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U2 Interviews

"First of all, I´m God"
© NME,  21. October 1995

Goodbye Macphisto, ciao Pavarotti. Farewell glitterati, hello literati. A warm welcome, if you will, for BONO, who is not only taking rock 'n' roll to a Swansea literature convention, but is also granting NME his first interview in two-and-a-half years. Andy Richardson hears about his latest project 'Passengers,' the future of rock 'n' roll and his new haircut.

Arielle lies crumpled on the floor. Her breath is fast and erratic, her eyes glazed and black make-up runs down her cheeks. She is jet-lagged and hysterical.
She clutches a CD-sized copy of a U2 booklet in her left hand. 'Look,' she wails, pointing to a small black signature that says, 'Bono.' 'He actually touched it.' And then she slumps to the floor, exhausted.

Beside Arielle stand her friends, Roseanna Marielle, 21, and Patricia Mondez, 22. The trio have flown 6,000 miles from their homes in Uruguay to be at the Grand Theatre, off Singleton Street, in Swansea. It is a dark, drizzling, depressing place but Roseanna and Patricia smile broadly. Tonight they achieved a lifetime's ambition: they finally met their hero.

Arielle snivels and wipes away more tears. The details of the meeting have slipped into the back of her mind. She can't recall how she ran screaming up to the black limousine when it pulled into the car park 30 minutes ago. She can't remember the moment when the squat, 35-year-old Irishman climbed out of the limousine sporting a brown tweed cap and greying stubble. And she can't bring herself to recollect the moment he put his arm around her and flashed his millionaire's smile. She is too

'It was something very, very emotional,' says Roseanna. 'I've been waiting for this moment for eight years. Eight years. It's very hard to explain it in words. Very, very hard. He's a wonderful musician, you know. He is, you know, a very ... he takes care about the fans. He's a very sensible person, very polite, very kind, very smart. He has all these qualities you know. He is a wonderful human being.

Welcome to Swansea, Bono.

BONO IS sitting on a green crushed velvet settee opposite Newsnight journalist Robin Denselow, smoking a pencil-thin guitar and blowing plumes of grey smoke across the stage. He is dressed in green Ray Ban shades, a purple two-piece suit, a smart brown woollen top with vertical stripes, grey snakeskin shoes and green socks. Around his neck hangs a thick silver chain made by an Irish silversmith.

In front of him is a wooden coffee table neatly laid with an ashtray, jug of water, four glasses and two bottles of Budweiser. There are two seven-foot-tall books behind the settee, and a black backdrop emblazoned with a gold, hand-shaped logo and the words 'Abertawe Swansea.' Tonight Bono is due to talk in front of a packed 1,200 seat theatre, aided by Denselow.

The talk is part of the UK Year of Literature 1995. He is one of 32 patrons, along with Jimmy Carter, Lork Callaghan, Bjork, Jane Campion, Seamus Heaney, Arthur Miller and Salman Rushdie, and the event aims, simply, to promote literature and raise awareness of human rights.

Nearby, the bustling theatre bar is packed with scores of U2 devotees. Fifteen year old Michael Williams, from Port Talbot, met Bono when he arrived. 'He was so generous it was amazing,' he says. 'I thought he'd just go past, but he shook hands and signed autographs.'

His friend, Paul Michael, aged 16, has an autograph which reads, 'David Cassidy' scrawled across his U2 t-shirt. 'The talk was originally scheduled for last summer but then it was postponed and people thought it would fall down the pan. I'm amazed he's here.'

Manchester-born Dave Riley, from Ferryside, is anxious to hear Bono talk about his murder song 'Exit' while the Jones family, from Gower, are planning to gatecrash when Bono retires to the nearby Ferry Hill Hotel. Alan Jones, 45, says: 'They are a thinking man's band. They trigger off the thoughts in your mind. They give it the hoil of music, he's got the Irish hoil in him.' His wife, Elizabeth, and children, Cathleen, 20, Sarah, 16, and Julian, 14, listen attentively and nod in approval.

CUT TO the chase. Bono has not given an interview in two-and-a-half years. He has been told that the NME is present and with a mixture of dogged persistence, good fortune and kind help from his publicist we are now standing outside his dressing room.
And then we are called over. The dressing room door swings open and we are asked inside.

The dressing room is small and cramped. There is a two-seater sofa, a small en suite bathroom, a row of large mirrors and a table scattered with empty beer bottles, glasses of orange juice, bottle tops, which are being used as mini-ashtrays, and a plate of half-eaten sandwiches decorated with ornately-cut radishes.

Bono looks tired and drained.

'It wasn't easy,' he says, slugging back a glass of Jameson's. 'I didn't know what to expect. I think the English have a problem accepting lyrics as literature. They somehow look down on them. It's as though, because lyrics are not written in books, they are a lower form.'

The room is filling gradually with promoters, theatre staff and organisers from the UK Year Of Literature. Three people call Bono over and hand him a collection of Welsh poetry, a copy of Under Milk Wood and a weathered LP of the same title.

But time is slipping by. It is 10:30pm and time for Bono to leave. His bodyguard is hatching a plan to smuggle the singer out of the building in a decoy car. Another aide tells him that it is less that 20 minutes before they fly home from an airstrip in Swansea.

'Bono?' The singer spins on his heels and surveys your NME hack. 'Can we talk for a few minutes?'

He nods in agreement and, ignoring his aides, reclines into the two-seater sofa. He slips his green Ray Bans on and lights another small cigar. Behind his head, fans hammer on the dressing room window, desperately trying to get Bono's attention.

Can you tell me about the new album 'Passengers'? It was recorded with Brian Eno.

'Brian has been a part of our set-up for a long time now, over the past ten years almost. We just wanted to make a record where he was in charge.'

The knocking behind his head continues and cameras flash as Bono talks. An aide opens the curtains and beckons the fans to go away. 'He's no longer here,' she lies.

'Passengers' features U2, Brian Eno, Pavarotti, Mo'Wax's Howie B and Japanese singer Holi. It was recorded during a two-week session at London's Westside Studio last November and a five-week session in Dublin this summer.

Bono continues: 'We just wanted to be in Brian's band. He's an extraordinary man and he's had a very interesting part to play in our own development. It used to be said that a lot of English rock 'n' roll bands went to art school and we went to Brian. We'd always talked of doing something at some time, a collaboration.'

But it's not an easy album to listen to. Do you think some fans will be alientated?

'I think some people won't be into it, that's for sure. The guitars are very heavily treated and processed and don't sound like guitars. The people who are expecting a U2 album are going to be disappointed. But if they want something to kind of trip out to... it's a late-night record. It feels like it's been set on the bullet train in Tokyo. Every record has a location, a place where you enjoy listening to it, whether that be a bedroom or a club, well this record location is a fast train. It's slo-mo music though. But it has an odd sense of speed in the background.'

Does it excite you that you will again confound people's expectations?

'I think it's really important to keep things interesting for yourself. It's a selfish record in that sense. But there's a few songs on it as well as the instrumentals.'

What was it like working with Eno, Pavarotti and Howie B?

'It's extraordinary to have been around for as long as we have been around and still find music with people we want to play with. With 'Passengers,' we have a vehicle to do collaborations with whomever it is we want to play with ... Howie B, Pavarotti or anyone. It's great. I think the only limit is our own imagination and I think U2 are fairly kind of desperate in that regard.'

A minder presses my shoulder and beckons Bono to leave. He is already late for his flight, the banging on the window has become incessant and his staff are anxious for him to leave.

Bono, I believe you'll be releasing a new U2 record sometime next summer.

'We're going to make a real rockin' record. Edge is falling back in love with the guitar and he's making it sound like it's never been heard before. It's a new instrument in his hands. Everybody's just in fine form. U2 are desperate to make a great rock'n'roll record. We've not yet made our best record. We're slow learners. But I've really got to go.'

And then he gets up and is ushered through a private corridor to leave.

REWIND TWO hours. Tonight is the highlight of the UK Year Of Literature. More than 250,000 people have attended a series of events; from poetry recitals to discussions of Celtic literature and seminars on sea shanties. Event director Dean Doran is thrilled by Bono's presence. He believes it will help demystify literature and put lyric writing on an equal footing with poetry, fiction and drama.

'He is a very interesting thinker and personality,' says Doran. 'His ability to deal seriously and sensitively with contemporary issues and his decision to take the unusual step of appearing at a festival of literature are a tribute to his talent.'

When the curtain rises, Bono is given a gushing introduction. We are told that U2 are one of the great bands of the last 20 or 30 years with a passion reminiscent of the great American soul artists. And then Bono appears. The applause is immense. Flash bulbs blaze, the theatre is illuminated and people cheer furiously as Bono walks forward. He is nervous and ill at ease and walks sheepishly with hunched shoulders to his chair.

'This is quite interesting, isn't it? It's The Des O'Connor Show,' he offers and the audience laugh.

'The first thing to know about rock 'n' roll lyrics is that they are not literature. They are something else. They are something more or they are something less; they are only part of the story,' he says.

'I've learned, for instance, how to listen to Michael Jackson records, I've figured it out. I just pretend I can't speak English. And I am a huge fan as a result. I mean that. It's just the 'Man In The Mirror' and all that fucks me up. But you know what I mean, it's another language. Often, rock 'n' roll music is a very narrow emotional bandwave that is simply, you know, 'I want to shag you', and that's not very, very high on my agenda. But it's, 'How I want to, and why, and oh gosh, I am married', and there's all these things that make it interesting.'

Women cough nervously and laugh, while the men cheer raucously. Bono continues.

'There was a fantastic Japanese translation of a song called 'Out Of Control.' I think the opening line, it's not great poetry, but it was the opening line, and I wrote it on my eighteenth birthday and it was, 'Monday morning, 18 years bawling, how long?' something like that. And the Japanese translation was 'Monday morning, knitting ears of food.' We've also got a good one, another one from the Far East, and we got a letter in because they'd heard that I was doing a duet with Frank Sinatra. A duet called, 'I've Got You Under My Chicken.' I might have that put on my gravestone.'

Bono is a fan of literature. He has an extensive library ranging from classics through to books on gardening, although often he'll only read the first 17 pages of a book before returning it to the shelf. At the 1995 Cuirt Literature Festival in Galway, his introduction of author Allen Ginsberg was described as 'brilliant and astute' and may be used as a preface to a future Ginsberg book.

Tonight he is due to spend 45 minutes discussing lyric writing and books, followed by a 45-minute question and answer session. But, perhaps inevitably, he talks instead about U2, Pavarotti, the overload of 'Achtung Baby' and 'Zooropa,' the IRA, Salman Rushdie, Charles Bukowski, his new film Million Dollar Hotel, Britpop and the devil.

'Pavarotti's a father figure,' Bono says. 'He's an extraordinary man. He rang me and asked me to write a song and I said I didn't think that would be possible because we were working on these two records: this 'Passengers' project and the next U2 record. And he just wouldn't stop calling, which was pretty amazing. Every single day he would ring the house and if he wasn't called back immediately he would shout at the housekeeper and say, "Tell God to give me a call." I would go to the band and say, "He's been on again, and we have to write him a tune," and they'd just say, "Oh fuck off.'"

'He [Pavarotti] would say things like 'I will call you every day, every hour, I will be with you in your dreams. I will speak into the ear of your children.' But it's such an honour.'

The U2/Pavarotti track is 'Miss Sarajevo.' It was performed in Pavarotti's hometown of Modena, Italy, on September 12 during a charity concert called Pavarotti and Friends in aid of Bosnia. The track is included on 'Passengers.'

It tells the story of a beauty pageant in the devastated Bosnian city.

'I just think you've got to be smart about the way you go about making the same points. I've tried before to take on these subjects head-on and I've learnt a lesson. The track's about a beauty pageant they put on there. They turned this shelter into a discotheque and they just play music at deafening volume to drown out the sound of the shells and, you know, they watch MTV and play our music and other people's music.

'There's one woman and as soon as the shelling gets really bad she just walks up into her house and they don't fuck with her and she plays, practises the scales. Then they put on this beauty pageant where the girls came out. They want to use their beauty as a weapon to defend themselves and they walk out on the stage with this, 'Do you really want to kill us?' [pose]. It's a great surreal act of defiance.'

And then Bono turns to the audience. 'Can I steal a cigarette from someone?'

'There is a scramble through bags, jackets and pockets. Someone shouts 'spliff' and a moment later Bono is showered with cigarettes.

'If there are any journalists in the crowd, please note that neither my father nor my mother know I smoke. I tell my old man that I just smoke cigars and I don't inhale and he says, "Apparantly that will lead to stronger things.'

IT IS is two years and three months since U2 released their last album, 'Zooropa.' The record entered the UK and US charts at Number One and included the track 'Dirty Day,' dedicated to the late, legendary, American rock 'n' roll author, Charles Bukowski.

'Bukowski's an incredible character. He came to see us play. He said (adopts gravelly American accent), "I haven't been to a rock show since the early '70s," and Larry sang "Dirty Old Town" for him and dedicated it to him. And he is this 75-year-old hard-ass with tears in his eyes.

'He called me once to say that he was dying. It was in my house and it was 6am and it was a little bit loose. The next time he called he said (adopts accent), 'I'm in trouble. I've been fucking with Dr. Death and I think I'm going to lose come June.' And he did, he died, just after that.'

'Zooropa' came midway through U2's epoch-making Zoo TV tour, which started on February 29, 1992, at the Lakeland Civic Centre Arena, in Florida. Zoo TV introduced multi-media to the concert stage. In Michigan, Bono phoned Speedy Pizza and ordered 10,000 pizzas for fans. An hour later 100 pizzas arrived and the three delivery guys where each given a 50 tip; famously, there was a live broadcast from Sarajevo while, at Wembley, U2 were joined by Salman Rushdie.

'You got to remember I was dressed as the devil at the time, so The Satanic Verses did seem right, I guess. His [Rushdie's] dilemma is actually closer to rock 'n' roll than you think. I think he has behaved with enormous grace under pressure and with humour and with. It must have scared the shit out of him to be onstage at Wembley Stadium with the devil. But I like it when it's mixed up.'

Did you enjoy dressing as the devil?

'Dressing up as the devil is great. I enjoyed every minute of it. The amazing thing was a woman called Eunice Shriver who set up the Special Olympics - she's one of the Kennedys and an American Irish I suppose - she came down to see us. She's incredibly erudite and she's up on everything, a pretty sharp lady. And she said after the show, "Y'know, I used to go and see U2 shows and I just saw these kind of angels." And she said, "Tonight I saw these devils as well as angels on stage and I think I liked it better. It's a fairer fight." Macphisto walking through the Vatican. That was great. I really enjoyed that. Walking through the Vatican with my stick thinking, "One day this could all be mine."

'You have to accept the bold type and caricaturing that goes on when you become a big band and have fun with it and create these other alter egos. They weren't parodying at all, they weren't just sides of yourself, they were just different characters. They were just a way of sending out a decoy because deep down I'm just a really nice guy.

'It was pretty dizzy, just the kind of media overload. There's kind of confusion that is great fun for a rock 'n' roll band to play with. We got very excited about working with all this stuff that is out there. I mean a simple device like a telephone is probably something that didn't occur to Elvis. But I just think that in the '90s it's amazing that you can pick up the phone and ring the White House or Alessandra Mussolini. You can have 70,000 people singing 'I Just Called To Say I Love You' on the phone.

'It just seemed like a way of being on tour for two years and not getting bored. There was some extraordinary stuff, like the Sarajevo broadcast, which was was hard to continue the show after. I didn't quite get to a conclusion. But it's still extraordinary and I imagine it must be doing our collective head in.'

MACPHISTO has now been laid to rest as U2 have moved on. Aside from 'Passengers,' Bono and The Edge have written a song called 'GoldenEye' for the forthcoming James Bond film, Bono is making his own movie and there is a new pro-Irish-peace anthem, 'North and South of the River,' recorded with Christy Moore. The song is a plea for a long-term solution to the troubles in Northern Ireland, although U2 have vowed not to play it live.

'If U2 sang that song at this point, it might be reason enough for the troubles to start up again. I've had enough bruises and scars not to want to take things on the head in the same way anymore. I think you've got to be smarter now. But this is the moment. I don't know if a moment is going to come along like this again. The real hero is John Hume, he's the man who's been working the same groove for 20 years. He's the Martin Luther King of this moment.

'I'm still Old Testament enough and Californian enough to believe in atonement and karma. I do think it's a very important time for Britain because Britain has a lot to answer for in this regard and I'd hate to be going around carrying all that baggage. I think it would be great to have Prince Charles come to Ireland and actually say: "There has been a terrible tragedy here and we're a part of it and let's try to work a way out." I mean something like that would do. What else are royalty good for?'

Bono's film, Million Dollar Hotel, will be shot early next year in LA and directed by Wim Wenders. It is about a hotel in the downtown banking district of LA and has taken five years to write.

'The hotel has all kinds of people in there, there's people from all over America. There's hookers, crack dealers ... people just trying to make their way. While I was there a hooker was thrown out of the 15th-story window and was kind of swept right up off the street. This is the most extraordinary place I've every been and I started to write the script then.'

U2 have also maintained their links with charities Greenpeace and Amnesty International, pledging long-term support to both organisations.

'I still have very strong feelings about such matters,' says Bono. 'All the prisoners aren't out and all the people who are starving aren't fed, so it goes on. But you see, the first responsibility of a rock 'n' roll star is not to be dull. I think it's part of the job to have jeopardy. At least unreliable and at best human sacrifice and self-mutilation. It's cool to be concerned about the environment and have a political attitude but only if it brings you close to your real job as a firework. So martyrdom is cool, you know, the business of getting up on the cross. I don't think in the '80s we were rock 'n' roll. I think we were the loudest folk band. And now we're a rock 'n' roll band and I know that the best way to make the same point is to be a bit smarter.'

ACT II. Bono the voice of literature morphs into Bono the rock 'n' roll star. He has taken a 20 minute break and on the table in front of him are a sheath of audience questions, although within minutes people will be shouting irreverently from the floor.

Are you part of the Dublin scene?

'In Dublin I think people hate our guts and that suits me just fine. When a band gets as big as U2 it can be a pain in the arse for people who have to put up with it all the time.'

What do you feel about your new haircut and how do you feel about the fact that Gazza's copied it?

'He's some baby. We made a deal. He could have the crew-cut if I could have the dreadlocks that he threw off.'

What do you think of Supergrass?

'Supergrass? Keep smoking.'

How has critical acclaim and criticism affected your work?

'I developed that Mike Tyson thing (rolls his neck). I'd like more. Please, more. It would be such a shame to die and have it all come later.'

Who do you attribute your success to?

'Jah, man.'

Did they tamper with the photos of Adam on the cover of Achtung Baby or is he really that talented?

'He's definitely the most important member of U2.'

After visiting Graceland, do you think, when you pass away, your house will be open to the public?

'It's funny because we're actually working on a Bono ice cream and I just brought some with me. Erm, absolutely.'

The questions continue.

If, in the event one of the members of the band being tragically killed, could you see yourself recording in 25 years time with some long-lost tapes?

'Anything that's even kind of good has been released. I hate the idea of someone releasing stuff like that.'

So are the Beatles all wrong?

'No, I'll listen to any old shite. I will buy it and I hope it's not shite, but even if it is I'll probably listen buy it just to hear the sound of his voice because it's John Lennon.'

Would you play in Omen 5?

'Omen 5? Now you're talking! It's funny, my mother used to call me the Antichrist.'

Do you like grunge music?

'I find grunge music desperately boring. Offspring, that's heavy duty. I can get into Offspring but I have to be really pissed off.'

What was it like working with Bob Dylan?

'I woke up with a bleeding hangover and I had a melody in my head. I wrote it down and it sounded like a Bob Dylan song, and I thought maybe it was a Bob Dylan song - signs of megalomania in that - and I just happened to be seeing him later on that day and I said, "That isn't one of yours is it?" and he said, "No but you know, we could write it now." I'm just a fan, that's actually part of the reason for working with all these people ... Johnny Cash, Frank Sinatra. I'm corny enough to believe in lineage. And
there's the Old Testament idea of catching the blessing. I just run around hoping these people will lay hands on me and I just get the vibe.

Is it true that during the Zoo TV tour you woke up in a room one morning surrounded by prostitutes and with a boa constrictor across your chest?

'It was a python, not a boa constrictor. It's funny the things that happen to you on tour. You see people when you travel the world and some of them keep pythons, but that was a sign and that sign said "Go home." So I did.'

Who's closer to God, Blur or Oasis?

'Well first of all, I am God. And Liam is my only son. I think they are both good songwriters and everything but I do think that when that guy Liam sings that there is something, there's some sort of ache, as well as the anger, and it's the ache that separates some music from others. It has to be magic. His band are great. He's ... he's ... he's ... I'm very pleased with myself.'

'I like the girlfriend of the guy in Blur. Elastica, she's got a great band. They're good. Their bands really want to be great bands and be like the Stones and the Beatles. That's really interesting because in the '80s you were hung for such ambitions and the indie thing really kneecapped rock 'n' roll. I really hope that there are some great bands that come out of this and go all the way. If you are shy and you become a potter, you don't join a rock 'n' roll band. I hope Blur and Oasis take on the world and fuck up
the mainstream.'

And finally...

Can I have the sunglasses that you wore tonight?

'That's very Elvis of you. Erm, I'm very fond of those. Can I not just leave you with my art?'

Bono talks a little more about his lyrics which are, he says, the only place in his life where he is completely honest. He sidesteps questions on religion: 'I don't really go in for it myself. I am a believer. But I am a really bad advert.'

And, as through he were playing to 50,000 fans at the nearby Cardiff Arms Park, he wanders off the stage at one point to kiss a girl who has offered him a cigarette.

And then he leaves. A hundred fans gather outside waiting for a glimpse of Bono. Thirty minutes later, they are told that the singer has already left the building and they shrug their shoulders and slowly drift away.

'You actally got to see the man himself,' says an enthusiastic Jackie Harper, from Stoke-On-Trent. 'And it answered a lot of questions about the band and where they're going,' adds her friend Julia Pillsbury, from Cannock.

Pat Lynch, from Dublin, who edits U2's Writings On The Wall fanzine, is more circumspect. 'I thought it was a great gesture. People think rock stars are inaccessible, then he comes down here and answers all the questions in a theatre, you know. But it was curious the way he was distancing himself from the new album, in case it goes wrong for them. They were using Brian Eno's name instead of their own.'

The last to leave are Roseanna Marielle, Patricia Mondez Arielle and a fellow U2 devotee, Christy Voltaliene, 23, who has flown from Ohio, USA. The four have been allowed to sit in Bono's limousine by owner Yvonne Bevan and they are in a state of near hsyteria. 'We have seen him. And I have sat in the place where Bono sat,' says Arielle.

And what are you doing now?

Voltaliene answers. 'We're flying to Dublin tomorrow. We're going to track him down. We'll go to his house, the studio, his club and their hotel. Anywhere.' Voltaliene pauses, then adds: 'I've seen them 12 times and I've met Bono six and I'm still a nervous wreck. But he's a beautiful man.'

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