spent time with him. It's black, very bleak.
When I was in Los Angeles I was reading a book by James Ellroy, of The Black Dahlia fame. It's an amazing story. He became a crime writer because his mother was murdered, and through writing fiction he got to know a lot of cops and detectives, and at one point he decided to try and investigate, through the people he knew in the police, his own mother's murder. It's called My Dark Places, and it's an unbelievable book. While it's about the search for the killers, it's also a search for himself.
Finally, it might sound a little bit pretentious, but one of the books I enjoyed most this year was actually published in 1992. It's Ted Hughes' book about Shakespeare, called Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being. It's an extraordinary book.
I never knew what year a movie was released in, but the two that spring to mind that I saw this year are:
Memento (Directed by Christopher Nolan)
Chopper (Directed by Andrew Dominic)
ON THE BIRTH, IN JUNE 2001, OF JOHN
Niall Stokes: Can you tell me about the role of Chopper in the birth of John?
That was Ali's idea. I just got back from Chicago and everything was...she had a very cool aura about her as usual, not particularly bothered. The worry then started that I'd actually have to go back before the baby was born. So she suggested a scary movie and Chopper is a film made by a friend of ours. Ali doesn't like violent movies. In fact she often becomes violent at them. She bit me once during Scarface. She literally bit my shoulder and I had to leave! When we go to the movies together we don't always agree on what one. But she was up for it this time. So we put on Chopper and halfway through it she did disappear. And I went upstairs and I found her sitting on the bed with white warpaint on and I thought, "This is a bit much." But in fact she'd put a facepack on and I said, "Are you OK?" and she said, "No, it's started now," and I said, "Well, the movie worked then." And I said, "What do we do now?" and she said, "Look, it's going to be hours and hours, you should get some sleep." So I went to bed for an hour or so at about 2 in the morning. So at about four o'clock she woke me up, calm as usual, and said, "I think it's time to go." So I got out of bed and got everything organised and fired up the car and she came down and got in and we were driving along to the hospital, Mount Carmel, and she just quietly turned and said, "I think we should start breaking the lights now." Now Ali is very Protestant. She has a great respect for the law (laughs). So I put my foot on the pedal and 20 minutes after we arrived in the hospital she gave birth.
It's a fantastic moment, the first sight of a new kid, isn't it? He looked like somebody familiar. He looked like a doorman I know in a London club! He immediately had a hard head, shaped like a bullet. He did look like a thug and that is why we called him John, as in "alright John"!
Did you fight over the name?
No, because John also has other connotations in the family. A man called Jack is a kind of hero of mine, and there's other people I know. And he's my favourite apostle as well. He was the one who was more poetic of that lot. He was a very interesting guy.
ON THE DEATH OF GEORGE HARRISON -- AND THE LEGACY OF JOHN LENNON
Niall Stokes: George Harrison's death must have resonated in a particular way for you, given the circumstances and the illness.
Yeah, he didn't like U2 very much. We were great fans of his and I do think that he brought a dimension to the band that gave depth to the consummate pop writing that it couldn't have had without him. His taking on the taboo of religion also made an impression on me as a teenager. I used to think if rock 'n' roll means anything, it means liberation. It means freedom to express yourself sexually, politically, and of course, spiritually. But very few people do. And he was one of the first before Dylan, before Marvin Gaye and Marley. Although I hear he was very bad-tempered. Calling him the quiet Beatle -- I think it might have been more true to say he was the grumpy Beatle (laughs).
Well there was a few grumpy fuckers there. Lennon could certainly be grumpy.
I went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and Yoko has this exhibition on John's life as a writer and an artist. It's like an exhibition of a living artist. It's one of the best things you could ever see. And it has handwritten songs of his abandonment, his mother and all this stuff. But it was downstairs I got the real insight because in the Beatles exhibition, in amongst all the paraphernalia, I found two postcards from John to Julian -- they were open postcards, not in envelopes -- and one of them had John's phone number on it. And he'd written "Dear Julian, Sorry I haven't spoken to you in the last six months. If you need me, here's my address." And it turned everything around for me and I just realised I'm going to have to watch out for this. Here's a guy writing about his own abandonment two floors up -- and writing about his own psychotic reaction to childhood while he's repeating it on his own. I met Julian and I mentioned that to him and he just stared at me and said, "That's not a conversation you want to start with me if you're a Beatles fan."
Bono: I do think that photograph was offensive and I think it's a fair cop to take it on the nose for it. I think I told you what happened. Blair was late for his meeting with Putin because myself and Geldof had him in a headlock and we just wouldn't let him go and eventually word came down from his aides and they said, "You can bring them along, I'd like to meet these people." So we went up with them and he walked up and put his arms around me and said in Russian, "Now it's time to start work on the Russian debt," and I laughed. Who wouldn't laugh?
I remember an amusing incident with Charles Haughey of the same order when we opened a rehearsal room in the City Centre. We built these rehearsal rooms for bands and Paul McGuinness asked Charlie would he open it. And a screaming match developed between the band and Paul because there was an election coming up, and we felt this would look too comfortable. So there was a Four Stooges moment where I said, "OK, whatever we do, if the Taoiseach arrives, the press will naturally look for a photograph of the two of us and we shouldn't have that on the eve of an election." I said, "Edge, you do it or Adam, you do it." So they all agreed and then, when we got to the City Centre, there were crowds and people around and anyway they pissed off to the bar for a drink and I was standing surrounded by people and I looked around and the great man had arrived and was walking with his hand outstretched. So I said, "There's no way out of this" and I shook his hand but I kept my face out.
I was as cross-looking as possible (laughs), just so it didn't look too matey! And he said, "I believe you've just had a little girl," and I went, "yes," and kind of nodded. And he cracked a few jokes and I wanted to laugh but I kept it together right up to the moment when he says, "Where are you off to?" and I said, "Australia." He said, "There's a fella out there I know, his name is Bob Hawke" -- he was Prime Minister there, and he's in the Guinness Book of Records for drinking the quickest yard of beer. And Charlie says, "If you bump into him, say hello." And I just nodded. And then he put his hand up to his mouth and leaned over and said, "Let me put it this way, he'd drink you under the fucking table." And I laughed. He's very funny and charming, Charlie. But there it was on the front page of the Irish Times the next day: Bono and Charlie -- mates.
So how far do you go? I'm not there to make judgements on people's political lives. I'm there representing various NGOs and a very large grassroots movement. And that's my primary concern -- to get their message across. Not how uncool or how inappropriate. But I know it annoyed people.
© Hot Press, 2001. All rights reserved.