Recently U2’s charismatic lead singer sat down for an extended interview with Rolling Stone publisher, Jann Wenner. In it he reveals that a near death experience helped shape the lyrical content of the band’s new album, why ‘The Joshua Tree’ tour was more difficult that he expected, advice he received from Sir Paul McCartney, where he sees rock music going and much more.
He devels into his spirituality and favorite Bible passages, meetings with George W. Bush and other world leaders, his favorite songs on the new album and various other topics. Here were some of our highlights from the interview. Check out the full interivew via the link above.
Bono talks about how The Joshua Tree Tour was more difficult for him than he thought it would be:
“I haven’t quite recovered from it. I gave myself to the singing in new ways…. Stepping inside the songs was more of an ordeal than I thought it would be. They are very demanding in terms of their emotional. . . forthrightness.”
Those that are fans of Bono and U2, revere him for his activism. There are also many who want him to ‘shut up and play, don’t preach’. He shares his thoughts on being an activist and a rock star.
What can the artist do? What is the artist not allowed to do, and are there boundaries? Now, I would say to my younger self: “Experiment more and don’t let people box you in. There is nothing you can’t put on your canvas if it is part of your life.” We have this idea in the culture that came out of the Sixties and Seventies, that artists were somehow above the fray, or should be above the fray.
He goes on to explain his feelings on the importance or lack of importance of rockstars…
“But I knew that some people who have regular jobs are just as valuable as the artists, maybe more valuable. And there are more a-holes per square inch amongst us artists. I remember meeting Björk, and she said that in Iceland, making a chair is a big deal. Like, a song is not more important than a chair. And I went, “Well, depending on the chair, Irish people know that to be true.” So if that is true, then stop this nonsense that an artist is an elevated person.”
He declined to talk in specifics about a near death experience he had recently, or as he calls it, an ‘extinction event’, but he did say the following…
“People have these extinction events in their lives; it could be psychological or it could be physical. And, yes, it was physical for me, but I think I have spared myself all that soap opera….I want to speak about the issue in a way that lets people fill in the blanks of what they have been through, you know? Edge has this thing that he says about me, that I look upon my body as an inconvenience.”
He expounds on the darkness he felt after his health scare…
“And I do believe that the darkness is where we learn to see. That is when we see ourselves clearer – when there is no light. You asked me about my faith. I had a sense of suffocation. I am a singer, and everything I do comes from air….this time last year, I felt very alone and very frightened and not able to speak and not able to even explain my fear. But, you know, people have had so much worse to deal with, so that is another reason not to talk about it. You demean all the people who, you know, never made it through that or couldn’t get health care!”
He discusses where U2 fits into the world of music and gives his thoughts on streaming services….
“The table has been gamed a little bit. Right now, streaming is on the ad-based model. And that is very, very young, and it’s very, very pop. It’s dominated by frequency of plays, but that is not actually a measure of the weight of an artist. When you move from an ad-based model to a subscription model, a funny thing happens. Then, the artist who will make you sign up is actually more valuable.”
He revealed some song writing advice he received from Paul McCartney that impacted U2’s new album…
We asked Paul McCartney, “Where did you get all those incredible chords in those Beatles songs?” And he said, “Well, you know, we were a rock & roll band, but to get good gigs we had to do weddings. Like posh weddings. We had to learn Gershwin, all that stuff.” And I went, “No, I didn’t know.” And Paul says, “Oh, yeah, we got better-paying gigs.” And I went, “Ah!” It was like, “Note to self and Edge: Let’s get into musical theater. Let’s think about that.” I would say halfway through Songs of Innocence, we really started thinking differently about songwriting, being more formal about it. And now these new songs have melodies you can hear across the street, around the corner. When they’re good, you can hear them through the walls.”
He ends the interview talking about U2’s mission….
“It is just, we are available for work. That is U2’s prayer. We want to be useful, but we want to change the world. And we want to have fun at the same time. What is wrong with that?”