Sunday Times : Part 2 - Bono back to his old tricks - U2 France
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Sunday Times : Part 2 - Bono back to his old tricks

dimanche 21 février 1999

Source : Sunday Times

Bono’s innate conservatism can be measured by the lengthof time it took him to go public on his faith. Although he,Evans and Mullen were members of the strict ShalomChristian group, U2’s first album contained no overt referenceto their beliefs. Bono splurged his beliefs across their secondalbum in 1981 in lyrics written at the last minute, an early signof the creative process which has characterised his writing.

In the early 1980s, when U2 got around to writing an overtlypolitical song for their third album, it was the work of theirguitarist The Edge rather than Bono. Sunday Bloody Sundaymade Bono’s name as a firebrand anti-republican, helped byhis shredding of the tricolour several times while performing itlive. But while Bono shared Sunday Bloody Sunday’ssentiments and helped polish its lines, he lacked Evans’stoughmindedness and could never have written it.

Bono’s centre-left instincts were expressed in U2’s earlycareer through an association with Garret FitzGerald, leaderof Fine Gael, the Christian Democrat party. At FitzGerald’ssuggestion Bono joined a committee to develop a nationalyouth policy, the first and last time he sat on a politicalgrouping. His attendance was fitful but, according to anothermember, the Irish Tourist Board chairman Mark Mortell,Bono’s contributions were passionate and effective.

Bono’s political allegiances were a matter more ofcharacter than ideology, however, and when U2’ssoft-focus politics were articulated on their UnforgettableFire album they registered immediately with an audiencejaded by the high-gloss rock of the early 1980s. By the timeU2 stepped from the Live Aid stage in July 1985, Bono hadascended to the status of rock prophet.

If he was initially awkward in the role, it was not for wantof intelligence or cunning but because at 25 he had spentall his adulthood cocooned in U2. He respondedemotionally rather than intellectually to events, shouting"F*** the revolution" to an American audience on the nightof the Enniskillen bombing in 1987.

However, according to U2’s biographer Eamon Dunphy,there is a coherence in his position. "It’s not random," saidDunphy. "His support for Live Aid, his visit to Ethiopia with[his wife] Ali, his current work in relation to Third Worlddebt, it all comes from his Christian concern for themost disadvantaged."

When she took a politics degree at University CollegeDublin in the late 1980s, Ali Hewson became the biggestinfluence on his political development. He began to seepolitics more in ideological terms. Dunphy says : "The bestthing about Bono is Ali. She is calm and rational and ableto see beyond individuals to policies."

Bono’s apocalyptic predictions about the end of ideologya decade ago came when he and his colleagues weresliding to a creative stop.

U2’s response to such impasses is to talk their waythrough them. At the start of the decade, after talkingtheir way into becoming born-again ironists, Bono almostcompletely withdrew from interviews of any consequence,instead becoming diligently flippant.

This has largely been a defence mechanism. Bono hasa thin skin, but irony has allowed him to glide over slightsthat would once have wounded him. His post-modernpersona has also allowed him to cosy up to Bill Clintonand new Labour without sustaining collateral damage,each manifestly using the other for their own purposes.

Beyond irony, though, there lies only surrender or afresh commitment to activism. With Bono putting himselfabout once again in support of causes from Third Worlddebt to the free speech of his friend Salman Rushdie,the suspicion must be that he is ramping up to be aborn-again rock prophet for the new millennium. U2intend to release their 10th studio album later this year,but with sales of their last album standing at adisappointing 7m copies, compared to 12m for1991’s Achtung Baby and 16m for The Joshua Treein 1987, Bono, who will be 40 in May, might even belooking towards a public role beyond the band. AfterU2, perhaps the UN ?

But on a different stage, without the help of a gratefulrecord company, Bono might find himself pitifullyexposed. As another record industry insider observedof his involvement with Jubilee 2000 : "It’s a bloodyshambles. Bono’s done Live Aid, War Child, save thegay whale, the lot. You get the impression his recordcompany have to go along with him.

"Because U2 saved Polygram’s bacon by allowingthem to release their greatest-hits LP last year, theyhad the company over a barrel. Polygram couldn’tvery well turn round and tell Bono they weren’t interested."

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