Much ado about Bono’s 60th birthday in the papers this weekend. Interesting piece from Fintan O’Toole in The Irish Times. Oddly, it does leave out the proverbial elephant in the room (especially strange given Mr. O’Toole’s left-wing sympathies) which is that (as most thoroughly documented in Harry Browne’s The Front Man) perhaps all of Bono’s do-gooding actually makes things worse rather than better, or better only in the short term, because it perpetuates the present system. Sure, Billy Bragg doesn’t have anything like Bono’s influence, but wouldn’t it be nice if Bono came out once and for all and said what he actually believes in, other than a vague ‘don’t hurt people, help them’ Christian humanism? Of course he won’t, because he wouldn’t consider himself to be daft enough to be a Marxist, or even a socialist. But the fuzzy do-gooding equally shouldn’t hide the fact that he is, in fact, an arch capitalist. It’s all about trickle down with Bono.
Fintan is right about how with Bono, ‘Whatever part of the brain makes us cringe at ourselves is missing’, as evidenced by when Hot Press sent him to interview Bob Dylan (Slane, 1984), and it became obvious that he knew fuck all about Dylan or his music. He certainly doesn’t lack brass neck, and is good at spoofing – in contrast to more reflective and reticent people, who like to do their research and know what they’re talking about before they open their mouths (which, in Bono’s case, is usually to change feet). And yet, as anyone who has met him will tell you, his charm is lethal. He is, though you’d be loath to admit it, a nice guy. Maybe a bit loud, but not obnoxiously so. And he does have a great talent, maybe not so much as a musician, but as a performer. I’ve seen him make a football stadium in Modena, Italy, seem as intimate as a small theatre, on the 1987 Joshua Tree tour (and I was standing a lot further back by then than I had been in The Dandelion Market or McGonagle’s or The Baggot Inn). However, I disagree with Fintan is equating the preposterousness of Bono with that of the front person of any other hugely successful stadium rock act, e.g. Mick Jagger. Jagger is not as preposterous as Bono, nor is Lady Gaga, because they are not as hypocritical.
It seems so strange to me now, and I’m not trying to humblebrag in mentioning it, but I knew him and The Edge reasonably well in their early days around Dublin, even before Boy came out. I went out with Edge's sister Gill, briefly. Bono came to hear my band rehearse once. He was always enthusiastic and interested in people and stuff they were doing, with no apparent motive of self-interest, other than being friendly. I even stayed in their rooms in their hotels in Amsterdam and Leiden, when they were touring October. Of course, I haven't seen or spoken to them in years. It's funny how much I dislike him and even the group now, and this despite some of the undeniably decent records they’ve made, simply because of his political posturing and tax avoidance. As regards the music, it's difficult to imagine now, but there was a time when they were contemporaries of Echo & The Bunnymen and Joy Division, and were 'just another' interesting indie band on the up. A time when it seemed not fanciful that Edge would be the next Tom Verlaine, and they'd make slightly off-kilter, left-of-centre music. All that changed, of course, with The Joshua Tree and the pretending to be cowboys phase and pandering to the U.S. market.
I've no idea what would happen if I met Bono now. But, much like what Elvis Costello said about Paul McCartney in my previous post, it must be really odd being Bono. Considering how Mega U2 have been, it's surprising he's even halfway normal. Although there was always something a bit abnormal about him, even in the early days. It's like that thing people used to say about Bill Clinton, how when he walks into a room he's instantly the centre of attention (even before he was famous) because he glows, with a particular kind of energy. I guess it's called charisma. But that must be difficult being around all the time too.
I mean, when does Bono go home? And what’s he like there? Is he Bono all the time? I hope not, because that would be truly scary. Unfortunately, it may well be the case.