@U2 : Vowels and Continents : A Conversation with Bonomardi 18 mars 2003 / par Dom
by Sherry Colombaro
Source : @U2
TimesTalks Special Edition series - New York Times Arts & Leisure Weekend
"Joy is an impossible emotion to contrive," said Bono to a standing room only audience at the Graduate Center at City University of New York on Sunday. Most in the room were full of joy as Bono followed two New York Times moderators, Jon Pareles and John Darnton, on stage at around 4 p.m.
Both moderators were in full suit and tie, while Bono looked as if he had borrowed a jacket from someone who might have been colorblind. Wearing his usual army green hat backwards, light brown tinted glasses, camouflage green v-neck sweater, black pants and traditional "Bono Boots", Bono was careful with the way he sat down in the chair on stage. When asked by Pareles how he had injured his back, the reply was that he was having too much "wild sex" for his age and that he had been given some electrical equipment to take care of it. Unsure of where else Bono might want to go with that question and answer, Darnton quickly moved on to matters across continents.
Most of the sixty-minute, moderated discussion focused on his humanitarian efforts and how he was able to convince politicians in Washington, DC, to help Africa. When asked about President George W. Bush and AIDS funding, Bono said, "There are 2,103 verses of scripture relating to poverty. Christ only speaks of judgment once - and it was on the topic of poverty." He went on to say that he quoted the gospel (Matthew 24) to Bush and the president was very interested in what that verse says. Bono said he believed Bush was genuinely interested in helping Africa when he actually committed the funds to it.
Pareles steered the conversation away from Africa for a bit, focusing on the musical aspects of U2’s work. Bono admitted that Pareles’ album review for Boy said that after work that good, they should go off and break up back in 1980. "In a way, that’s what we do each time we go into the studio," Bono explained. He said that Boy’s open fifths and big guitar riffs which Pareles described can still be found in different contexts and ways on other albums. "You need to change the scenery until you don’t feel comfortable," Bono clarified. "You’ve got to keep it fresh."
Bono conceded that Edge uses "muscle memory" in regard to playing songs live. He said that Edge cannot just pick up a guitar and play something off of October or Boy. Instead, Edge has to listen to the song and try to remember what he was doing to create the sound he produced. "He honestly doesn’t know what he’s doing," Bono quipped.
Bono added that Edge is always embarrassed about being a guitar player, but he’s coming out on this next album. "There’s full-on guitar playing by a very frustrated man who’d like to have his lead singer back." He described the new album as a "chainsaw being started up — more cutting down of The Joshua Tree. It’s a visceral album. The songs are more direct — big songs with big melodies."
Pareles asked him if this new album would try to touch on Africa in the same way The Joshua Tree touched on America. Bono replied "If it does, it’ll be the spirit from that continent." He explained that African music is an ecstatic music - and U2’s been making it without realizing it.
A natural transition from that topic was about religion in U2’s music and the influence religion has had on Bono. He said that the only way to rebel in rock and roll now is to rebel against what you can’t see. Bono said he believes that God is more interested in truth, and when there is a stumbling block in the recording studio, he follows the advice that Quincy Jones gave him and waits "for God to enter the room." Bono described that waiting process as getting at the truth of what is happening to you at that moment, and that is what God’s interested in.
The moderators opened up the program to allow questions from the audience. During the brief break, Bono took out his cigar tin and an audience member asked him if he could have one. Not only did Bono let him choose one out of the tin, he offered his match to the fellow - almost burning his finger in the process. Some of the CUNY staff tried to get both men to extinguish their smokes, but to no avail.
I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to ask a question about the difference between lyricists and poets. (Before I asked the question, Bono commented on my height differential between myself and the microphone above me, then pointed to the soul of his shoe and said, "I have the same problem.") His answer was quite thorough, touching upon the issue of rhythm. He said that lyric writing incorporates rhythm from other musicians, and that there is great care in making the word match what the music is telling it. Poetry can not be put to music half the time. "You can write vainly - oh, this is a good line, but it wouldn’t be good for the music" he said describing the difference.
Bono explained that his lyric writing style is to hold onto the vowel sounds for added power. "In the Naaaaaaameee of Loooooveeeee - it’s like that," he described. He said that on the earlier albums, he sounded like a girl when trying to hold onto notes in the early days. "That’s why I started smoking cigars and putting my voice through reverb and other things - to try to make it sound better."
He was asked by another audience member what one song would he want to be remembered for. He responded that his songs change over time, but right now it’s "Kite." He described his relationship with his father and the awkwardness of it, and how it related to him wanting to do the "dad thing" with his girls one day.
The rest of the audience questions were mostly requests for hugs, dances, autographs, and visits to areas in America suffering the same poverty as in Africa. While Bono accommodated the dance request, both Pareles and Darnton tried to get the audience segment to focus back on intellectual topics. One gentleman asked him towards the end to describe the use of color, light and dark in his music. Rendered almost speechless, Bono said "Do you have a week ?" and then continued saying that he’s in the dark most of the time, but that little bit of light he can see, he holds onto.
The final question came from a teacher with a student in her class from Ghana. The teacher asked Bono if it is a bit overwhelming being recognized with all of these awards, having students such as hers writing biographies about him, and all of the attention. Bono replied that the awards are on behalf of the people behind the scenes working with the various agencies he’s privileged to be a part of. He said that he’s enjoying the attention at the moment. He described his trip to Ghana last year, and an incident when the King wanted to speak to the group Bono was addressing. "Here I am in the middle of my remarks, and I get passed this note," he explained. He added that the King, whom everyone expected to sound a particular way, spoke like a college graduate from Princeton (which the king is). He concluded the story by saying "Ghana is where cool began."
With that, he received a standing ovation, and then was whisked off stage by the New York Times organizers so he could catch his flight to Washington, DC. He did stop briefly for a few autographs and said that he wished he had more time.
For those who missed the talk, the New York Times is making it available for download at a cost from Audible.com soon.