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U2 at the End of the World
The ideas, opinions, descriptions, and conclusions in this book are all mine. Although U2 spent endless hours listening to my theories, answering my questions, and explaining their work and their workings, there are lots of things in here that some or all the members of U2 will disagree with. That's okay. I'll stand behind it all. I am as pigheaded as any of them.
Those aristocrats who fall on the floor writhing and swallowing their tongues when writers put rock & roll into the same boat as high art, poetry, philosophy, and other university subjects should get out now. You won't like it here. But if you want to understand U2, you have to understand how they draw from the highbrow stuff as well as the dumb things down in rock & roll's designated station.
And it might save a fistfight or two if I spell this out: when I talk about U2's relationship with Bill Clinton or Salman Rushdie or Wim Wenders or other cultural bigshots, it is not to suggest that U2 influenced those people; it is to show how those people influenced U2.
All right, that should shake off the whiners. Let's go.
bono wakes up in Brezhnev's bed. He can't remember where he is. When he opens his eyes the daylight shocks his dilated brain. He tries to organize his thoughts. He is in Brezhnev's bed, in East Berlin, in the communist diplomatic guest house rented to him for a good price because the communist diplomats have fled the country. In fact, the country has fled after them. He may have gone to bed in a Soviet satellite state, but he's waking in a reunited Germany. The Cold War is over! The Wall has fallen' It's safe for Bono to go back to sleep.
He thought he heard somebody downstairs, but he must have been dreaming. He is here alone. Bono pulls himself upright, his latitude out of whack from last night's celebrating. U2 arrived in Berlin yesterday, to seek inspiration and renewal at the celebration of the end of the world they grew up in. The Berlin Wall was raised as the four members of U2 were being born. Seeing it come down shook their assumptions about the way things were and would always be. Bono told the Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen that this was the great moment to leap into. Now was the time to go to Berlin and begin making music for the new world! They arrived on the last flight into East Germany before East Germany ceased to exist. They had the whole sky to themselves. The British pilot was so giddy with historical moment that he announced they would buzz Berlin, fly down the Strasse des Juni where the revelers were gathering, and swing over the broken wall on which the free people of eastern Europe were dancing. "On your left you see the Brandenburg Gate," the pilot announced with pip-pip and tally-ho delight as he
swung his airship around. Why not? They were the only plane in the sky, the final flight to East Berlin before East Berlin was sucked into history.
As soon as they got their feet on the ground, U2 rushed to join the festivities. They leaped into the first parade they saw and waited for the contact high of liberation to intoxicate them. It was a long wait. These marchers were grim, dragging themselves along wearing dour faces and holding placards. Bono tried to muster some good Irish parading gusto, to no avail. He whispered to Adam, "These Germans really don't know how to party." Maybe, U2 thought, we've misjudged the sentiment here. Maybe the proper reaction to the end of a half-century of oppression is not celebration for what is newly won but grief for all that can never be regained. U2 looked at each other and looked at the bitter marchers and tried to fit in as they tramped along to the Wall. It was only when they got there and saw the joy everyone else was exhibiting compared with the morbidity of their company that U2 realized they were marching in an antiunification demonstration. They had hooked up with a phalanx of angry old communists, gathering one last time to show solidarity with the workers of the world and protest the fall of their Evil Empire.
"Oh, this will make a great headline," Bono said. "U2 arrives in
west berlin TO PROTEST THE PULLING DOWN OF THE wall."
In the West U2 wandered familiar streets filled with people walking as if through their dreams. The citizens of the East-not just East Germany but the newly freed Hungary, Poland, and Czechoslovakia- were still anxious, afraid that this was only a brief opening, a momentary aberration, and that if they did not find refuge quickly they would be dragged back when the communists regained their senses. For almost thirty years West Berlin had been held up to the East as a sort of capitalist Disneyland, shining with unattainable promise just over the barbed wire and gun towers. It was not just a symbol of freedom, it was the closest thing the oppressed peoples had to Oz. Their belief in its magic was not stifled by their own leaders warning them to pay no attention to that world behind the iron curtain. But in the year since people from the East began moving West, first as a trickle through Hungary and Czechoslovakia and then in a flood right through the falling Wall, the free people of West Germany have become a little less tickled with the family reunion. As Easterners looked to share in the prosperity of the west, the Westerners began to fear being saddled with
the poverty of the East. Great to see you, Cousin, seems to be the prevailing sentiment. When are you leaving?
Now that U2 could walk back and forth from the East to the West, they realized that the sense of West Berlin as illuminated was not an illusion. The lights were literally brighter. The streetlamps of the East were dull, dirty yellow. The streetlights of the West were golden and white, and of higher wattage. The West had better generators. Bono was especially struck by the glow of ultraviolet lights in the windows of Eastern buildings so crowded together that little sunlight got through. Bono had associated the purple glow of UV lighting with nightclubs and raves, but to the East Germans it represented an attempt to grow flowers in the shadows.
By the sides of the streets in the West were the abandoned, burned-out carcasses of Trabants, the comically cheap automobiles manufac-tured in East Germany. Refugees had driven the Trabants as far as they'd go, and then left them where they died to continue their migra-tions on foot. Big trucks full of East German currency were rolling up to West Berlin banks to exchange bales of useless money for deutsche marks to pay the soldiers of the disintegrating communist army. The spirit of Berlin felt less rapturous, more mundane, than U2 had thought it would. They passed the one subway terminal where heavily patrolled trains had been allowed to move from East to West, and where East Germans trying to sneak aboard had been killed. They took note of its name: Zoo Station.
At 7 in the morning exhaustion dropped on their history-happy heads and U2 were led to the accommodations Dennis Sheehan, their road manager, had arranged. For Bono it was this private house where Soviet officials had lodged, and the special comfort of Brezhnev's bed.
So this morning Bono, full of emotion and alcohol, should be sleep-ing like Lenin but something has awakened him. He crawls out of bed hoping for a glass of water and, in his hungover state, wanders down into the basement. While standing there, naked from the waist down, dressed only in a dirty T-shirt, he thinks he hears low voices and the rattling of doorknobs. Someone is trying to get into the house. He creeps up the stairs and sees that the intruders are inside already! Bono is suddenly aware, like Adam in the Garden, that he has no pants on and his cock is hanging out. As the intruders enter the hallway where Bono is crouching he tries to cover his nuts with one hand while with the
other waving and in his hoarse voice declaring, "This is my house! You do not belong here!"
Bono is unprepared for the response he gets from the ringleader, an elderly German man, who shouts back, "This is not your house! This is my house! You get out!" Bono, bent over with his balls in his hand, surveys the gang of home invaders, a middle-aged to elderly family of six filing in cautiously behind the firm father, who seems prepared to jump on Bono and wrestle him to the floor. Bono is disoriented. He feels like a kid caught trespassing by his elders, not a wealthy international figure whose accommodations have been intruded upon. "This is my house!" the old man repeats. And as Bono stumbles to try to find his German and sort our the confusion, it becomes apparent that the old walrus is not misdirected. This is their house. They were visiting the western side of town in 1961 when the Wall went up. Now they arc home, and they want their house back.
And so it comes to pass that Bono and the rest of U2 end up checking into a particularly ugly East Berlin hotel (no rooms in the West!) while bellhops disconnect the KGB security cameras and unscrew the bedposts to check for Stasi bugs. There are prostitutes in the lobby trying to organize some currency exchanges. Bono knows well the un-spoken meaning of the doleful looks he gets from Adam, Edge, and Larry. He's been getting them since they started their schoolboy band fourteen years ago. The looks say, "Another of your great ideas, Bono, another inspiration."
It is the autumn of 1990 and U2 has spent the year out of the public eye. Playing an emotional concert at home in Dublin on the last night of the 1980s, Bono told the audience, "We won't see you for a while, we have to go away and dream it all up again." It was widely speculated in the press that this meant U2 was breaking up. In fact it just meant that the band knew that the musical line they had been following had run out of track. On tour in Australia in the autumn of '89 Larry had told Bono that if this is what it meant for U2 to be superstars, he didn't like it. They were turning into the world's most expensive jukebox. They became so bored playing U2's greatest hits that one night they went out and played the whole set backward-and it didn't seem to make any difference.
It sure didn't help that the critics had turned against U2 with neck-snapping speed. Their album U2 Rattle and Hum-conceived as a throw-
away, bargain-priced grab bag of live tracks and rootsy originals to accompany their live concert film-had been savaged in the press as a pretentious attempt to place U2 in the company of Bob Dylan, the Beatles, ๗. ๗. King, Billie Holiday, Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane, and all the other musical seraphim the album celebrated. U2 claimed the record was meant to show that even they, the biggest band in the world, were still fans. That explanation struck critics as conceited too. U2 walked into the sucker punch with their chins stuck out and their hands in their pants. On an album dizzy with roots references, hero worship, and collaborations with rock legends, Bono was thoughtless enough to sing, "I don't believe in the sixties, in the golden age of pop/You glorify the past when the future dries up."
U2 jokes circulated in the music industry. "How many members of U2 does it take to change a lightbulb?" "Just one: Bono holds the lightbulb and the world revolves around him."
What stung more than the misunderstanding of their musical inten-tions was that so much of the criticism was personal. Since they began, U2 had sung about what was in their hearts and on their minds. In their music and in their public pronouncements, as in their personal lives, they were quick to share what they had just heard, just read, just figured out. They were by nature truth-tellers, and Bono was by nature a big mouth. The great thing about such openness was that fans who paid close attention to U2 really did know them, had a genuine connection to them. But in the last couple of years that was less than comforting, as it also meant that those who ridiculed the band were not just mocking the music, they were mocking the four people.
The more sensitive U2 became about being misunderstood, the more they tried to control how they presented themselves. I suggested to the Edge that maybe the band brought some of the accusations of self-seriousness on their own heads by maintaining such rigid control of their image. The film Rattle and Hum had been tightly supervised by U2, so if they came off as humorless and self-important, it was considered not the fault of the director, but of U2. In the same way, they were very selective about who got to interview them, and almost all the photos of the band available to the press were Anton Corbijn's moody, U2-controlled shots of stoic men standing stone-faced in deserts or snow.
I'm all for propaganda!" Edge grinned. "It is a fine line and you're going to get it wrong sometimes. I think we're aware that maybe that is
part of why we ended up being the caricature. A little bit. Rattle and Hum, the movie, was an example of that. We were criticized by some people for not revealing more. We actually made quite a conscious decision not to reveal more, because we didn't feel comfortable with it. It is a balance, because you have to give up so much more when you reveal all. It's like you no longer have a private life. But at the same time, if you don't reveal all, people don't really get the full picture. So it's a compromise. With Rattle and. Hum we just didn't want to reveal ourselves. My attitude was, 'What? Do you think we're crazy? Cameras in the dressing room? What do you think we are-stupid!'
"I love what we do, because we control it. Because we've set it up where we're comfortable with it. That's why we could do it. If it was done in a way where our private lives were an open book, I don't think I could be in the band. I didn't get into the band to become a celebrity. I got into the band because I wanted to play music and write songs and tour and do all that stuff. Some people might object to that but I say, 'Well, fuck you!' " He laughed. "It's my life and this is the way it works for me."
Lately Bono likes to quote Oscar Wilde: "Man is least himself when he talks in his own person; give him a mask and he will tell you the truth." One of U2's assignments in Germany is to figure out if it's possible, ten years into their public lives, to construct masks that will allow them to say exactly what they are thinking in their songs while providing some sort of protection for their personal lives. They have realized, with the forehead-slapping regret of late bloomers, that the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and Led Zeppelin figured all this stuff out before they got famous; by adopting public personas they could establish some space between their on-duty and off-duty lives. U2 spent their first ten years keeping nothing for themselves. They won't screw that up again.
The band assembles at the Hansa recording studio not far from the Berlin Wall. The place was once a Nazi ballroom. In the mid-seventies it was the site of some groundbreaking work by David Bowie, who in collaboration with producer Brian Eno made a trilogy of albums. Low, Heroes, and Lodger, that stretched the conventions of rock & roll into the corners of European experimental music. U2 heard about the glory of those days when Eno was co-producing the U2 albums The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree. On Heroes, Bowie found a grand metaphor in
Berlin's division. Bono cooked up the notion that by coming to Hansa now, U2 could tap into the spirit of reunification. It was a nice idea, but if ideas like that worked, English professors would be successful writers. Instead U2 discovers when they get into Hansa that the studio has deteriorated since Eno and Bowie left there twelve years before. There is constant talk of the area being condemned and the building knocked down, so no one has kept Hansa humming. The two producers, Dan Lanois and Flood, will have to import their own recording equipment.
But that's not the big problem. The big problem is that the four members of U2 cannot agree on the value of the new material that Bono and Edge play for Larry and Adam, or on the sense of the new direction in which Bono and Edge want to steer the band. Edge has been swim-ming in experimental music, noise rock, electronics, and alternative guitar sounds. He comes in lecturing his bandmates about Insekt, Nitzer Ebb, Nine Inch Nails, KMFDM, and Front 242-stuff that sounds like walkie-talkies in washing machines.
Larry, the no-nonsense drummer, says he doesn't know any of those people. Well, Edge asks, what have you been listening to? Led Zeppelin, says Larry. Jimi Hendrix. Trying to figure out how other bands in U2's position did it and catching up on music he ignored during the postpunk era when U2 grew up.
Bono tries siding with Edge, talking about getting out of the seven-ties, raving about how the rappers have used high tech to make a core connection back to their souls, and saying that U2 should check out dance rhythms as the Manchester bands Stone Roses and Happy Mon-days do. That is too much for Adam, who spends more time in clubs and discos than the other three combined and who thinks Bono trying to be hip just shows how out of it he really is. Manchester is over. Adam's attitude is as it has always been: can we cut the bullshit and get to the music? But this time there doesn't seem to be any music to get to. This time it seems less like a band than a debating society.
A division is quickly established between the Hats, Edge and Bono, and the Haircuts, Larry and Adam. Lanois, who became almost a fifth number of U2 on Unforgettable Fire and Joshua Tree, is clearly leaning toward the Haircut position, which only makes Bono and Edge more defensive. Lanois's attitude is: You can only be what you are and we know what U2 is. Why try to pretend to be something else?
It has never been this hard for U2 before. The band members begin to consider that they really have reached the end of the line together, that Rattle and Hum was the start of a downhill slide they'd be best off halting before it goes any further. They have some demos they cut at a small Dublin studio in the late summer, but Larry and Adam don't think those songs are particularly good. Their attitude is: We tried our best to make something out of these in Dublin, now we've tried in Berlin; let's admit it's not happening. Bono keeps trying to make something out of a track called "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses" that the others would as soon toss in the toilet. They have the outlines for songs called "Acrobat," "Real Thing," "Love Is Blindness" and "Tryin' to Throw Your Arms Around the World." Bono and Edge won't give up on one chorus-"It's alright, it's alright, it's alright/She moves in mysterious ways," even though Edge keeps changing all the music around it to try to find something worth making a song from.
Bono's attitude is that he and Edge may not have come back to the band as sharp as they should have, "but we are both a lot sharper than Larry and Adam!" Bono's wide-eyed raps about junk culture and dis-posable music are met with disinterest from Adam and impatience from Larry, who finally says, "What the fuck วมล you talking about?" Larry says there's a simple problem here: "You haven't written any songs' Where are the songs?"
That really goes up Bono's ass sideways. When Bono and Edge started abandoning the U2 tradition of all four of them writing to-gether and brought in songs on their own, Larry was the first one to bitch that he and Adam weren't getting enough input, were being forced into a predetermined structure. But now that Bono's laying the burden on the four of them again, Larry wants the songs written for him. There's a fight brewing.
Bono and Larry represent the two poles of U2-Bono is the most open to new ideas, fads, impulses, innovation, and rationalization. Larry is the most conservative, steady, and grounded. When one of Bono's ideas leaves the realm of reality, it is Larry who calls time-out. In the past they both appreciated that balance, and everyone could laugh about their contrary traits. Now, though, it feels different. It feels less like two sides of one coin than two entirely separate currencies.
Larry accuses Bono of not knowing who he is, which Bono throws back at him, saying Larry always knows who Larry is because Larry
Clever changes. "You haven't changed your haircut in ten years!" Bono says, "Yes, I sometimes fail, but at least I'm willing to experiment." Bono accuses Larry of not knowing how to improvise.
(Much later, Bono says, "I'm actually in awe of Larry for knowing exactly who he is. I don't know if I'm this or that or what. But why can't I be all of them?" Another time he says, "If I knew who I was I wouldn't be an artist, I wouldn't be in a band, I wouldn't be here screaming for a living.")
Adam's attitude is that he and Larry aren't the ones who didn't do their homework. The rhythm section put in their time on the Dublin demos. Then Bono and Edge were supposed to go off and write melo-dies, words, guitar hooks, and fill in any missing sections in the compo-sitions. Adam thinks Bono's rhetoric is partly a disguise for his not having taken care of the fundamentals. "I'd really love to make a rhyth-mic record," Adam says. "I'm a bass player! Why wouldn't I? I don't know much about industrial music, but as long as there's a song I'll be rhythmic, and if you want to change the sounds to be industrial, fine. There's a point in the process where Larry and I have done everything we can do and we leave it to Bono and Edge to finish the songs. But those things we did in Dublin haven't really advanced."
That's not how Bono sees it. He broods that by bringing up refer-ences to dance culture-not just to current trends but even to the Rolling Stones' "Miss You" and "Emotional Rescue"-he is putting the Creative obligation back on the rhythm section. "Adam knows," Bono says, "that I'm putting the weight back on him."
Bono says that on this album he wants to explore the subject of sex and fidelity. "Rhythm is the sex of music," he says. "If U2 is to explore erotic themes, we have to have sexuality in the music as well as the words. The flat rhythms of white rock & roll have had their day. Rhythm is now part of the language." At the tensest moments Bono even asks Edge if he thinks Adam is deliberately dragging his ass on the bass parts in order to sabotage this new musical direction.
In the middle of one of Bono's criticisms one especially touchy afternoon Adam takes off his bass, holds it out to Bono, and says, "You tell me what to play and I'll play it. You want to play it yourself? Go ahead."
Thus the Hansa sessions crawl along, with Berlin getting darker and colder. Everyone's freezing all the time and it seems to never stop
raining. They eat most nights in a gray, oppressive gruel hall. With nothing else to do short of disbanding, U2 keep plodding along, trying to figure out a way to take their music into the nineties and feeling like they're getting nowhere. Edge is getting frustrated with Lanois, who he thinks just doesn't get it. Larry defends Lanois.
Edge comes in one afternoon and there's Lanois in the studio, play-ing guitar and singing, desperately trying to make a new song called "Down All the Days" sound like the old Joshua Tree U2. "He's really panicking," Edge says. "I had no idea Danny was so confused by what we were doing."
Edge starts thinking that maybe the rumors that U2 was going to disband after the New Year's show were prophetic. "Maybe this is what we should do," he admits. "Maybe we should break up and see what happens."
It seems like every time U2 starts to get going musically something goes wrong, someone makes a mistake. When that happens Bono-not known for keeping his feelings to himself-howls his frustration. This really gets on his partners' nerves. Finally they get together and impose a band ruling: the hyped-up Bono is permanently forbidden to drink coffee.
U2 needs some objective ears. Brian Eno, producer with Lanois of their two best albums and the historic Mensa of Hansa, is drafted to come in for a few days and listen to what they've done. It turns out to be a great relief. Eno-thin, pale, and ascetic-has the patience of a university professor taking over a class of unruly freshmen. He is able to mediate between Edge's ambitions and his old partner Lanois's resis-tance. He goes to the board and shows how, by adding oddball vocal effects and a few jarring sounds, it's possible to bring some of the more conventional material U2 has been fiddling with into fresh sonic terri-tory. Eno assures the frustrated band that they're doing better than they think, and that Edge's desire to get into new acoustic areas is not incompatible with Danny and Larry's desire to hold on to solid song structures.
"Eno is the person both Bono and Edge really connect with," Adam says. "Intellectually they can bounce ideas off him. Eno isn't loyal to any philosophy for very long. It's no problem for Eno to say, 'Okay, if that's the type of thing you want to do, here's how we do it.' Where Danny has been saying, 'Okay, that's what you want to do, but I'm this kind of
record producer and you're that kind of band, so let's make what you're trying to do happen through what you've always done before.' So Eno's important. What Eno won't do is take responsibility. He won't let you off the hook. And that's fine."
Eno's input gives U2 encouragement to keep working, but it does not settle their stomachs. One night they are struggling with a track called "Ultra Violet" and it's going nowhere. Edge figures the song needs another section and goes to the piano in the big room to come up with a middle eight. After playing for a while he has two possible parts and isn't sure which one would be better for the song. He comes back into the control booth, picks up an acoustic guitar, and plays both of them for Lanois and Bono to see which they prefer. They say that those both sound pretty good-what would it be like if you put them together?
Edge goes back out into the studio and starts playing the two sec-tions together, one into the other. Larry and Adam fall in behind him on the drums and bass. Bono feels the muse knocking on his head as surely as in one of those old Elvis movies where the king jumps up in the middle of a clambake and starts rocking. Bono goes out to the microphone and begins improvising words and a melody: "We're one, but we're not the same-we get to carry each other, carry each other."
U2 plays the new song for about ten minutes. "Is it getting better," Bono sings, "or do you feel the same? Is it any easier on you now that you've got someone to blame?" Edge feels that it's suddenly all jelling- the band is clicking and all four of them know. They come into the booth and listen to a playback with a relief close to joy. By the next morning they have recorded "One," as strong a song as U2 has ever written. It came to them all together and it came easily, as a gift.
"Phew," Edge jokes, "the roof for the house in the west of Ireland is looking good! I'll be able to change the car this year after all!"
There's still an enormous amount of work to do, but at least U2 knows they can still bring good music out of each other. "I suppose in the back of your mind everyone thinks that maybe one day we're going to write together and we just won't have anything to say," Edge explains. "Literally, there will be nothing more to add. You all hope that everyone knows when that time has come and you don't go on and do some completely awful album that everyone recognizes to be a disaster."
He thinks "One" represents the turning point away from that ugly proposition. U2 agrees they should get out of Berlin and pick up this
thread again at home, in Dublin. They decide they will move out of Germany in January of '91. Larry feels, though, that there's an issue even bigger than the music to resolve before U2 goes forward. The band grew out of friendship between the four of them, he says, and if it's a choice between continuing the friendships or continuing the band, U2 has to go.
So during a Christmas break in Dublin the four members of U2 engage in heart-to-heart talks about what they expect from each other, as partners and as friends. Listening to the Hansa tapes again after a break, they sound a lot better than they did in Germany. There's plenty of good material there to work with and they decide that they can again trust each other enough to go through it together.
"There is a love between the members of this band that is deeper than whatever comes between us," Larry says after the armistice. "After almost fifteen years, which would be time for a divorce in almost any relationship, we looked at each other and said, 'Lay down your arms.' "
They have to go back to Berlin in January to finish some bits before setting up in Dublin. While they are packing up, war breaks out in the Middle East. It's been building up the whole time U2 has been record-ing-Iraq invaded Kuwait last summer and the United States began assembling an alliance to threaten them into withdrawal. It was the first test of President George Bush's New World Order, an international scheme in which the East-West, communist-capitalist schism was to be replaced by a pyramid of interconnected nations (with, needless to say, America on top). A current bestseller refers to this moment, the pro-posed dawning of a post-bipolar world, as "The End of History." The British techno-pop band Jesus Jones even has a big hit this week called "Right Here, Right Now," about the same subject: "Right here, right now-watching the world wake up from history."
Right here, right now, it's looking like the end of Saddam Hussein's history anyhow. Bush got the Europeans to agree to impose a deadline on Iraq, after which if they didn't pull out of Kuwait they'd be attacked. Then he convinced the Soviets to come in, the Japanese, most of the other Arab states, and even China. While waiting for Saddam to back down, the rest of the world slapped Iraq with an embargo and diplomatic sanctions.
That Saddam, Iraq's dictator, is an obvious nut with eyes on grab-bing other oil-producing neighbors was a big incentive to the Middle
Eastern states to join with the U.S. (and Israel!) in this crusade. Iraq had previously invaded Iran, so there was no hope of help coming for Saddam from the Islamic fundamentalists. Feeling a bit overextended, the Iraqi ruler even tried lobbing a few missiles at Tel Aviv, hoping to unite the Arabs in a holy war against the Jews. The Arabs didn't bite.
The countdown to the U.N. deadline has been dominating the news for a couple of weeks, but still, it's a shock to hear that the war has begun and U.S. missiles are blowing up downtown Baghdad. Bono sits at the TV transfixed, amazed that CNN is broadcasting the war live twenty-four hours a day, and that he-like millions of TV viewers- finds himself watching war as if it were a football match. He turns on a movie, switches to the war for a while, over to MTV, back to the war:
Whoa, look at those missiles! That was a big one!
Edge is struck by the fact that the young pilots returning from bombing raids and the soldiers directing the missiles from launchpads far from Baghdad often compare what they're doing to playing video games at home. It is all computer controlled, they never see any blood or destruction-children who grew up using toys to pretend they were at war end up at war pretending they're using toys. They fly off on missions with the Clash's "Rock the Casbah" blaring. Edge and Bono are watching TV together when a young American pilot is interviewed on CNN. When asked what the bombing looks like from the plane, he says, "It's so realistic." Bono and Edge look at each other, amazed.
Bono thinks that something fundamental has changed, not just in the world's political structure, but in the way media has permeated the public consciousness. In the last decade cable TV has spread through what used to be called the free world. There is no more line between news, entertainment, and home shopping. Bono says that when U2 tour behind this album, they have to figure out a way to represent this new reality.
everything is easier in Dublin in the spring of '91. Everything musical anyway. One of the side effects of starting up the U2 machine again is the havoc it causes in the home lives of the members. Adam, a swinging bachelor, has nothing to keep him from commiting to a long stretch on the road. Larry has a longtime girlfriend named Ann Acheson, but they have no children and she has her own life and work.
It's different for Bono and Edge, who have both been married for years and have young children. Edge has three daughters. Bono has a two-year-old girl and a second on the way. Their wives have the right to say that after putting their marriages aside for months or even years at a time in order for U2 to conquer the world, they might have expected, now that all the band's goals had been reached, to settle into a more normal family life. Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and Bob Dylan all quit touring after hitting the top and devoted themselves to making records and living with their wives and children. U2 is now talking about releasing the new album in the autumn of '91, touring America and Europe in the spring of '92, going back to America in the summer and fall of '92 if the demand is there, and then, if things go really well, touring Europe again in '93. As the band returns to Dublin with their unfinished album, they are looking at a work schedule that will cause them to put their domestic lives on hold for the next three years.
There are boxes within boxes in the U2 organization, and what goes on between the band members and their families is in the smallest box of all. I don't know what finally sets it off and it's surely nobody's
business, but around Easter Edge moves out of his home and away from his wife, Aislinn. He settles into Adam's guest house and work on the album continues.
"I could tell stories of times each of the others has been there for me," Edge says at dinner one night. "I mean, there have been periods when Adam and I didn't particularly get along, over the years. Yet when I left Aislinn I moved into Adam's." Edge, who is rarely inarticulate or sentimental, has a little trouble getting the next words out: "I suppose that the other three are the closest friends I have."
That friendship can be tough for any outsider to penetrate. And no one's tougher to tie down about it than the hardheaded Larry Mullen.
"People say, 'Why don't you do interviews? What do you think about this? What do you think about that?'" Larry sighs. "My job in the band is to play drums, to get up on stage and hold the band together. That's what I do. At the end of the day that's all that's important. Everything else is irrelevant."
Many people on this planet say they hate horseshit, but no one hates horseshit as much as Larry Mullen, Jr., does. The possibility that he might somehow add to the rising stew of crap that threatens to sub-merge our civilization in hype and nonsense appalls him so much that he slaps on a scowl and shuts his mouth at the first inkling of glad-handing, backslapping, false sincerity, sucking up, ass-kissing, air-kiss-ing, overpraise, fair-weather friendship, freeloading, hyperbole, ligging, flattery, posturing, complement chewing, ego-stroking, bootlicking, cheek-smooching, groveling, pratspeak, toadying, leg-lifting, fame-grub-bing, schnoring, idol worship, starfucking, or brown-nosing. Boy, did he pick the wrong business!
Bono says that with Larry everyone is presumed guilty until proven innocent-but if he makes up his mind that you're okay he'll not only let you into his house, he'll let you sleep in his bed.
Larry's always been tough. He can laugh heartily telling the story of how as little kids on Christmas Eve he and his sister kept pestering their father, saying, "I think I hear Santa, Dad! I think I hear Santa!" Until their annoyed old man said, "There is no Santa Claus! Now go to sleep!" When his mother told him he could not go off, underage and illegal, to play in bars with U2, he told her flat out that he had to do it, there was nothing to argue about. And off he went.
Larry effectively founded U2 at Mount Temple, their Dublin high
school when he approached Dave Evans (Edge) about starting a band. Word got out and Paul Hewson (Bono), Adam, and a few other kids came by Larry's family's kitchen to bang on guitars and sing cover tunes. Before long membership was knocked down to the four characters who remain U2 today. Edge was a couple of months older than Larry. Adam and Bono both had more than a year on him. With his blond hair and pretty features, Larry looked younger than the others. He looked like a little kid. But Larry was always as bullheaded as a minotaur. He has joked that he gave up on being leader of the group as soon as he met Bono, but in some indefinable way he has remained the center of U2 from high school to here. It's not even that he's the band's conscience;
it's more that he's the one who knows what each of them is and what each of them might or can never become, and he will never hesitate to say so to any of their faces. Somehow, by defining that, Larry defines what U2 ends up being.
"What's made U2 has always been the relationship," he says. "The relationship has not only been a personal one, it's also been a musical one. It's been an understanding. It's a cliche, but U2's biggest influences have always been each other. We've always played with each other. We've always played against each other musically. When we came to Berlin we were suddenly, musically, on different levels and that affected every-thing. The musical differences affected the personal differences.
"It's a very, very strange world that we live in. I was very young when the band started. I ended up doing it because of tragedy, in some ways. My mother died and I went straight into the band, that was the kick. On the road I was surrounded by people who were older than me and more experienced than I was. I was seventeen. I was a virgin. I had difficulty as any normal teenager would.
"When you're a kid and you're thrown into this, it's very hard. Some people cope with it better than others. I feel that I'm less affected now than maybe some of the other guys are because I have fallen in love with this. I loved it when I was a kid, then when I went on the road it was so difficult I just didn't know what was going on, it was very hard. Then, after a whole lot of different things happening with the band being successful, I made a very clear decision in my own mind that this is really what I want to do and I want to make a serious go of it. I don't just want to be the drummer in U2 anymore. I want to actually contrib-ute on a different basis and do more."
When Larry says he was kicked into U2 because his mother died (she was killed in a traffic accident around his seventeenth birthday), he is tapping into a secret history of rock & roll. Losing his mother as a kid is a tragedy Larry shares with John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Jimi Hendrix, Madonna, Sinead O'Connor, and Bono. Throw in Elvis Pres-ley and Johnny Rotten, two singers very close to mothers who died just after they got famous, and you have a pretty good representation of the biggest blips on rock & roll's forty-year seismograph. Bono lost his mother in 1974, when he was fourteen. She collapsed from a stroke at her own father's funeral and died immediately thereafter.
Larry says having that loss in common brought Bono and him together. "There was a connection there," he explains. "He understood a little of what I felt. I was younger than him. I didn't have any brothers. My father was out of whack anyway, so Bono was the link. He said, 'Look, I understand a bit what you're going through. Maybe I can help you.' And he did. Through thick and thin he's always been there for me. Always.
"People think the band is this unit that's always together. We fight and argue all the time! But I have to say that through it all Bono has always been there. And that was where it started, that was the original connection. When I was in deep shit, he made himself available for me, he was around. Even on the road when I was going through a rough time I used to share a room with him. He just used to make sure I was okay." Suddenly Larry smiles and says, "It was a bit like baby-sitting, y'know what I mean?"
I ask Larry how his life was affected by becoming wealthy.
"It was only after Joshua Tree that we started to make money," he says. That's a surprise-Joshua Tree, which came out in 1987 and sold 14 million copies, was U2's fifth album. The world figured they were rich long before that. "After Joshua Tree we invested a lot of money into Rattle and Hum. So we saw a lot of money but never made any. It was put back into the movie. I remember walking away with about twenty thousand dollars. That was the money that was there when I arrived home from the Joshua Tree tour. There was more later on. I remember going down to Waterford. I had been saving for years and years to buy myself a Harley. That was the first real material thing I ever bought. The money came in very, very slowly. It wasn't immediate at all. It wasn't like we did the Joshua Tree tour and then someone gave me five million dollars and said,
"There you are, son, go with it.' It wasn't like that at all, it was a very slow thing."
What was the reaction of friends and family when they assumed, perhaps before it was true, "Oh, Larry's a millionaire now"? Does everybody wait for you to pick up the check at dinner?
"To a limited degree," he says. "It's only recently that it's become a major issue, 'cause there is publicity about it, a lot of people talk about it. What disturbs me most is that people figure, 'Hey, look, a hundred quid to me is two weeks wages. It's nothing to you!' I find that incredi-bly offensive. That's jumping to conclusions. It's just taking advantage. That's the biggest thing that's affected the way I feel about some people. I find there are two very distinctly different reactions. There's those people who say, 'I don't give a damn what you do, I buy my round, you buy your round. We're friends. I expect nothing from you.' And there's the other ones. It's hard because the people you grow up with are generally people who don't have any money. They work in banks or they're electricians and they don't make as much. I think they should be responsible for themselves and not take advantage. I think it's lack of respect for themselves. I certainly don't respect them."
I ask why Larry told Bono, during the last tour, that he didn't like what U2 had become.
"It had become very serious, very hard work. And just no fun. It was nothing to do with music. It was to do with getting up and going to work. Because we take care of a lot of our own business, we spend a lot of time in meetings. We've always done that. On the stage it was good, but it was very intense and was very hard work. You were grimacing because you were stressed. I remember coming off that tour and feeling, 'If this is what it is, I really don't want to do it anymore, I can't do this anymore.'
"It was just stressful on a musical level. I suppose we had realized that we weren't as capable of plugging into other people's worlds-like ๗. ๗. King's-as we'd hoped. And I certainly found it was nothing to do with where I was coming from. I'm glad to have had the experience, but that's it. I come from a different world."
Well, I say, the stretch in Berlin wasn't exactly a load of laughs.
"No," Larry says. "It was suddenly trying to unplug that different world of Rattle and Hum and plug into another one. That's very hard to do. When we plugged into Rattle and Hum we'd lost touch with where it
was we had come from-which is trying to find new ways. Some people were quicker at finding the route than others, and it caused immense strain within the band. Because for the first time in the band there was no consensus musically. Whereas in the past, although everyone might not agree, there was some sort of understanding of what was going on. This time there was no understanding. No one knew what the fuck anyone else was talking about. That was the basis of all those prob-lems."
All of what the band has been going through gets thrown into Bono's lyrics. It is only in the final weeks before the album is due to be delivered to the record company that most of it comes together. "We tend to spend 90 percent of the time on 30 percent of the material," Adam explains, "and the rest happens incredibly quickly,"
U2 bring in their old producer Steve Lillywhite, as well as Eno, Flood, and Lanois, and get everyone mixing. Different producers mix the same songs and then present them to the band, who pick one (or worse, pick aspects of each and ask one of the exhausted producers to combine them). What emerges is a weird juxtaposition of frantic sound (influenced by techno, hip-hop, and other urban pop trends, but grounded in solid song structures) and introspective lyrics about the tension between domestic life and the lure of the outside world's adven-tures. The music, the sound itself, is so full of life and electricity that it's easy to understand what's seducing the lyricist away from his respon-sibilities at home; the music conveys how much fun there is to be had out there in the world of discos, boom boxes, rock concerts, and raves. The words may reveal the guilt and concern going through the singer's head, but the music demonstrates the fun and exuberance racing through his bloodstream.
The first song-"Zoo Station"-blasts open with a barrage of elec-tronic sounds and distortion. Bono's voice is processed so heavily, it barely sounds human. If you strain you can make out what he's saying:
"I'm ready, ready for what's next."
The music conjures up an environment like Times Square or Piccadilly Circus at 11 p.m. on a July Saturday. It's full of pushing and shoving, hip-hop samples, loud arguments, bursting images, and scream-ing guitars. Some of Bono's lyrics sound like they were read off the T-shirts in an all-night souvenir shop ("Don't let the bastards grind you down," "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle"), like they are
being recited by a man in that late-night state of sensory overload where you babble phrases you just overheard.
The central character that emerges on this expedition through urban perdition is a man messing up his secure home life by charging out into the night's temptations. The album is full of romantic and spiritual anguish, of the bargains made between couples and the recriminations they throw at each other when those deals are breached. In this context, when Bono sings, "We're one, but we're not the same," it sounds less like a comfort than an excuse.
One good side effect of Bono's bad habit of leaving all his lyrics in flux until the last minute is that by the time he puts the final vocals on an album there is usually a narrative coherence to the whole thing. Your old English teacher might tell you that this results in a novelistic cohesiveness. Certain members of U2 who have nothing left of their finger-nails might call it the result of a long intellectual constipation finally ended by a verbal diarrhea. I myself would like to point out that in this case it results in an album-long metaphor of the moon as a dark woman who seduces the singer away from his virtuous love, the sun. In the middle of Side Two the singer, lying in the gutter in a vain attempt to throw his arms around the world, looks up and sees the sun rising. He asks, "How far are you gonna go before you lose your way back home?" Then he starts crawling home, exhausted, elated, ashamed, satisfied, and nursing a bloody nose.
That would be an easy place for the album to end, and in the Andy Capp world of most rock & roll, that's usually where we fade out. U2 doesn't let their listeners off the hook so easily. The darkness of the doubts they've raised cannot be exorcised by a night on the town. The last three songs face the big issue of how couples begin to reconcile the suffering they force on each other. In "Ultra Violet" the singer pleads with his love to light his way home, only to find that "the day is as dark as the night is long." The couple crawl into bed together, unable to sleep. He marvels at his own hypocrisy: "I must be an acrobat to talk like this and act like that." They decide that if they can't sleep maybe they can speak their dreams out loud and (Bono's quoting Delmore Schwartz here) "begin responsibilities." The album fades out with the conclusion that "Love Is Blindness," the inability to distinguish day from night.
This is U2 in Nighttown, an X ray of four men who spent their
teens and twenties being focused, serious, and pious and who, as they hit thirty, want to see what they missed. There was a song recorded in Berlin that didn't make the final sequence, in which Bono sang of wanting to "see and touch and taste as much as a man can before he repents." The Nighttown James Joyce created in Ulysses was a nocturnal urban world that promised knowledge in exchange for innocence. Ulysses was, among other things, a parody of Homer's Odyssey, with the hero battling the demons of his soul rather than mythical monsters on his long journey home to his wife. This trip U2 is intent on undertaking is just beginning. There's no way of telling how far it will bring them, or whether they'll all make it back.
"I don't think I've ever come home from a tour the same person I left," Bono says. "So there is always a moment where the people you come home to wonder if you're going to get on with them. Or if they even want you in the house. I'm an intinerant at heart. When I was fourteen my mother died. I lived with my father, and it was a house but it wasn't really a home after that. I always ended up sleeping on the floor of other people's places. And so, wherever I am I'm happy enough. I probably wouldn't come home at all if it weren't for the fact I had family." Bono thinks about that for a bit and says, "I think the real problems start when you come back, not when you go out."
The new album will be U2's first since the multinational record company Polygram, itself a division of the multinational electronics company Philips, bought Island Records, the label to which U2 is signed. Polygram paid something like $300 million dollars to get Is-land, which really means-given that Island has no other living super-stars-they paid it to get U2. Polygram is planning a massive push behind their first album by their superstar band and they need some information to get the ball rolling for the autumn campaign-like, Does the album have a name?
U2 consider the title Cruise Down Main Street, a reference to the cruise missiles that winged with such precision through downtown Baghdad, and to the Rolling Stones' classic Exile on Main Street. They talk about titling the record Fear of Women-but reject that as sure to make the Pretentious Police reach for their revolvers. They are determined not to call attention to the seriousness of the lyrics, to keep the media's eye on the flashy surface. It is all part of erecting the mask Bono talked about,
the false face that will keep U2 from the embarrassment of standing around with their dicks hanging out. Which brings up a good idea! How about this for a cover: a big photograph of Adam standing there naked. The band calls in photographer Anton Corbijn and Adam proudly hangs out his manhood for the camera. Adam thinks that if they use this as the sleeve they should call the record Man--the logical sequel to their first album, Boy. Edge thinks it might be funnier to go with the nude shot and call the album Adam, in tribute to both their bassist and the first mortal (who was also the first man to get kicked out of his home and into the cruel world).
There is some brow mopping at Polygram when they hear rumors about a nude album jacket. Eventually U2, unable to decide which of Anton's many possible cover concepts to use, decides to go with them all: create a big montage with everything from the Adam willie shot to portraits of the four band members squeezed into one of those little Trabants. Anton is sort of distressed at the idea, but it's not his album. As for the name, they settle on something that no critic can take seriously: Achtung Baby. It is a reference-used frequently in Berlin by U2 soundman Joe O'Herlihy-to The Producers, the Mel Brooks movie about a pair of sleazy theater swindlers who try to create the biggest Broadway flop of all time by staging a musical called Springtime/or Hitler.
U2 figures that no critic will accuse them of pomposity with a title like that! Although this critic thinks that given the album's theme of faith and faithlessness Acbtung Baby suggests what Elvis Costello called "emotional fascism"-the dictatorship of fidelity.
"It's a bit of a con to call it something as flip as Achtung Baby" Bono admits. "Because underneath that thin layer of trash it's blood and guts. It's a very heavy, loaded record. It's a dense record." He grins. "I told somebody I thought it was a dense record and word got around that we were making a dance record.
"I think that the real rebels of the nineties are probably not musicians but comedians. Stand-up comics. Because they have people laughing while they're telling them where they're at. If people see you coming with a placard these days they just get out of your way. U2 has got to be careful. And smart."
By the way, in The Producers the crooked accountant who stages Spring-time for Hitler is named Leo Bloom. Maybe U2 has hit on the insight
that he could be the same Bloom that James Joyce sent into Night-town in Ulysses. See, if you switch through the channels long enough, your synapses keep clicking around even after the TV is turned off.
Now that U2's civil war is over, the album is complete, and the bandmembers have embraced each other with the quiver-ing chins of an old couple renewing their wedding vows, Bono feels comfortable spinning out his take on where U2 has to go and why getting up to the starting gate was so tough.
"It's hard for people," Bono says over lunch one afternoon in a restaurant where a Muzak version of "Over the Rainbow" adds a special poignance to his talk of his ambitions for U2's second public decade. "If you realize that this friction makes you smarter, quicker, and tougher, then it's surely wise to stick with it. But if you want an easy life, if you're happy with your lot, if you see success as your goal, it's over. I've had this out with various members of the band, as you know, and, I'll be honest, with All." Ali is Bono's wife, Alison Stewart Hewson. "We thought, okay, maybe it'll take ten years to get to this place, but when we got there we could stop this kind of madness. But I don't think it's mad. I think that that's the fun of it. I think there's nothing sadder than people who feel that they've arrived. I think it might have just taken a couple more minutes for some of the other people to realize the same thing.
"When you're thirty you're just starting your creative life if you're a painter or a writer. Some don't start till they're forty, or probably shouldn't. It's just that in rock & roll terms, in the way that it used to be, a lot of people were burnt out. They were shooting stars, and of course they burned bright and they burned fast, but with a lot of great artists it's the opposite; they just got better and better. That's what I
want U2 to be. I feel like we've just had a taste of it and that the success, in a way, is a distraction. That's not false modesty, it's genuinely know-ing that this work was extraordinary because of what it hinted at more than what it was."
Bono says that after all the Rattle and Hum success (the album, reviled though it might have been, sold 7.5 million copies) and backlash, after Larry's complaint that U2 onstage was turning into a jukebox, after accepting that maybe embracing American roots music was a dead end for U2, Bono came home after that good-bye concert in Dublin at the end of 1989 feeling sapped and rotten.
"I had a terrible time at Christmas," he admits. "A very convenient end-of-decade depression. Y'know, I don't buy the idea that U2 reinvented itself in that moment, because I've always felt that all through our life was a process of re-creation and killing off the old and bringing on the new. It's just that this was a more spectacular murder.
"I looked back and said, 'Okay, it was wonderful and a lot of good work was done,' but I felt very unhappy. I said, 'If this is it, this is not enough.' I think that everyone else would have come to that conclusion, but it might have taken a few average albums and I don't think that was on. So there were a few simple tasks to be faced. Like: rhythm was now part of the language of even white rock & roll. There was no way back from it. How does a three-piece be polyrhythmic? You have to have another thing. On Unforgettable Fire Brian's contribution was to find little tape loops for us to play off. So that's how this technology thing came together. These are practical problems. So that you can focus on the personality of Adam's bass playing, rather than just the pure timekeep-ing of it. And you can have the sort of hammer aspect to Larry's kick-drum and still have the delicacy of a conga part. But it was very hard, and learning to adapt to that new technology created tension. It's a bit like trying to help somebody across the road who's saying, 'Hey, what are you doing? I like it here.!' But they wouldn't really. It's just that they're not ready to cross the road yet."
U2 has now embraced sequencers that play prerecorded instrumental parts both to fatten up their sound and to allow the musicians to play embellishments and counterpoint while a machine takes care of basics. At one time U2 would have thought of that as cheating. Now they see it as a liberation. The values that inspired Rattle and Hum-"Let's learn
about roots and how the old songwriters did it"-have been put in deep storage.
"U2 are the world's worst wedding band." Bono shrugs. "We are. Why don't we just own up to it and stop fucking about? For instance, we were always jealous of the fact that we never knew anyone else's songs. That started a lot of ๗ sides where we did cover versions and tried to get into the structure of songwriting vicariously and then apply it. This is a band that's one of the biggest acts in the world, and we know fuck-all in terms of what most musicians would consider to be important. 'Cause all of these bands, including this new crop, have all played in bar bands, they're all well versed in rock & roll structure- which is also why they're all so well versed in rock & roll cliches.
"Imitation and creation are opposites. The imitative spirit is very different from the creative spirit, which is not to say that we all don't beg, steal, and borrow from everybody, but if the synthesis of it all is not an original spirit, it's unimportant.
"Compare white rock to the state of African American culture. The black position is so much more modern, so much more plugged-in, so much more postmodern even. They're begging, stealing, and borrowing, but creating new things, using the technology that's available. The springboard for rock & roll was the technology of the electric guitar, the fuzz box, and printed circuits. I think it's fascinating that in Compton and in the Bronx, there are sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds who are part of the next century plugging into all this technology to create new sounds, while middle-class kids from Ivy League colleges are listening to music that is Neanderthal. Not Neanderthal in that it's raw and primi-tive screaming, but that the form and fashion of it is."
When Bono gets on a roll like this there's no shutting him up. But it's worth paving attention, 'cause after Achtung Baby is released U2 is going to put all this theory into practice or flame out in the attempt. And by then he may not want to spell it all out.
"I have a theory about technology, if you can stand it," Bono says, digging in. "It's long, but it's interesting. Sitting on Sunset Strip outside the recording studio, working on the Rattle and Hum soundtrack in 1988, on Friday nights, we used to watch the parade. It was an extraordinary-sight to see these cars that were fitted out as music systems. You've seen that parade of Mexican hopping trucks, and there's a sound." Bono cups his hands over his mouth and imitates the heavy, distorted backbeat of
hip-hop blasting through a beefed-up car stereo system, over which he then sings a bluesy wail.
"I thought, 'I know this music!'" He sings the bluesy wail again, this time bending the notes just a little more off the Western standard than blues notes already bend. Now Bono's hip-hop singing sounds Arabic.
"I thought, wow, this sound reminds me so much of when I was traveling in Africa, recording the kind of atonal call-and-response music that you find in North Africa. And it dawned on me that a journey had happened in black music that is so extraordinary. You take from Africa people two hundred, three hundred years ago by force to cotton planta-tions. You take away from them their own music, forbid the talking drums. It was often Irish slave drivers keeping them away from their native musical forms, as the Irish were the lowest rung on the white ladder. Through the Irish and Scottish slave drivers they picked up the three chords of Celtic folk music and a new format arrived: the blues, and eventually gospel.
"It all starts to get mixed up. The technology keeps it changing. The printed circuit has arrived, the electic amplification, and rock & roll is this new hybrid, which eventually goes back to Europe and hits big there with the Beatles and the Stones, and then goes back to America where Hendrix takes it further. Then it goes back into Europe, and you have in Germany a group called Kraftwerk working with pure synthesized sounds, completely electronic sounds, where you remove any original signal from a musical instrument. This is kind of interesting, this starts to influence back across America, and you have people like George Clinton and Stevie Wonder getting into electronic sounds and synthe-sizers. This goes back across to England, there is an invention, the sampling device, the Fairlight and Synclavier. Sampling goes back across, this dance going on between two continents continues with technology playing the music. And with this new sampling device you are able to grab and recombine bits from old records and from that a new format arrives-hip-hop.
"What's completely mind-boggling to me is that after three hundred years, the music gets back to its core through technology. You have kids in the Bronx scratching records, creating a call and response, using this technology to get back to their center. What does that say? That is so big. It's an idea that has ramifications to me beyond music.
"I suppose as an Irish person who has worked so hard to sort of
musically try and reinvent what it is to be Irish, that is great for me. Because people listen to U2 and say, 'Well what you are doing is Irish, yet by the look of it, it's not.' It's a spirit.
"That was one of the things that to me exploded the idea of authentic-ity, which is, of course, the catchphrase of all these rock groups: 'This is real, because we are in control of it.' 'Disco sucks.' That's wrong. I started to see Kraftwerk as some sort of soul group. And all the ideas of authenticity, which we had played with in Rattle and Hum-'Let's write acoustic songs, let's try it like other people did, and let's be fans, and discover it.' We discovered wonderful things, learned wonderful things, wrote a few songs I ought to proud of. But that was like going down a road and then finding out, 'No.' "
Bono pauses to let the dowsing pole of my understanding touch the bottom of the deep pool of his insight. Before I can say, "Let's order," he's digging another well.
"Parallel to that," he says, "I realized that technology can facilitate freedom. In fact, what I think people don't understand about the music business is that people do not buy stereos to play their records; people buy records to play their stereos' Think about it from the consumers' point of view; the purchase of the hardware is much more expensive than the purchase of the software. If you are living in the real world, which I certainly was when I was sixteen, and you buy one of these motherfuckers, you want to buy the record that plays it well. That's why the Beatles again run parallel to technology. Sgt. Pepper was a stereo album. When the success of Sgt. Pepper is written about, that's just not mentioned. But this was hardware companies putting out this new device for listening to music, and here was a way you could show off the thing. This can be followed through to Pink Floyd, as it further developed, and on into CD and the success of Dire Straits."
I have to admit that Bono's onto something. In the early seventies teenagers went wild for stereo headphones, and bought albums that were mixed to swing back and forth, from right to left. Recently, new bands such as Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails have taken advantage of the wide dynamic range of CDs to make albums that jump from very soft to very loud in a way that vinyl records never could.
"And if you want to know why white people are listening to rap music," Bono says, "apart from the sort of white-guy-being-attracted-to-the-things-you're-afraid-of social thing, it's a lot to do with the
hardware systems, the car systems, club systems. The bottom end has to be tight, so you can turn it up. Suddenly records that sounded great on a stereo or even on the radio-that FM rock sound-suddenly don't sound so great compared to these guys. You know, you put on a Public Enemy record, and it sounds like the end of the world!"
Bono first thought about this-and felt U2 was lacking-when he and Adam were hitchhiking in Tennessee during their Rattle and Hum pilgrimage to Graceland and Sun Studios. A kid picked them up and had on his car stereo an album by the pop-metal group Def Leppard, produced by South African soundmaster Mutt Lange. Bono was knocked out by how powerful the Def Leppard music-which had never meant anything to him before-sounded on a cranked-up, bot-tom-heavy car system. The driver got wildly goosed when he recognized his passengers, yanked off the Def Lep and stuck on a U2 tape. It didn't sound half as exciting.
"Def Leppard's 'Pour Some Sugar on Me,' to me is one of the first industrial records," Bono says, knowing that he's picking a fight. "I haven't fully realized the implications of that. I think we've got to make records that sonically make more use of the technology. That's some-thing we have yet to do."
"All that's great," I say, waving frantically for the waiter before Bono leaves port again, "but it doesn't do the band much good if half the guys don't want to go that way."
"Yeah, but great ideas are great persuaders," Bono says. "If you're arguing a lot, it's not a clear enough idea. A great idea is clear to everybody. And the problem with what happened in Achtung Baby was that the ideas, the concepts, were good, but the songs early on weren't good enough to convince everybody. The reward wasn't in sight. And Danny, of course, was pulling his hair out. Brian knew what we were doing and understood the great fun we could have deconstructing-" Bono catches himself and smiles. "It was hard not to use art terms. And art terms, just because they're art terms, annoy some people. It's a hard thing to talk to a guy who is trying to get a drum sound together about recommodification or this idea that you have to 'take this sound and turn it on its head like one of those Christmas bubbles and see what happens.'
It's like playing the set backwards! Let's play U2 backwards and see what happens. So it was a very hard time. I'd say if the songs had come quicker-but the reason the songs didn't come quicker is that people
had lost touch. All of us had lost touch. Osmosis is the unsung hero of all rock & roll. Osmosis is the way we all pick up everything. Music is another language and you become articulate in it. If you lose it by not living it, smartness can get you by to a degree, but not really. I think we were a little out of touch. I think that was part of the problem too. We got to Berlin and realized, 'Uh-oh. It's a few years now since Joshua Tree, and the rest of it has been fun; doing Rattle and Hum was a piece of piss. We hung out in Los Angeles, learned how to drink, playacted a bit, had a lot of cigarettes and songs and hung out with some interesting people. This had been a few years! We didn't know what it was like to be in the studio and to think and it stunned everybody. We weren't as great as we figured we were."
THE FIRST single from Achtung Baby will be "The Fly," a track chosen because it sounds nothing like U2. The band figures that after not having a new U2 single for a couple of years, radio will play whatever they give them-so why not give them some-thing weird. When they go in to do a video for the track, Bono looks like a human fly in a black leather suit and big, bubble-eyed sunglasses. He decides that he should dress like this for the tour. The fly shades are almost a mask-he goes into character as soon as he puts them on. The black leather suit conjures up a pantheon of rock legends-from Jim Morrison to Iggy Pop-but is most clearly the suit Elvis Presley wore in his 1968 TV comeback special. Like Elvis, Bono dyes his brown hair black to turn himself into the personification of a rockin' cat.
Bono's ideas for staging the concerts are ambitious enough to make grown accountants weep. He wants giant TV screens across the stage, broadcasting not just U2 but commercials, CNN, whatever's in the air. He still has the televised juxtapositions of the Gulf War flipping through his head. Stage designer Willie Williams sees a chance to really go to Designer Valhalla. He wants to erect the illusion of a whole futuristic city, with the big TVs flashing and towers shooting up toward the sky. Bono will be the Fly crawling up the face of this Blade Runner landscape. Larry and Adam, it is agreed, should look like cops or soldiers-the future-shock troops. Edge has a different job. He's the guitarist, so he has to look flashy. The white shirts and black jeans he used to wear onstage have no place in future world. Fintan Fitzgerald, U2's wardrobe man, starts working out ways to tart up Edge like a
guitar hero from the Hendrix era, with oversize knucklebuster rings, pants covered with elaborate studded patterns, and a wool stevedore's cap instead of the hats and do-rags that usually cover his receding hairline. An evil-looking thin mustache and goatee complete Edge's transformation to psychedelic thug.
The band and the inner circle of Principle, their management com-pany, have started referring to the proposed show as "Zoo TV." It's an outgrowth of the song "Zoo Station" and in U2's imagination a visual extension of the "Morning Zoo" radio programs popular in America on which, between spinning records, wiseass disc jockeys make rude jokes, take phone calls, and play tapes of celebrities embarrassing themselves.
U2 has never accepted corporate sponsorship-the dubious institu-tion whereby a big advertiser picks up a lot of the money for a tour in exchange for being allowed to run ads (even on the tickets) that say, "Jovan presents the Rolling Stones" or "Budweiser presents the Who." Like R.E.M., Springsteen, and some other high-class rockers, U2 has always figured that-like selling songs to be used in commercials- sponsorship takes a bite out of the music's integrity and degrades the relationship between the artist and the audience. It's like inviting some-one over to your home and then trying to sell them Tupperware.
But in the spirit of irony and contradiction-kissing that they want to cook up for this tour, U2 plays with the idea of covering the whole stage with logos like the billboards on a crowded highway. Willie Wil-liams draws sketches for a stage design splattered with the logos of Burger King, Shell, Sony, Heinz, Singer, Betty Crocker, Fruit of the Loom, and a dozen other corporations, with three house-size TVs in the middle. One shows Bono singing, one shows a man selling beer, and the third is a close-up of Edge's guitar with a potato chip slogan nudging into it. Willie labels this design "Motorway Madness." It raises a big question: if they decorate the stage with all these corporate emblems anyway, why not let the corporations pay for them? Why not just sell the whole stage to advertisers, taking their money and mocking them at the same time? U2 plays with the notion for a while and then decides that if they ironically put up the logos, and then ironically take the money, it's not ironic anymore. At that point they have sold out, and no semantic somersaults can justify it. So they scrap "Motorway Mad-ness."
Willie has another notion that he floats to Bono and Edge separately
before springing it on all the Principles. He thinks it would be hilarious to buy a bunch ofTrabants, those cheap little East German cars that U2 saw abandoned along roadsides after reunification, and hang them from the ceiling as spotlights. Anton Corbijn has been drawn to the Trabants in his album cover photos. Willie says, as the band chuckles, that they could hollow out the cars, put huge spotlights inside, and make it look like the Trabants' headlights are illuminating the stage.
U2 gives Willie the go-ahead. Manager Paul McGuinness volunteers to lead an expedition into darkest Deutschland where he will buy up Trabants like a carpetbagger grabbing cut-rate southern cattle after the Civil War. "As an image of what went wrong with Communism, the Trabant is useful," McGuinness explains. "Because it is a car that makes its driver look pathetic. It's a demeaning thing to be in. It also smells like shit and it's very uncomfortable."
The drive across Germany is less jolly than McGuinness and his Zoo crew had hoped. The Soviet occupation troops who had been stationed in East Germany before reunification have no home to go back to. The Germans want them out, but the Russians are asking them to stay away -there is no housing for them, food is already scarce, and their govern-ment is on the verge of collapse. In Berlin, Soviet soldiers are selling their weapons and uniforms for whatever money they can get. The further east McGuinness and company drive, the bleaker it becomes. At one stop along the motorway they see a Russian officer in his long coat, high boots, and epaulets buying cigarettes and a bottle of booze, then slowly going back outside, sitting on the bumper of his car, and passing the bottle back and forth with his driver.
When they reach the Trabant factory in Chemnitz, on what was until recently Karl-Marx-Stadt, the place is almost deserted. No one wants to buy these cheap, partly wooden toy boxes when there is a chance of getting a Volkswagen or an Audi. The car factory had been the center of the local economy since the 1920s, when it was the Auto Union (later Audi) factory. Production switched to Trabants at the dawn of the Cold War. Now it's gone, and the people who used to work there are hungry.
"Thirty thousand people just lost their jobs," McGuinness says after nosing the situation. "No one here thinks the Trabant is funny."
McGuinness takes the factory tour. With the Trabants discontinued, the mill is now serving as a warehouse for postal vans awaiting delivery to the mail-deprived East. Asked how he feels about U2's plan to make
his automobile famous in the West, the grief-stricken factory manager says, "We feel fine about it, but it is too late."
When McGuinness gets back to Dublin, U2 owns enough Trabants to swing from the rafters, shine on the stage, and drive around the dressing rooms. They bring in Catherine Owens, an artist and old friend from the days when her all-girl punk band the Boy Scoutz used to share bills with the teenage U2, to paint designs on the little cars. One of Owens's designs is what she calls "The Fertility Car," a Trabant covered with blown-up personal ads from dating columns and a sketch of a woman giving birth while holding two pieces of string tied to her husband's testicles, "so he can share the pain."
Owens pushes her opinions to the front because, she feels, U2 has men making all the creative decisions and is slipping into completely male-centered designs. "Let's get some curves in here," she says when looking at a stage design of sharp angles and boxes, while the members of U2 go: "Huh?"
Adam, who knows more about art (and, some would say, women) than the other three, pushes Owens's ideas forward and empowers her to go out and recruit visual artists to contribute to the video barrage that will be needed to fill up all those TV screens. Owens scours Europe and the U.S. (she lives in New York and is tied in with lots of artists there) for the right people. Among those whose work she brings back are video artist Mark Pellington, David Wojnarowicz-an acclaimed and touchy New York photo/conceptual artist who is dying of AIDS, and the Emergency Broadcast Network. EBN are a satirical group from Rhode Island who use computer tricks to sample images as well as sounds. One of their proudest accomplishments is a film of President Bush, looped and edited so that the President seems to be chanting the lyrics to Queen's "We Will Rock You" while pounding his podium. In the USA 1992 will be an election year, and after his quick thrashing of Iraq in the Gulf War, Bush is considered unbeatable. U2 decide that this Bush bit will open their concerts.
While Bono is running around recommodifying his imagination and cleaning out the band's bank accounts, Adam, Edge, and Larry start tour rehearsals without him. They have a lot of grunt work to do for which Bono is not needed-learning to play with the sequencers and programs that will provide sonic beds under their own instruments, working out live arrangements and endings for the new songs. It gives
the singer a chance to cool down and gives the other three a break from Bono and a chance to reconnect as musicians. It is an important time for Adam, Edge, and Larry; it moves them back into position as one unit after the Bono & Edge/Larry & Adam split in the early days of the album. As with any group of equals, there are various ways in which the factions within U2 configure. When Bono finds the other three aligned against him, he tends to bring in McGuinness to back him up. For a period in the eighties when Edge, Larry, and Bono first embraced charismatic Christianity, it was Adam and McGuinness vs. the three Born Agains. As in any family, the alliances shift all the time. It is important before heading out on the road together that Edge, Adam, and Larry close ranks. Then as Bono joins rehearsals he gets drawn back into a united band.
The four band members and McGuinness share all business decisions equally, and the four band members without McGuinness make all creative decisions-not just regarding the music but concerning staging, photos, album jackets, and so on. Bono maintains that this got started at the dawn of U2 because being a struggling band in Dublin, where there was no music business, they knew no other way.
"We don't necessarily like to do everything ourselves," Bono says. "We call it 'making our own clothes.' But because of the circumstances, we had to. Paul McGuinness is just so uninterested in the details of a band's aesthetic life. It was hard to find advice. So we had to become video makers to make good videos. We had to become art directors. We made the albums, we made the album covers, we made the videos, we made the stage set. We used local Dublin people because we didn't know anybody else, and we collaborated with them and grew together.
"Paul got us to do everything for ourselves and I don't quite know why. He got out of the way, which takes a lot of guts. His instinct was to trust ours. And this developed this whole Gang of Four thing where you become the corporation. A gang of four musically, a corporation of five with Paul, seven with Ellen (Darst, who runs U2's U.S. operation) and Anne-Louise (Kelly, who runs Principle Dublin), eight with Ossie (Kilkenny, U2's financial advisor).
"Brian Eno said, 'Almost as extraordinary as what you're doing as artists is this organization-or organism-that seems to be evolving around you.' We had this idea that you could be creative in business, that you didn't have to divide it up into art and commerce. We'd meet
these record company people on tour in the U.S., and to most punk bands coming out of the U.K., these were the enemy. And I didn't think they were the enemy. I thought they were workers who had gotten into music for probably all the right reasons, and weren't as lucky as we were, weren't able to fulfill their ambition to be musicians and were now working the music. Maybe they lost their love and I felt that part of our thing was to reignite that.
"So a lot of people got inspired and they rallied around us, creating a network, and that protected us, created this kind of cushion. Then you start to see organization in a creative light. You start to say, 'Well, these are important decisions, this artwork, and these things.' And you realize that, in fact, to be a group is the art."
As the release of Achtung Baby and rehearsals for the Zoo TV tour impend, U2 ideas are expanding faster than their bank accounts. They have drawn up a plan to build a giant doll of an Achtung Baby with a working penis that will pee on the audience. McGuinness suggests it's an expensive indulgence. Edge starts thinking, then, that maybe what they should do is create fake photos of, say, the giant baby on top of Tower Records and try to convince the press that it really happened:
fake media events! That, too, gets nixed.
Plans for the staging are settling into something more stark and spooky than the Jetsons city of the initial designs. Now the band is talking about black scaffolding, like oil wells or TV towers, shooting into the air with video screens flashing across and throughout. There will be a second tier, above the band, to which Bono can ascend. There will be two wings at the front corners of the stage onto which Bono and Edge can venture. Larry's main question at each new proposition is, "What's it going to cost?"
Bono's imagination is not encumbered by such fiscal concerns. He has an inspiration: how about a small second stage stuck way out in the middle of the audience and connected to the main stage by a ramp? Then, after hitting the crowd with all this high-tech hoopla, the band can stroll out to the B stage and busk with acoustic guitars. Kind of like in Elvis's '68 comeback special when, after tearing up the joint with rock & roll, he went out and sat surrounded by the audience and strummed the old songs with his band. The designers aren't sure how to make that work, but they say they'll try it. They eventually come up with a design for a long ramp departing from Edge's side of the stage
and ending in a small platform. It is like a big fist at the end of a long, thin arm.
Larry's question hangs in the air. What is it going to cost? One element essential to the whole enterprise is the purchase of a Vidiwall, a giant television screen. The bad news is, it costs four to five million dollars. The good news is, the Vidiwall is built by Philips, the company that owns Polygram, the company that just bought Island, the record label to which U2 is signed! McGuinness has been wanting the band to meet Alain Levy, the head of Polygram. The band hatch a plan to invite Levy over and really butter him up. They will invite him to dinner at Adam's house and to spend the night at Bono's-and they'll hit him with the notion that it would be great for everyone if Philips gave U2 the Zoo video gear for free-as a demonstration of corporate synergy. Here's the hardware from Philips, the album from Polygram, and the music from U2.
At dinner Levy, a Frenchman, seems neither unpleasant nor overly chummy. What he clearly is is smart. Bono figures if they try to play games with the guy they'll just insult him. After all, Philips/Polygram just paid $300 million for Island, essentially to get U2. They must like the band. So during dinner Bono leans over and asks: How about you asking Philips to give us the video screens? Levy looks at Bono coldly and says, "You don't even wait for dessert to ask me this?"
Bono is taken aback. Levy continues coolly: "I'm not stupid. I know why you asked me here. I'll look into it. We'll see."
To U2's disappointment (and resentment) Philips rejects Levy's pro-posal. U2 will have to fork out the money for their Vidiscreens like anybody else. Apparently the research scientists at the electronics com-pany care less about U2 than they would about a longer-burning lightbulb. Levy gets Polygram to kick in a half million bucks or so in tour support, as a gesture of goodwill.
By the time U2 starts getting a fix on just how expensive their plans are going to be to execute, Larry's not the only one swallowing hard. Mounting Zoo TV could easily cost $50 million. They agree to take it one step at a time. The album is coming out in time for Christmas of 1991. In the spring they will do a tour of indoor arenas in the USA and Europe. If the album is not well received or if the shows don't sell out as quickly as they expect them to, that may be all they do. Perhaps next summer they could do some sort of TV concert as a finale. McGum-
ness suggests they could even broadcast such a show from the Trabant factory.
If Achtung Baby is a hit and the ticket demand is big enough, they will return to America to play football stadiums in the second half of the summer. But with the cost of this show, the potential profit margin is only 4 to 5 percent. If U2 commits to playing outdoors and then America has a cold, rainy summer, they could end up wiping out their savings in indulging their creative impulses.
Bono is nonetheless delighted by all the possibilities the new gear- and the new idea of U2-offers. When the big TV monitors arrive they are desposited in the Factory, the building where U2 rehearses and Bono walks between them explaining how it will all work like a kid contemplating the train set he's getting for Christmas.
He asks if I'm familiar with the headline-type aphorisms of Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer. I am. They are New York artists known for bold-lettered proclamations. Bono points out that the song "The Fly" is full of new truisms ("A liar won't believe anyone else") and when they play that song live he wants the screens to flash all sorts of epigrams, messages, and buzz words, from Call your mother to Guilt is not of Cod. to Pussy.
"I really enjoy addressing the subject of rock & roll itself," Bono says, referring to the over-the-top staging, as well as his own new Fly persona. "Ask yourself, what would Dali or Picasso have done if they had video at their disposal. If they had samplers or sequencers or drum machines or electric guitars, photography, cinematography!"
I'm having a little trouble imagining it, actually. This seems like a really good way for even a wealthy band to go broke. Another line from "The Fly" is "Ambition bites the nails of success."
down at the zoo tv rehearsals/ bono's bid for monkeedom/ the entire history of U2 condensed and presented by the edge/ how the hound of heaven almost took a bite out of the band/ the rock & roll hall of fame
Achtunc baby is released just before Christmas of 1991 to good reviews and strong sales. Shortly after it hits number one on the Billboard charts, the Soviet Union collapses. Coincidence? Let history judge.
Arriving in Dublin in January, I am greeted at my hotel by a note from Bono: "Welcome to Nighttown." When I head down to the Factory, Zoo TV tour rehearsals have passed the point of anxiety and are approaching frenzy.
The Factory occupies an old stone mill near the Dublin docks. To get in you ring a buzzer in a black door in a stone wall, climb an indoor fire escape, pass through a security door and desk, go through swinging doors, and proceed down a very long corridor. As you walk down the hall the music gets louder and louder. Sort of like Get Smart. Then you turn a corner, open another door, and there's U2 blasting through "The Fly." Bono's listening to the band, swaying in place at the soundboard and making suggestions to engineer Joe O'Herlihy. Larry and Adam are creating a fat, funky bottom. The Edge is stretching out, filling in all the sonic colors of the album version of the song while singing the high countervocal that Bono overdubbed on the record.
"We've been trying to work out how to get all the Achtung Baby sounds live," Bono explains when the song finishes. "Basically, we can do it if Edge plays something different with every one of his appendages.
U2's American tour begins on March I, 1992. At this point- January 14-Bono reckons they are one week behind schedule with one
week left to go here in Dublin before they pack up all the gear and move to the States. Bono says that the material they have worked on has been so good that he's not worried about running late. Edge, however, is. He now understands how much can go wrong on a tour this big. "In the past"-he smiles-"I didn't know. I thought it was easy."
The band picks up their instruments again and begins "Mysterious Ways." Over the opening groove Bono chants, "Who loves you? Who loves you? Who loves you?" (He calls it the Kojak Mix.) Edge estab-lishes a thick post-wah-wah guitar groove that suggests what might have happened if the Isley Brothers had joined the Manchester rave scene.
At 7:30 rehearsal breaks up and Edge, Bono, and Adam head to Kitty O'Shea's, a nearby pub. That it is my birthday is all the excuse these Irishmen need to begin a night-long beer and blarney session. U2 recounts the usual tall stories: meeting Frank Sinatra in Las Vegas, being summoned backstage at Madison Square Garden by Michael Jackson, the compelling but at times unsettling brilliance of Bob Dylan and Van Morrison. These boys have been keeping fast company and, I think, measuring themselves against the icons they encounter.
When we get on the subject of Zoo TV and all its proposed monkey business, I ask Bono to enlighten me about how the multimedia silliness reflects, for example, the Gulf War.
"It's Guernica.'" Bono responds.
Let me clean out my ears, Bono, I thought you said, "It's Guernica."
"The response has to contain the energy of the thing it is describ-ing," Bono says. "To capture the madness of the Spanish Civil War, Picasso imbued his work with that madness, and with the surreal."
Blame it on the rotgut, but this starts making a lot of sense to me. I suppose, I suggest, that from "The Rape of the Sabine Women" on, every attempt to use beauty as a vehicle to describe brutality ends up glorifying the brutality, and more generations sign up for the next war.
"That's right." Bono nods. "That's exactly right."
So the way to represent war is as Picasso does in "Guernica," with distorted screaming horses and cubist knives, or as Zoo TV does, with a media barrage that mixes films of cruise missiles and nuclear bombs with rapid-fire video snatches of TV commercials and campy rock & roll singers in leather suits-a live and onstage re-creation of the couch-potato view of the Gulf War. Sounds great in theory; let's see how it works in the civic center!
Edge has to leave Ireland before dawn so he can fly to New York to induct the Yardbirds-Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, and Jeff Beck among them-into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Edge appreciates both the honor and the irony of a guitarist who has done more than anyone to dismantle the old myth of the guitar hero inducting the three men most responsible for creating it. At the pub, what started out as one or two drinks turns into one or two barrels and Tuesday has given way to Wednesday by the time Edge goes home to catch a couple of hours
I am flying with Edge so I get up to leave, too, but Bono and Adam remind me, "It's your birthday," and convince me to stay for another round. Adam was supposed to be coming with us, but there's trouble with U.S. immigration over an Irish marijuana bust a couple of years ago, so the bassist will be sitting out this trip. Which means I'm the only one still in the pub who can't sleep late tomorrow.
After the bar has closed and the other patrons leave, Bono goes looking for a guitar so he can sing me a country song he's written called "Slow Dancing." It's a beautiful tune about longing and faithlessness- typical Nashville and U2 subjects. He sent it to Willie Nelson but never got a reply.
Walking home through a dark tunnel, Bono insists we throw our arms over each other's shoulders and sing the theme from The Monkees. He's still upset because he was shot down in his bid to get U2 to adopt the names of the Monkees as hotel pseudonyms for this tour. Bono wanted to be Davy Jones, the short, maracas-shaking singer. Edge was to be Mike Nesmith, the serious, wool-hatted guitarist. He thought Adam might object to being the troublemaking blond bimbo Peter Tork, but Adam said no problem. The whole idea sank when Larry refused to be Mickey Dolenz.
Edge's version of the story is slightly different; he told me it wasn't Larry who shot down the plan; it was the fact that the Monkees names are more famous than the names of the members of U2. "We'd still have fans ringing the rooms," Edge protested, "but it'll be somebody else's fans!"
Bono should have learned this lesson by now. During the Joshua Tree tour he registered in hotels as "Tony Orlando" until one night when he ended up in the same hotel with the real Tony Orlando and chaos ensued. He then switched to a name no one else was likely to have:
"Harry Bullocks." He had to give that up when All refused to be Mrs. Harry Bullocks. He should learn a lesson from Adam ("Maxwell House") or Larry ("Mr. T. Bag").
Many such stupid things sound funny when you've been up all night drinking. It's even something of a knee-slapper when Bono throws himself so completely into The Monkees theme while parading through the auto tunnel that he doesn't see the car headlights bearing down on him until I yank him out of the way. (Imagine if I had not. People would be asking me Bono's last words and I'd have to say, " 'Hey, hey, we're the Monkees and people say we monkey around.' ")
All this hilarity seems a lot less funny forty-five minutes after I fall asleep, when the alarm goes off and I have to stagger to the airport to meet Edge. When the sun comes up we are on a plane from Ireland to England, where we will make a connection for a flight to New York.
As I stare at the greasy sausages staring back at me I calculate that this day-which thanks to changes in time zones will include twenty-nine hours-is looking far too long to be any good. A car picks us up at Heathrow to drive us from one terminal to another, where we sit in a smoky departure lounge for an hour and try to get some work done. The ambitious conceit is that Edge and I will cover the entire history of U2 between here and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
"Achtung Baby is definitely a reaction to the myth of U2," Edge begins as he has his second cup of coffee. "We really never had any control over that myth. You could say we helped it along a bit, but the actual myth itself is a creation of the media and people's imagination. Like all myths. There is very little resemblence to the actual personalities of the band or the intentions of the band, and Achtung Baby balances things out a bit."
"But the myth has a basis in the personalities," I protest. (Hey, at this point I'd protest "Hello.") "For example, the cartoon image of Bono may be a caricature-but like all caricatures it bears some exaggerated resemblence to the real person."
"It's a caricature of one facet of his character. It's Bono as seen through the songs. But the character of Bono is totally different to that. Maybe over our career our ability to create music that shows the full range of the personalities of Bono and the other members of the band was very poor. But that's the truth-that guy is totally different to the way most people think of him. He's far funnier, takes himself far less seriously than most people think. He's wild, he's not reserved. None of
the cliches that spring to mind when you think of people's perception of
"This is not Just a problem for Bono, this is a problem for the whole band. Everyone has this sort of caricature impression of what we are like. We just decided that we were going to find out how we could allow the other aspects of ourselves to come through. We're exploring whole new avenues of music and it's great fun. I mean, we can do it as well, that's what's brilliant about it. That's the good news for us. It's actually something we can do! I suppose we just weren't that interested early on."
I ask Edge if, because U2 was serious and focused at a very young age, the band is now going through at thirty what most young men go through at twenty.
"I think there's a bit of that, yeah. This is actually quite an important point. Throughout our career we've been struggling and fighting for survival: to get out of Ireland in the first place, to get a deal, to just make it happen. And I think we've finally got to a stage where we realized we could relax a bit. It's still not easy, but it doesn't have to be quite so much do or die."
"Do you think that Bono was talking to you in some of the Adstung Baby lyrics?"
"I think that what was going on in my life had an influence on Bono and therefore on the lyrics to some of the songs," Edge says evenly. "That's for sure. A lot of people have read into the lyrics that it's the story of my marriage breaking down. I'm not denying that that has had an influence, but I think there's a lot of stories in there and it's not just my story."
I suggest to Edge that it would have been easy to end the album with "Tryin' to Throw Your Arms Around the World," letting the listener off the hook with an all-is-forgiven finale. But U2 makes us go back inside the house with him and face the consequences of his betrayals.
"Yeah, it's not a very comforting ending, is it?" Edge says, and then he considers it and adds, "But that's okay, I think. I suppose that's what we've learned. Things aren't all okay out there. But that's the way it is." Our flight is called halfway through our second breakfast and we make our way to the boarding gate, past young Londoners who do double takes and then yell, " 'Ey, Edge.' 'Ow 'bout an autograp'?" Once we sink into the nice, comfortable seats of the first-class bubble that sits
like a tumor atop the plane, we turn back the clock to the birth of U2 and begin our excavation in earnest.
"I suppose it really starts with picking up the electric guitar, age fifteen, and playing a lot of cover versions," Edge says. "Knowing a few Rory Gallagher licks or whatever. Then suddenly you're in this band and there's all this fantastic music coming at you that challenges every-thing that you believed about what the electric guitar was for. Suddenly the question is, 'What are you saying with it?' Not 'Can you play this lick?' or 'What's your speed like?' It's, 'What are you saying with your instrument? What is being communicated in this song?' Suddenly gui-tars were not things to be waved in front of the audience but now were something you used to reach out to the crowd. If you were in the fourth row of the Jam concert at the Top Hat Ballroom in Dunleary in 1980, when Paul Weller hit that Rickenbacker twelve-string, it meant some-thing and it said something that everyone in that building knew. There were other bands, other guitar players. They all sounded different, but they all had that thing in common which was that there was something behind what they did, which was communicating.
"I had to totally reexamine the way I played. It was such a challenging thing to hold up your style against this and say, 'Well, what are you saying? What is this song about? What does that note mean? Why that note?' So much of this bad white-blues barroom stuff that was around at the time was just guitar players running up and down the freeboard. It was just a kind of big wank. There was nothing to it, it was gymnastics. I started trying to find out what this thing around my neck could do in the context of this band. Songs were coming through and 'Well, that sort of works' and integrating the echo box, which was a means of further coloring the sound, controlling the tone of the guitar. I was not going for purity, I was going for the opposite. I was trying to fuck up the sound as much as possible, go for something that was definitely messed with, definitely tampered with, had a character that was not just the regular guitar sound.
"Then I suppose I started to see a style coming through. I started to see how notes actually do mean something. They have power. I think of notes as being expensive. You don't just throw them around. I find the ones that do the best job and that's what I use. I suppose I'm a minimalist instinctively. I don't like to be inefficient if I can get away with it. Like on the end of 'With or Without You.' My instinct was to
go with something very simple. Everyone else said, 'Nah, you can't do that.' I won the argument and I still think it's sort of brave, because the end of 'With or Without You' could have been so much bigger, so much more of a climax, but there's this power to it which I think is even more potent because it's held back.
"I suppose ultimately I'm interested in music. I'm a musician. I'm not a gunslinger. That's the difference between what I do and what a lot of guitar heroes do."
Ten or twelve years into this, I remind Edge, he can look out at a lot of guitarists he's influenced.
"Yeah." He shrugs. "Unfortunately when something is distilled down to a simple style, those who copy the style basically are copying some-thing very flat. You take what I do, bring it down to a little, short formula and try and apply it in another context, another guitar player, another song-it's going to sound terrible. I think that's probably what's happened to Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. So many of their strong ideas have been taken up by other guitar players in other bands and the result is some pretty awful music. Heavy metal for one."
The first U2 albums were dominated by Edge's heavy use of an echo effect on his guitar. It fattened the band's sound, covering up the fact that neither the guitarist nor bassist in this band were playing very much. It also gave the early U2 songs a feeling of reverberating size and -not least-laid a coat of common personality over the material. U2 had a sound.
Edge says it started with Bono: "We had a song we were working on called 'A Day Without Me' and Bono kept saying, 'I hear this echo thing, like the chord repeating.' So I said, I'd better get an echo unit for this single. I got one down to rehearsal and played around with it with limited success. I didn't really like it; I thought it muddied up the sound. Then I bought my own unit, a Memory Man Deluxe made by Electro-Harmonix. I mean, Electro-Harmonix made the cheapest and trashiest guitar things, but they always had great personality. This Memory Man had this certain sound and I really loved it. I just played with it for weeks and weeks, integrating it into some of the songs we'd already written. Out of using it, a whole other set of songs started to come out."
Was there any moment when Bono said, "Oh, no, I've created a monster! Turn that echo off!"?
"When the War album was coming together we all-but particularly Bono-felt that we should try to get away from that echoey thing," Edge says. "It was a very conscious attempt at doing something more abrasive, less ethereal, more hard-edged. Less of that distant thing. I realized that the echo could become too much of a gimmick. There are a couple of tricks you can do with a guitar and echo that sound impressive, but I could see they were blind alleys. I've always left it and gone back to it. I don't like to use effects in an obvious way. You get sick of the same textures. Variety becomes important."
Between the first album, which established U2 as a hot underground band, and War, which began moving them into the mainstream, MTV, and headlining arenas, came the troubled second album, October. Re-corded quickly, with Bono improvising words after his lyric notebooks were stolen, the album reflected the moment when U2 almost split up over Bono, Edge, and Larry's embrace of charismatic Christianity, much to the chagrin of Adam and McGumness.
"I think October suffered as an album because of the lack of time we had to prepare it, but it actually is a pretty good record," Edge says. "There's some real spontaneity, some real freshness, because we didn't have time to have it any other way. I like 'Stranger in a Strange Land,' 'Tomorrow.' 'October' was a song that could have gone places but we didn't have time to do any more with it, so we said, 'Well, let's just put it out as it is.'
"October is a very European record because just prior to writing those songs and recording the album we spent all our time touring around Europe. We'd never been to Germany, Holland, Belgium, France. We would drive through these bleak German landscapes in winter. Those tones and colors definitely came through in the songs that we wrote.
"It was a real eye-opener. Boy was written and recorded in the context of Dublin. Four guys get together, decide to be a band, write some songs because they get inspired by this huge new sort of music happen-ing across the water. There's all these albums filtering back: the Jam, Patti Smith's Horses was a very big album for us, Television, Richard Hell and the Voidoids. It was an incredibly exciting time. But here we are in Dublin, trying to make sense of the stuff we're hearing from out there, trying to make sense of our own life in the context of Dublin.
Then we end up in the middle of Europe in a Transit van, driving down the corridor between East and West Germany, going to Berlin. It just gave us a totally different perspective. In a weird way it was a more Irish perspective, because suddenly our Irishness became more tangible to us, much more obvious, maybe even more important.
"October was a struggle from beginning to end. It was an incredibly hard record to make for us because we had major problems with time. And I had been through this thing of not knowing if I should be in the band or not. It was really difficult to pull all the things together and still maintain the focus to actually finish a record in the time that we had. You could hear the desperation and confusion in some of the lyrics. 'Gloria' is really a lyric about not being able to express what's going on, not being able to put it down, not knowing where we are. Having thrown ourselves into this thing we were trying to make some sense of it. 'Why are we in this?' It was a very difficult time."
"You and Larry and Bono were having doubts about whether it was okay for you as Christians to devote your lives to a rock band."
"It was reconciling two things that seemed for us at that moment to be mutually exclusive," Edge says. "We never did resolve the contradic-tions. That's the truth. And probably never will. There's even more contradictions now."
Even at the time of October U2 resisted going public with their Christianity. I remember writing an article about U2 at the very mo-ment when the future of the band was in doubt-a struggle everyone around them was trying hard to conceal from the outside world. I knew about U2's faith, but when I got McGuinness on the phone and asked him to go on the record about it he backpedaled like a man about to bicycle over a cliff.
I was still very nervous about the Christian label," Edge says. "I have no trouble with Christ, but I have trouble with a lot of Christians. That was the problem. We wanted to give ourselves the chance to be viewed without that thing hanging over us. I don't think we're worried about it now. Also, at that stage we were going through our most out-there phase, spiritually. It was incredibly intense. We were just so involved with it. It was a time in our lives where we really concentrated on it more than on almost anything. Except Adam, who just wasn't inter-ested."
Adam's distance from the rest of the band at that time was easy to
spot. The guy most interested in the fun of being a rock & roller found himself in the ridiculous position of having finally seen his band get a record deal, tour internationally, and start to build a great reputation- when the other three guys began to talk about rejecting all that. Adam was not happy. A friend of mine who had just been forced out of a big band was staying at my house when I brought October home. He looked at the cover photo, pointed to Adam, and said, "That guy's going to get sacked. Look at how the other three are forming a circle and he's outside it."
I tell this to Edge and he's surprised. "Well, he was wrong, but he was also right," Edge says of my friend's analysis. "We never considered firing Adam. That would have been completely ridiculous. But I think Adam did feel kind of isolated, marginalized during that period. It wasn't our intention to do that, but I suppose it is inevitable he felt a little like the odd guy."
Even after Bono and Larry decided it was okay to go on with U2, there were a couple of weeks in 1981 when word spread that Edge had quit. I remember complete radio silence descending over the U2 camp, at the end of which I got a call from Ellen Darst saying the fire was out, Edge was still in.
"I didn't actually leave the band," Edge says, "but there was a two-week period where I put everything on hold and I said, 'Look, I can't continue in my conscience in this band at the moment. So hold every-thing. I want to go away and think about this. I just need a couple of weeks to reassess where I'm headed here and whether I can really com-mit to this band or whether at this point I just have to back out.' Because we were getting a lot of people in our ear saying, 'This is impossible, you guys are Christians, you can't be in a band. It's a contradiction and you have to go one way or the other.' They said a lot of worse things than that as well. So I just wanted to find out. I was sick of people not really knowing and me not knowing whether this was right for me. So I took two weeks. Within a day or two I just knew that all this stuff was bullshit. We were the band. Okay, it's a contradiction for some, but it's a contradiction that I'm able to live with. I just decided that I was going to live with it. I wasn't going to try to explain it because I can't. So I went forward from that point on, and it was great in a way because it did get rid of all that shit. It was like, 'That's gone. Right,
This band is going forward, there is no doubt in anyone's mind.' So we carried on.
"I remember walking down the beach and breaking the news to Bono. 'Listen, mate, I really need to find out about this. I can't go on unless I really find out.' He kind of looked at me and I thought he was really going to freak out, but he actually just said, 'Okay, fine. If you're not up for it, that's it. We're going to break up the band. There's no point going on.' I think he felt exactly like I did, just wanted to know which way to go. Then, once the decision was made, that would be it, there would be no more doubt, no more second guessing. There would be no more taking other people's advice. This was our chosen path."
You were twenty then. You're thirty now. Do you feel that the old pieties no longer work as well for you?
"I suppose we've changed our attitudes a lot since then," Edge says. "The central faith and spirit of the band is the same. But I have less and less time for legalism now. I just see that you live a life of faith. It's nothing to do necessarily with what clothes you wear or whether you drink or smoke or who you're seeing or not seeing."
The stewardess comes around with our third breakfast. As we fly west and the clock keeps running backward it never gets any later. I ask Edge about U2's fourth album, the first with Eno and Lanois. "Most of your albums capture a moment," I tell him. "The Unforgettable Fire is the only one that stands completely outside of time."
"It's interesting that you say that," Edge says, buttering up a bun and me at the same time. "We've had discussions about that very point. There is a quality to great work which is timeless. You've got to balance being relevant and commenting on something that's happening today with trying to attain that timelessness. Unforgettable Fire is probably less fixed to any time, more a work that will mean the same in ten years as it meant when it was released.
"On Unforgettable Fire probably more than our other records the music has such a strong voice that Bono's vocals are almost like another musical element. We got criticized that it was a sort of cop-out, that we weren't writing songs anymore, that this was ill-disciplined work. I could see where the reviews were coming from, based on probably a weekend listening to it, but I knew there was far more to it than just that. It was not U2 going arty, there was actually something there that was really valuable and enduring. I still listen to that record."
We take a break from the trip down memory lane while Edge writes the speech he will make tonight inducting the Yardbirds into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He scribbles away, reading me bits as I grunt approval. We get into a long argument about the correct pronunciation of Chris Dreja's name. After that we try to watch the in-flight movie, Regarding Henry, with Harrison Ford as a mean, materialistic guy who turns sweet and understanding after getting shot in the head. If my own head was clearer I might construct a horrible metaphor here for some aspect of U2, so consider yourself lucky that Edge gives up on the movie and we start talking again. I ask him if the sheer size of the operation U2 is assembling for this tour is intimidating.
"Yeah, a bit," Edge says. "But what's actually more intimidating is the expectations. I don't really worry about mistakes. I've never had a problem with mistakes. There's a certain thing that happens to us onstage, a certain spark, a certain electricity. It's impossible to describe but it's sort of like that is the show, you know? That's what the band's always had. 'Chemistry' only describes one aspect of it. We haven't played for a while and we're assuming that spirit, that spark will still be there. I don't know whether it will. I remember shows when it wasn't there. It scared the shit out of me. It was like, 'Oh . . . this thing can go away!' That was an eye-opener. I suppose if I have any dark fears it's that that thing will have gone."
Did you think it was gone in Berlin at the start of the Achtung Baby sessions?
"There were some pretty difficult moments." Edge sighs. "It really tested everyone very severely. To get over that hump and get on with that record and finish it was not easy. We rode out that storm and I think it's a great record. I'm delighted with it. Actually I think U2 has got a lot of great records left. I think we're good for another ten years at least. I think we're getting better on almost every level, and the commit-ment is still there."
I ask what he thinks was missing at Hansa.
"To put it in a word, the magic just wasn't there. Whether it was the playing, the material, the arrangements, the direction of the material, the studio, the flute sound, who knows why? It just wasn't happening."
Perhaps to avoid blaming other members of the band, Edge tended to focus his early frustrations in Berlin on Dan Lanois. Larry warned me to be careful of buying that line, saying Danny was no more at sea than
any of them. Lanois was unknown when Eno brought him along for Unforgettable Fire, but he has since developed a distinctive style, earthy and ethereal, that he has brought to two terrific albums of his own songs, as well as productions for Peter Gabriel, Robbie Robertson, Bob Dylan, and the Neville Brothers. Edge suggests that Lanois has to be careful that that seductive sound does not become a cliche.
"In Achtung Baby Danny knew he was not going back to the swamp," Edge says. "He knew this was going to be something different. I don't think he fully appreciated how different it was going to be and how difficult it was going to be for him to adjust. There were a couple of weeks where it was, 'Does Danny get this?' But Brian came in and Danny and Brian work off each other very well, because Brian is so clear, so opinionated, and so dead-ahead. Danny is, by comparison, instinctive. He feeds off Brian's theoretical side, but he's got all this music coming out of every pore. So Danny was kind of tuning in on what Brian was feeling and thinking, based on what we were saying and playing. Danny really started to get it then, and that was good."
In America a man accused of murdering a young TV actress named Rebecca Schaeffer claimed that he was inspired by listening to the U2 song "Exit," which takes a trip through the head of a violent man losing control. Bono has said that it sounds like a clever lawyer trying to create a novel defense, but it's something U2 doesn't like drawing attention to. When I mention it to Edge he gets cranky.
"Well, what do you want me to say?" he asks. "I think it is very heavy. It gets back to self-censorship. Should any artist hold back from putting out something because he's afraid of what somebody else might do as a result of his work? I would hate to see censorship come in, whether from the government or, from my point of view, personal."
"Exit" was from The Joshua Tree, U2's exploration of America, and their most popular album. I ask Edge what the band was trying to capture.
"I think that record was a great stepping-stone for Bono as a lyricist. He was going for something. Points of reference were the New Journal-ism, The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer, Raymond Carver, the bleak American desert landscape as a metaphor. There's a definite cinematic location, a landscape of words and images and themes that made up The Joshua Tree. It's a subtle balance, a blend of the songs and lyrics."
The album's emotional high point was "Bullet the Blue Sky," a song
that had been started in Dublin before Bono and Ali went on a trip to Central America in 1986. Bono had the very novelistic notion that if he was going to write about the United States, he had to see the worst side of the American dream, the imperialism that was manifesting itself in undeclared war in El Salvador and Nicaragua. He came back to Ireland with lyrics about what he'd experienced and a challenge for Edge: to "Put El Salvador through your amplifier."
Edge played like a bombing raid on that track, liberated by the subject matter to indulge in some of the heavy guitar rock muscle he usually avoids. Some of the success of his soloing was accidental-he didn't know the tape was rolling and did not have his headphones on, he was just playing with weird guitar noises when he looked up and saw Bono and Lanois looking through the studio glass giving him high signs and going, "Yeah! Yeah!"
I ask Edge what goes through his head when he plays "Bullet" onstage.
"Whoa." He smiles. " 'Hope I don't fuck up!' It's obviously an incredibly dark song. We used to call that part of the set 'The Heart of Darkness.' From 'Bullet' to 'Exit' was all very, very intense. Sometimes Bono would come offstage in the break and would not have left charac-ter. The darkness would still be there with him. Sometimes it was hard for him to shake it off and get into playing the next songs. That darkness has a certain kind of adrenaline."
Speaking of that, the British reviewer Mat Snow wrote in Q magazine that "Until the End of the World," on the new album, which seems to be a dialogue between a macho guy and the women he's just kissed off, is actually Judas speaking to Jesus.
"Yeah," Edge says. "There's an Irish poet named Brendan Kennelly who's written a book of poems about Judas. One of the lines is, 'If you want to serve the age, betray it.' That really set my head reeling. He's fascinated with the whole moral concept of 'Where would we be with-out Judas?' I do think there is some truth that in highlighting what is rather than what we would ideally like to be, you're on the one hand betraying a sort of unwritten rule, but you're also serving."
Bono actually wrote an enthusiastic review of Kennelly's Book of Judas for the Irish Sunday Press, enthusing, "This is poetry as base as heavy metal, as high as the Holy Spirit flies, comic and tragic, from litany to rant, roaring at times, soaring at other times. Like David in the psalms,
like Robert Johnson in the blues, the poet scratches out Screwtape Letters to a God who may or may not have abandoned him and of course to anyone else who is listening." In the same paper Kennelly reviewed Achtung Baby with the enthusiasm of a practiced logroller but no evidence he'd played it more than once.
The plane is descending into JFK airport. I can see my bed from here! But it is not to welcome me anytime soon. Edge is whisked through a special VIP customs gate and we are shown to a waiting limousine. What makes Edge cool, though, is not that sort of Imelda Marcos treatment; what makes him cool is that he isn't carrying any other clothes. He will wear the mismatched jeans and desert coat he put on in the dark at home in Dublin onto a stage in New York, make a speech before the most powerful people in the music biz and many legends of rock, play guitar in an all-star jam session, and then probably socialize until morning and get on a plane back to Dublin, where the U2 rehearsals will continue.
On the way to the banquet, I bend Edge's captive ear with my theory about the difference between the sort of power trios Beck, Clapton, and Page formed after the Yardbirds, and U2. "The Jeff Beck Group, Cream, and Led Zeppelin grew out of the Hendrix model-a guitar hero blasting hot solos while the bassist and drummer played support," I say. "U2 seems to have more in common with the Who model, where all three pieces are equal and the guitar is the glue."
"I've always had a slight problem with the whole idea of guitar heroes and gunslinger guitar players," Edge says. "I was never really attracted to that. I think Townshend is different from the other players that you mentioned because he's primarily a songwriter. He understands the importance of guitar playing within the discipline of songwriting, as opposed to guitar playing that just justifies itself. I can appreciate, I suppose, guitar players who just get up there and improvise over bass and drums, but it's not something that interests me that much."
Edge nonetheless makes a generous speech inducting the Yardbirds into the Hall of Fame, and suggesting diplomatically that the shadow they cast was so long that players such as himself had to devote them-selves to finding something left to do outside of it.
At midnight Eastern time (5 a.m. back in Dublin) he is on a stage at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, playing "All Along the Watchtower" and other guitar blowouts with an all-star band that includes-lined up
together-Carlos Santana, Johnny Cash, John Fogerty, Jimmy Page, Neil Young, Robbie Robertson, and Keith Richards. (Beck is standing there but I'm not sure he ever actually plays.) Watching all these legend-ary guitar players interact I recognize, with some surprise, that Edge belongs among them. The sound he heard in his head has now been heard around the world, has been absorbed into rock & roll's vocabu-lary, and will continue to reverberate when he's as old and legendary as the company he's keeping tonight.
One roadie from the instrument rental company standing behind the stage can stand the proximity to greatness no longer. He slips up on the stage, plugs his guitar into a free jack in Edge's amp, and joins in- overloading the amp and blowing it out just as Neil Young points to Edge and calls for a solo. Edge is surprised when he leans in to wail and no sound comes out, but when he finds out what happened he thinks it's great-he figures there's more rock & roll spirit in that brave and sneaky roadie than in all the tuxedos in the house.
later in the winter all of U2 lands in New York and tramps around Times Square looking urban for the video camera of their old documenter, director Phil Joanou. After U2 Rattle and Hum elevated him to the big time, Joanou directed the Hitchcockian Final Analysis with Richard Gere and the Scorsesean State of Grace with Sean Penn and Gary Oldman. He has agreed to slip down from that high cinematic perch to rescue "One," the Achtung Baby track most likely to give U2 a number one single, from its first two videos. The first "One" video featured U2 in drag; not the sort of thing the band imagined MTV would care to dish up to middle America. The second "One" video was a slow-motion film of a buffalo running over a cliff-a nice metaphor for the AIDS epidemic, perhaps, but not sizzling promotion. Tonight's assignment is to make a "One" promo the TV audience can love. After traipsing around Manhattan for a while, the band, the director, and his crew decamp to Nell's, a Manhattan night-club that was chic in the eighties, when money flowed like champagne in New York and cocaine was laid out like loose floozies. Nell's has been cleared for the night so that Joanou can execute his vision of "One." For anyone not employed to be here this would be a dull enterprise if not for (a) the lavish banquet, (b) the generous bar, and, most of all, (c) the extras: gorgeous young female models and garish transvestites from the New York demimonde.
Upstairs, lights and cameras are mounted and Bono, with a few great-looking extras around him, is sitting at a table mouthing the song's lyrics over and over while a tape plays. Downstairs the basement party
rooms are full of gorgeous women and cross-dressed men. Edge is being painted by a makeup woman while tray after tray of catered food is layed out. There are big plates of M&M's and Hershey's Kisses and chocolate chip cookies and Bazooka bubblegum. The bars are open and free drinks are pumped out by barmaids as striking as the models.
Upstairs Bono has to lip-synch "One" for seven hours. Downstairs the rest of the band and their staff and friends and the models and the transvestites party and wait to be called to the set and party some more.
What can one say about a soiree where all the woman are profes-sional beauties and all the men are gay? A happy Adam Clayton ex-plains, "If you can't pull tonight, you're hopeless." Every time the cameraman changes film Bono bounds down the stairs, trying to get into the fun. Then, just as he raises a glass to his lips, his name is shouted and he has to go back and mime under the hot lights some more.
At 10 p.m. Bono leaps into record producer Hal Winner's lap and begins telling tall stories when a series of voices, like echoes through the Grand Canyon, comes down the stairs: "Bono! Bono! Bono!" He sighs and goes back to work. A huge Divine-like drag queen leers at U2's drummer's backside and tells her friend, "I've got to get Larry Mullen's room number!"
At midnight I wander onto the set and Bono engages me in an intense discussion of what he hopes to accomplish with the Zoo TV tour. He talks about embracing irony, the stupid glamor of rock & roll, the mirror balls and limousines-without abandoning the truth at the heart of the music itself. He compares it to Elvis Presley in a jumpsuit singing "I Can't Help Falling in Love with You" to a weeping woman in Las Vegas. It might have been hopelessly kitsch, but if the woman believed in the song and Elvis believed in the song, it was not phony. Maybe rock & roll was at its truest in the space between those apparent contradictions.
"Basically," Bono says, "it's waking up to the fact that there's a lot of bullshit in rock & roll, but some of the bullshit is pretty cool. That's important to me, because we thought success was this big bad wolf. It seemed to compromise us, to make us look like charlatans. Getting all this money for things we'd do for free. I thought they'd shut us up finally, because how do you write about some of the stuff that I'm interested in writing about and be in big business? Suddenly I felt gagged. If I wrote a song about the Gulf War, then that would be
making money out of the war! I couldn't write a song about faith and doubt anymore because that would turn me into the preacher in this glass cathedral of rock & roll. So I decided the only way was, instead of running away from the contradictions, I should run into them and wrap my arms around them and give 'em a big kiss. Actually write about hypocrisy, because I've never seen a righteous man that looked like one. So I wrote about that, and actually turn myself into, literally, 'a preacher stealing hearts in a traveling show.' Rather than write about the charac-ter, become the character. Rather than write about some sleazy psycho, become one. I didn't realize these sleazy psychos had so much fun!
"I always felt like 'The Fly' was this phone call from hell. You know, with the distorted voice and shit. It's a call from hell-but the guy likes it there! 'Honey, I know it's hot here . . . but I like it!' " We have a good laugh at that one and Bono adds, "Another subject that I'm interested in is rock & roll itself-the medium and the machine. I hope that comes through. One of the greatest contradictions of rock & roll is that it's very personal, private music made on a huge public address system."
At 1:30 in the morning Edge is seated in a chair in the middle of the downstairs room talking intently to a model. One of the drag queens has taken off her huge, heavy, helmetlike wig with ostrich feather and left it on the chair behind Edge. Hal Willner, who has been drinking beer all night and is now slightly out of focus, picks up the wig, weighs it in his hands, and studies the back of Edge's head. Hal creeps up behind the oblivious Edge like Hiawatha and starts maneuvering to drop the great hairpiece onto the guitarist's dome. Suddenly a harpielike voice cuts across the party: "Put down my wig!" Hal looks up to see a fierce, bald drag queen looming toward him. He drops the wig and bolts.
By 3 a.m. it is dawning on Larry, Adam, Edge, the transvestites, and the models that they may never be called to the set. "One" is quickly becoming an all-Bono video. The mood downstairs starts getting a little edgy. Nell seems to have let some of her regulars slip in. Author Jay Mclnerny appears, finds a drink, and tries to engage a young woman by saying, "When I wrote my first novel, Bright Lights, Big City . . "
Paul McGuinness notices a Manhattan society type surreptitiously snapping photos. He corners her and she claims in vague Vogue-speak. that she only has her camera with her because she's coming from a party
at Anna Wintour's place. . . . McGuinness ain't buying it. He doesn't believe she is really the spaced-out socialite she seems to be-he figures her for an undercover newspaper photographer and tears into her. I reckon the manager is being paranoid, but the next night I see the woman again, shooting pictures of a Sting rain forest benefit for a New York tabloid. Yep, she says-her space-shot society manner replaced by a no-bullshit attitude-McGuinness had her pegged. That's why he's a big-time manager. Everybody at Nell's was pretending to be something they weren't.
It occurs to me that not only did Adam, Larry, and Edge never get into the "One" video, but neither did all the transvestites. I ask Bono why the drag queens had been assembled, filmed standing around eating and drinking, but never used in the final cut. And what was the deal with the first video, with U2 in drag? Was there a subtext to that lyric that I missed?
"Originally," Bono says, "the idea of the video was that these were men whose understanding of women was so low that they dressed up as women to try and figure them out. That was the kind of absurd, Sam Beckett point of view we had. It wasn't related to transvestism. And then we thought, 'Oh, God, this is an AIDS benefit single! After the years it's taken the gay community to finally convince people that AIDS is not a gay issue, here's U2 dressing up as women!' "
Bono explains that filming U2 in drag, "had been based on the idea that if U2 can't do this, we've got to do it! We were in Santa Cruz, on this island off Africa, at carnival time. I've been going to carnivals for a few years. It's an interesting concept because it means carning--flesh, meat-eating before Lent, and the run up to Easter. I'm interested because it's not a denial of the flesh, it's a celebration. We were there, Anton Corbijn was there, everything was getting a bit silly, and we couldn't get out into the carnival looking like us. So rather than just dress up in fancy masks, Anton suggested that we dress up as women. So we went for it, and . . ." Bono starts laughing, "nobody wanted to take their clothes off for about a week! And I have to say, some people have been doing it ever since!"
Whoa, I say, what was the initial reaction of the ultramasculine and nonsense-hating Larry Mullen, Junior, to this idea?
"Two short, clipped words," Bono answers. "The funny thing about Larry was that, okay, he got into the dress and he put on the makeup,
but he was fitting with it. He wouldn't take off his Doc Martens and when he was sitting he'd put his feet up on the table. But as macho as he tried to be, he still looked like some extra from a skin flick. That was the irony. Whereas Adam was just getting people to do him up in the back and swapping makeup tips with any girl that passed. You know, suddenly he could own up to being interested in their underwear!
"The whole business of being in a rock & roll band is just so ridiculous," Bono says. "I was thinking, it's like having a sex change! Being a rock & roll star is like having a sex change! People treat you like a girl! You know? They stare at you, they follow you down the street, they hustle you. And then they try to fuck you over! It's a hard thing to talk about because it's so absurd, but actually it's valuable. When I'm with women I know what it feels like. I know what it feels like to be a babe."
The third "One" video does the trick. Bono looks as cool as Camus sitting in a black-and-white cabaret amid beautiful people while croon-ing soulfully. The clip goes into heavy play on MTV, the song goes into heavy play on American radio, and the single raises lots of dough for AIDS charities. A common interpretation of "One" is that it is sung in the voice of a son who is HIV-positive confronting and reconciling with his conservative father. That is one of the many ways the song can be heard. "One" seems to have an infinite capacity to open up, and U2 shows no inclination to tie it down.
on march first the Zoo TV tour begins in Lakeland, Florida, about an hour from Tampa. The Trabants are hung from the ceiling with care, the colossal TV screens are blinking above the stage, and Bono is being shoved into his leather suit. Out in the audience Irish imp B. P. Fallon, a 1960s peace-and-love vet who has been both a rock critic and Led Zeppelin's publicist, is sitting in one of the Trabants dressed in a cape and a wide-brimmed black hat, playing deejay for the anxious audience and blasting out the soul-inspiring sounds of John Lennon, Bob Marley, and other great dead people.
As Bono, flylike in his bug-eyed sunglasses, waits backstage to step onto the makeshift elevator that will raise him up into the spotlight, he has a revelation: he doesn't actually know what he's going to do when he gets out there.
"You know," he says, "for this tour we worked for months before leaving Dublin. We designed the Fly, we got the goggles, assembled our postmodern rock star." He points to each of his limbs as if giving a tour of the temple: "We have our leg of Jim Morrison, our Elvis top, Lou Reed, Gene Vincent-we glue it all together and create it. Make the tapes, make the loops, figure out how to play polyrhythms, spend months at it. We arrive here, people are unpacking cases. I get into the suit. Now what?"
Performers like Prince and Michael Jackson spend months working with mirrors, rehearsing what they're going to do onstage, meeting with choreographers. U2 doesn't think about that. They just figure Bono will do something interesting when he gets out there.
Good thing he does! The lights dim and President Bush appears on screen to tell the audience "We will, we will rock you!" while Adam, Edge, and Larry slip onto the stage in the darkness. The intro to "Zoo Station" blasts out of the dark as the Vidiwalls fill up with blue snow and static. As the song shakes the room Bono slowly ascends to the upper level of the stage, his silouette in profile against the blue, buzzing screen behind Edge, and twice as big as life in the video reflection of him being projected on the blue, buzzing screen behind Adam. The crowd cheers and stamps and claps and Bono figures he better do something, so he reels back each time the massive beat comes down, stumbling like a drunk, first in place and then along the catwalk across the span of the stage, singing as he goes, "I'm ready, ready for the laughing gas! I'm ready for what's next!" Bono knows what he's doing is working, but he also wonders, "What would happen if I actually thought about this?"
On "The Fly" Bono really plays Elvis '68, rockin' in his leather to a song that, for all its sonic modernity, strikes me as very much like an Elvis Presley song. Partly it's the epigrammatic phrases-can't you hear Elvis preaching, "A man will rise, a man will fall, from the sheer face of love like a fly on a wall"? But it's also that the song's core structure is an old time rock & roll verse going into a gospel chorus. Anyway, none of this may be apparent to the crowd, who are dazzled by the aphorisms and cuss words flipping a mile a minute across all the TV screens: Call your mother, I'd like to teach the world to sing, 'Everyone's a racist except you. As the song climaxes the slogans flash by faster and faster.
For the first forty minutes of the set U2 play only material from Achtung Baby, a risky move that turns out to be right. Rather than treat the unfamiliar new songs as excuses to go get popcorn between the hits, the audience is forced to put all their energy into the new material, and -abetted by the visual fireworks-they go for it.
After ripping through seven of the new songs-and at the very point when the audience might be adjusting to the sensory overload-Bono finds his way out onto the ramp between the main stage and the B stage and sings "Tryin* to Throw Your Arms Around the World" while strolling out through the crowd. It's a little touch of Engelbert intimacy after a sustained blast of Tom Jones aloofness, and the fans' pulses really speed up when Bono plucks an excited young woman from the audience, dances with her, and then shakes up and pops open an exploding bottle
of champagne. He shares it with her and then hands her a handicam, a small portable palm-corder, and directs her to shoot him with it. When she presses down the button the Zoo screens fill with her close-up view of Bono singing to her. Edge then wanders down the ramp, leans into Bono's handmike, and the two of them sing together while the guest camerawoman keeps shooting. The voyeur and the subject have traded places.
When that song ends Edge and Bono wander onto the B stage as if they just noticed it there, and to the delight of the crowd signal to Adam and Larry to come out and join them. After the audiovisual barrage that some old-timers might have feared meant the end of the old U2, here are the boys up close and personal, with no special effects, strumming acoustic guitars, banging on congas, and singing old hits like "Angel of Harlem." At the end of the acoustic set Bono and Edge remain on the B stage to play a delicate version of Lou Reed's "Satellite of Love" while a Trabant covered with tiny mirrors swings slowly around over their heads, reflecting prisms around the arena, making it look like the whole place has drifted up into space.
When U2 returns to the main stage they light into their greatest hits and crowd pleasers-"Bullet the Blue Sky," "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," "Pride (In the Name of Love)," and "Where the Streets Have No Name" as even the cops tap their nightsticks and the hotdog men shake their buns.
Bono returns for the encore dressed in a suit made of mirrors, shades, and a big cowboy hat. He comes out holding a full-length mirror in which he admires himself and then kisses his reflection. He sings "De-sire" as this Mirrorball Man, a proto-American hustler with a southern evangelist's accent and a TV car-salesman's demeanor. This is the character based on the lines in "Desire" about a "preacher stealing hearts in a traveling show for love or money, money, money." After finishing the song (and throwing fake dollars to the audience) the Mirrorball Man picks up a telephone and dials the White House. The audience listens in with delight as a befuddled operator tells him Presi-dent Bush cannot come to the phone at this time.
This finale reminds me of a bizarre and pretty-much forgotten inci-dent from the late sixties, when the talented, tortured protest singer Phil Ochs risked his career and lost. Ochs-held by the leftist folkies as their leader after Dylan "sold out" by going electric-announced he was
going to play an important show at Carnegie Hall. He came onstage in a gold lame suit like Elvis wore on the cover of his greatest hits album, and proceeded to try to Elvis-ize the protest crowd. The long-suffering folkies were mortified. They went back to Greenwich Village and de-clared that Ochs was insane. They were wrong. Ochs had decided that it did no good to be perceived as a sourpuss and preach to the converted. If you really wanted to reach a mass audience, if you really wanted to be subversive, the best way to do it would be to try to communicate as completely and as generously as Elvis Presley did. Give people the showbiz razzmatazz, but give them something solid to chew on too.
I don't know if U2 have ever even heard of Phil Ochs, but when Bono strolled onstage with the gold and silver lights reflecting off his suit and sang some of the deepest, most personal songs U2 have ever written with his hips twitching and the crowd dancing, I thought, "Geez, maybe Phil was onto something after all.'" The real proof was when, in the middle of "Pride," the Vidiwalls lit up with a film of Martin Luther King giving his "I have been to the mountaintop" speech the night before his assassination. Dr. King was used as an audiovisual sample while U2 riffed under him, and when he finished with "I've seen the promised land.'" the kids went as ape as if he had just sung "Stairway to Heaven."
One night I'm sitting in a bar with Bono when a guy comes up, sticks out his hand, and says, "Bono, I work with Michael Ochs, the brother of Phil Ochs?" He says the folksinger's name with a question mark, unsure if Bono will recognize it. "Don't tell me," I butt in. "He wants Phil's suit back!" Bono does a double take and says, "Good catch, Bill." It turns out he knows all about Phil Ochs' gunfight at Carnegie Hall.
Over the next couple of weeks the Zoo TV tour charges up the eastern seaboard across Florida, Georgia, Carolina, and Virginia, then north to Long Island, Philadelphia, and New England. It's a triumphant show. During rehearsals in Florida one of the crew met a woman fan in the parking lot who identified herself as a belly dancer. As a joke, the crew had her dance onstage and startle Bono during a rehearsal of 'Mysterious Ways." After the first show Bono decided he liked the effect, so now the dancer, named Christina Petro, has been added to the entourage. Each night during "Mysterious Ways" she swirls around just out of reach while Bono strains to touch her.
Bono's brain is blown one night by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the sister of JFK and mother of Bobby Shriver, a young Democratic power broker and ally of U2's friends Jimmy lovine and Ted Fields. Eunice tells Bono that there have always been angels on U2's stage, but now they are letting in the devils too. She says she likes that; it makes for a fairer fight.
U2 plays a great set at Madison Square Garden on the last day of winter. Backstage big names from the worlds of sports (John McEnroe) music (Peter Gabriel) and movies (Gary Oldman) elbow each other to get close to the band. Bono is crowded in a corner with Bruce Springsteen, who compliments him on managing the hard feat of pulling off an arena show filled with surprise. Bono explains that throughout the concert tonight he was distracted by the thought of one obnoxious Wall Street trader who had accosted him in the hotel bar. The yuppie bragged that he and his pals had bought a string of tickets from scalpers, just the sort of thing U2 has been bending over backward to stop. "All through the show tonight," Bono says, "I kept finding this one jerk coming into my head." He mimed slapping himself. "I kept thinking of him sitting out there smirking."
Springsteen looks at Bono and says, "That's pathetic!" Bono looks hurt and Bruce laughs and says, "It's because we're such egomaniacs! We've got to win over every last person in the place!"
Bono starts laughing too.
Springsteen has been a significant figure for U2. He came backstage to see them when they were still playing in clubs, and always expressed confidence they'd reach a big audience. To U2, Springsteen was proof that it was possible for a working-class musician from nowhere to get to the top without compromising his principles or fitting into a rock-star lifestyle. This was good news to four kids from Dublin who were not nearly as fashionable as the sensations pouring out of London at the time.
Later, when U2 began to enjoy success comparable with Springsteen's, Bono had the balls to challenge Bruce to write less about fictional characters and more about himself. This was just after Born in the USA had made Springsteen the biggest rock star in the Milky Way, so most people would have thought Bruce had his methods successfully worked out. But for Bono-who came out of the John Lennon, "Here's
another little song about me" tradition-Springsteen was ducking some-thing.
Bruce told Bono that he didn't think his life was all that interesting. "I get on a bus, I get off a bus," he said. But his next album, Tunnel of Love, was clearly autobiographical. It was also superb. Bono doesn't have a head big enough to think that he swayed The Boss, but he was proud that his impulse was accurate.
Springsteen says that the reason he was sure from the start that U2 would be big had to do with the different ways rock & roll works in clubs, theaters, arenas, and stadiums. "My own music was sort of suited to a big place 'cause it was big," he says. "I think that's one reason U2 were so successful. Their music was big and echoey. The minute you heard them you could hear them in a big space. They had big emotions, big ideas. Those things tend to translate well into playing to bigger crowds, which can be a fantastic experience. I've had amazing nights in stadiums, but it does alter what you do. In a club it's much easier to focus. The audience is closer and watching whatever you do. You can tune a guitar or tell a story. A theater retains a concert feeling. In an arena you can still retain a good part of that concert feeling, but the size of the thing broadens what you do. It's the arena and it calls for a big gesture of some sort. You have to be able to switch gears and adjust to the context you're in. Some people are only great in a club. Some, like the Who and U2, are great in a stadium."
I tell Adam what Springsteen said and he agrees and goes further:
"U2 were never any good in clubs, in small places," he says in defiance of all those -Boy fans who tell their little brothers: You should have seen them then. "I think the thing that people-A & R men, journalists-who saw us in those places responded to was not what we were, but what we could become."
As Zoo TV tears across America on what is essentially a spring warm-up tour before taking to the football stadiums in the summer, Axl Rose, the mercurial singer of Guns N' Roses, shows up a couple of times. In L.A. he is one of a gaggle of stars backstage and it's impossible lor Bono to get any sense of him. But when he comes to a concert in Texas they get a chance to talk. The women of Principle have no trouble reaching their assessment; they think Axi's a doll.
Surprisingly little cant," is Bono's reaction. "It was easy enough to get a direct line. I can see why people like his music so much. There isn't
much editing done in his conversation or, obviously, in his work. It's a direct line with his gut. That's what I like about it."
"They're my favorite band right now," Axl says of U2. "I'm finally getting certain songs that I never understood before or couldn't relate to. I've always listened to them, but the only song I really got into was 'With or Without You.' I couldn't relate to their other songs because I was like, 'That's great, but I just don't see that part of the world.' Things were a little too dark for me. Now I can see more of the things he's talking about.
"I bought Achtung Baby and I actually want to do a cover of the third song, 'One.' I want to play it on tour this summer. I think 'One' is one of the greatest songs that has ever been written. I put the song on and just broke down crying. It was such a release. It was really good for me. I was really upset that my ex-wife and I never had a chance because of the damage in our lives. We didn't have a chance and I hadn't fully accepted that. That song helped me see it. I wanted to write Bono a letter just saying, 'Your record's done a lot for me.' "
When I mention this to the different members of U2 I get a series of different reactions. Adam smiles and says not to make too big a deal out of what might be only a passing interest on Axi's part. Edge says he already knew-a limo driver told him that Axl sat in the back of his car and played "One" over and over again.
When I go tell Bono, though, he jumps right into the association. He says that every decade needs a band that will stand up and reflect the spirit of its time without any shields. U2 did that in the 1980s and they are not going to do it anymore-it's too painful. Maybe that's Guns N' Roses' role now. To be out there with all their nerve endings open, reflecting the currents passing through the collective consciousness without any irony or distance.
Bono says U2 is working in a more subtle way now. I ask him, "How can you reflect the age and challenge it?"
"Just faint it," Bono says. "To describe it is to challenge it. Isn't that really what artists are supposed to do? It's not their job to solve the problem. It's their job to describe the problem. And part of the descrip-tion is to realize that this is very attractive. And to admit one's own attraction to it. It was Bertolucci who gave me that clue.
"He was talking about women's fashion magazines and he said that he had never imagined a time as ephemeral as the eighties. And yet he
found himself thumbing through women's fashion magazines and en-joying the energy of them. And that these images had lost all meaning a lot of the time; it was pure surface-but there was really something in that. That was a landmark for me. Because to deny the energy is bullshit. And that's the classic rock & roll position: to belittle it. To do that is to not realize how big it is. So the job is to describe what's going on, describe the attraction, and be generous enough to not wave your finger at it as it's going by.
"Rock & roll is folk music now. Rock & roll has never been so uninspired, so codified. If rock & roll has to be only one thing, then you might as well say it can only be Little Richard. Which is not to say we might not make a folk album, but that can't be all we can do. Rock & roll is a spirit and that spirit is in Zoo TV."
I JUST kicked Bono in the head. He didn't notice. He's asleep at my feet and I accidently banged him with my shoe when Larry Mullen climbed across my lap to try to catch some winks on the seat at my right while the Edge, on my left, leans against the bus window, either dreaming or gazing out into the northern English night. I can't tell for sure.
It's 3 in the morning and we've been traveling for three hours. Edge, Larry, and I are on the backseat of a hired bus. Bono, dozing in the aisle, has his arm draped across his wife, All, who is asleep on the seat in front of ours. Further up the bus I can see Adam Clayton creeping past the unconscious Greenpeace people with another bottle of champagne. Paul McGuinness is awake up there, as is their lawyer, who warns Adam what to say and what not to say to the police if we're arrested. Adam, who has been busted before, says don't worry, he's now working on how not to get arrested. Then he sips his champagne with the daredevil suave of James Bond on a secret mission.
This cramped scene might be kind of cozy if we were not eluding police roadblocks on our way to hook up with a ship to sail down the Irish Sea to row ashore carrying barrels of radioactive waste to dump at the leukemia-producing door of one of what Greenpeace believes is the most dangerous plutonium plants in the world. When I climbed aboard this bus in Manchester at midnight I was asked to accept legal liability if I am arrested, drowned, or riddled with cancer as a result of joining U2 as they circumvent the British court injunction that has been issued to
stop them getting near this little atomic cesspool on the English coast. Next time, I told McGuinness, let's do a phoner.
Four hours ago U2 were onstage in Manchester, playing another superb set in the series of superb sets that have marked this month-long European leg of the Zoo TV tour, a teaser amid the American shows for a longer European tour next year. Edge unleashed breathtaking Hendrix-like solos on "Bullet the Blue Sky" and "Love Is Blindness" that were beyond what I had imagined to be his ability. Lou Reed, who joined the band for "Satellite of Love," enthused backstage that Edge was now alone out in front of his guitar-playing peers. (He may never climb to the top limb of the tree of technique, but for creativity on his instrument, Edge is in the vanguard.) Also backstage was Peter Gabriel, who has been at recent U2 shows in New York and London, too, and who said that while acts such as Prince might leave him impressed, U2 truly touched his heart.
The TV screens that flash messages at the audience during U2's shows had new slogans last night: Fallout, Plutonium, Mutant, Radiation Sickness, Chernobyl. The concert had been planned as a rally to protest the expansion of the Sellafield nuclear plant, which dumps radioactive waste into the Irish Sea from adding to its grisly enterprise a second process-ing facility for the atomic by-products other countries don't want. Bad enough, Greenpeace and U2 say, that this plutonium mill sends radia-tion to the shores of Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales. Bad enough, Greenpeace say, that the leukemia rate around Sellafield is three times the national average. But now they wanted to add to it a collection point for deadly waste from all over the Earth? That was the last straw. So U2, along with Public Enemy, B.A.D. II, and Kraftwerk, agreed to play a concert for Greenpeace the night before a licensed protest rally was to be held outside Sellafield. When the nuclear facility found out that a whole lot of people might show up, they went to court and got an injunction against the protest, claiming it was a concert that could attract thousands of rock fans who might do damage to the properties of local residents. This specious argument convinced the British court. But then, Sellafield is owned by the British government.
Onstage in Manchester Bono told the crowd, "They've cancelled a peaceful demonstration on the grounds of public safety! These people are responsible for the deaths of innocent children, for God's sake. Public safety doesn't come anywhere near them!" Later he added, "Don't let
them gag you! We only live 130 miles from Sellafield. So do you in Manchester. It's a lot farther to Number Ten Downing Street!"
When the concert ended, U2 climbed aboard this hired holiday bus and lit out into the night. The Sellafield injunction prohibited U2 from setting foot on any of the land anywhere near the nuclear facility. So U2 and Greenpeace hatched the plan of U2 coming in by water and pro-ceeding only as far onto the beach as the high tide line, reasoning that the injunction did not apply to the ocean. On the bus, Bono announced his intention to cross the literal line in the sand and step onto Sellafield soil, but the Greenpeace organizer insisted that any such deliberate provocation would be contempt of the injunction and could lead to the court seizing all of Greenpeace's assets. U2 should abide by the letter of the law. She went on to say that the sand we would be stepping on was irradiated sand, the water we would be wading in was irradiated water. Everybody swallowed hard but nobody chickened out,
"We heard tonight they're setting up roadblocks in a radius twenty miles around Sellafield," Edge said. "If we get stopped there may be some sort of showdown with the cops. I don't know. Right now we're guests on a Greenpeace action. We don't know what's going to happen.
"There's a fair amount of scientific evidence to suggest that pollution from Sellafield has had an effect on the health of people living on the east coast of Ireland. Impossible to prove, but connections can be made. We're members of Greenpeace, so when we heard about Sellafield 2 we got even more pissed off. The British Nuclear Fuels people have been effective at stopping the groundswell of concern and anxiety about it through huge TV campaigns presenting Sellafield as a safe, well-con-trolled, well-monitored, efficient, and benign installation. They will spend a few million pounds per annum on TV adverts extolling the virtues of Sellafield. They even opened a visitors' center! They've got some very slick PR people."
"The biggest advertising and publicity agency in England," Larry added. "They are also the publicity people for the government. Sellafield is owned by the government and therefore has all the protection that the government can afford it-i.e., MI6 and M15 (British intelligence). People from Greenpeace and any other organization that opposes what's hap-pening at places like Sellafield and elsewhere are on these lists. Then they have difficulty getting jobs because the lists go into computers and
companies ring up and check out the names. It's all very underhanded and seedy. The whole thing is sick."
"There's no doubt that the Greenpeace office phones are tapped," Edge said. "You're not dealing with a private body here, you're dealing with the government. All the money British Nuclear Fuels spend is taxpayers' money, all the TV campaigns are paid for by the taxpayers, and as Larry said, they have access to all the information of covert agencies. You're not dealing with big business, you're dealing with the British government."
Larry went on: "After we did the Amnesty International tour and Live Aid and a lot of benefit concerts, Bono and I sat down and talked about how we were going to approach the future. We came to the conclusion that maybe the best thing to do was leave Amnesty-con-tinue to support them, obviously, but doing more concerts may be a mistake for now-and let's do something for Greenpeace. We've do-nated to them for a long time, we've done gigs with them, but we've never actually been involved in an action. When this came up it was an opportunity.
"It would be nice if we didn't have to do this kind of shit, 'cause it's nothing to do with rock & roll. Absolutely nothing to do with it. This is crazy, Live Aid was crazy. That we're traveling in a bus trying to get to Sellafield is an indictment of how our government and the British government is responding to environmental problems. The fact that Sting has to go out to the Amazon! There's a guy who goes out there and puts his ass on the line. Peter Gabriel is another. And people go, 'Aw fuck, another benefit.' I have great admiration for Peter Gabriel and Sting, for the amount of work they do, because they've been slagged from one end of the British press to the other."
Now, with Larry and Edge asleep, I step over Bono and find a seat next to Adam. Owing either to the champagne or the risky expedition, the bass player is in a reflective mood. "People get into rock & roll for all the right reasons and then end up getting out for all the wrong reasons," Adam says quietly. "They get into it out of nai'vete, and then when the nai'vete runs out they think, 'This isn't what I expected,' and they want to quit. I was just thinking how lucky I am to be in a band, to be one of four and not alone. No matter what happens, at least I always know that I have three friends." I ask Adam if I should turn on my tape recorder and he says no, no, let's just talk. So we do, and the member of
U2 who most often comes across as the party guy, the funny one, the rowdy of the group, reveals himself to be a thoughtful character very aware of being caught up in a great lifetime adventure.
Dawn comes early in the hinterlands on the summer solstice, the longest day. By 4:30 the sky is light and we have crossed the Cumbrian lake country, shaken off the cars that followed us, avoided the police roadblocks, and reached the Irish Sea. Bono rouses B. P. Fallen, U2's court philosopher and deejay, crying, "B. P.! Let's have some appropri-ate music on the blaster!"
"Something like 'Get Up, Stand Up'?" asks B. P.
"No," Bono answers. "I was thinking more, 'Theme from Hawaii Five-0.' "
We crawl out of the bus, blinking like newborn moles, and survey the cold, cold ocean, the steep stone steps, and the orange rubber life rafts that wait to ferry us to the Greenpeace ship. We are told to trade in our shoes for high rubber boots and to zip ourselves into orange survival suits before casting off. Five minutes later we're tearing across the waves and that little ship on the horizon is getting bigger and bigger. Bono is looking professionally heroic in the ocean spray, as a second Greenpeace raft-this one bearing a film crew and photographers-chops alongside us, immortalizing his nobility. It's as if Washington had crossed the Delaware with Emanuel Leutze paddling next to him in a canoe, furi-ously painting.
We pull up alongside the Greenpeace ship Solo and the brave hippie crew gaze down from the decks and wave. The size of the Greenpeace vessel is impressive when you're bobbing next to it in a dinghy, as is the knowledge that these people spend their lives throwing themselves into peril in defense of the ecosystem. One Greenpeace ship was blown up by the French government. U2 might be, as Bono says, rock stars on a day trip, but they're day-tripping with heroes.
"Throw out your treasure and your women and you'll be fine!" Bono shouts up from our raft. Then we tie on and start scurrying up the metal stairs along the hull of the ship. The captain explains that it will take us two or three hours to sail south to Sellafield, so we might as well wiggle out of our flotation suits and have some breakfast. (I make the mistake of asking for a Coke; from the reaction of the Greenpeace health food herbivores you'd think I requested a club to beat baby seals.) The Solo is sort of a combination of the Staten Island ferry and a college
dorm-a big functional vessel with cute notes and nicknames stuck on the doors of the individual sleeping cabins. A woman from a London newspaper who caught wind that something was going to happen on this trip and horned her way aboard begins interviewing any U2 member she can corner. The Greenpeace film crew shoots Adam looking at nautical charts on the bridge. A Thor-like mate who's perhaps been at sea too long quietly tries to convince Bono to hire him as a roadie.
One woman present suggests to Bono that there's an empty cabin available if he'd like to go lie down for a while. Thanks, Bono says, that would be great. She leads Bono in and stands there staring at him as he lies down on the cot. Bono is exhausted; he tries to ignore her. Then she says, "Aren't you going to take off your pants?"
Er, Bono says, no, that's okay. I'm fine. Thank you. Then she climbs onto the cot next to him. Gently but firmly Bono explains that the young woman upstairs with the brown hair is his wife. Ahhh. And maybe she'd like to take a nap with me, hmmm? That's right, okay, thank you. The woman goes off to fetch Alt and Bono lies back, relieved. A couple of minutes later the door opens again, Ali comes in and lies down next to her husband. It is the first time the two of them have been alone together in ages, what with Bono on the road, and the weary couple try to make the best of this odd circumstance. As they begin to cuddle, though, Ali lets out a yelp. Their hostess is back and has climbed into bed with them. Well, Bono says, jumping up, let's see what's going on on deck.
Adam is wandering the bowels of the ship, looking for a place to sit quietly. An emotional subtext of this operation is that Sellafield is a British facility polluting the Irish Sea, and U2 is an Irish band. Radia-tion recognizes no borders, but the history of British oppression and Irish resentment gives this particular action an extra edge. Adam was born in England to British parents. Does he see this as an issue of nationalism?
There is a nationalism issue, but more it's an arrow-rice issue," Adam answers. "The idea that if you put something this dangerous into a part of the world that is fairly primitive like the Lake District, you can get away with it because the people are relatively unsophisticated by White-hall terms. The arrogance is much more offensive than the nationalism."
During the last six months U2 has succeeded in erecting that screen between their public image and their personal lives and convictions.
They have agreed that this will be their only public do-gooding this year. They intend to camp it up as much as possible, too, avoiding the sort of piety for which they were so berated in the eighties. Sellafield is a test of how versatile U2's new image can be.
Musically, the band has switched gears before-from the mystical moodiness of Boy and October to the straight rock of War, and from that rock to the Eno watercolors of The Unforgettable Fire. Adam sometimes embraced such turns reluctantly. Not this time.
"This is definitely a turn that couldn't have come sooner, as far as I'm concerned," the bassist declares. "I think this is something everyone in the band wanted early on but didn't know how to get to. We always wanted to be able to be just a rock & roll band, but in a way we developed the other possibilities of the band precociously, before being a rock & roll band. It happened that way because of the way music was in the eighties; there was a lot of surface and not much substance and we didn't feel comfortable with that surface without learning something about the substance. So we started to mine into gospel, blues, early rock & roll. We wanted to go back and find out what it was all about before we felt confident presenting a version that represented the spirit of what we had."
Adam is interrupted by a summons to head below deck for a briefing. I'm left thinking of a line from Achtung Baby, a line Bono told me applied to Adam long before the other three U2's got loose enough to join him:
"Give me one more chance to slide down the surface of things."
By 7 a.m. the gruesome towers of Sellafield are looming on the horizon like Mordor. The Solo drops anchor about a mile out. The Greenpeace organizer announces it's time for all those who are going ashore to get into their rubber boots, face masks, and hooded radiation suits. We all look like big stuffed animals, except for the rougishly handsome Larry Mullen, who puts his radiation suit over his black motorcycle jacket and then pulls his leather lapels out through the zipper. With his sunglasses and army camouflage cap, Larry is the epitome of combat rock. "I invented cool," he drawls, "and you're on a boat with me."
Bono and Edge, on the other hand, look like burritos with sunglasses. They stare at each other, trying not to laugh. Bono reaches out and takes his partner's hand. "Edge," he says romantically, and they embrace as the gawking Greenpeacers giggle. "Talk about safe sex!" Bono shouts
from his space suit. "You can't get much safer than this!" Adventure, radiation, and sleep deprivation have conspired to cast a goofy mood over U2. The hooded suits don't help.
The Greenpeace team are loading barrels of radioactive sand from Irish beaches into the rubber rafts. The idea is that U2 will hit the beach and deposit these barrels at Sellafield's door, a graphic example of what Sellafield is pumping out to Ireland. On the shore Greenpeace activists from England, Wales, and Scotland are lugging barrels from their own countries' beaches to the factory. Paul McGuinness watches them through binoculars. Then the manager turns his attention to a special project for his boys. Paul has with him the cover of the Beatles' album Help with its photograph of the Fab Four waving navy signal flags. Paul has eight red flags and a booklet of instructions on how to spell out letters. He summons U2 to the top deck and lines them up and they begin learning to spell out first "H-E-L-P" and then "F-O-A-D"-a favorite expression of Larry's that abbreviates "fuck off and die."
Great rock band though they are, choreography has never been U2's strong suit. They spend a lot of time getting their signals backward (they are following McGuinness, who is facing them, which gets confus-ing) and hitting each other with flags. During the difficult "Switch!" from "H-E-L-P" to "F-O-A-D," Adam pokes Bono in the eye. Eventu-ally the entire exercise degenerates into a sword fight with semaphores. Then a great commotion comes up the stairs from the lower decks. It's time to invade England.
I feel like a wally in my Wellies," says Larry as he stomps around the Solo in the rubber boots ("Wellingtons") we have been or-dered to redon before wading in the atomic water. As U2 prepares to board their landing craft the Greenpeace organizer notices with a start that Bono has on his feet not Wellies but his own leather motorcycle boots. "You can't wear those!" she insists. "That water is radioactive! Whatever you wear into it has to be discarded afterward!" "It's okay," Bono says. "I won't get my feet wet." "You don't understand," she says. "Weighed down by the barrels, the rafts can't get all the way up to the shore. You're going to have to wade in!"
"Get my feet wet!" Bono sputters, adopting a spoiled, Spinal Tap accent. "Oh, no, no, no, this whole thing is off!" A quick search finds no spare rubber boots on the Solo. The weary Greenpeace leader says, "It's all right, Bono. I understand you can walk on water."
As we prepare to board the two landing rafts one of the Greenpeace organizers puts out her hand to stop me. This is as far as you go, she says. From here on it's only members of U2 and the camera crew. I tell her that if she thinks I came all this way to stay on the boat and wave she should pull into port and have her bottom scraped, but she is adamant. I sulk for a minute, and then it occurs to me that in these hooded suits we all look alike. So I go up to one of the film crew, tap him on the shoulder, and tell him he's got to go back and get a life jacket. As soon as he leaves I take his place in the raft, where the
Greenpeace commissar counts our heads and orders us to cast off. Away we go.
As U2's rubber raft skims the surf toward the nuclear shoreline, the tension that ran through all the preparations for this adventure has given way to a Monty Python mood. Still, as the camera boat runs alongside them, the bandmembers and McGuinness raise themselves into serious, even heroic poses. The main purpose of this expedition is to give the newspapers and TV an image that will focus attention, if only in the second paragraph, on how dangerous the Sellafield facility is. So as they approach the shore, U2 gets focused on that objective.
Nearing land, U2 can see Greenpeace activists in white radiation suits lined up like an army of ghosts along the line where public beach turns into injuncted no-man's-land. They can see reporters and camera-men. They can see bobbies with a photographer, taking pictures of U2 with a flash camera on a sunny day from a half mile inside the Sellafield land. Behind the plant gates are paddy wagons too. (Paddy wagon: an-other great token of contempt for the Irish.)
U2's raft gets as close as it can to the shore and then, before Bono can get his shoes wet, a huge Greenpeace member splashes into the brine, lifts the singer out of the raft, and carries him to the beach. Bono holds up his arms as he's hoisted, waving V signs at the reporters who rush toward him, clicking and snapping. Bono is deposited on the sand and he turns and stares nobly back toward the Solo, the journalists dancing around him like a maypole. Not one reporter pays any atten-tion to Edge and Adam, standing in the water struggling to hoist their barrel of poison sand. While cameras capture Bono from every angle, Edge and Adam grunt past unnoticed, lugging their radioactive burden.
At the high tide line U2 dumps their barrels and convenes a press conference. "I actually don't believe Sellafield 2 will go ahead," Bono tells the reporters. "Word is that at the highest levels people are very nervous about this. They just spent millions of pounds on it-nobody wants to admit it was a mistake, so they have to continue. It will be a great scandal later, when the real facts come out. That's all we can do- bring the facts out. We're a rock & roll band! It's kind of absurd we have to dress up like complete wankers to make this point."
After all the pictures have been taken and all the reporters' questions answered, McGuinness and U2 confer. The bus that brought them to the sea has managed to make its way down here. If they hike a mile or so
down the beach they can get on board and drive out, rather than returning to the Solo. That strikes everyone as fine. They walk away from the reactor, eventually coming to a town. Local children make saucer eyes as they see this phalanx of creatures in white body suits emerging from the shore.
Edge is the first one off the beach and a waiting broadcast journalist at a pay phone ropes the guitarist into a live radio interview. The local kids start poking each other and gasping, "It's the Edge!" One little boy calls out to his even littler friend, "Richie! You want to see Bono? That's him down there!" The smaller boy runs up and stares. He sees a figure in a hooded radiation suit. "That's Bono?"
The kids start lining up for autographs. U2 peels off their protective gear and deposits it in Greenpeace bags. Bono is told he should proba-bly throw away his motorcycle boots-even if they never touched the water, the sand at Sellafield is dangerous. He chucks them away. Then a local couple come up and start tearing into one of the Greenpeace activists. "Our child died from leukemia caused by that plant!" the husband says angrily. "You come here for a day and you go away! What do you know! We have to live with this all the time!" He storms off. His wife slaps the Greenpeace volunteer, then turns and follows her hus-band.
Back on the bus Bono leans his head on his wife's shoulder and waves to the children gathered around the coach. He adopts a broad American accent and brays, "Oh, look, dear. Aren't they a-dor-able. Oh, I'd just like to put them all in my suitcase and take them home!"
I kick the back of his seat. "Hey, quit making fun of Americans!" Bono turns around apologetically and explains that he's mimicking the U.S. tourists he met as a child at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin. "I would charge them for tours of the cathedral," he says. "I made good money."
"Oh," I say, "you were an urchin."
"I was!" Bono says brightly, at which Ali bursts out laughing. She knows her husband never urched.
As the bus begins to pull out, Bono glances out the window-and sees that one of the juvenile U2 fans is proudly making off with his irradiated boots. "Oh, hell! Stop the bus!" The kid refuses to give up his souvenirs until all four members of U2 give him their autographs. As we head down the highway away from Sellafield we pass-facing
the other way-a series of police roadblocks. There they are, all lined up and waiting to stop U2 or Greenpeace from approaching the plutonium mill. As we fly past the cops, Larry shouts out the window and waves.
During the long drive back to Manchester, Bono-who has become father to two children since U2 last toured-talks about readjusting to the rock star life. "Going out on the road is not difficult," he says. "The real problems start when you come home, readjustment. When you're on the road, everything is put second to the gig. You have minders who follow you out at night to make sure you come back and play the next concert. And when you come home, the dusterfuck mentality you bring back from the road can be very funny. Like the whole room-key thing. When you're on the road a room key is like your dog tag. It gets you home at night, it pays your bills. I've had situations where a month after a tour has ended I'll be in Dublin and I'll give some nightclub owner a key from the Ritz-Carlton in Chicago instead of cash, and he'll look at me like 'What the fuck is he on?' "
We begin talking about the selfishness most musicians, most artists, cultivate on the underside of their dedication to their art. "We're living a fairly decadent kind of selfish, art-oriented lifestyle," Bono says. "There's nothing to get in the way of you and your music when you're on the road. Real life doesn't raise its head."
I quote back at Bono his lines from "The Fly": "Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief, all kill their inspiration and sing about the grief."
"Yeah," Bono sighs. "I hope I'm not like that, but I suspect I might be. And I really hate that picture. The great thing is, under the guise of 'The Fly' I can admit to all this shit."
Bono lumbers up to the front of the bus, unwinds the tour guide microphone, and starts torturing us all with his imitation of a drunken Irish lounge singer. He mumbles inebriated dedications, sings awful songs, and dares anyone to come take the microphone away from him. It s too bad that much of the public thinks of Bono as a sourpuss. He's a card. The problem is that when people get as famous as U2, other people start treating them like gods or freaks. So they have to build a protective bubble in which they can be themselves. Inside the bubble they can be as they've always been, with no rock star baloney. But from outside the bubble they look strange and distorted.
This bus ride back to Manchester from Sellafield has now lasted about three hours, and McGuinness has been promising us a breakfast stop the whole way. We pull off at a roadside tourist cafeteria and everyone pours out and starts lining up for sausage, ham, uncooked bacon, and all the other artery-hardening, cloven-hoofed delights of British cuisine. In the restaurant Bono tries to convince Edge to come outside and sit in the grass, but Edge grumbles that he's seen enough outdoors for one day.
When the bus trip resumes, Bono and I head to the backseat. As we approach Manchester I say, "Well, of course, Bono, everybody must be asking you about all the references to oral sex in your new songs. . . ."
"WHAT?" Bono sputters. "Bill, you've turned to the wrong page in your notebook, you're asking me Prince questions!"
Listen, I say, to these lines from recent U2 songs: "Surrounding me, going down on me," "You can swallow or you can spit," "Here she comes, six and nine again," "Did I leave a bad taste in your mouth." . . .
"Ahh." Bono mumbles something about sixty-nine being one of the most equal sexual positions and then strongly suggests we get onto another subject.
Okay, I say, in "One" you sing, "You say love is a temple, love's the higher law. You ask me to enter and then you make me crawl." That's a hell of a sacrament/sin, temple/vagina metaphor; it's like Yeats's "Love has pitched his mansion in the place of excrement."
"Yeah, whoa," Bono exhales. "That line, you really touched on some-thing. You know, it was no accident that Jesus was born in the shit and straw. . . ." The bus comes to a halt. We're back in Manchester at last. We head into the hotel to pick up our bags and check out. U2 has a plane waiting to take them back to Dublin. Bono asks me if I want to come along. No, thanks, I say, I've left all my clothes in a laundry in London and I've got to get them back.
A few days later Bono telephones and asks if I saw our Sellafield adventure on the TV news and in the papers. He says the nuclear industry tried to counter all the coverage Greenpeace got by sending PR men out to stand on the beach in their shirtsleeves, "looking as if they were going to build a sandcastle." One nuclear spokesman really screwed up by telling reporters that U2 had no right to get involved in Britain because .they were Irish and they should be home in Belfast trying to
stop kids from building bombs. That mixed-up statement (aside from its bigotry, Britain considers Belfast part of the U.K.) brought angry charges of "Paddy-bashing" down on the unfortunate public relations man. Then he mentions our bus conversation.
"I think I was talking to you about Jesus being born in the shit and straw," Bono says. "I suppose the nineties equivalent of that is Las Vegas, the neon strip. I found in amongst the trash to be a great place to develop my loftier ideas, and a great disguise as well."
It's interesting to find your loftier ideas in the debris, I say.
"Yeah," Bono says. "It's the best place for them. Because they don't call themselves big ideas down here. They don't draw attention to themselves. They don't have a big sign saying 'ART.' " He pauses and sighs. "I'm desperately trying to think how I can talk about this and not sound like a complete arsehole.
"People might think that where U2 is right now is much more throwaway, but I think the stuff we're throwing away is maybe much more interesting that what you'd at first suspect. I've never been as turned on about rock & roll as I am now because there seem to be so many possibilities. Sex and music are still for me places where you glimpse God. Sex and art, I suppose, but unless you're going to get slain in the spirit by a Warhol or Rothko, I think for most of us art is music.
"We're looking for diamonds in the dirt, and the music is more in the mud now. Our heads may still be in the clouds, but our feet are definitely dragging the dirt. As dark as it gets, though, we are looking for shiny moments. Those shiny moments, for me, are the same as they've always been. There are big words for them, like transcendence. I'm still interested in the things of the spirit and God and the mind-boggling idea that He might be interested in us. And faith and faithful-ness, sexually and spiritually speaking.
Everybody's in a state of confusion sexually in the nineties. Love and sex are just up for grabs. Nobody knows what to make of them. Marriage looks like an act of madness, if grand madness. One thing I actually like about the drug culture, though I'm not really part of it, is that it acknowledges the other side, the fourth dimension that every-body else kind of buries. For a hundred years people have been told they don't have a spirit, and if you can't see it or can't prove it, it doesn't exist. Anyone who listens to Smokey Robinson knows that isn't true.
We've got more contradictions on stage now than ever before. I
think it's a very interesting tension that that brings about. People are made to chose between flesh and the spirit, when people are both."
Yeah, I say, on the Zoo TV tour and on the Achtung Baby album you're trying to balance things that are perceived as opposites, though in fact they may not be.
"Yes," Bono says. "That's an important point. What look like oppo-sites but may not be, like plastic and soul."
Like sex and God?
Where's your ethical line now? What subject would U2 refuse to sing about?
"There's none. By singing about something you make it clean. Be-cause you bring it out into the open."
Edge told me last winter that the themes of Achtung Baby were, "Be-trayal, love, morality, spirituality, and faith." A lot of the songs deal with the temptations that disrupt and might destroy a marriage. Was Edge's the only troubled marriage you were drawing on?
"Well, I was going down that road anyway," Bono says. "But certainly ... I don't know which came first, to be honest. The words or what Edge went through. They're all bound up in each other. But there are a lot of other experiences that went on around the same time. It all gets back to the fact that it's an extraordinary thing to see two people holding on to each other and trying to work things out. I'm still in awe of the idea of two people against the world, and I actually believe it is to be against the world, because I don't think the world is about sticking together. AIDS is not the only threat, you know. AIDS is the big bad wolf at the moment, but I see all the threats. I see people's need for independence, their need to follow their own ideas down. These are all not necessarily selfish things. Everything out there is against the idea of being a couple: every ad, every TV program, every soap opera, every novel you buy in an airport. Sex is now a subject owned by corporations. It's used to sell commodities. It is itself a commodity. And the message is that if you don't have it, you're nobody.
"I've had my problems in my relationship. It's tough for everybody. I think fidelity is just against human nature. That's where we have to either engage or not engage our higher side. Certainly I'm not trying to come up with easy answers. It's like in school when they tell you about drugs. 'If you smoke drugs you'll become an addict and you'll die the
next week.' They don't tell you even half the truth. I think the same is true about sex. You know, if you tell people that the best place to have sex is in the safe hands of a loving relationship, you may be telling a lie! There may be other places. If the question is, can I as a married man write about sex with a stranger, 'yes' has got to be the answer. I've got to write about that because that is part of the subject I'm writing about. You have to try and expose some myths, even if they expose you along the way. I don't want to talk about my own relationship, because I've too much respect for Ali to do so. What I'm saying to you is, I may or may not be writing from my own experience on some of these, but that doesn't make it any less real."
Bono and I talk on, we talk for more than two hours. He gives me a quote from Sam Shepard to sum up: "Right in the middle of a contra-diction," he says, "that's the place to be."
kids gather for days in the parking lots of the Giants football stadium in northern New Jersey, across the river from Man-hattan, while the mighty stage is erected for ZOO TV: THE OUTSIDE BROADCAST. They hunker down in wonder and confu-sion, like the apemen studying the monolith in 2001. For their summer stadium tour of America, U2 has blown everything up to elephantine proportions. The stage, huge and black, looms across one end of the football field, its spires crawling up toward the sky like the steeples of postnuclear cathedrals. They are supposed to look like TV towers- black scaffolding narrowing as it ascends to a flashing red point-but the effect is creepier than that. The eleven-story stage is only the framework for the giant TV screens that flicker and crackle above and across the entire proscenium. When the stadium lights go off and all those screens flash to life it hits a lot of tribal buttons in the audience;
U2 may have uncovered a subconscious link between the recent family rite of sitting around the television and more primitive ritual equivalents -such as the clan gathering to be entertained by the shaman. When U2 takes the stage even the helicopters circling overhead for a peek and the airplanes using the stadium as a landing marker seem like blinking red ornaments buzzing around the big voodoo, little mechanical sparks rising from the electric bonfire.
Underworld, the vast network of work areas behind and beneath the stage, is a beehive city. On Edge's right, in a bunker two steps down, sits guitar tech Dallas Schoo with a roomful of guitars, tuners, and spare
parts. It is a fully functioning guitar shop. During the concert Dallas will break off a conversation to pump a wah-wah pedal so that Edge can get the effect while keeping his own feet free to move across the stage. Just outside Dallas's room, in a cubbyhole that gives him a clear view of the stage, sits Des Broadbery at an elaborate console of keyboards and computer screens. Des runs the sequencers that fill out U2's sound and make it possible to approximate the elaborate sonic effects of Achtung Baby onstage. Des has a computer file standing by with any U2 song the band might suddenly pull out of their hats, and if it needs a synth pad or second guitar, Des is ready to drop it in. When Edge is playing the solo on "Ultra Violet (Light My Way)," for example, Des is under the stage providing a sampled eight-bar guitar figure in the background.
"There's no room for human error in what I do," Des says. "You have to be sharp. There's an awful lot depending on what goes on in my area. What really matters when they're up there onstage is to make sure they're with me or I'm with them."
I ask Des what he does when the band loses their place in mid-song, as a result, say, of Bono getting excited and coming in early, "What would happen," Des explains, "is I let them find out where they all are and then I go ahead of them to a chorus or verse and wait there until they catch up."
U2 first used sequencers in concert to get a handle on "Bad" from The Unforgettable Fire. By the Joshua Tree tour sequencers were beefing up eight numbers. Now it's a rare U2 song that doesn't have Des adding some sample, phrase, or backing part.
From Des and Dallas's wing you can go up a short flight to a vast backstage hall, across which sits a small dressing room with a punching bag where band members hover during the encores, and where they can switch clothes during breaks. One night Bono came in raging during Edge's guitar solo on "Bullet the Blue Sky." Everything was going wrong that night and he was furious. Before he fell into the chair where stylist Nassim Khalifa dolls him up he punched the bag, threw a chair, and kicked the wall. While Nassim was trying to brush his hair he pounded the table and screamed, "Fuck! Fuck!" So she bonked him on the top of the head with the hairbrush as if he were a bad dog. Bono was startled.
That hurt! He looked in the mirror and saw Nassim calmly combing, saying nothing. He shut up and behaved.
Beneath that level is the brain center of the Zoo TV operation, a web
of desks, control boards and television monitors usually described in the press as "an entire TV station under the stage." That is actually mis-leading, because when most people think of a TV station they think of something much less elaborate than this setup. What this really resem-bles is NASA mission control. On each screen is a different image, multiple shots of Bono, Larry, Adam, and Edge as well as different broadcast TV channels pumping out their programming, pretaped bits and pieces used during the show, the aphorisms that flash on the screens, and all the programming created for the concert, from a buffalo that runs in slow motion across the series of screens during "One" to the nuclear bombs that erupt during "Until the End of the World." There are eleven laser disc players feeding images to a total of 262 video cubes (the normal-TV-screen-size component parts of the vidiwalls) each of which can be controlled separately, if anyone were lunatic enough to want to.
Keeping this operation on the road costs U2 $125,000 a day, every day-concert or not. In the face of such expense their refusal to take on corporate sponsorship is almost heroic.
There is another music shop, this one equipped with drum gear and some bass equipment, in the bunker at Adam's left, and there is a sort of little shed hidden behind Adam, at Larry's left, where the bassist can duck for a quick swig of water or glance at a chord chart. All through Underworld there are people running around talking into headsets, driving forklifts, and throwing switches with a determination I have seen only in Scotty in the engine room when Captain Kirk is fighting the Klingons. What's most remarkable is that this megastructure must be rebuilt and razed in every city along the way-which among other burdens means that U2 has to rent a football stadium for three nights in order to play once, because it takes that long to erect the stage building.
Looking at this mighty enterprise and the eighty-five thousand peo-ple itching for U2's arrival, I have to slap myself to remember that twelve years ago it took only my dented little Dodge Dart to transport U2, myself, and Ellen Darst from the Providence, Rhode Island, Holi-day Inn to lunch in Warwick to a radio interview at Brown University to soundcheck at a bar called the Center Stage across the river in East Providence. We were all a lot smaller then.
My friend Ellen seemed to know what U2 would be from the moment she first heard them. In 1980 she had just been promoted from
being a field rep for Warner Brothers Records in Boston to a job in the Manhattan office. I was still living in New England then, but I'd visit her when I was in New York. One day I went in to see Ellen and she said, "You've got to hear this.'" and played me "I Will Follow." Warners was distributing Island Records and Island chief Chris Blackwell had this new band, U2. I thought the single was good, but Ellen thought it was the second coming. She made me promise to come see U2 when they played the Paradise, a club in Boston.
On stage U2 were exciting, still very raw but filled with such energy and belief that the crowd got caught up and were on their feet, dancing and pushing toward the stage to reach out to Bono. My memory is that they did both "I Will Follow" and "Out of Control" twice in the short set, which was actually not uncommon in the punk days. Bands tended to start playing gigs before they had an hour's worth of songs. Later I learned that U2 had lots of tunes that preceded their recording contract, but I guess they wanted to stick to their best stuff for their first American shows.
A lot of people who bought Boy, the first album, when it came out and saw those early gigs like to sit around now claiming that U2 was never that good again and telling the grandchildren, "If you had seen U2 when they were teenagers, as I did, you wouldn't be impressed by all this Zoo TV junk now." It's actually not true. The young U2 were charis-matic as all hell, but they were still relying on passion (and Edge's striking guitar sound) to get them over a shortage of great songs and a lack of musical tightness. When faced with an audience that wasn't interested in suspending their disbelief, the young U2 could sound pretty ordinary. Lately Larry has echoed what Adam said earlier-that the band actually wasn't that good when they first came to America. What people responded to was not what U2 were but the promise of what they could become.
I had promised Ellen Darst after the Paradise show that I would peddle a freelance article about U2 to one of the rock magazines I was then writing for. I had a hard time finding anyone interested. Finally Output magazine on Long Island said all right. The day U2 arrived in Rhode Island, where I lived, looking to do the interview, my pals, a local band called the Shake, were having a big cookout at their house and I didn't want to miss it. So I offered to pick up U2 at the Holiday Inn and bring them along. It was a sweltering, humid Memorial Day and
when I showed up at the motel to collect them Bono, Larry, and Edge were in the pool. Adam was waiting for me at the front door. "Come on," Adam called to the others, "we're going to a burnout!"
"A cookout," I corrected. "A cookout is a barbecue, a burnout is a drug casualty."
"Ah," Edge said, "and will there be burnouts at the cookout?"
We spent the afternoon eating hot dogs with local bands and their families at the Shake's house, and at one point U2 and I went off to the rehearsal room in the basement and did a long interview in which they told me their story up to that point. Given that the oldest of them, Adam, had just turned twenty-one, it was not a very long story. I was impressed with the fact that they wrote all their songs through jamming in a room together; they seemed determined to keep everything equal between them. Bono was adamant about the fact that bands these days weren't real bands, where it's all for one and one for all. Now it was one or two leaders and hired sidemen. He made a big point of the fact that U2 would always be what they had grown up believing the Beatles and Stones were: a real band. The Shake had a color poster of the early Beatles hanging on the wall and I remember U2 staring at it, fascinated by the fact that on this poster all the Beatles had jet black hair. They were impressed by the possibility that the Beatles had dyed their hair to look more alike. (Actually, I suspect that the poster company did the tints, not Brian Epstein.)
Back upstairs at the party Edge asked me about the Shake and I said they were a real good band who played six nights a week, fifty weeks a year, hoping to get a record deal. He said that wasn't the way to do it. Edge said a single, even a homemade single, with one great song would do more for a band than five years of club dates. "I Will Follow" was the proof.
Over the next two and a half years, from the spring of 1981 to the fall of 1983, U2 played the Northeast so much that you'd have thought they lived in Seekonk. Even when they weren't on tour between Boston and Washington they kept up a strong presence with interviews in the local music papers and airplay on college radio stations. I remember running into Adam at Boston clubs between tours, lapping up America and making sure U2 had its finger on whatever was happening. Ellen Darst was always beside them. Later in 1981 Warners laid her off along with a ton of young executives in reaction to a general plummet in the
postdisco record business. U2 helped Ellen land a job at Island, keeping her close. She told me the Island job would only be temporary if things worked out with the band.
Things did. Paul McGuinness and U2 had used Ellen as their guide to the American music business. As soon as U2 had enough money to do it, they set up a New York office and put Ellen in charge. Ellen hired Keryn Kaplan as her assistant. Keryn, fresh out of college, had been a secretary at Warners who was also laid off in the purge. Not long after that, Paul brought in Anne-Louise Kelly to help organize their office in Dublin, and realized that she was way too smart to waste on typing and filing. Anne-Louise was made Director of Principle Management Dub-lin, the same title Ellen held in New York.
I know Ellen felt strongly that women were treated badly in the U.S. record business and was determined to take advantage of all the smart women who were being ignored or underutilized by the overpaid men in the old boys' club. I have no idea if Anne-Louise felt the same way, but both the New York and Dublin offices of Principle Management were staffed almost entirely by women. They still are. I think it's one of the reasons U2's organization has an entirely different-and much more comradely-atmosphere than does most of the music business. Most management companies-and indeed, the top levels of most record labels-have the spirit of a football club or military campaign. There's a lot of Us vs. Them shouting and a lot of macho posturing-which is always obnoxious when people are engaged in an enterprise that requires no physical courage and little personal risk. People burn out fast in that sort of environment. I'm sure one of the reasons the women at Principle put in long hours for years on end is because it is, most of the time, a friendly and supportive place to work.
Ellen taught me so much about America in the early days," Mc-Guinness says. "If you're on the road with four or five guys and all that macho stuff that goes along with rock & roll, a very effective counterbal-ance is association with a lot of women. It seems like the right way to do things. There's enough maleness in rock & roll without having it in the office as well. There are a lot of women in the music business who are not recognized for what they could do and I think it's just stupid. We're not going to be stupid about that."
Once U2 had their organization functioning they worked like gophers to win new converts to their cause. Bono was unstoppable in his
pursuit of audiences, jumping into crowds, dancing with fans, leaping onto outstretched arms, and--as the halls they played got bigger- climbing up into the scaffolding, hanging from wires on the walls, and swinging from the balconies. The band organized a series of courts-martial at which they chewed him out for endangering himself and any kids in the crowd who might try to imitate him. He finally got the message when Edge, Adam, and Larry threatened to break up U2 if he didn't stop making like Tarzan. Bono told me at the time that he was also influenced by a concert review written by Robert Hillburn in the 1.05 Angeles Times in which the critic said that U2's music didn't need such distractions. I think Hillburn has remained Bono's conservative con-science over the years. As Zoo TV expands further and further, all sorts of possibilities for future U2 expansion into interactive video, computer networks, and cable TV are being waved in front of the band. Bono is interested in all that, as well as screenwriting and the offers of movie roles that regularly slip through Principle's transom. But he has men-tioned more than once that Hillburn said to him, "If you put your entire energy into developing your music, you could be one of the all-time great songwriters. Think of what Gershwin left behind, think of Hank Williams. Should you let anything else distract you from that?" That reprimand rattles around Bono's head. He is still wrestling with it.
The first time U2 headlined at an arena in the United States was at the Worcester, Massachusetts, Centrum in the autumn of 1983, six months into the War tour. The Centrum was then a new hall, with a capacity of fifteen thousand and located at a population nexus about fifty minutes from Boston, to the northeast, Hartford to the southwest, and Providence to the southeast. The fans U2 had been winning in three states poured in and sold out the show. It was a big night for the band, a portent of things to come, and some overexcited kids ran onto the stage to try to hug Bono. When security came charging after one girl, Bono motioned them away, wrapped his arms around her, and waltzed with her around the lip of the stage. Then he continued singing while she slumped down and hung onto his leg. Eventually Bono came in from his emoting long enough to realize that she wasn't just hugging him. She had chained herself to his ankle. And she did not have a key. The concert had to continue with Bono attached to the fan until the roadies could get a saw and chop her off. U2's unmediated relationship with their audience was changing.
I went back into the dressing room right after U2 came offstage that night, congratulated the other guys on selling out the Centrum, and went over to say hi to Bono. He was covered with sweat, had a towel around his neck, and was talking, wide-eyed, in his fullest flights of poetry. After a couple of minutes I realized he didn't know me. It did something to his brain to try to communicate with fifteen thousand people, and his commitment wasn't an act. He couldn't switch it off the moment he left the stage. He was changing from the kid I'd met when "I Will Follow" was new into someone bigger.
A year later, after "Pride" had brought U2 to the next level of success, playing smaller halls was no longer an option. By then I had moved to New York and U2 were playing at Radio City Music Hall. It was too small a venue. The crowd was charging the stage, security guards were fighting the fans, Bono was struggling to regain control like Mick Jagger at Altamont. Bono got into fights with cops who were hitting kids. The show stopped several times while the guards tried to restore order. It was a big mess that almost ended with Bono being arrested and pretty much assured that U2 were done with playing mid-size halls in America.
In the summer of 1986 U2 agreed to headline an American fundraising tour for Amnesty International. They topped a bill that included Sting, just split from the Police, Peter Gabriel, and Lou Reed, one of their early heroes. The final night of the Amnesty tour was a show here at Giants Stadium that would be televised on MTV. Guest stars were coming out of the woodwork and tension was very high, as MTV moved in and took over command. Miles Davis played, Muhammad Alt spoke, Pete Townshend got off the plane in New York and received word his father had just died in London. He turned around and went home. Joni Mitchell, who had been scheduled to play only a couple of songs, was asked to go out unrehearsed and do a whole set to fill in for Townshend. The place was nuts with vanity, panic, threats, and brown-nosing.
The biggest ego-war was over who would close the show. It was U2's tour, always had been, but in these final days Sting's recently deceased band the Police had reunited for a grand prisoner-liberating, con-science-raising farewell. The Police were a bigger name than U2, and the fact that this was their last ever, farewell, goodbye-to-all-that perfor-mance left no doubt in the mind of their manager Miles Copeland
about who should climax this prime-time spectacle. Tour promoter Bill Graham disagreed. Graham, Copeland, and Amnesty boss Jack Healy went at it about who should open for whom. There has rarely been as much angry energy expended in the service of political prisoners as there was backstage at Giants Stadium that day.
Finally a compromise worthy of Solomon was achieved. U2 went on first and played a commanding set. Bono, his hair grown long, looked like Daniel Webster and held the football stadium in his hand. People who watched it on TV told me it seemed overdone, hammy, and that may be, but in the coliseum it was mesmerizing. I was pretty ecstatic that they'd pulled it off. I ran into Ellen backstage and said, "Ellen! They were the best they've ever been! The Police don't have a chance!" and she ripped my metaphorical ass off and shoved it down my throat. "It is not a competition!" Ellen blasted. "These musicians have nothing but respect and affection for each other and it does them no good at all when people around them try to turn it into a battle of the bands!"
"Yikes!" I explained, shrinking like a cheap shirt in a hot wash. Ellen calmed down and said, sorry, it's been a tough day.
The great compromise was that U2 got off in time for the Police to have a good chunk of prime television time, before MTV's broadcast ended, and at the finale of the Police's (excellent) set they went into "Invisible Sun," their haunting song about the troubles in Northern Ireland. One by one the members of U2 emerged from the wings and took over the Police's instruments. Larry took Stewart Copeland's place behind the drums, Edge took Andy Summers's guitar, Adam took Sting's bass, and Bono stepped up to finish singing the Police's song. It was a graceful gesture, the outgoing Biggest Band in the World publicly handing off the baton to the new one.
Looking back at the Amnesty finale a year later, Sting said, "The last song we played we handed our instruments over to U2. Every band has its day. In '84 we were the biggest band in the world and I figured it was U2's turn next. And I was right. They are the biggest band in the world. A year from now it'll be their turn to hand over their instruments to someone else."
And now, seven years later, we are back at Giants Stadium with U2 onstage. Sting was wrong about one thing; they have held onto their Biggest Band in the World mantle tighter and longer than any group since the Rolling Stones. Amnesty vet Lou Reed's back in the house
tonight too. He strolls out onto the B stage to join Bono on "Satellite of Love," bringing a huge roar from the eighty-five thousand people in attendance. One of the benefits of all this technology is that when U2 move on they can bring Lou Reed with them. They have prepared a video of him singing the song, which will crackle in and out of the big TV screens in duet with Bono for the rest of the tour.
In the same way, they will continue to carry a piece of their opening act, the rap group Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, with them after their stint as support band ends. For the year and a half remaining in the tour Hiphoprisy's song "Television, the Drug of the Nation," will be played over the eruption of the Zoo TV screens before U2 take the stage. An update of Gil Scott-Heron's "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," it is a Zoo perfect anthem, at once a commentary on the mass media culture and a state-of-the-art example of it. Hiphoprisy leader Michael Franti says he's having a good time with U2, especially now that he's been pulled aside and told that the guitarist's name is "Edge." Michael had been calling him "Ed."
There is a moment of poignance amid all the backstage madness. Artist David Wojnarowicz is here with his family, from whom he's been estranged for years. Wojnarowicz's image of buffalo being driven over a cliff was chosen by U2 as the cover of their "One" single, itself a benefit for AIDS research, at Adam's suggestion. Wojnarowicz is dying of AIDS; he will probably not live out the summer. His family apparently saw a story about his collaboration with U2 on television and got in touch. They have come here tonight to make up for a little lost time.
The Zoo TV spectacle loses nothing in being expanded to stadium size; it works better. The sensory explosions early in the concert make the size of the crowd irrelevant-the visual pyrotechnics yank people straight into the show, without the usual sense of straining to see the little figures onstage that sticks a wedge in most stadium concerts. The barrage of visual effects draws the audience into the music. Then when the explosions stop and U2 appear on the B stage with their acoustic guitars, the audience has readjusted its perspective so that it feels as if they are in an intimate situation, and from there on-remarkably-the impediment distance puts between performer and audience seems to be gone. When Bono sings "With or Without You" it feels as if he's performing in a small club.
All the hoopla is ultimately a means to intimacy. By first shooting off
fireworks and then emerging to stand revealed in the afterglow, U2 closes the space between the stage and the upper reaches of the stadium. And once that distance is overcome, the remaining distance-between Bono's voice and the listener's ear-is easy to cross. Almost all of the appeal ofU2's music comes from its intimacy, its humanness. The band writes songs out of moods and then Bono searches for a way to hang a shape on those moods with his voice and lyrics. He is the first amplifier the music is put through and it is his job to pin down the feeling the music is making without distorting it. No matter how big U2's live sound or flashy the production gets, it never imposes an effect that is not already present in the composition. When U2 blasts on "Bullet the Blue Sky," they are mimicking the human rage at the heart of the song;
when U2 throbs on "With or Without You," they are evoking a heart-beat. Unlike a lot of other stadium bands, they never pull out a crowd-jolting effect-an explosion or screeching guitar solo or extreme dy-namic change-just to make the audience jump. Every effect grows out of the song, which is why once the impediment of physical distance is overcome the audience can feel as close to the music in the stadium as they would in a theater. I suppose it's the live-performance equivalent of the way TV performers such as Walter Cronkite, Ronald Reagan, or Bishop Sheen developed a gift for speaking to millions of people as if each was the only one listening, as if speaker and listener were alone together in a small room.
I brought along a friend of mine tonight, a recording engineer who's been in the music business for twenty years. He's been laughing and shaking his head through the whole show, which he says is the best he's ever seen. U2 are playing here at Giants Stadium for two nights, and then doing a couple more across the river at Yankee Stadium. They will play to more people during this New York stand than they did in their first three years on the road in America.
I am very glad I saw so many U2 shows early in their career, and I have a lot of sentimentality about them. But they have never been better than this.
a call from the governor of arkansas/ the same mistake made by henry ii/ the search for bono by the secret service/ two shots of happy/ a setback for irish immigration/ george b. insults b. george/ the blood in the ground cries out for vengeance
on august 28 U2 are the guests on "Rockline," a national radio phone-in show. "Bill from Little Rock" comes on the phone. The band members glance at each other; they were warned that the Democratic presidential nominee might call to engage in a little of his post-Arsenio public hipness. After some initial jousting (Bono: "Should I call you governor?" Clinton: "No, call me Bill." Bono: "And you can call me Betty."), Clinton and U2 hit it off. For Clinton it means another plug on MTV News, for U2 it means one more item in the daily newspapers; both parties toss another pebble of P.R. onto the big hype candy mountain and move on to the next event.
Two weeks later U2 rolls into Chicago at 3 a.m., drunk and in their stage clothes, after a three-hour journey from a stadium concert in Madison, Wisconsin. Checking into the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, they are informed that Governor Clinton is also on the premises.
"Well, go bring him here!" Bono demands loudly, joking. "We want him;" Like Henry II asking, "Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?" U2 should be careful what they ask for.
While the band laughs and stumbles off to their rooms to collapse, one of their well-trained roadies snaps to attention and starts off to locate Bill Clinton and deliver him to U2. In the corridor outside the candidate's boudoir. Secret Service agents pounce on U2's poor messen-ger like coyotes on a moose. "It's 3 a.m.," the feds explain while re-straining the roadie. "The governor is sleeping."
"You don't understand," the messenger protests. "U2 wants to see him now!"
Bono, unaware of the trouble caused by his joke, finds himself in a huge, bilevel suite with spiral staircase and chandelier. Nice bunkhouse, but he's too wired to sleep. His muse goosed by alcohol, he is flooded with fresh inspiration in his life's quest to write a new "My Way" for his pal Frank Sinatra. True, Old Blue Eyes had not seen the genius in Bono's first attempt, "Treat Me Like a Girl," But this, this one is perfect: "Two Shots of Happy, One Shot of Sad." Bono, still in his beetle sunglasses and crushed red velvet suit, stumbles down the corridor to Edge's suite, humming the tune to himself so he won't forget it-"Two shots of happy, one shot of sad, you think I'm a good man, hut haby I'm had. ..." He's got to get this masterpiece down on tape! He finds Edge, Edge finds a guitar and a tape recorder, and they work on the song until dawn.
As the sun rises over Chicago, Edge retires. Bono works a little longer, and then, spotting a guest bedroom in Edge's suite, collapses in his clothes.
While U2 is going under, candidate Bill Clinton is waking. He glances through his messages and the Secret Service men inform him that while he was sleeping some crazy hippie came bearing an invitation from U2. Clinton's response? "Why didn't you wake me?" As the government bodyguards shrug and mutter Clinton demands, "Is it too late? Where are they now?"
Suddenly it's the Secret Service's turn to run through the corridors on the whims of their king. They wake Paul McGuinness, who jumps out of bed, clears his throat, flattens his hair, and says, "Of course Bono would like to parlay with the governor! Please tell Mr. Clinton to head straight over to Bono's suite! I'll wake him!" Then the manager hangs up and tears through his bag for a necktie.
McGuinness rings Bono's suite and there's no answer. Okay, fine, don't panic-he's probably just passed out. The manager hightails it down to Bono's room, gets the hotel to unlock the door, and Bono's not here. The bed has not been slept in, the tub has not been bathed in, the spiral staircase has not been trod. There's no Bono, but here comes Bill Clinton1. The hotel staff are as desperately helpful as elves at the North Pole, the Clinton campaign honchos are ruthlessly friendly, the Secret Service are coldly professional, and the Next President of the United States is
cheerful as he surveys Bono's fabulous suite. McGuinness, his welcom-ing grin frozen like rictus, says welcome, welcome, and then slips into the next room to get on the phone and wake every member of U2 to say: (I) get up, (2) get over here, and (3) where's Bono?
"We worked on a song here till dawn," says a bleary Edge. "Then I went to bed. I don't know where he is now." Edge hauls himself out of bed to brush his teeth and meet the candidate. On the way to the bathroom he notices a spare room and pushes open the door. There, unkempt, unshaven, and unconscious, lies Bono.
"Get up," Edge prods, "Bill Clinton's in your room."
Bono doesn't even know what time zone he is in. His mouth tastes like an ulcer and his head is swimming with "Two shots of happy, one shot of sad, you think I'm a good man . . ." His dyed hair is in his red eyes, and like Lazarus, he stinketh. "Clinton's in my room?" Bono tries to straighten himself. He looks in the mirror. Dorian Gray. Fine. "Okay," he mum-bles, "let's see how much of a politician this guy really is."
Bono weaves through the hotel and slips into his suite through the upstairs. He hears Clinton talking in the room below. Bono puts his beetle shades back on, rubs at the wrinkles in his red velvet suit, and lights up a tiny black cigar. Elegantly wasted, Bono then descends his spiral staircase into the candidate's company with the fuck-you aplomb of Bette Davis on a bad day. Clinton stops, Clinton stares, and then Clinton falls over laughing.
"Hey," Bono thinks, "this guy's okay."
Edge and Larry have drifted in and for an hour U2 sits huddled with the candidate. The blarney-hating Larry challenges Clinton: "Look, you know the system is corrupt. Why do you even want to be president?"
Clinton looks at Larry. He pauses and then speaks softly: "This is going to sound corny. But I do love my country and I do want to help people. I know the system is corrupt, and I don't know if the president can change it. But I know this: no one else can."
Touchdown! Gee, Larry thinks, what an honest guy. Wow, Bono thinks, he really is like Elvis (which is the candidate's Secret Service code name-big points with Bono). Bono talks to Clinton about ideas wat George Lucas, the flimmaker, has promoted about using high tech to get America's education system back on line.
"I have not met George Lucas," Bono says, "but I have from a distance sort of kept tabs on what he's doing, because he's a very
interesting man. Most of his energy for the last six or seven years has been spent on developing computer software programs for schools. He believes that America can be educated, and America's educational sys-tem is the biggest problem in the United States, and that the way to solve it is through video arcade type interactive study programs. I think he is right. And it's one of the important ideas out there right now."
Adam has wandered in, amazed to see the large room now full of political operatives and Zoo TV associates, all chewing the fat and exchanging road stories. Adam did not leap to his feet like Paul Revere when he got the word that Clinton was looking for the band; he had a bath and breakfast and made his way slowly over to what looks now like a busy campaign headquarters. The bassist joins his bandmates in the corner with the candidate as Bill's inviting U2 to play at the inaugura-tion and Bono's nipping through his foggy brain trying to think of something a socially conscious cat such as he should say to the next president while he has him buttonholed.
Ah, he's got it! One for the old folks at home. "Listen," Bono says to Clinton, "Ireland is supposed to enjoy this 'special relationship' with the United States, but it's murder for any Irish person to get a visa to come here! The British come and go as they please, but I can't even get my kids' nanny in, for God's sake. If you become president will you-"
"Aw, come on, Bono," one of U2's entourage interrupts, "you know if you let an Irishman into America he'll never leave!" Bono stares daggers at the speaker while Clinton laughs at being let off the hook. Tie one time, Bono thinks, I have a shot at scoring a point for Ireland . . .
After Clinton leaves, Bono reprimands his impolitic associate: "If the people back home ever find out you said that to Clinton you will be found swinging from a Dublin lamppost."
It turned out in the course of their talk that Clinton and U2 both had tickets for that night's Chicago Bears football game, so they agreed to combine their motorcades and share a single police escort (this being the royal equivalent of you or I carpooling). Now, as Adam points out on the way to the game, a band in U2's position does get a little sanguine about police escorts, but you know Clinton's playing in a different league when you look around and realize that the honor-guarded cars in this escort are the only cars on the highway. The Secret Service has blocked off all on-ramps until the candidate and his guests pass by. Not even Led Zeppelin had that in their riders!
Watching TV a few days later, Bono is jarred to attention by a speech President Bush is making to a campaign rally: "Governor Clinton doesn't think foreign policy's important, but he's trying to catch up," Bush tells the crowd. "You may have seen this in the news-he was in Hollywood seeking foreign policy advice from the rock grop U2!"
Bono looks up. "Rock grop?"
Bush continues: "I have nothing against U2. You may not know this, but they try to call me every night during the concert! But the next time we face a foreign policy crisis, I will work with John Major and Boris Yeltsin, and Bill Clinton can consult Boy George!" Bush goes on to declare that if Clinton is elected you, too, will have higher inflation, you, too, will have higher taxes. You, too! You, too!
Bono doesn't get it. "Does he think I'm Boy George?" he asks.
"Nah," I say. "He's damning Clinton by association. He probably had a team of consultants sitting up all night trying to think of a rock star they could insult without offending any potential Bush voters. Madonna's too big, Springsteen-need those electoral votes in New Jersey. Boy George is foreign, gay, and no longer sells any records. He's perfect."
"Yeah," Bono sighs, standing up. "Poor George is a safe target. He's not popular."
On November 3, U2 watches the election returns on CNN before going onstage in Vancouver, Canada. Their crew cheers each time an-other state goes for Clinton. "Jesus, isn't that just like us!" Bono says. "It's a hell of a night to have just left America."
For U2 the U.S. presidential election is slightly abstract. But Bono begins to feel its weight the Sunday after the election when he goes to services at the Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Fran-cisco's Tenderloin district. When he's in the area Bono is a frequent worshipper at Glide, an inner-city church built in the 1930s by Lizzie Glide, a wealthy philanthropist, which had few parishioners left when the Reverend Cecil Williams arrived there in 1964. Rev. Williams turned it into a church devoted to embracing society's outcasts, and over three decades has made it a jumping center of worship and social action tor sympathetic people from all levels of the community. "It's the only church I know where you can get HIV tests during service," Bono says. It's amazing, the singing's great, there's queues around the block on Easter Sunday. It's just a happening, really alive place."
This Sunday the church has a special day of thanksgiving for Clin-ton's victory, and Bono is caught up in the passion of the congregation. The reverend's wife, a poet named Janice Mirikitani, gets up and reads a poem about what this day means for American women and when she finishes about half of the 1,200 people crammed into the church jump up singing and weeping.
"That was the moment," Bono says afterward. "That's the moment when I knew how important this small victory was. I was looking around and I was thinking, 'Wow, if you're HIV, if you're a homosex-ual, if you're a member of the underclass or if you're a woman or if you're an artist-and that covers just about everybody in this church- this is no small thing.' This is not like a middle-class home where people say, 'Well, it's a new chance.' There's nothing small about this! This was from 'We don't exist' to 'We do exist,' you know? Whether the actual real impact of legislation on their lives will come into being, at least they know they are included. And that brought it home to me. If by having been a part of the Rock the Vote campaign we contributed to even a tiny tiny tiny part, then we did the right thing."
It was through Glide, in 1986, that Bono hooked up with C.A.M.P., the relief group that arranged for Ali and him to travel through Nicara-gua and El Salvador during the Reagan-backed war against the leftists in those countries.
"In Nicaragua I'd seen supermarkets where there was no food because of the blockade," Bono explains. "I saw a body thrown out of the back of a van onto the road, you know? We saw the blight that was the Bush-Reagan era. That didn't dawn on us when we first started getting involved with the voter registration campaign. That dawned on us at the end."
I don't know if Bono knows that Bill Clinton brought Hillary to Glide last Mother's Day, and later told associates that he felt sitting there as if he had found the America he wanted to see-an all-inclusive America. Clinton and Bono have more than loving Elvis and riding in motorcades in common.
Hopped up on the new president's victory, Bono allows himself to get carried away with the possibilities of a real new world order. Over a late dinner he indulges in a little postcocktail philosophizing with U2 s agent Frank Barsalona, the big wheeler-dealer who brought the Beatles to America and has been a great silent power in rock & roll ever since.
The conversation takes a sober turn when Bono tells Barsalona that America must do penance for its sins. He quotes the Old Testament line about the blood in the ground crying out for vengeance. "You know," Bono says, "that's the reason America is so violent. There was an indigenous population that was wiped out. America just has to face that. The reason the Jews are so strong is that they record and memorialize their failures as well as their triumphs, their defeats and well as their victories. America should do the same. I truly believe in expiation. This inaugural address is important. If Clinton got up at his inaugural ad-dress and apologized for America's sins, apologized to the crack dealers, the gang bangers, the prostitutes, and junkies and said, 'I know you have not failed America; America has failed you! Forgive us and join us!' Whew! Imagine if he did that." Bono shakes his head in wonder at the possibility.
Frank Barsalona shakes his head too. "Maybe so," the agent says, cutting into his dinner, "but there's not a prayer it'll happen."
bono is intrigued by Las Vegas for all the reasons he's told us: he thinks it's the trash dump in which one finds the jewels; it is our society's consumerism and materialism with its mask off; it's the cathedral of the culture. "At least if you pray to a slot machine," I suggest to him, "you get your answer right away." But I think the real reason U2 is drawn to Las Vegas is because Vegas is where they met Frank Sinatra and were inducted into the Post-Rat Pack International Brotherhood of Big Wheels and High Rollers.
In the spring of 1987 The Joshua Tree had just been released and U2 was enjoying the glow of their first number one album, their first number one single, "With or Without You," and they were on the cover of Time magazine. At the moment of all this glory they were in Las Vegas for the first time, they went to their first prizefight and saw the brilliant middleweight Sugar Ray Leonard win with a dancer's grace. Then they were given free tickets to see Sinatra and Don Rickles at what they were told was a $25-thousand-a-table performance. They were, as U2 always was in those days, dressed like Emmett Kelly, but they were treated like royalty. Sinatra was having a good night, crooning out "One for My Baby" and other signature songs, and U2 was lapping it up. Then Frank said he wanted to introduce some special guests in the star-studded audience, a group from Ireland who have the number one record in the country, are on the cover of Time: U2. A spotlight hit the band and they stood, hamming it up and waving to Liz Taylor, Gregory Peck, and all the other stars in the fur-shrouded audience till Sinatra
busted their bubble by cracking, "And they haven't spent a dime on clothes."
After the show U2 went backstage to say hello to Frank and ended up getting into an intense discussion with him about music, a subject they had the impression no one ever talked to him about. Buddy Rich had just died and Larry asked if it was true that in the big band days the whole group followed the drummer. "The way it should be!" Larry suggested. Rich and Sinatra had been roommates, pals, enemies, and finally kindred souls, and Sinatra jumped at the chance to talk about him, to talk about the interplay between musicians in the days of Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller.
Sinatra's aides kept knocking on the door with the names of other celebrities who were waiting outside for the chance to say hello: "Gene Autry, Frank." "Roger Moore, Frank." Each time Sinatra would tell them to get lost, he was talking to U2. Afterward Frank's handlers seemed amazed that the boss had spent so much time with anybody, let along a rock group. U2 was offered standing invitations to racetracks in New Jersey and other insider entertainments. The joke on the tour after that was, "Since we met Sinatra, no trouble with the unions."
Bono, a big fan anyway, now threw himself into Sinatra's music. He attended a Sinatra concert in Dublin a year or two later and thought it would be presumptuous to try to go backstage-maybe Sinatra would have forgotten him. During the show he felt a tap on his shoulder and turned to see the Lord Mayor of Dublin festooned in his ceremonial ribbons and amulet crouching in the aisle saying, "Bono! Frank was asking for ya!"
So it is with some anticipated pizzazz that U2 lands in Vegas again, flush from the Clinton victory and the Glide Memorial inspiration and full of power and glory. They ran into R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck at their concert in Alabama and talked him into coming up when they hit Sin City. Buck says that it's great to jump into U2's world, but "I feel kind of like being Hermann Goering's assistant. You're always in a white limo rocketing somewhere real interesting and no one knows why you're there. But I really enjoy it!"
R.E.M. is the band whose position and reputation is closest to U2's. In the mid-eighties Bono got on the phone and talked R.E.M. into opening some European festival dates for U2, after R.E.M. had sworn off opening for anybody in the aftermath of some bad gigs supporting
Bow Wow Wow. A friendship between the two groups began then, confirmed when Buck and R.E.M bassist Mike Mills were pressed into performing a drunken rendition of "King of the Road" on U2's tour bus.
"We were, like, twelfth on the bill on some of the shows," Buck recalls. "And I seem to remember going on at eleven o'clock in the morning to mass indifference, generally. It's funny because we played really well. I don't think we did a bad show. No one had ever heard of us. We did okay in Dublin, but at some shows I remember just seeing a lot of the backs of peoples' heads and occasionally the soles of their feet while we were playing. It wasn't bad. We were done by two o'clock in the afternoon, then we could go get drunk and watch these other bands. It was the first time we had ever done anything like that. And after we did it we thought, well, it's not really that hard."
R.E.M. and U2 both emerged in the early 1980s, and are now almost the only bands left standing from the dozens of contenders-X, Husker Du, Gang of Four, the Replacements, the Blasters-who at the time seemed equally likely to go as far as R.E.M. and U2 have gone.
"None of the other bands from the era that we came out of, postpunk, lasted at all," Buck says. "I thought maybe there was some sort of built-in obsolescence: that when you don't acknowledge the past at all, there's only so far you can go into the future. A lot of those bands' historical perspective went back to 1975 and there's not much you can really do with that. You use your youthful energy and craziness and then what? Then it's time to learn how to write songs. A lot of those people didn't. I remember the year when U2 started to sell lots of records. All of a sudden it became sort of obvious that that was going to happen because, well, who else was there? It's either going to be Bon Jovi and those bands-which it was obvious a lot of kids weren't listening to -or it's going to be U2 and to a certain degree us. I didn't think we would specifically sell a lot of records, but I could see that there was this big gap and that U2 was definitely going to go in there.
"R.E.M. don't really care that much if we're the biggest band in the world, but I think U2 does want that to a certain degree. I talked to Larry about it and he said so. You make conscious decisions. I don't think any of their decisions have changed musically where they want to go, but I think it changes how you want to present yourself, and some of us just aren't really interested in that kind of stuff. Bill Berry (R.E.M.'s
drummer) said, 'If I wanted to be famous I'd be the singer.' He'd be really happy if he just never had to have his picture taken, never had to do an interview. And I'm pretty much the same way. So our picture's not on the cover of the records and we're not in the videos a huge amount. We don't do the talk show rounds. We don't present awards. We don't go to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I'd just as soon not do anything except make the records, play when I want to, and when it comes time to promote the record, do the obligatory three-week meet-and-greet and interview session."
I suggest to Buck that it's better U2 has those ambitions than to leave the field to Bon Jovi.
"Yes," Buck says. "I like ambitious people. I like people that see a goal that they want to obtain and work toward it. Our goals are just different."
Buck doesn't know it yet, but he's about to be roped into a very non-R.E.M. moment. Principle's Suzanne Doyle calls Buck's room and in-forms him that tonight at the U2 show he is going to be presenting a Q magazine award to U2 and accepting on behalf of R.E.M. a Q magazine award from U2. Peter tries to weasel out of it; he says, "You're not going to make me do it onstage, are you?" No, no, he's told, they'll do it all in the dressing room, with photos for the magazine and filmed acceptance speeches to be played at the awards dinner in London.
So Buck is shepherded into a backstage room decorated with potted palms and he and U2 take turns presenting each other with the same trophy (the magazine only sent one) while Bono goes in and out of the Fly character and everyone keeps laughing and asking the cameraman to stop the tape and start again.
As a reward to Buck for his efforts, Bono insists he come with U2 to the heavyweight boxing championship fight the next night between champ Evander Holyfield and younger challenger Riddick Bowe. Buck's never been to a boxing match and figures he'll go along for the ride. U2 is hoping for an experience as exciting as seeing Sugar Ray Leonard five years earlier. They're not going to get it.
At the arena Bono and Buck get into an Alphonse and Gaston argument over who's going to take the better seat. Bono insists that Buck take the up-front seats with Edge and Larry; Bono's still got a good view from a few sections up. Buck says no, no, people want to see U2 walk in together. Bono says, "Look, I'll walk with you guys down to the
front, then I'm going back to the other seat-I don't want to be in front." Buck gets a little dose of the treatment U2 gains by being on all those album covers and videos as they walk down among the Hollywood VIP's and everyone says hello. Jack Nicholson looks up and says, "Hi, boys!" "Hi, Jack!" (Nicholson started coming to U2 concerts on the Joshua Tree tour and he and Bono have hung out in Hollywood and in France. Bono is most impressed by Nicholson's remaining in perfect Jack character even in a foreign language. He does a great impression of the actor saying, with his famous inflections, "Pardoney moi, Garson. Havey vous french fries?")
Bono greets his fellow royals and then leaves Edge, Larry, and Buck down front. Buck turns to his left and introduces himself to the man sitting next to him, who turns out to be Sugar Ray Leonard himself. As the fight begins, Leonard offers Buck a running commentary, explaining every strategy and how each point is scored. This, Peter figures, is the way to see your first boxing match.
In the second round the twenty-five-year-old Bowe slams into thirty-year-old Holyfield with a low blow that the champ thinks is illegal. Holyfield turns to catch the rets attention and Bowe sucker punches him. Holyfield flies into a rage and abandons all strategy, pounding into the younger man with blows that sound like cannons to the musicians. The fight's turned ugly. Buck closes his eyes. Larry feels his temper rise as a famous goon behind him-Sylvester Stallone-howls, "Break his fuckin' nose!" like the school bully's weasel sidekick. Buck hears Bruce Willis baying "Kill him!" and mutters that he'd like to see Willis and Stallone beating each other bloody for the amusement of millionaires, This is nothing like the Leonard fight that seemed so scientific, so graceful. This is two heavyweights trying to blast each other's heads in with blows that would kill whole genres of rock musicians.
They call these seats "the red circle," because if you're rich enough to sit here you get sprayed with blood. "To hear the fists going into the faces," Larry says, "to see the cuts opening over the eyes and the blood pouring into the fighters' eyes, is disturbing."
At the end of the fight there is a new champion: Riddick Bowe in a unanimous decision after what the New York Times calls, "One of his-tory's best heavyweight brawls." Larry, Edge, and Buck are disillusioned with the sweet science and swear off boxing. Bono, who was further
back, is crushed when Buck tells him that the seat he gave up was next to Sugar Ray.
The musicians jump into their white limo and are deposited at the ringside of another great African American athlete-James Brown. Catching a late night J. B. show in Vegas would be a gas anyway, but James announces he has a special guest in the audience he wants to bring up to join him on "Sex Machine." Bono prepares his hair and Brown announces, "Magic Johnson!" The place goes nuts as Magic, the super-human basketball player who recently quit the game when he learned he was HIV-positive, climbs up and joins James in singing, "Get up! I feel like a sex machine!"
Bono thinks it's an awkward choice of song for a man battling the AIDS virus after what he has described as a life of promiscuity. "Be a sex machine," Bono says, "but for Christ's sake use a condom."
When all the star-search stuff is over, when the rockers have gone back and met Magic and James and put Stallone and Willis out of their heads and said good night to stories about Jack Nicholson and Frank Sinatra, Buck talks about how new this shoulder-rubbing between rock musicians and mainstream stars really is.
"I think partly the nature of rock & roll celebrity has changed over the last ten years," he says. "If you look at any of those old Stones' films, where they check into a Holiday Inn in 1972, they're the biggest band in the world and no one knows who they are. That doesn't happen anymore. Everyone is on videos. Rock & roll people like us were brought up to practice in a basement, and no one cared what we looked like; it was just not a celebrity thing. Then when you got really huge, kids knew who you were.
"There's this idea that rock & roll is rebellious music and you're not doing what society says. But nowadays the first time you have a hit record you're shaking hands with guys in offices and people want to get you a different haircut. They're offering to have a guy make you suits so that you can get that Armani look. It must be mind-blowing.
"R.E.M. didn't even sell a million records until we'd been together for nine years. So at that point you couldn't really show me anything that I hadn't seen before. And U2 was the same. They were more successful out of the box than we were; I guess by about 1985 they were really huge. But still, I bet nobody over twenty-five recognized them on the streets. And it's not that way anymore. You can literally have one
video and be world famous. People in foreign countries know what you look like. Rock & roll celebrity is now much closer to what traditional showbiz used to be, where they'd write about your personal habits. The Stones used to only get written about in the mainstream press when they got arrested. Now I read the gossip columns when I'm in New York or L.A. and it will say who's eating where with who. That's a whole new thing."
Buck figures what separates the artists from the posers is the willing-ness to keep changing what you do that made you successful. Another thing U2 and R.E.M. have in common is that both bands created instantly identifiable sounds that were widely imitated by other bands- and then abandoned those sounds and moved on to new areas.
"There are people who are in it for a career and there are people who are in it to try and find out something about themselves," Buck says. "The only way you can find out about your life and how to live your life is to try a lot of different things and fail at some of them. Probably LJ2's only failure was Rattle and Hum. I'm sure it sold ten million records, but I don't think it did exactly what they wanted it to do. And yet that's good. It opened the door for them to do something else."
Buck was impressed by Zoo TV on several levels: "Certainly over the years they've been known as being a sincere group, in capital letters. It was nice that they could just take that and throw it away and start over. And just technologically the show is pretty amazing. As a musician I was thinking, 'God this would be so hard. You have to work with all these cues and all this stuff going on!' I mean, if I want to go backstage during a song and pick my nose I can; there's all kinds of dark places. This was almost like a Broadway play, it was so rigid. I really thought it was a great show. Probably the best show I've ever been to in a large arena."
The others fly out of Las Vegas to California, but Larry continues on- as he has journeyed through much of America-on his motorcycle with his biker buddy, security man David Guyer. After a ride from Florida to New Orleans Larry won his wings, a Harley-Davidson patch. David says that in the motorcycle world there's no shortage of celebrities who know more about looking cool than actually riding. He names one rock star who bought a big expensive bike and made a great show of rolling into the parking lot of a hip nightclub. Unfortunately he had not learned how to stop it and crashed.
Along the desert highway between Vegas and California, Larry and David pull into a motel for the night. Larry isn't sure why David insists to the clerk that their rooms be on the ground floor. Once they've got their keys David leads Larry back outside and tells him to get on his bike, they're not leaving these Harleys out here. David rides his motor-cycle into his motel room and Larry feels obliged to do the same. "I love the smell of gasoline in the morning," Larry says.
IF you believed the tour itinerary you'd believe U2 have the better part of a week off in Los Angeles after they play the L.A. Coli-seum and before they fly off to Mexico City for their final con-certs of 1992. You'd think they'd be lolling by the pool, philosophizing about post-neoromanticism and taking harmonica lessons. But a gap in concerts does not mean a gap in U2's work schedule, and this being Hollywood the days are filled with movie meetings and the nights with television work.
The television work is the making of a U2 TV special to be aired on the Fox network on Thanksgiving weekend in the USA, and on other carriers in other countries around the world. That is to say, this master-piece will be broadcast in a week and a half and U2 are still excavating the mountains of film they've shot on their travels and trying to figure out what to do with it all. The band has imported top rock video director Kevin Godley to help them make sense of reels of concert footage, abstract bits starring the individual band members, and clips with such non-prime time guest stars as beat writer William Burroughs, cyberpunk author William Gibson, and LSD guru Timothy Leary. Right now the chunks of cinema verite different band members are scrutinizing in different screening and cutting rooms in an L.A. film editing facility recall the artistically ambitious incoherence of "Magical Mystery Tour," the holiday TV special that burst the Beatles' critical bubble in the aftermath of the triumph of Sgt. Pepper.
Some of it's pretty good, though. U2 are determined to stick a wishbone in the throat of Thanksgiving Day America with their clip of
Burroughs reading his "Thanksgiving Prayer" against a superimposed American flag. It is a thank-you to "Our father who aren't in heaven" for providing Indians to kill, land to despoil, small nations to plunder, and Africans to enslave.
To tape this soliloquy Burroughs visited U2 at their hotel when the Zoo tour passed through Kansas. Hall Willner, that record producer connected to all things underground and alternative, set up the get-together. It is not entirely clear that Burroughs knew who U2 were, but he did provide entertainment-he produced a paper bag full of hand-guns. Now Burroughs is a great and important figure in American letters, but he is almost as notorious for the legend of his killing his wife while trying to shoot an apple off her head as he is for writing Naked Lunch. So when U2 saw that the frail old author was packing heat, even Edge's hat flew in the air.
Buffalo Bill left U2 with an epigram as good as any in "The Fly": "When I was in prison in Mexico," he said, "one of the guards told me, 'I hate to see a man in jail because of a woman.' "
Back at Burroughs's house the author and Willner armed themselves and took to blasting away at targets in the nip of the Kansas afternoon. Willner, another man whose grievances one would not wish to see augmented by firearms, managed to score three bull's-eyes, after each of which Burroughs cried, "Lethal hits!" All, unfortunately, were in the target next to the one at which he was aiming. Afterward Burroughs collected the pistols, reloaded them, dropped them back into the bag, and shuffled up the hill home.
Looking at the Burroughs footage now, Bono asks what-as an American-I think the reaction will be. The Irish band and English director turn and stare at me. I tell them that the prayer, the litany of historic abuses, is great, and Burroughs's nicotine-whinging reading is hilarious. But you've got to be real careful about mocking the U.S. flag. People from other countries don't attach the totemlike voodoo to their flags that Americans do; making fun of Old Glory is like making fun of crosses or Stars of David-it may be a symbol and not the thing itself, but plenty of people are devoted to the symbol. U2 listen, look at each other, and say, "Leave in the flag."
The nights this week are devoted to assembling the TV special; during the days Bono is hustling like a Hollywood honky to close the deal to begin production on his screenplay, The Million Dollar Hotel. Bono
wrote the story with a Hollywood scriptwriter named Nicholas Klein and Bono holds the copyright. The story was inspired by a cheap L.A. hotel full of bizarre characters that U2 discovered during the long incubation of Rattle and Hum. The script was finished, offered for sale, and optioned by Mel Gibson's production company. Quite a success for a young scriptwriter with another job! Now Bono is meeting with Mel and his people in the afternoons while also shuffling the actor he hopes will play the male lead-Gary Oldman-out of his hotel suite before the proposed female lead-Winona Ryder-shuffles in. See, Oldman and Ryder just made another movie together, Francis Coppola's mis-named Bram Stoker's Dracula. It is the number one film in America this week! Oldman is poised to suck Ryder's neck on the covers of maga-zines at the newsstand in the hotel lobby! Yet Dracula generated bad blood between the two young movie stars, so Bono has Winona cooling her heels down in the lobby of the Sunset Marquis while he shows Oldman how much quicker it is to leave by the back.
"Winona's my guide to all this movie stuff," Bono explains. "She's given me hours of good advice." After Rattle and Hum Bono and Winona kicked around the idea of trying to make a western about Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickock, a film about the struggle between love and independence. Eventually Bono got distracted with recording Achtung Baby and making tour plans, Winona got involved in putting together Dracula, and the cowboy idea got put aside. For her twenty-first birthday Bono gave the actress a .38 Magnum with the inscription, "Happy Birthday, Winona-You've made my day."
Bono very much appreciates Mel Gibson's patronage and is grateful for the doors Gibson's box office name opens in the film industry. But he must wonder if it would be a mistake for the macho sex symbol to play the starring role in this film. The hero of Bono's screenplay is Tom-Tom, a scrawny, semiretarded hotel janitor who no one-least of all the pretty girl to be played by Winona-looks at twice. Quite a stretch for Mel! Gibson's done Hamlet to demonstrate that he's not just a Mad Max-Lethal Weapon action bimbo. Now he's considering playing the ugly imbecile to further stretch his range.
Gary Oldman, on the other hand, is the name at the very top of the scrawny, imbecile actor A-list. From Sid & Nancy to Track 29 to State of Grace to Rosencrantz &- Guildenstern Are Dead, Oldman has cornered the
market on dopes, goons, and mouth-breathers. In movie industry par-lance, when you're talkin' dimwits and sickos, you're talkin' Oldman.
Winona is perfect for the ghostly girl in tragic black who hides from life in the fleabag hotel. It's a natural continuation of the gifted actress's pale-faced Beetlejuice/Mermaids/Edward Scissorhands oeuvre. What a cast! Gibson for the women, Ryder for the men, Oldman for the critics! All Bono has to do is get them to see the greater glory.
Bono floats the notion of Mel giving the lead to Oldman and sliding over into the role of the pinhead (literally) police detective who shakes down the denizens of the Million Dollar Hotel and bullys the moron custodian hero. Gibson might not be wild about the lack of actorly challenge in playing another tough cop, but Bono hopes to impress on him that while he may have played tough cops before, he has never played a tough cop with a pointed head.
There's one other role to fill. Who's going to direct? Bono's first choice would be Roman Polanski, but, as he's exiled from America, it would mean recreating L.A. in Europe. He thinks Coppola's a great painter, a brilliant visualist, but wonders if he would stick to the story. Of course he dreams of Scorsese, and of course he'd never get him. I suggest Barry Levinson: Diner proved he's great with multiple character comedy/drama-and Rain Man showed he's a poet of nitwits. I keep throwing out names as if I (like Bono) really knew these people, and as we walk through the hotel lobby Bono sees waiting for him Phil Joanou, who directed U2 Rattle and Hum and then State of Grace with Oldman and Sean Penn and Final Analysis with Richard Gere. State of Grace was consid-ered derivative but promising; Final Analysis was a disaster. Together with the box office failure of Rattle and Hum, that puts Joanou in a tough spot. In the time U2 spent making Achtung Baby the young director's gone from Boy Wonder to Next Big Thing to Has-Been. He needs a break, and a chance to work with Mel Gibson would be just the ticket.
Bono likes Joanou and believes he will eventually prove himself to be a great filmmaker-but he is afraid that if Million Dollar Hotel is directed by the man who made U2's tour film as well as the "One" video it will look like a U2 vanity project, like Bono wrote a script and hired U2's personal director to film it. The jittery director corners Bono and asks if there's been any word yet on setting up a meeting with Mel.
Bono says, absolutely, it's going to happen.
Joanou asks Bono if he really is in consideration for this job or is this
just a polite brush-off-'cause if it is, tell him now and save him looking like a jerk. No, Bono says, he is absolutely in favor of Phil directing- if he can sell Mel on it.
At midnight, during a break from the TV editing, Bono hooks up for dinner with Oldman and Joanou, who worked together on State of Grace and on an episode of a pay-TV series called Fallen Angels. Joanou also directed Oldman's wife, Uma Thurman, in Final Analysis. The director and actor are well acquainted. Joanou is explaining in great detail the differences between himself and Francis Coppola; how Coppola never says "Print," but Joanou always yells "Print!" real loud so that the cast and crew know they've done a good job. Bono perks things up by doing a loud and grotesque imitation of Oldman's performance in Dracula. Everyone at the table has a good laugh at that, although Oldman, as uncomfortable as any actor with some amateur chewing his scenery, jumps in and says now he'll do an impression: Phil Joanou directing a scene.
Oldman leans forward nervously, starts chewing rapidly on imaginary gum, and pushes his hair behind his ears over and over while shouting, "Print! Print!" Everyone laughs hard, but it strikes me as a junior high school one-upsmanship.
Both Bono and McGuinness have told me repeatedly that Oldman is a big fan of Joanou's, thinks he is a real actor's director with whom people like Oldman and Penn feel safe pushing themselves to the limit. Is that true, I wonder, or is Joanou a director Oldman thinks he can dominate? McGuinness, who spent a lot of time in Hollywood as the producer of U2 Rattle and Hum, says there is a game of savage ball-busting that is carried on between top actors and directors that looks brutal to an outsider, but they have to respect you to let you into the game.
Joanou looks across to another table and then turns back and says. "That girl over there looking at us, she's on Twin Peaks, but I can't remember her name." We all steal glances. "Oh, yeah, is she ... ? and everybody starts listing different actresses from the cult TV series. Joanou says he's going to go get her. He does, plucking her from her own TV-level company and depositing her among the rock and movie stars. She nods and everyone else nods at her and goes back to their discussion as if she wasn't here. So the actress starts talking about this new film that would be perfect for Joanou to direct and she can set it up
and there's a role for Oldman and all of a sudden Joanou yells, "Bullshit! That is just fuckin' Hollywood bullshit!" The actress is taken aback but Oldman looks up, impressed. He says to Joanou sincerely, "Fair play to you, mate,"
Bono says it's time to go back to the TV studio and invites everyone to come along. He walks into the editing room, where Godley has been up for days, trailing Oldman, Joanou, and the Twin Peaks actress. Godley looks up as if considering the career ramifications of wrapping his fingers around Bono's throat. Bono leads his procession to a screening room to look at some finished footage. Oldman jumps into an oversize, vibrating, cocoonlike superchair and starts doing imitations as he hits the buttons on the armrest: "You cannot escape, Mr. Bond." "Uhura!"
The movie screen in the room lights up with a concert version of "Until the End of the World." On the screen Bono is walking down the ramp to the B stage, through what looks like a wheat field of out-stretched arms. The conceit of this TV production is that, in true Zoo TV style, the show will reach for the channel changer before the viewer can, so while Bono is emoting, the shot suddenly switches to a ditsy blonde from the ramp-side being asked if she got close to Bono: "Not close enough!" then cuts to an overhead shot of Bono lifting his hand in the air and singing, "I reached out to the one I tried to destroy," and then-zap-a despairing peasant woman in black and white and-zap -a tidal wave and-zap-Edge rocking out, and under all this Bono singing, "You said you'd wait until the end of the world." There's no doubt that all this fancy editing breaks the spell of the music.
Bono turns to his guests, who are sprawled around the room flirting and chatting and asks if they don't agree that cutting away from him during the climax of the song ruins the whole effect. Of course everyone says, "Yeah, um, right, I was thinking the same thing." Thus fortified, Bono leads his troops back into the editing room where the exhausted Godley, his wife, Sue, and his producer, Rocky Oldham, are slaving away. It's 3 a.m.; they don't look anxious for any more input.
Bono says that the strangest thing just happened: he was watching the footage with his guests here and every single one of them said they thought the power of "Until the End of the World" was ruined by all those cutaways at the climax. Godley looks up sadly. Bono's guests all nod and grunt and say, "Um, yeah. Right. I thought so too."
Bono's in an awkward position: by bringing a bunch of outsiders into
the studio he knows he's breached etiquette, but the film editing really is sabotaging the music and he and Godley are going to have to argue about it in front of company.
"It breaks the spell," Bono explains. "All I do is create a spell. I don't paint pictures. I don't write novels. All we really do is create a spell and even watching this I find myself going under. . . . Then that pulls me out. That ruins it. I don't mind a slap in the head to wake me when it's over-that's fine-but this is coitus interruptus."
"Fine," says Godley. "I understand. But if you keep taking all these bits out you'll end up with a straight concert film."
Godley suggests Bono and his panel of judges listen to the new audio mix of "Until the End of the World" before he makes up his mind. He cues it up on a monitor in the editing room. David Saltz, a producer of rock TV shows, has been drafted by the band to add running commen-tary-like a sports announcer-to the concert. Last night Bono was busting with ideas and feeding Saltz lines like, "It's a dictionary on fast forward!" Bono watches "Until the End of the World" again, this time with Saltz's voice overdubbed hyperventilating a mangled play-by-play as, on the screen, Bono walks up the ramp: "Bono exorcising the Edge! Exorcising the audience! Exorcising himself!"
"It's completely, completely wrong," Bono announces gravely. "It ruins it. It's like in school when you write a paper, 'He stabbed her a hundred times and then he cut her and then he chopped her head off and then he woke up.' "
The director and Bono stare at each other. The producer breaks the silence: "Actually, I never wrote that in school."
Bono suddenly laughs and says, "Then put down the knife!"
They fiddle with the edits for another hour while Oldman, the actress, and Joanou all drift off. Finally Bono says good night and heads to the door. The director and producer steal a glance at each other and mumble, "Coitus interruptus."
jumping off the million-dollar hotel/ an existential moment in a war zone/ t-bone searches I.a. for his breakfast/ me/ gibson says nothing/ beep confounds the establishment/ the security system is tested
T-BONE burnett is a fine singer/songwriter with a number of critically acclaimed albums that don't sell very well. So he makes his fortune as a record producer, having done that duty with Elvis Costello, Los Lobos, Roy Orbison, and many, many others. He is a cynic with a heart of gold, a man who knows the inside skinny on everything from the real meaning of "Rosebud" in Citizen Kane (It was, swears T-Bone, William Randolph Hearst's nickname for his penis) to who killed JFK (T-Bone, a Texan, knows the son of one of the oilmen who says he paid for the hit). T-Bone knows where all the bodies are buried, which is one of the reasons Bono likes hanging out with him so much. The first time they met, at London's Portobello Hotel in 1985, they went right upstairs and wrote a song together: "Having a Wonderful Time, Wish You Were Her."
Since then they've recorded together, Ellen Darst did a stint as T-Bone's manager, and he's been a regular source of advice for the band both when they've asked for it and when they haven't. I remember T-Bone telling me in 1986, "Have you heard this song U2's written called 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For'? It's tremendous, it s going to be a big hit, it's like an Elvis Presley song."
Today T-Bone and Bono are putting all their talent and intelligence together to try to locate a place to eat breakfast in Los Angeles at 2 in the afternoon. Bono is still trying to manage The Million Dollar Hotel.
A new wrinkle has come up. With time running out before Mel Gibson's option expires and the financing collapses, Gary Oldman has
announced his condition for playing Tom-Tom: the film must be di-rected by his great friend Phil Joanou. Sean Penn has weighed in, too, with the opinion that no one has ever given a bad performance in a Joanou film. Bono's balancing act is getting more and more difficult. Winona says she is willing to work with Oldman again, putting aside whatever tension developed over Dracula, but now Gibson must agree to use Joanou. And Gibson didn't even want to hear Joanou's name.
The stink made by the flop of Final Analysis has really soured Holly-wood on Phil. But there may be subterranean forces at work too. Rightly or wrongly, Joanou believes that Richard Gere, the star of that movie, has unfairly blamed him all over town for its failure and told people throughout his powerful circle not to work with the director. Phil says that half the things that are now cited as reasons the movie failed are things Gere asked for, but now the actor has put all the blame on him. Joanou's afraid that the fix is in, but that's impossible to prove in the town of "You scratch my back and I'll stab yours." This much, though, is clear: Mel Gibson has the same agent as Richard Gere, and Gibson has said that if Phil is in, he is out.
Phil's position has been, "Just get me a lunch with Mel and let me talk to him, just let me make my case." Bono has prevailed on Gibson to meet Joanou for lunch and give him a chance to talk. If Phil can't convince Mel to give him a shot, Bono's only option would be to convince Oldman to drop Phil-which would be ugly. Bono is hoping hard that Phil charms Mel into submission.
After striking out in our quest for eggs in restaurants from East Hollywood to Beverly Hills, we end up in the coffee shop of the Beverly Hills Hotel. Bono hesitates before going in. He reminds T-Bone of the time they were ejected from the hotel restaurant, along with Edge and Kris Kristofferson, because of their shabby clothes. Bono said, "Look, how about if you ignore the jeans and we ignore the bad fake impres-sionist paintings?" A minute later the four of them landed on the sidewalk.
Once in the coffee shop, Bono launches into a dialogue with T-Bone -another Christian intellectual in the Thomas Merton/C. S. Lewis/ Billy Sol Estes tradition-about art, faith, and the nature of knowledge. (Hey-don't let me keep you; skip ahead to Mexico if you want.) Bono says that when U2 hooked up with Eno they were modernists because they wanted to write songs and make records no one had ever made
before. With Achtung Baby they have entered their postmodern phase because they are combining new with old, grabbing references from other rock eras, while trying to move the whole thing forward. Bono says that he had to stop and ask himself after Rattle and Hum why he had wanted to be in a band to begin with. "Was it to save the world? I don't think so. To be honest it was probably because I saw Mark Bolan on Top of the Pops." So he began trying to get back to that essence while experi-menting with new sounds.
Bono is quick to admit that many of his ideas are instinctive, not intellectual-he does not have the time to be rigorous in researching or testing them. One of the theories that gets him into great arguments is that he believes that modernism started with Luther, with the Reforma-tion, with the dismantling of the iconography of the culture and insis-tence on simplicity and function. Bono says he initially followed the modernist trail back to the Shakers. Then he got Frank Barsalona, who had a collection of Shaker furniture, to put him in touch with an authority who confirmed Bono's guess that the Shakers were influenced by European ideas and the Bauhaus movement was in turn influenced by the Shakers. Bono is convinced that all this stripping down and direct-ness goes back to the Protestant impulse, back to Luther, and that the modernists made the great mistake of taking on the antireligion of the existentialists and lost that thread. (It's one of the wonders of Bono's considerable intellect that he can construct a unified field theory of all his interests-even when they have nothing to do with each other.)
Bono's collaborator on The Million Dollar Hotel, Nicholas Klein, is a metaphysicist who uses logic vigorously applied to map out the future. Bono finds a scriptural colloquy for every equation his friend comes up with. For example, Klein offered the proposition: "Independence is the opposite of love." Bono was taken aback by that idea but followed it through and decided it was the essence of God's problem with Satan. Isn't it the desire for independence that pulls marriages apart? Doesn't a parent's overwhelming love for a dependent child often sour at the moment that child becomes independent?
Like an old Jesuit, Bono believes God can be found through pure logic. Look at the word for "The Word" in St. John's gospel: Logos. In the beginning was the Word. In the beginning was Logos. In the begin-ning was Logic.
I point out that he may have his etymology backward-the develop-
ment of our language may have followed the religion and philosophy of the people, creating these connections after the fact.
"I believe instinctively," Bono says, "that if we follow logic all the way to the smallest point we will find God."
"In every grain of sand?" I ask.
"Exactly," Bono says as we settle the check. "As the seed has all the genetic information for the tree. As a cell contains more information than any computer chip."
Driving back through town, this Reli.Stu. seminar gets onto the topic of liberation theology, the radical brand of Catholicism practiced in some parts of Latin America that encouraged victims of dictatorship to take up arms against their oppressors. Bono says that when he and Ali were in Central America they journeyed one day into an area where they could feel the earth shaking from nearby artillery and at one point had shots fired over their heads. Ali is fearless; she insisted on forging ahead. Finally they came to a town. One the side of a building someone had spray-painted "Fuck Jesus."
Bono recoiled. So here on the front lines, this is what they think of liberation theology, here is how they have despaired of God's mercy, here is how they lost faith in the savior of their fathers. He expressed all that to his guide and showed him the blasphemy.
"Not Jesus Christ!" The guide told him. "Fuck Hey-zoos-he lives around the corner!"
We land back at the Sunset Marquis, where four kids are waiting outside with cameras and U2 albums. Bono walks over and says he appreciates their support and he's happy to sign autographs and pose for pictures after gigs, but he'd appreciate it if they didn't hang around for days on end outside his hotel, because it makes him feel like a celebrity and he's not a celebrity: he's a rock & roller.
"That sounds good, Bono," I say, "but if you're not a celebrity how do you explain these eight teenage girls charging down the street toward you?" Bono looks up just before he's engulfed in squeals and giggles.
I go back up to my room and find a notice to show up in a special Zoo medical room for my pre-Mexico injections. I drag myself up to the appointed suite where a dubious-looking doctor is instructing a line of Zoo people to bend over and drop their pants and roll up their sleeves. A long needle in the ass for hepatitis and a short needle in the arm for tetanus.
There are all sorts of horror stories floated about the dysentery in Mexico. People say don't drink the water, don't even eat fruit or vegeta-bles washed in water. Edge says he's been warned not to shower. "Of course," he concedes, "that could add to the problem."
At suppertime I go off to visit T-Bone in a rented mansion where he's producing the first album for a San Francisco band called Counting Crows. I got a self-produced demo tape from them about a year ago and unlike every other such self-made demo, it was really good. I knew the A & R man who signed them and I knew he had wanted to put them in a house to make their first album rather than a studio. I was surprised to find out that's what T-Bone was working on and was happy for the chance to go by and eavesdrop. The mansion they've rented is one of those white elephants built for millions during the eighties gold rush to sell for millions more, but not made for people to live in. The pool is cracking and water is running down the side of the mountain, and there're low-hanging objects on which the band members bang their heads as they walk around. I have the good timing to arrive at supper-time, hang around up there for a while, and break the key off in the door of my rental car. By the time I get it replaced and make it back to the Marquis, Bono, Adam, and Larry have left for work.
No one can find the Edge, but progress at the TV studio continues cranking along. There are three rooms working now, in two different buildings. Larry and Adam are in one, overseeing nuances of the sound mix that no TV speaker will ever detect. They're listening to the moment before the band begins, separating and assigning levels to the white noise from the Zoo TV screens, the ambient crowd noise and the direct crowd noise. "There are three loud bursts of applause," Larry says. "The first when the lights go down, the second when people see the band, the third when they see Bono's silhouette."
During a quick coffee break Larry mentions Clinton's victory. "I'm excited," he says. "I think he has a chance to restore balance. That's my philosophy for this year: Balance." He then goes back to balancing the sound.
Bono is in the other room arguing with the producer, who to Bono's horror showed a rough cut of the program to Fox TV executives, who objected to the burning crosses in "Bullet the Blue Sky" and to the use of the words nigger and queer in Burroughs's monologue.
"This is one of America's greatest living writers!" Bono says. "If
they're going to censor him there's going to be real trouble! I'll pull the show. I thought this was being broadcast direct by satellite, I thought Fox was going to have no control over it."
Wearily, the producer explains to Bono that the show is being broad-cast by satellite in the rest of the world, but not in the U.S.; that Fox has every right, contractual and moral, to see the show before they air it; and they may yet exercise their right not to show it at all.
Bono walks out in the parking lot where he is delighted to see his long lost friend, the Edge. "Reg!" he cries in a loud, goofy voice as kids hanging on the corner do triple takes. "Where have you been?"
Edge says he went off to see Ronnie Wood play at a local club and ended up hanging with an actress who goes out with Ben Stiller, a TV comedian who does a nasty impersonation of Bono. "Tell him to stop making fun of me, Edge!" Bono cries. "Tell him glamorous people have feelings too!"
They go back inside, where Larry is objecting to a sampled bit from a news broadcast that refers to a serial killer striking again. "It's obviously being played for a joke," Larry says, "and I don't feel right about that."
Edge reaches over and grabs Larry's arm and says, "It's true, he doesn't feel right."
The producer-really turning on the Hollywood hyperbole, leans forward and insists, "The important thing is it makes you feel something."
Larry smiles and sits back, but I'll bet when the film is finished the serial killer will be gone. Larry's instincts are more tenacious than other people's intellectualizations.
The band works till about 4 a.m. and then Bono says he's going to bed. I get in his rented two-seater next to him. As we're pulling away Edge comes out, asks for a lift, and climbs in the jump seat behind us. Bono drives as he always drives, too fast and often on the wrong side of the road.
"Slow down, Bono, I don't want to die!" Edge shouts from his cockpit behind the seat.
"Don't worry, Edge," I tell him, crouching into a fetal position in the passenger seat, "you're in a safe spot, you'll be pulled from the wreckage! I'll be dead and all the papers will say is bono killed and then at the bottom of the page, Also another man"
Toward the end of the L.A. week Bono pulls up at a traffic light, looks over at the driver next to him, and sees Axl Rose waving. "I knew it was you," Axi's girlfriend calls. "I recognized your earring!" Bono wishes he weren't driving a Mercedes-not very rock & roll.
Friday morning the Zoo crew get set to depart for Mexico City while the band stays behind to finish the damn TV special. Organizing the travel plans is Dennis Sheehan, U2's longtime road manager. Disorga-nizing them is B. P. Fallon, the viber/deejay/guru who sits in his Trabant on the B stage every night before U2 comes on and spins records and tells the crowd to love each other while wearing a cape and big floppy hat. There are no two more dissimilar persons north of the equator than Dennis and Beep, and they go back a long way. In the seventies they were also on the road together, when Dennis was Led Zeppelin's assistant tour manager and Beep was their publicist. When Bono insisted Beep be drafted for the Zoo tour, Dennis warned, in his quiet manner, that Beep was not at his best on the road. Dennis likes to run his operation like the army, and Beep is the Furry Freak Brother model of a conscientious objector.
In the lobby this morning Beep, who weighs about as much as a canary, is straining under the great weight of a wooden cart laden with a pile of suitcases, trunks, and stereo gear literally taller than the pixielike hippie. Apparently he didn't have his stuff together in time for the luggage pickup, so they left without him. Lately Beep's been on proba-tion. He has a tendency to skip out on the incidental charges on his hotel bills, and to pile his trunks and suitcases onto staggering bellboys whom he never tips. There was so much complaining about "Freebie Fallon" from hotel staff that Dennis resorted to the heaviest penalty: B. P.'s case was handed over to Larry "the Hanging Judge" Mullen, who has agreed to let B. P. finish out the rest of the 1992 dates if he stays out of trouble. (A new deejay will be brought in for the '93 shows.)
Since then Larry has been chasing Beep up and down the inns and restaurants of America making sure he coughs up his share of the bills. Larry also ordered him to stop complaining that every room he checks into is unacceptable, and to quit calling ahead to the next hotel and saying, "This is Mr. Fallon, I'll be arriving on Tuesday and I have a list of specifications for my room." The relationship between the up-and-up Larry and the crafty leprechaun Beep is very much like that between Superman and Mr. Mxyzptik, the mischievous imp from the fifth di-
mension who used to fly around Metropolis turning the Daily Planet globe into a giant balloon and Jimmy Olsen into Turtle-boy until Superman would trick him into saying his name backward, which would cause him to vanish back to his own dimension. Lately I think I've heard Larry mumbling, "Nollaf P. B., Nollaf P. B."
I leave B. P. hauling his luggage through the lobby like Sisyphus and head out to the airport with Dennis to watch him do the security rounds. It's part of his regular ritual. Before U2 goes to any airport or hotel Dennis has scouted it, gotten the layout, looked for trouble spots, and explained to the staff what will be likely to happen when U2 arrives (fans running toward them, congestion building up in check-in lines or at metal detectors) and trying to get their cooperation to make sure things run as smoothly as possible. Before a tour begins Dennis starts his mornings at 5 a.m. and flies to three cities a day, spending a couple of hours in each scouting out the airport, hotel, and venue. Now Dennis and two LAX staffers run through tomorrow's band departure. They walk through where the cars will let U2 off, where they'll pass through airport security, the stairs to the first-class lounge, the layout of that lounge, the special VIP holding rooms. The whole time he's memoriz-ing this mental map Dennis is also picking up calls from the four band members on his portable phone, relaying to Suzanne Doyle or the hotel that Bono wants a car to go to lunch in half an hour or Edge wants to go to a particular club tonight.
As the airport staff escorts us through one area on our way to another I see a ball of confusion across the lobby. Alarm bells are ringing and airport security and redcaps are running after a little hippie man dragging a huge pile of luggage on a gurney behind him-he has just gone the wrong way through a metal detector and is rolling his trunks in through an "out" door.
If Dennis sees Beep spreading chaos like Johnny Appleseed, he does not let on. He continues his reconnaissance.
Dennis has spent his adult life on the road; he missed most of his children's growing up. With U2 he fought for concessions for the crew that had only been dreamed of over years of hard living. For example, each crew member has his own hotel room-an expensive luxury when 200 people are traveling, but one, Dennis insists, that allows the workers to feel like human beings. "You don't have to share with a smoker, you don't need to take a shower and find no towels." Dennis started in the
early seventies with bands such as Stone the Crows. Before joining U2 in 1987 he'd been working with punk bands, and did a stint behind a desk at Arista Records working with Patti Smith and Lou Reed. But his early career was dominated by Led Zeppelin. U2 is not his first ride at the top.
In the Zeppelin days Dennis was second-in-command to Richard Cole, a notorious rock & roll wildman who grew more infamous after being the primary source for the Led Zep expose Hammer of the Cods, and topped that with his own tell-all memoir. Dennis once found Cole, naked and out of his head, about to fly off the ledge of a hotel room. He wrestled him inside, surely saving his life. He says he wishes Cole the best with his books, but he could never do that, never kiss and tell. "There were nine good things with Led Zeppelin that no one knows about for every one bad thing," Dennis says. "But only the bad sells books."
We check into the first-class lounge, where the Principles are being boarded on the flight to Mexico. A panicky airport rep with a mustache runs up to Dennis and says there is a problem: "We've lost Mr. Fallon!"
"Fuck 'im," Dennis suggests.
The airport rep runs off, talking excitedly into a walkie-talkie of his own. They are holding the departure of the plane as long as they can while security is alerted to search for the missing VIP. Ten minutes later the mustached man returns to Dennis, mopping his brow and smiling triumphantly. "We found him, we got him on the plane, and they've taken off." Dennis nods and the man adds, "Whatever that guy's smok-ing, I don't want any."
"He's our resident leprechaun," Dennis explains.
Back in Hollywood I find U2 eating dinner near the editing studio, at a place called the Formosa that they discovered during the Rattle and Hum days. An older waitress comes up to Larry and says, "Aren't you grow-ing into a fine figure of a man," while he looks embarrassed.
Bono offers me a lift back to the studio. On the way we start telling can-you-top-this stories about our fathers. We both lost our mothers as teenagers and then went through the sit-com experience of living with our widowed dads as young men. "My father's a funny old guy," Bono smiles. "He never gave me a compliment in my life. Not from the day I beat him at chess when I was five years old and not in the twenty years after. I remember when I brought him to America for the first time to
see us play. It was a very emotional night. I introduced him from the stage, shined a spotlight on him. A very emotional performance. On that tour I was the first one off stage and no one followed me into the dressing room. It always takes me a few minutes after a show. Well, I came off stage and my father was right behind me. I got in the dressing room, turned around, and he was staring in my eyes. He reached out, took my hand in his, and I thought, 'Oh, my God, here it comes, after all these years ...' And still holding my hand, he said, 'Son-that was very professional.' "
Bono pulls into the studio parking lot laughing and shaking his head. He joins the others inside and they look at a rough edit of the TV special. It is set to be broadcast on Thursday. It is 2 a.m. Saturday. They shake their heads and say, no, it's not ready yet. They sit down and get back to work.
Oh, you probably want to know what happened when Phil Joanou went off to have his lunch with Mel Gibson. Well, Mel stuck to the letter of his deal with Bono-he said he'd have lunch with Phil and let him talk. Mel never said he'd talk back to him. Phil went to the Beverly Hills Hotel, sat down with one of Mel's people, Mel showed up, chatted with the other guy, gave no sign of hearing anything Phil said, got up, and left. Gibson then told Bono his position was unchanged: Mel Gibson will not make Million Dollar Hotel with Phil Joanou. Gary Oldman reiterates that his position is unchanged too. He will not make Million Dollar Hotel without Phil Joanou. Furthermore, Oldman needs a firm commitment quickly or he's going to have to accept another offer. Bono sees his big Hollywood package disappearing in front of him. Without Gibson's production company he cannot get the financing together to pay Oldman before he drops out, but Oldman won't come in without Joanou, which knocks out Gibson. The Million Dollar Hotel is shelved. Oldman takes on a thriller called Romeo Is Bleeding. Gibson will do a movie adaption of the TV western Maverick. Ryder goes off to do Reality Bites with first-time director Ben Stiller-that TV comedian who makes fun of Bono.
Welcome to Hollywood, boyo.
there is nothing as ugly as an 8 a.m. walkup call. U2 worked on their TV special until 4 and then slouched back to the hotel. Now, five hours later, the frazzled musicians are grum-bling into their coffee cups in the Sunset Marquis breakfast room, their eyes swollen shut and their chins nicked from shaving in their sleep. They nibble at muffins and drink only decaf so they can sleep on the plane to Mexico City. Adam, his blond mohawk beginning to grow out on the sides, is wearing a bright red suit "in honor of Mexico." Dennis Sheehan has gone on ahead to LAX to make ready the airport. A limo waits outside. They stare at the walls and mutter and nod off and shake their heads and sit back up and mutter more.
Finally Bono organizes his thoughts enough to demand to know why they have been made to sit here waiting to depart.
"Dennis said we had to leave by nine or we'd miss the gig," Larry says bitterly. "Now look! It's nine-thirty."
They all snort and nod. "And he wonders why we don't believe him," Bono says. They all grunt and agree.
Suddenly Edge opens one of his eyes. "Where is Dennis?" he asks. "He's gone to the airport." Larry shrugs.
There's an old New England expression that applies here: Dawn breaks on Marblehead. The four members of U2 look at each other stupidly. Finally Bono speaks: "Are we waiting for a phone call that will never come?" They stare at one another. Finally Bono gets up and goes over to the limo driver. The driver has been waiting for U2 while U2, used to
being transported like very expensive pandas, have been waiting for someone to move them. They are now in danger of missing the only flight that can get them to Mexico City in time for their concert tonight. They jump up and hurry to the car.
I think there should be music playing and I think it should go, (baDump) Here we come, walkin' down the street . . .
In the car Bono struggles to get the TV to switch channels, but it stays stuck on one of those half-hour self-help commercials. Finally, in exasperation, Bono says, "Edge, you're the scientist, can you get this to work?" Edge leans over and tries to change the station. Each time he does, it clicks back to the self-help ad. This is very strange. Edge gets down and fiddles the switches with the furrow-browed dedication of Louis Pasteur at his Bunsen burner, oblivious as Bono to the fact that Larry is sitting with a remote control by his leg, clicking the channel back each time Edge tries to change it.
At last they give up and accept the infotainment. "Too bad you can't get cable in a car," Larry says. Then the drummer asks if anyone else has ever seen the Fishing Channel. "Lots of talk about rods and hooks and the one that got away."
Bono says, "I prefer the 'Rides bikes, likes boats, and lives with girlfriend for twelve years channel.' "
Larry groans and rolls his eyes. Edge asks what they're talking about. Larry explains that Bono's recapping the thumbnail description of him in the new Vogue cover story on U2. Once again a journalist who was given access to the whole band went home and wrote a story that was chock-full of Bono, had a few wise parables from the Edge, and devoted to Adam and Larry roughly the same number of words that go on the back of a bubblegum card. Bono says euphemistically, "She painted Larry in bold strokes."
Adam smiles and says to the sullen Mullen, "At least you're not the one she called, 'handsome in an ugly way.' "
At the airport Dennis Sheehan greets U2 in front of a squadron of the sort of saluting, waving, pointing security agents not seen since Ferdinand Marcos hitched his wagon to a star. U2 is rushed through the metal detectors, up a private elevator, into the first-class lounge, and from there into the sort of superexclusive private white waiting rooms known only to superstars and tortured spies. There they are reunited
with their manager (who in these circumstances is referred to only as "M").
It's not a long wait-that plane to Mexico is all boarded and ready to fly. The woman in charge of shipping celebrities through LAX comes in to escort the band to the first-class cabin. She tells Bono that she went to Florida to see the first show, she stood on her chair through the Los Angeles concert, "I guess you could say I'm a fan." In the elevator Bono realizes he's left his fly shades behind. The woman whips out a walkie-talkie and gets her security squad combing the holding room, the bathroom, the lounge to find them. Now, bear in mind that Bono loses everything. In the last hour Edge grabbed the book that Bono left in the car, and just now McGuinness found the same book left on the table upstairs. So when Bono says of losing his glasses, "This is unbelievable!" his bandmates correct him.
"No, Bono," Larry says, "it's not unbelievable."
Adam claims, "It's not uncommon."
Edge adds, "It's not unusual."
Larry points out, "It's not surprising at all."
U2 is loaded into first class and Bono sits in the plane on the runway, lamenting his lost fly shades. There is a buzzing between the pilot and the cabin crew and then the airplane door opens and the U2-loving airport lady rushes aboard, Bono's goggles held high. He kisses her hand and she says, "I told you about St. Anthony!"
On the flight McGuinness explains that this is not only U2's first-ever gig in Mexico, it's their first show in any Third World country. The local promoter is an American tied to the entertainment giant MCA/Winterland who is trying to open Mexico City to regular rock concerts. He lobbied Paul hard to do these shows. U2 was turned down for an outdoor stadium-the Mexican authorities were scared of that. Instead they'll play two nights in an indoor arena.
There's a lot of sleeping on the journey. When my watch says it's almost landing time I assume something's wrong: there are no suburbs or outskirts, no life at all in the barren expanse below us. I figure we must be at least an hour away. Then we pass over an abrupt eruption of high mountains, skirt through the clouds, and holy smoke, there is in the basin of the mountains an apparently endless crater filled with the biggest urban area I have ever seen. And we fly over it and fly over it and fly over it; it seems to have no end. Even the bippest metropolis-New
York, London, Hong Kong-covers only a small area from the air. You fly over satellite towns and half-developed areas for a while before the big city looms up. Not this place! Mexico City is, by population, the biggest city in the world. Ringed by rugged mountains, it has no outskirts. You are in wilderness and then you are in urbania, and urbania seems to go on forever.
Some of the vastness comes from the lack of skyscrapers. It is as if God lined up New York, Chicago, Houston, and Toronto, lopped all the tall buildings down to three- and four-story structures, and then flung them across the horizon. The population here is estimated at twenty million, but no one pretends to have any real idea; it's uncount-able. Aside from being the capital of Mexico, it is the magnet for refugees fleeing political and economic hardship all over Latin America. Mexico City is the cultural center of all the nations between Texas and the South Pole.
The scene at the airport is like A Hard Day's Night. There are fans pressed against the glass of the terminal overlooking the runway, and about twenty-five or thirty screaming girls-the children of bigwigs who pulled strings-screeching for U2 on the tarmac. The screaming gets louder when U2 descends the stairs to the runway. There are two secondhand-looking limos waiting. Adam and Larry, as is their habit, get right in the cars while Edge and Bono, as is their wont, go over and pose for photos and sign autographs while the blessed swoon in ecstatic proximity. (Larry once accused Bono of getting an ego boost out of signing autographs, which annoyed Bono to no end. "Yeah, I really enjoy signing autographs and posing for pictures after traveling for seven hours," Bono snapped. He said to me, "I just find it impossible to ignore people who have been waiting for you and then drive past them in a limo.")
Hey, no passports checked or luggage examined around here! An honor guard of local cops on ancient motorcycles pulls up to escort the two oversize limos down the runway and out of the airport. The first car zooms off and the second follows-despite the fact that Paul McGuinness is standing with one foot in the car and one foot out, hanging on to the door for dear life and hopping along while Principle s Sheila Roche screams at the driver to stop. The cars are too low and heavy to make it over the speed bumps that pop up every few hundred feet, so at every bump the motorcycle cops dismount, blow their
whistles, stop all traffic in each direction, and wait while the limos torturously turn twenty-two degrees and ease over the tar impediments one wheel at a time. I daresay we could walk to wherever we're going faster than this, although that would deprive those of us in the second car of the fun of watching the trunk flap open and shut on the first car as various U2 luggage bags bounce in the air like happy appaloosas. McGuinness sighs and says, "Welcome to the Third World."
Time demands that U2 haul ass straight to the Palacio de los Deportes-the sports palace-and tonight's show. The cars part the cheering fans, slip through a gate secured by many alert guards, roll into a quickly opened and closed garage door and disgorge U2 into the dusty belly of the rickety arena. From the outside, the place looks like an enormous armadillo shell. Inside it's dirty, ugly, and rusty. The audi-ence on the floor are crammed together on cheap red plastic chairs, the sort you'd find at a PTA slide show in a poor school. B.A.D., U2's opening act, are rocking the casbah when we arrive. The narrow aisles are littered with cigarette butts, ice cream wrappers, and gum. Hawkers walk through the crowd yelling "ice cream" and "soda" in Spanish, above the music.
I wander the upper reaches of the hall while B. P., splendid in his cape and Zorro hat, stokes up "Be My Baby" for the cheering audience. The seats that climb up the sides of the arena are shaky and old. The bathrooms are dirty. It seems like a place where someone could get hurt. I go back down to the floor, to a seat not far from the soundboard, just before U2 comes on. When the lights dim, the audience, already wildly excited, climbs up on their chairs. I do too. I remember this sort of intense, overcramped energy from the punk days and I have my mean face on and my elbows pointed out, set for two hours of shoving, insults, and dirty looks.
And let me tell you something-I am full of gringo crap. U2 comes on and while the energy level is as high and wild as at an early Clash show, the gentleness and shared openness of the audience reminds me of the heyday of Joni Mitchell. It is really something to feel. The fans' pulses must be doing triplets, they are frantically enthusiastic-yet they are so careful and considerate of each other than I feel like the greatest cynic since doubting Thomas. I should be ashamed of myself. It's a good thing I found the backstage kitchen crew filling up Evian bottles
with local water or I would think I'd misjudged human nature com-pletely.
Flipping around the Zoo TV screens Bono hauls in a soccer match and announces the score: "Mexico dos, Costa Rica uno!" The crowd explodes and begins chanting a football cheer: "Mejico! Mejico! Me-jico!" When Larry gets up and takes off his shirt he gets plenty of applause. When he then puts on a Mexican football jersey it turns into an ovation.
Out on the B stage Bono is so excited he launches into "La Bamba" while Edge follows and Larry and Adam just stare at him. When Lou Reed's face appears on the big screen during "Satellite of Love," Bono and Edge look up at him like worshippers on the road to Damascus. I love this film of Reed because it shows his real face, not young and quite gentle. Lou works so hard at projecting a tough-guy image that to see his private side displayed in public is a pleasure.
"Bob Marley was from Mexico, right?" Bono cries as the audience cheers. "Well, he could have been." Bono plays "Redemption Song" as thousands of lighters flash on and off together in perfect time. Then, during "Sunday Bloody Sunday" a big owl flies through the hall and lights on a rafter looking down at the spectacle like the Paraclete Himself. I overhear several evil crew members making plans to catch a mouse tomorrow and attach it to B. P.'s hat just before he goes out to deejay. They want to see if the owl will carry him away.
After the concert Bono is delighted. "I felt I was completely empty before I went out there," he says, "but it's a funny thing. That audience washed over me and we rode their energy as if we were surfing on a wave. I've been told that the shows here will get better every night, but I don't see how that's possible."
Bono's new rockish persona extends to the aftershow meet-and-greets where he dons a hideous crushed-plush smoking jacket to mingle with the music-biz insiders waiting to eat potato chips and shake his hand. Tonight there are a lot of guest stars from the States, flown in for the end of the 1992 tour and U2's first visit to Mexico. Hanging in the anteroom is Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records, U2's label. Blackwell is a legendary character in the music business, a blond Brit who fell in love with Jamaican music and built an English label on reggae, brought Bob Marley to the world, and in the late sixties and seventies raised an empire beyond reggae with such acts as Traffic, Free,
and Cat Stevens. Also along this evening are Frank Barsalona, U2's American agent and his partner Barbara Skydel. And here comes Rick Dobbis, president of PLG, the new multilabel umbrella company formed by Polygram, the multinational that bought Island from Black-well a few years ago. Why, there is enough music business power in this room to revive Milli Vanilli and make Kajagoogoo the next Led Zeppelin, should that power ever be turned to evil.
These topcats have every reason to line up to light Bono's little cigar tonight. With one more show to go before the Christmas break, U2's statistics for the first ten months of 1992 look like this: more than 10 million copies of Achtung Baby sold, 5 hit singles, 2.9 million tickets sold for the Zoo TV tour (106 shows in 84 cities in 12 countries), 54,615 miles traveled so far. The frequent-flyer miles alone will pay for this expedition. After the requisite palm pumping and nyuk-nyuking with the power brokers and local dignitaries, Bono and Edge split off to go outside to the fence where fans are waiting and sign autographs and have their pictures taken. Then it's into the limos and into the night.
We make a twenty-minute pit stop before regrouping for a night on the town. The Hotel Nikko is posh and tall, with panoramic views of the illuminated city from the upper floors, a spiderweb of lights spin-ning out in every direction. There is a whole secret world that the famous and powerful travel in, demarked by the special holding rooms and escorts at airports and even more by the private floors of ritzy hotels. In a place like this there are special elevators that carry the privileged to their privacy on restricted levels with their own check-in desks, their own lounges, their own butlers-so that the famous and powerful don't have to associate with the merely rich.
I have no time to trifle over such observations! I gotta brush my teeth, change my shirt, and get back downstairs without even breaking the seal on my toilet seat. I grab my key from the secret desk clerk and find my room where I share a tearful reunion with my luggage. The great thing about traveling with high rollers like U2 is that your bags disappear from your hotel room in one country and reappear in your room in the next without your ever seeing them move. The bad thing is that some-times, as happened to me this week, my suitcase was grabbed and shipped with the bags of the Principles and crew, who came down to Mexico two days ahead of the band with whom I was loitering. I returned to my room at the Sunset Marquis to find myself with nothing
but the shirt on my back. I hiked to the only clothing store within walking distance that was open at night, an athletic shop that special-ized in sweatsuits emblazoned with images of Charles Barkley. I'm happy to get my real clothes back; I'm sick of slapping five with B-boys.
Back downstairs everyone piles into cars and vans to head to some hotspot that the Principles have already scoped. Our driver takes off with the back door open and one crew member halfway out and scream-ing.
"I'm very impressed with Mexico City, I must say," Edge declares as we cruise, and he's said a mouthful. You always hear about the terrible poverty, the awful pollution and ugliness of this place-and no doubt there's plenty of all that in this eternal (kilometer-wise) city. But no-body tells you about the parts of town we're riding through, which looks like what Washington D.C. could be if it swiped ten or twenty of Rome's best buildings. There are beautiful parks and boulevards sepa-rating great white stone monuments and museums. There are illumi-nated fountains and statues and immaculate city squares. There is also a lot of Moorish influence in the architecture, a suggestion of minarets. I can't believe we're in North America.
I suppose that most of the reports about the grimness and griminess of Mexico City come from tourists who have been communing with nature in the deserts or seashore and then drive in here through miles of slums, or who only see the area around the airport on their way to the resorts. Or maybe it's just the northern European prejudices against Spanish culture that were handed down from the Old World to the New. I don't know. I do know that Mexico City is beautiful.
We are eventually deposited at a fancy, multilevel restaurant/disco in what seems to be the happening part of town, Adam, Bono, Edge, and Larry grab a table together and sit laughing and talking for a couple of hours. McGuinness, at the next table, points out that one of the most unusual things about U2 is that the four of them still prefer each others' company to anyone else's, and after so many years stuck together they still have no shortage of things to philosophize, laugh, and bust each other's balls about.
U2 are seated in front of an elaborate (and dare I say, mental') strobelit Santeria spin on a manger scene. Populating the life-size tableau are very large sculptures of the Holy Family accompanied by the usual angels and wisemen, but augmented here by a cowboy among the shep-
herds, an elephant among the sheep, and a grotesque, bat-winged flying devil sticking out his tongue at the Christ child. Now wouldn't it be a drag to learn that when William Butler Yeats wrote "The Second Coming" he was not carving out a great prophetic metaphor for the twentieth century but was simply drinking in a Mexican restaurant like this and describing a sculpture like that? Unlikely? Perhaps, but proba-bly worth credit toward an advanced degree at any number of tweedy little universities. The four members of U2 sit laughing, oblivious to the tableau in front of which they are posed. I'll tell you, though, if the center cannot hold, that flying devil on his flimsy string is going to land right on Adam's head. He'll be picking himself up off the floor, asking, "What rough beast is this?"
The rest of the Principles and Zoo crew spread out through the rooms, some eating, some dancing, most drinking. Sheila Roche, an Irish wetback who has been working under Ellen Darst in New York, is feeling blue because Ellen has handed in her notice. The woman who guided U2 through club gigs and radio interviews when they first came to America, who tutored Paul McGuinness about the U.S. music busi-ness, and who has for the last eight years been in charge of Principle's American operation, has gotten tired of the road and accepted a job with Elektra Records. She put off the move until the American tour was finished, but now Ellen's saying good-bye and Sheila, who moved from Dublin to New York to work with Ellen, is going to miss her. Ellen's longtime second-in-command, Keryn Kaplan, will take over. One of Ellen's legacies is the number of women in power. "In the New York office we have only one man," Sheila smiles. "The receptionist."
For all the credit given to U2 and McGuinness for employing so many women, though, I have run across a minority opinion that, as all the women are in support roles, nurturing roles, and all the creative decisions are made by men. Principle is really maintaining patriarchal values under a sheen of being progressive and nonsexist. It's hard to resolve that; it's so much in the eye of the beholder. I would not deny that many of the women around U2 are nurturing, gentle types, but so is U2. There are people in the music business who will tell you that Ellen Darst and/or Anne-Louise Kelly is the real brains of that outfit and McGuinness rides their coattails. No doubt there are other people who assume that Paul, the man, must do all the brainwork and the women in power are glorified secretaries. People see what they want to see. If the
rap against the Principle women is that they are too nurturing or gentle, then maybe they have made more genuine progress by feminizing U2's perceptions than they would have by adopting so-called masculine values themselves.
Suzanne Doyle, the deputy tour manager, comes tearing by looking for Larry. It seems he scolded a crew member for something that was not, Suzanne says, the guy's fault and she wants to ask him to apologize. It is an unusual hierarchy U2 has set up, where the people who work for them are allowed to tell them they're full of bull and bring them down to earth when their big heads start to interfere with operations or morale. I'm always amazed that, far from treating me like the new kid in school, crew members I've barely met greet me by name, pat me on the back, and invite me to join in when they're looking for fun. That sort of generosity is rare on rock tours.
"It comes from the top down," Sheila says. "Bono has told me that if any big shot who comes backstage ever gives me a bad time, I can tell him to fuck off. Do you know what a relief that is? Some people-L.A. is the worst for this-are so rude, so demanding and ungrateful. They get complimentary tickets and if they see somebody they know with better complimentary tickets they get upset with us. Their prestige is determined by how good their free seats are!"
In the next room Joe O'Herlihy, the band's soundman, is shaking the disco music out of his ears. Joe has been with U2 since 1979, before they had a record deal. Easygoing, likable, and possessed of whiskers that make ZZ Top's beards look like baby bibs, Joe launches into the tale of how he made it home to Dublin for the birth of his fourth child. Joe had missed the arrival of his first three kids years earlier, because he was always on the road with rock bands. He vowed to his wife that he'd be at her side when this late baby was born. U2 was filming a concert in Virginia for Rattle and Hum when word came that his wife back in Ireland had gone into labor. Joe flipped, but U2 had prepared for such a sudden evacuation. Joe was rushed to an airport and flown to New York. He called from JFK and heard, "It's coming!" over the phone. He ran for the Concorde and spent the four-hour supersonic flight pacing the aisles, watching the posted speed click around, and praying, "Faster, faster, faster!" Landing in London he ran to another phone. "She's at the hospital! Hurry, Joe!" He ran to the Irish flight gate and got on the next plane to Dublin, raced to the hospital, was given a sanitary robe to
throw over his smelly clothes, and charged into the delivery room, pushed the attendant aside, and told his wife he was there. Ten minutes later he was holding his new daughter in his arms, weeping and weeping. Two days after that he was behind his sound desk in Tempe, Arizona, mixing U2.
"That was the first time on the whole tour the band's had a chance to sit down and tell each other our road stories," Bono says as the party starts breaking up. "We give each other space on the road, and when we get back to Dublin we won't see that much of each other."
"The only time we get to do this is when the four of us go away on a little vacation without anyone else," Adam agrees. "Then we revert to type: Edge makes all the plans, Larry handles the money, and Bono is the greeter-he interacts with other people." I don't ask, but I assume Adam's job is picking up the girls.
Adam is not one for leaving a bar while the drinks are still flowing, but at 3:40 a.m. the other three U2's are ready to call it a night. When they step outside, the street is filled with kids screaming, waving auto-graph pads, shoving toward the band, and pounding on the limo. Bono jumps into the car first and the driver floors it, scattering fans and leaving Edge and Larry behind, in the mob. Bono shouts at the driver to slow down and back up. Edge and Larry fall into the car with the fans tugging at them.
Larry is wiping at his cheek.
Bono says, "Someone kissed you, Larry?" Yeah." Larry is annoyed. Kids outside are screaming, "I love you!" Larry repeats it sarcastically and adds, "You don't know me."
Bono tells Larry to lighten up. Larry says love is a powerful word. You're so pedantic." Bono smiles. Bono starts to roll down the window to shake hands with some of the kids.
No, Bono, no!" Edge commands, as to a dog. "Somebody will get hurt!"
I recognize this whole scene from traveling with U2 on a tour in the south of France in 1984. Larry climbed on the bus then bugged because some self-professed witches among the kids outside the hall had made a voodoo doll of him, which he did not consider funny. Bono was waving out the window to the French U2 fans as the bus pulled away, and he kept waving to confused pedestrians and sidewalk diners as we drove
slowly through Toulouse. I remember Edge admonishing him: "Bono! Stop waving to innocent bystanders!" Everything in U2's world has changed since then except their relations with each other.
Another thing that will apparently never change is this Mexican driver thinking he's Mario Andretti. As U2's crew is opening the trunk to toss in the band's hand luggage, our driver slams on the gas again, taking off with the trunk open and the Zoo crew waving the bags, chasing the car down the street.
As in every city there's a crowd of kids waiting at all hours outside U2's hotel. As in every city, Bono and Edge go over and pose and sign for them before leaving for the concert hall. I had a cultural afternoon, doing the Inca/Aztec/Mayan museums with the soon-to-be-departed Ellen Darst and Morleigh Steinberg, a dancer/ choreographer who took over the belly-dancing slot when the Zoo tour moved outdoors. A Californian who travels the world with the Iso dance company, Morleigh met U2 in L.A. in the late 80s. They talked her into doing the summer dates, and she gave the band advice about how to move onstage to get their intentions across to the back rows. Far more self-contained and independent than most of the Zoo people, Morleigh has real reservations about putting her career on hold to join their European tour next spring and summer. Tonight may be her last belly dance.
All the members of the band are enjoying Mexico and looking forward to another gig like last night's. Grabbing dinner with the crew backstage, Adam says, "It's been so good, it makes you think about the possibility of doing a Latin American tour."
U2 comes out flying tonight. They light into "Zoo Station" with all flags billowing and Bono sidestepping across the stage like James Brown's paler nephew. I am standing with B. P. Fallen on the side of the stage when I see what appears to be a great new special effect out in the audience-two lines of red flame converging in the dark at the back of the hall. B. P. grabs my arm and points frantically as I realize that's no
special effect! That's a fire! The seats are too close together and they are not flame retardant. Neither is the welcome U2 banner someone in the balcony has made out of a bedsheet. The sheet dangled into the flame of a lighter a kid down below was holding aloft, and now the sheet's igniting, breaking into burning shards that are floating into the crowd and landing on the seats and-oh, hell-the seats are bursting into flame. I look at the band-the front three are oblivious, caught up in their song. Only Larry, drumming away, is staring with grim concentra-tion at the spreading fire and panicking people in the back of the hall .
A figure bolts by me, running full out from the back of the stage into the crowd. It's Jerry Mele, U2's head of security. He flies across the length of the crowded hall, through the jam-packed kids dancing to the band, and disappears under the bleachers at the back. I've never seen anyone move so fast, but the fire is moving faster. Edge sees it now; he is watching intently. People in the back of the arena are shoving and running for the exits. Jerry is suddenly up there among them-he must have rocketed up the outside stairs. He is ordering the scared concert-goers into neat lines with one hand while shoving something-a coat or towel-onto the flames and stamping with his feet. Local ushers and security hands are following his orders, doing the same. All the fires are out before the song ends. When he's sure it's safe Jerry directs the shaken fans back to their blackened seats. Bono is emoting in high gusto, oblivious, while Adam is standing by his bass amp, paying no attention to anything beyond the spotlights.
Larry saw it all, though. When he gets a break the drummer says, "I thought, 'This is it.' I figured the whole place was going up." Jerry Mele moved so fast and established control so quickly that the fire becomes nothing more than a "by the way" after the show. The people with decent seats were paying attention to the band and didn't notice. But if Jerry hadn't been there, U2's big trip to Mexico City could have turned into a tragedy. It's funny that rock stars are routinely called heroes, while characters like Jerry Mele hold the door for them.
After the show U2 has reserved tables for dinner at the same restau-rant they haunted last night. This time when they arrive-at a little after I a.m.-the band and their guests have the whole three-level place to themselves, except for a few children of VIPs waiting at the bar to be presented to U2. Bono has taken command of a table with the band, the agents, Blackwell, and other big shots when McGuinness comes over
and says with half-joking gravity, "You are about to be introduced to a longstanding Third World custom-the police chiefs daughters are here. They want to meet you and they will get autographs."
The chiefs daughters (or maybe it's one daughter and one friend of the daughter-no one's certain) are lovely. Bono has been talking about trying to check out the part of town the tourists don't see, and when his attention is grabbed and pointed toward the chiefs daughters he innocently asks them for details about the red-light district. Where are the best places to go there? How late is it jumping?
Bono has no sinful intentions, but that may not be apparent in the translation. Edge, realizing that one doesn't introduce oneself to police-men's daughters in Latin nations by asking about the brothels, brings the two young women over to another table and charms them for some time. Finally they say good night and he comes back to Bono's side, saying, "They told me if I'm ever arrested in Mexico City, no problem!"
Throughout the meal other such well-connected young people are escorted up to meet the band and then shuffled off again. The fellow in charge, I assume the owner, of the restaurant comes by frequently to remind U2 that in honor of them he has closed his entire club tonight, forgoing all the money he would make so that U2 could dine and drink undisturbed. After the fourth or fifth time he makes this announcement a concerned Larry leans over to Bono and says, "I wonder how much money he'll lose, closing the whole restaurant?"
"It's all jive," Bono whispers back. "By law the place has to close by one a.m. on Sunday night." Larry laughs hard at that one.
Larry talks a bit over dinner about his plans for the Christmas break. He was asked if he'd be interested in auditioning for the role of Pete Best, the deposed Beatles drummer, in a movie about the Fab Four's Hamburg days, but he had to turn it down because it conflicted with the band's work schedule.
Edge tells me to try these delicious bar nuts and gets me to eat a handful of friend grasshoppers.
Larry is a vegetarian; he asks me to taste those nachos and see if there's any meat in them. I get nothing but cheese and beans and tell him it's all clear. Larry takes a bite, swallows, and says, "Chicken! First time I've had chicken in four years and it's your fault! I'll never forget this!"
"What am I, the royal food taster?" I say. "There was no chicken in the piece I ate."
"You see, Larry," Adam says, "you let an outsider taste your food for you. I'm not jealous, but if you need someone to eat off your plate you should always go to your bass player."
Bono has one big problem with the impending return to Dublin. His wife doesn't want him back. Bono admits that, eight months out, tour life seems completely normal to him. If he's supposed to be getting it out of his system, it ain't working. "Because of this my lovely wife has suggested I not come right home."
"Adam is going to check into a hotel for a week," McGuinness says.
"So am I." Bono nods.
"Yeah," Bono admits. "I don't want to, but Alt says it's better. A couple of days after I get back to Dublin we've got to be on a TV special. It will just confuse the kids if I come home and start working again right away, and she says they'll be hurt if they talk to me and I don't hear them. So I guess I'll spend my first week at home in a hotel."
I suggest that Bono go home but stay in the basement for a week. His kids could come to the top of the stairs and throw food down to him. But, of course, then they might keep doing that after he left on tour again, which would be pathetic.
"It's funny," Bono says. "I really don't feel like stopping."
"Well," I say, "maybe this is your five years to work nonstop, do everything you have to do, and then quit and become a shepherd or something."
"I already am a shepherd, Bill," he says, smiling beatifically. "Didn't you know?" He spreads out his arms to his assembled disciples, apos-tles, and money changers, and says, "And these are my sheep."
Stray crew members go baaaaah.
After a great meal and lots of handshaking and a few more reminders from the boss that he closed the whole restaurant for U2 tonight, the band heads across town to what we've been promised is the red-light district. I dunno. Where they dump us is loud and fun and there're lots of bars and the sort of women one sees in bars, but I don't think it's really a red-light district. Paul McGuinness walks around soaking up the atmosphere and periodically pulling out a portable oxygen mask from which he inhales deeply. Quite the Blue Velvet figure he cuts doing so,
too! We settle in a mariachi bar where many of the Principles dance (some claim they have never seen Larry Mullen dance before-I guess I'd describe it as a combination of the young Fred Astaire and the old Jerry Lewis). While everyone's drinking, Bono vanishes for about half an hour and returns claiming he stumbled across a genuine brothel. I am certain it's a lie made up to torture me.
As the night threatens to turn into morning, Adam and I wander out and walk around the Plaza Garibaldi. There are bars set up and selling drinks outside, strolling bands of caballeros playing requests, and swing-ers stumbling out of every doorway. Adam, who has been drinking enough that whatever he says should be taken with a grain of salt (and several glasses of tequila), strolls around the square and says-not that one usually thinks in these terms about oneself-that U2 now is in the position the Stones filled in 1972.
I can truthfully tell him that I have been thinking exactly the same thing. The Rolling Stones 1972 tour was, it will always seem to me and those my age, the hottest rock tour ever. The sixties were over, the Beatles broken up, Bob Dylan had all but retired, Hendrix was dead- and the Stones had just capped their Begger's Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers hot streak with the monumental, head-splitting Exile on Main Street. When they went out on their first tour in three years, every kid-male and female-in every high school lunch room wanted to look like Keith Richards. These were the Stones' second generation of fans. The older brothers who'd liked all the sixties singles-"Satisfaction," "Ruby Tues-day," "Paint It Black"-might not have cared for the new, harder, grungier Stones, but then, the older brothers always lumped the band in with a whole raft of sixties British groups. The teenagers in 1972 didn't know or care about that history; this was their Rolling Stones, reborn outside the shadow of the Beatles as the Biggest Band in the World.
It is telling that U2 talked seriously about calling Achtung Baby, Cruise Down Main Street, and the album's chaotic, multiimage cover clearly evoked the jacket of Exile. I tell Adam that I'm right with him on the Stones '72 comparison: one decade of hit singles and screaming girls down, now let's get past that and get heavy.
'Joshua Tree was a pop album." Adam nods. "This is rock."
He mentions that there are no longer many real bands around, bands of four equal members, all aboard since the start, all working together. I say, "Well, R.E.M."
"That's a different thing," Adam says, still using the vocabulary of 1972. "U2 are the Rolling Stones, R.E.M. are CSN&Y."
When I get back to New York, who should I be talking to but Mick Jagger. And what do you think Mick's bending my ear about? All these new bands that are trying to sound like the old Stones, even dress like the old Stones. He clearly means the Black Crowes and that crowd. He says that at least U2 seems to be doing something new. He liked Achtung Baby a lot and while he hasn't seen Zoo TV yet, from all descriptions that's one band who isn't just looking back at what someone else did twenty years ago.
Actually, I say, I was having some drinks with one of the guys in U2 and-understand this is just talk in a bar after a few pops-he was comparing U2's position today to the Stones twenty years ago.
"That's really odd." Jagger laughs. "I know that's said after a lot of tequilas or whatever, but it's rather peculiar. Things were so different then, with those little bitty amps and stuff. When we did it in 1972 there'd been nothing like it before. Though I never actually saw the Zoo TV tour, that was nothing like anything that came before, which is good. It isn't 1972, it's 1992, and I wish people would realize that. I don't remember ever saying, 'I feel like I'm Buddy Holly!' "
Ouch! There's the putdown. I think I'm onto something, though. I'll just take U2 comments and quotes from late-night drinking sessions and run them by other musicians. I call Peter Buck and ask him if he feels R.E.M. are the new CSN&Y: "Anything but that!" he cries.
One night in Mexico City Edge, Bono, and I got into a strange and winding discussion born of one of the black jokes in the Million Dollar Hotel script: "Jews don't commit suicide; they never had to." Bono went on to say that the Jews in Hollywood invented the myth of an America where everyone was equal and religion didn't matter, and then sold that myth back to the country. Bono sees this as a great accomplishment.
Edge picked up on that and said, "In rock, Jews are the best lyricists because of their merciless intellectual rigor."
Bono amplified the point: he said that the Jewish intellectual tradi-tion is to dig for the truth no matter where it takes you. It is not concerned, as so many other traditions are, with proving that the virtu-ous win or the collective triumphs or might makes right or God is on
our side or our country did the right thing: the Jews follow the truth wherever it takes them, and that is why Jews are the best lyricists.
Okay, I said, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon. Who else?
Bono and Edge started reeling off an impressive list: "Dylan, Simon, Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed," then Bono blew it by saying, "Even Neil Diamond here and there . . ."
"Hold it right there," I said. " 'Longfellow Serenade'? 'Song Sung Blue'? Did you ever hear about when Dylan met Diamond on the beach at Malibu and said, 'Didn't I hear you singin' something about "Forever in Blue Jeans"?' and Diamond denied it."
Bono looked down his nose at my sarcasm and asked, "Do you know what 'I Am, I Said' is all about?"
"Yeah, as a matter of fact I do. Diamond was in Hollywood making his acting debut as Lenny Bruce in the first attempt to film Bruce's story. Wonder why that one went wrong. He was having a terrible time, the picture was falling apart, and he sat down in the dressing room and wrote that song about feeling out of place in L.A. but no longer part of the Brooklyn he came from."
Bono clearly meant his question to be rhetorical; he was not expect-ing me to actually know the gestation of "I Am, I Said." But now we were into the sort of mutual nut-busting in which neither opponent can concede an inch, so he tried a different approach: "How does Yahweh identify himself in Genesis?"
I saw where this was leading. " 'I am who am,' " I quoted. "That's actually an interesting grammatical construction, you know, because-"
Bono cut me off: "I am. God is described as the great I am. So in that song Diamond is calling out to Jehovah. 'I am, I said' means, 'God, I said.' To who? To no one there! And no one heard at all, not even the chair! Do you see? It is a song of despair and lost faith by a man calling out to a God who isn't interested!"
Boy, Bono will go a long way to weasel out of admitting that Neil Diamond is not one of rock's greatest lyricists. Perhaps right now some of you readers are wondering if this book has petered out altogether, but bear with me. If I wanted to I could fill up hundreds of pages with this sort of three-sheets-to-the-wind, navel-gazing dialogue between U2 and me. For the most part I have left such guff in the bars, figuring it's an Irish thing, you wouldn't understand. I include this example, though,
because I've gotten really interested in this politically volatile notion that Jews make the best lyricists. I try it out on Aimee Mann, a songwriter I admire very much, and she bangs the table and says, "Yes, yes! Abso-lutely! I'm so glad to hear somebody else say that! Randy Newman! Jules Shear! Steely Dan!" and then she goes into a diatribe about the same virtues of intellectual scrupulosity, not going for the soft cliche, and chasing the fleet hare of truth down into the rabbit hole of disappoint-ment and anguish cited by Bono and Edge.
Boy, I figure, I'm onto something here. The hell with U2, I'm going to be writing think pieces for Tikkun and going on the Dick Cavett Show. Then I stop and consider that the only people I have supporting this proposition are goyim like me. I need to get a rigorous Jew in here and bounce this provocative theoretical handball against the rigid wall of his scrupulous intellect. So I try to think which Jewish lyricist to call and I figure the best one must be Randy Newman, that cynical Californian who was widely quoted at the height of Rattle and Hum fever declaring that he never knew apartheid was wrong until he heard it from U2, "Then the scales just fell from my eyes!"
"You know, Randy," I say while he tries to remember who I am, "U2 say that all the best rock lyricists are Jews, and Aimee Mann does too."
"Jeez," Newman says. "Did they really? I'm looking for a defense. Neil Young and, um, there's plenty of others. I don't know about that. Two different people said that? That's odd. Dylan at his best was probably as good as it got, and Simon's been as consistent as anyone has been. There's no doubt about that. You know what it is about us? Jews want to be Americans so badly! Think of Irving Berlin writing," New-man starts singing like Al Jolson, " 'I'm Alabammy bound!' He'd never been to Alabama and if he was, they chased him right out! Maybe he was there during a bond drive. And my stuff is so American that it worries me. It's like I want to be. I grasp these five years I spent in New Orleans as a baby and hang onto them for dear life as some sort of proof that I'm American."
That's interesting, I say. If it's the unfulfilled aspiration to sound like a real American that makes for a good rock lyricist, that would explain the Canadians-Cohen, Young, Robbie Robertson, Joni Mitchell. It would explain everyone who came out of England and Ireland. . .
"Neil Young and Joni Mitchell are top ten of all time for sure," Newman says. "They're real interested and looking in from the outside.
Look at Prince, one of the best of all time. There's one that they forgot. Prince's lyrics are very good."
Well, we bravely followed that thread to its bitter denouement. Ap-parently it's not that Jews make the best rock lyricists. It's that white Christian Americans make the worst.
U2 arrive back in Dublin for the winter in time to do a TV satellite hookup with Los Angeles, where Phil Collins is hosting the televised Billboard Music Awards show. When Collins announces that U2 has won the award for 1991 Billboard Num-ber One Rock Artist, he goes to a live satellite feed from a Dublin pub called the Docker, where Adam, Bono, and Edge are drinking Guinness and looking lubricated.
"Well done, lads!" Collins shouts across the waters.
"Hi, Phil," U2 mumbles. It's 1:30 in the morning in Dublin and the locals are still doing double takes at seeing a forty-foot trailer and a twenty-foot satellite dish parked outside the tiny pub.
"Your song 'One' has won the Number One Modern Rock Tracks Artist Award," Collins announces. "Bono, everybody always says you talk. I wonder where's Larry. Is Larry there? Let's give the drummer something."
"Larry isn't here, Phil," Edge tells the drummer-turned-singer. "He's acting a bit funny these days. You know how drummers get weird when they start singing."
"I understand," Collins says, plowing ahead. "The Zoo TV tour is also Billboard's Number One Concert Tour of the Year, meaning more people spent more money to see you guys than anybody else. So if you need an opening act, I'm here, guys. I believe the barman, Paddy, is going to give you the awards."
The white-haired bartender slams down a trophy in front of Adam,
who says to the camera, "Phil, Paddy's a very big fan of your music. And so are all our parents."
"I'm not that old," Paddy mumbles, causing much of the bar to break up laughing. Collins starts to make a crack about the band being drunk, but Bono interrupts him to smile and say, "It's really great to be home and we've had a great year and everybody spoiled us rotten. So thanks very much, we really appreciate all this."
"We anticipated that you may not be sober at this time of night," Collins says, "so we put together-"
Bono, feeling bad about Adam's insult, interrupts Collins again, this time to answer a ringing phone. "Sorry, Phil, I've George Bush on the phone here. I haven't had a wink's sleep, he's been calling me ever since I got home. We'll find a job for him somewhere."
"Let's roll the clip," Collins says, and a montage of highlights from the Zoo TV tour appears. Along with statistics ("The Zoo TV utilized 4 mega video screens, 4 Philips Vidiwalls, 36 video monitors, 18 pro-jectors, 12 laser disk players ... I satellite dish, I channel changer, I video confessional, 7 miles of cable. The Zoo TV stage was 248 feet wide and over 80 feet deep with the ramp to the B stage approximately 150 feet long. The set included 11 Trabant cars used as spotlights. The P.A. system included 176 speaker cabinets and the sound system used over a million watts of power and weighed over 30 tons. Zoo TV was seen live by over 3,000,000 people who between them bought over 600,000 T-shirts.") and concert footage, there are snatches of an MTV interview U2 did with Kurt Loder in a studio talking to the four band members on TV monitors.
"One thing about rock & roll stars is they're bigger than life, bigger than the audience, they're almost intimidating," Loder says to the video projections of the band. "Well, this whole set is like that. Isn't that off-putting? Doesn't it kill intimacy?"
It does, absolutely," Bono agrees. "But you look great."
That cuts to a shot of the Mirrorball Man shouting, "Put your hands on the screen!" There's more concert footage and then back to Loder asking, "Do you think the audience is getting something out of this?"
Yeah," Larry says. "They're coming to a rock & roll gig and watching television. What more can you ask for?"
The people watching the Billboard Awards at home see the people on TV applauding this montage that they just watched on TV. Larry
wanted no part of such foolishness. He's taken a seasonal powder. Adam is glad to get home to his mansion on the hill. He lives in a huge house on twenty acres in Rathfarnham, south of Dublin, overlooking the snotty boarding school that expelled him as a teenager. Neil Young reportedly said upon seeing Adam's castle, "That's the bass player's house?!" The bass player collects art and sometimes makes his palace available to artist friends to use as a studio. Although he's U2's heartiest partier, Adam has a bucolic side; he doesn't mind being the Laird of Manse Clayton.
"Adam's actually a really down-to-earth, homey guy," his younger brother Sebastian observes. "That's his main fight or disadvantage. He loves rock & roll and living the whole rock star thing, but then again he likes planting an oak tree by himself on a sunny Sunday morning. He's been trying really hard to come to terms with that contradiction. Espe-cially in the last year or two, I think he finds it really hard."
Adam's British family moved to Ireland when his father, a pilot, took a job with Aer Lingus when Adam was five. They settled in Malahide, a beautiful Dublin suburb that still looks and feels like a 1940s village. The Claytons became friendly with another family of U. K. settlers in the town, the Evanses. Young Adam went to primary school with little Dave Evans before he was the Edge. Then the boys were torn apart by the cruel cleaver of boarding school. After Adam was booted out for not giving a rat's ass, he landed back with Dave at Mount Temple school, where he met Larry and Bono.
Bono tells a funny story of going on the bus with sixteen-year-old Adam to break into the boarding school, St. Columba's, after Adam was expelled. Being Protestant, Bono had met some posh people-there were even some at Mount Temple-but not like this: he couldn't believe it. They went over the wall and Adam's friend invited them into the dorm. A very proper fellow named Spike reached into the breast pocket of his jacket and produced a brick of hashish. The room was decorated with Hendrix posters and they were saying things like, "Have you heard the new Beck album?" Then they all picked up guitars and strummed through their blissed-out hippie stupor. This, Bono realized listening to them, was where Adam picked up all the technical terms-"gig>" "fret," "jamming"-that had so impressed Bono, Edge, and Larry that they figured he was some kind of musical genius and they'd better get him in
their band. Bono was stunned to realize that everybody at this place talked like that!
The headmaster found out about Adam's nocturnal reappearance and sent to his parents a polite but subtly threatening letter, which now sits framed above the toilet in Adam's mansion, the mansion that looks down on St. Columba's and whose walks and garden abut the school property and that stands as a glorious middle finger to the faculty that expelled him and a stirring example to all the kids stuck there of at least one alternative to the perpetuation of the British class system that the school by its policies espouses.
The brand St. Columba's left on Adam, his bandmates claim, was the pitiful boarding school habit of standing by the dirty plate bin with a fork waiting to salvage other people's leftovers. Edge says Adam will wait for a spare potato with the vigilance of a hawk and spear it from the garbage. "Even now," Edge insists, "if Adam's walking down a hotel corridor and he sees something sitting on one of the room service trays left outside someone's door, he'll reach down and grab it."
"I've seen him salvage half a hamburger," Bono claims, the air hot with hyperbole, "with another guest's false teeth still in it!"
Among the painters who have used Adam's house as a studio are three artists with an imminent exhibition: Paul Hewson, Fionan Hanvey, and Derek Rowan, who in their teenage years bestowed on each other the names Bono, Gavin Friday, and Guggi. Guggi is an artist by profession and singers Bono and Gavin certainly fancy themselves men of vision worth sharing. They have committed to a joint show at a Dublin gallery in the spring and now they have to slap down some masterpieces to fill it.
In their teens and early twenties Guggi and Gavin led the Virgin Prunes, a theatrical, glitter-inspired experimental rock band that some-times also drafted Adam, Edge, and Larry into sideman duty, and which featured Edge's older brother Dick Evans on guitar. They often played shows with U2 at Dublin's Project Arts Centre, a gallery/theatrical space run by Jim Sheridan (who has since become a world-class film-maker with movies such as My Left Foot). The confrontation-goosed Prunes wore makeup and dresses and risked getting their heads busted by bottles every time they walked onstage.
It's sometimes been hard for Bono's teenage friends to stay pals with him as U2 have ascended-not because Bono and Ali don't work at it
but because the buddies have to put up with the knocks of other nonrich people calling them freeloaders and asking why they're hanging around with that rock star. It takes effort from both sides not to let fame and wealth come between friendships.
Gavin is commanding, outgoing, and always fully awake. He is U2's closest advisor who is not on the Principle payroll. When the band is too buried in work to decide something for themselves they say, "Send it to Gavin."
In his own concerts Gavin uses a thirties cabaret style as a jumping-off point for music that is ironic, assuring, and confrontational, often in the same song. Gavin can puncture his onstage in-your-faceness by suddenly smiling broadly and sticking his mitt out to shake hands with the people down front, but even that sort of jolly gesture takes on an air of threat after he's been howling and pouncing for a while. On his albums (sometimes produced by the recurring Hal Willner) Gavin alter-nates the irony and playacting with tenderness.
Together now, Gavin, Guggi, and Bono fall into the easy patter of friends who communicate with nods, grunts, and gestures no outsider can fathom. Guggi (who speaks softly and now wears the sort of shoulder-length hippie hair the Prunes died to defeat) allows Bono to wax extensively about his recent meeting with artist Jeff Koons, a post-Warhol provocateur best known for ceramic sculptures of Michael Jack-son and his monkey, and heroic busts of himself looking toward heaven with swollen nipples. Once they called it camp, then they called it kitsch, then they stopped calling it. Bono says that Koons is up for getting involved with the second year of Zoo TV and told Bono that U2 was being far more generous in these shows than they were in the past. Bono was surprised by that and wanted to know how the surface-obsessed Zoo TV was more generous than the heart-on-our sleeves U2 shows of old. "He said that in the past we were dictating emotions to the audience, now we're leaving it open for them to decide for them-selves what they feel."
Koons's philosophy suggests that with so much of contemporary culture devoted to trying to con some emotional response from people, the most honest art is a glass sculpture of a puppy, or one of those paintings of little waifs with big eyes-because that obvious, corny, simpleminded art that wears its intentions on its sleeve is the only art attempting no subliminal manipulation. After describing Koons's rap
Bono waits for a reaction from Guggi, but all that comes out of his mouth is a stream of smoke. Finally Bono says, "You don't buy that." Guggi says, "No." Bono and Guggi have been having this argument for years. Bono says art is about ideas and Guggi says no, art is about paint.
It strikes me that as much as Bono brings his "art is about ideas" philosophy to U2, particularly in the band's recent work, all those ideas would mean nothing if the band's art weren't also there in the paint, in the music. The emotional directness, the simplicity, that rock & roll got from blues and country is always at the heart of the music's appeal. It only took a few years for people to get used to the sound of basic rock & roll, before its directness began to seem cliched. So new angles had to be found that surprised the ear and kept the music fresh without corrupting rock's directness. That's how we got the Beatles, who used unusual harmonies to make old rock cliches vivid again. Dylan did it with his lyrics-"Subterranean Homesick Blues" revitalized Chuck Berry and "Like a Rolling Stone," as Phil Specter pointed out, gave a whole new paint job to "La Bamba." From Hendrix to country rock to reggae to the Sex Pistols to Achung Baby, rock & roll has come up with sonic innovations that allow us to hear a simple song as if we have never heard it before. But always, if the song itself is not worth singing, no one will listen. "One" and "Until the End of the World" and "Love Is Blindness" are great songs-the art is in the paint. The ideas that make them innovative records are finally important only because they allow us to hear the songs with fresh ears.
Down at the Factory one night Edge and Bono are fiddling with some new music. Ali did let Bono back into the house after Mexico, and gave him until January to normal up. It's no easy assignment. He compared notes with Edge, who had no home to go back to and was anxious for a distraction. They're kicking around ideas for new songs, making cassettes, and getting ambitious about mid-winter recording sessions.
I suggest to Bono one afternoon that if Edge wanted to work because he had no home to go to, it's lucky he had you to call on-the man who never goes home.
"But coming from a very different position," Bono says sharply. "I can leave my house because I know it will still be there."
I ask Bono if the journey away from his marriage is what's been
motivating Edge to keep working. "I don't know," Bono says uncom-fortably. "I think he's trying to figure out what he wants. And I can't imagine what it's like to ..." Bono pauses and looks at my tape recorder. Then he says, "This is a hard thing to say to a civilian, and to the great outdoors. I hate this idea of hard work. If you asked Edge or any of the others, we don't think we work hard, really. Not compared to a lot of people. But we have a kind of tenacity. We'll hold on to the ankle of something, we won't give in.
"But let's say for the sake of this that it is hard work. To do all that stuff and not have support at home is unfathomable. I don't know how, with the relationship ending, Edge managed to find any energy. And it's fair to say that there were times when he certainly didn't and that wasn't easy for us either. There's definitely periods when people go AWOL and it can last a year. It can last a long time. But by and large I think he managed to keep it together."
One evening Dick Evans, visiting from London where he's finishing his Ph.D., stops by the Factory to collect his brother Edge for dinner and runs into Gavin and Guggi, who are there with Bono. The Virgin Prunes' reunion does not elicit any hugs or handstands. Watching them make small talk it's hard to imagine that this long-haired artist, confi-dent nightclub performer, and quiet academic were ever in a rock band together-but then that's what the folks in Liverpool might be saying today about John, Paul, and George if Brian Epstein hadn't come along.
The reminiscences they share are not of the Prunes or the fledgling U2, but of the colorful characters they recall hanging around the Dublin club scene in the 1970s. They all tell awestruck tales of a tough character we'll call "F," who took the boys under his wing. Described by different witnesses here as a "poet" and an "actor," "F" also looms large in these legends for settling arguments by throwing tables through restaurant windows. Bono and Edge say he won their friendship in the early days when a punk band called the Black Catholics who used to throw bottles at U2 tried to break up a U2 show at the Project Arts Centre. "F" was working the door, and fought to keep the troublemak-ers out as they tried to push in. Finally from the stage U2 saw "F" vanish outside with the Black Catholics, and heard the sounds of screaming and smashing. (How did they hear the sounds over their amps? I've heard this anecdote more than once and each time the details become more vivid.) Then "F" walked back in happy as a lark. U2 asked
him what happened and he produced a long knife and explained, "I acquainted them with the reality of violence."
I ask if this was the same "F" with whom Bono, Edge, and Gavin studied mime. "It was." Edge laughs. " 'F' in tights was something to see.
Dick says he's seen "F" more recently. According to this story Dick and some friends ran into "F," who invited them to drop by his room at the posh Shelbourne Hotel on St. Stephen's Green. They got upstairs and were amazed to see that "F" had a grand penthouse suite on the top floor. The poet must have either sold a sonnet or won the sweepstakes. "F" implored his guests to stay and enjoy some room service. Then he started sending down for champagne. When, after hours of celebration, the guests were tired and tipsy, "F" insisted they all sleep there, plenty of room. Dick woke up the next day feeling a little shaky and went into the bathroom. On the mirror "F" had written, "I'll see you before you see me-'F.' " Dick realized he'd been set up. "F" had left the hotel and told the desk the gentlemen upstairs would settle the bill. Dick and his friends had to sneak out through the service elevator.
"It's funny," Edge's father says. "About twice a year you read in the papers, 'U2 are about to split up.' This makes me laugh, because the people who write that obviously know nothing about them. They did grow up together. They have their differences sometimes, sure, just like any family would. But the rough edges have rubbed off against each other. They are an extended family to each other now and I must say they've stuck to it very well. And they're easy guys to get on with too. They're not all the same; they complement each other. They're a good team."
I've made it out to Malahide to have tea with Garvin and Gwenda Evans, two people who radiate decency and kindness, in spite of having generated both a U2 and a Virgin Prune.
"I don't think I ever did see them," Gwenda says of the Prunes. They wouldn't tell me where their shows were."
"They'd direct us to the wrong place," Garvin explains.
They paid closer attention to Dave's band. Garvin went down and had a meeting with Paul McGuinness to make sure he was a decent fellow before U2 signed with the manager. (Bono warned his dad not to try doing the same thing.) When Edge finished Mount Temple he asked
his parents permission to delay starting university for one year in order to give U2 a chance. They said okay, and when that year was up U2 had a record deal. At that point Edge told his dad not to worry-even if their first album flopped he could always find work as a session musi-cian.
"I think they were really fortunate to have Island Records and Chris Blackwell," Gwenda says. "He let them develop in their own way. I don't think he put too much pressure on them. The pressure came from their self-motivation. And they have always been hard workers, Dave espe-cially. He was always working on the music."
The downside of this, his parents say, is that when the music stops it's harder on Edge than on the other three.
"It leaves more of a vacuum in Dave," his mother says. "He's perhaps been more wrapped up in it than the others. When Garvin gets very involved in anything he really gets into the nitty-gritty. The very first time we went skiing he bought a book on how to ski, he wanted to know how to distribute the weight. I'm much more instinctive, but I fell down a few times. Garvin really wants to get down and know how everything works, and Dave's the same. I think he does get very involved mentally and he finds it hard to come back down to normal living, for want of a better word. It would be good if he could find a fulfilling hobby or even start playing golf." Mrs. Evans realizes that sounds silly and she laughs.
Mr. Evans, a golfer, doesn't think it's a bad idea: "Why not?"
"I don't think he's reached that stage." She smiles. "But you see, that is one of the snags for the four boys. They have no . . ."
"Anonymity," Mr. Evans says.
"Yes. He's quite good at painting, actually; he likes to sketch. But that's quite a lonely hobby, really. They have to be careful what they choose to do because they are much more well known now."
"I've noticed being in Dave's company that their fame has gone up a quantum jump lately," Mr. Evans says.
"Beforehand they were known to everyone who was involved in rock & roll, fans and young people," Mrs. Evans explains. "But I think it s dawned on the general public as well now. They read all this rubbish in the papers about all the millions they're meant to have."
"We watch things like Top of the Pops," Edge's dad says, and he laughs: "No wonder they think U2 is so good!"
After Christmas U2 is polished up and sent off to England to accept a trophy at the Brit Awards. Adam says that it would seem ungrateful not to show up, but they always have to try to impress on this particular ceremony that U2 is not British. This year they are nominated in "international" categories and win the Most Successful Live Act Award.
"When you're in the business of television," Edge says in accepting, "and that is the business we're in at Zoo TV, it all comes down to ratings. Thank you very much."
Bono, splendid in his red crushed-plush suit and goggles, announces, "Never in the history of rock & roll touring has so much bullshit been created for so many by so few. Thank you to the Zoo TV crew and remember, children, taste is the enemy of art."
Adam steps up and says, "We used to think in the eighties that 'less is more.' I think in the nineties we've discovered that more is even more."
"Just one last thing," Larry says, cutting through the guff. "I'd just like to congratulate Greenpeace and its supporters for finally, finally getting Sellafield and putting them on the run. Thank you."
That's not just the wrap-up for 1992. It's the opening bell for 1993.
bob dylan on U2/ van morrison on bob dylan/ U2 on van morrison/ bob dylan on van morrison/ van morrison on U2/ bob dylan plays witn' van morrison & U2/ van morrison plays with bob dylan & U2/ dinner & drinks with bob dylan, van morrison, & U2
winter may BE long in Ireland, but this one is lit up by the back-to-back arrival of two luminaries. Bob Dylan is playing Dublin's Point Theatre on Friday night and Van Morrison on Saturday. Old hippies are arriving from the hinterlands and aspiring poet mystics are clogging up the pubs. Bono has known both of these legends since 1984 when Dylan played at Dublin's Slane Castle, Van showed up to sit in, and Bono (invited to the show by Dylan) was given the assignment by the crafty editors of Hot Press, Dublin's rock magazine, to use his pull to try and score a joint interview with them. The good news was that Bono got the two tight-lipped laureates to actually sit down together in front of the tape recorder. The bad news was that Bono was not interested in playing the prepared reporter and ended up winging it by talking about recording studios while Dylan threw in good-natured comments along the order of: "You got your producer, you got your engineer, you got your assistant engi-neer, usually your assistant producer, you got a guy carrying the tapes around," and Van sat thinking about Yeats and Lady Gregory and offering no more than an occasional, "I think all the same they'll go back to two-track eventually."
Journalism's loss was the Dublin audience's gain, though, as Dylan invited Bono to join him onstage where, faced with the embarrassing fact that he did not know the words to "Blowin' in the Wind," Bono just made up his own. Dylan got a kick out of that, and if Van did not
register enthusiasm, at least he could no longer claim when asked about U2 that he had never heard them.
Later Bono asked Dylan if he played chess. It turned out to be a passion the two singers shared. They sent out for a board but never got a game up. Dylan asked Bono if he knew the music of the McPeaks, an Irish folk group, Bono admitted he'd never paid any attention to tradi-tional music, and Dylan told him that was a mistake: "You've gotta go back." Bono took the advice seriously enough to start checking out Irish folk music, which he later said was the first step on the road to Rattle and Hum.
Among musicians Dylan and Morrison continue to be the top birds on that branch of rock that shoots toward the same values the great poets and painters shot for. That branch is certainly literate, somewhat intellectual, but by no means without a foot in the raw and instinctive. Those who perch so high are well aware of who else is up there with them. I once asked Dylan if he felt a special connection with Morrison, and Dylan said, "Oh, yeah! Ever since Them, really. There's been nothing Van's done that hasn't knocked me out." I once asked Morri-son to rank Dylan. Morrison-who rhapsodizes in his lyrics about Blake, Donne, Pound, Eliot, and enough other versifiers to sink a sylla-bus-said, "Dylan is the greatest living poet."
Both Dylan and Morrison are students of old folk, gospel, and blues, both have been through sometimes unsettling spiritual quests, and both have expressed disdain for attempts by their audience to hold them to one style or image. They also both achieved great success while still in their early twenties and then settled young into marriage, family, and periods of semiretirement, only to eventually return to lives of bachelor-hood, road work, and travel. Both Dylan and Morrison have written classic rock songs and recorded classic rock records, but neither's career can remotely be contained by even the most generous definition of rock music. They are bigger than the genre, which is pretty big. When Bono met them, they probably represented what he hoped to become.
Around that time Bono told me, "There's got to be a spiritual link between U2 and Van Morrison. I'm sure it's not just that we're both Irish. I think it's something else. He probably wouldn't want to asso-ciate himself with our music, 'cause I know he's plugged into a tradition of soul music and gospel. As we're slightly more removed from that
tradition, he may not connect with us." Bono went on to say that Van is a soul singer, "And I would aspire to being a soul singer."
I have to add that when I went on to talk to Edge about Van he listened for a while and then asked if I could recommend a good Morrison album for him to start with, his polite way of letting me know that this was not music U2 had grown up with and I should not assume that Morrison had influenced them.
In the decade since that Slane Castle summit U2 has scaled the heights of rock stardom, to the point where putting Bono in a room next to Bob and Van no longer begs someone asking what's wrong with this picture. Bono gets a big kick out of their company. He once watched them get into a friendly contest over who knew the most words to obscure old folk ballads. ("They were impressing the young man with their knowledge," Bono says.) Van would name a song and Bob would recite the lyric. Then Bob would name a song and Van recite it. Finally Van pulled out a ball-buster. He called for "The Banks of the Grand Canal" by Brendan Behan. Dylan stood up and reeled off a dozen verses. Van folded. Bono sat there gob-smacked.
Hanging around artists such as Dylan and Morrison gave U2 the misimpression that they should get as close to country, blues, and R & B roots as those older artists get. Since Rattle and Hum U2 have learned that their job is not to go back over ground someone else has already covered but to carry the music to the next place, where some other young band will eventually pick it up and carry it further.
Rattle and Hum contained one song written by Dylan and U2 ("Love Rescue Me"), a second song on which Dylan played organ ("Hawkmoon 269") and a U2 cover of an old Dylan song ("All Along the Watchtower"). I asked Dylan what drew him to U2 that he did not hear in other young bands and he said, "Just more of a thread back to the music that got me inspired and into it. Something which still exists which a group like U2 holds on to. They hold on to a certain tradition. They are actually rooted someplace and they respect that tradition. They work within a certain boundary which has a history to it, and then can do their own thing on top of that. Unless you start someplace you're just kind of inventing something which maybe need not be invented.
"But that's what would draw me to U2. You can tell what groups are seriously connected and"-he laughed-"seriously disconnected. There
is a tradition to the whole thing. You're either part of that or not. If you're not, you're just not, but I don't know how anybody can do anything and not be connected someplace back there. You do have to have a commitment. Not just anybody can get up and do it. It takes a lot of time and work and belief."
One night Van and his sidekick Georgie Fame were visiting Bono's house when Van leaned over and with a wink accused Bono of ripping off one of his old hits for the biggest hit on Rattk and Hum. "That song of yours, 'Desire,' was just 'Gloria' backwards, wasn't it?"
"No." Bono smiled. "I think it was Bo Diddley, actually."
"Ah, yeah," Van said. "Georgie, remember when that Bo Diddley beat first came over here? Everybody was using it but nobody got it right!" Implying strongly that U2 hadn't either. Bono teased Van back, asking if Van's own much-imitated style might not owe just a bit to Ray Charles.
Lately I've seen Van holding forth in the bar of the Shelbourne Hotel like Marshall Dillon in Dodge City. Somebody should come up and hang a medal on him: Greatest Living Irishman. Morrison left his Belfast home when he was a teenager and has since lived in London, New York, Boston, San Francisco, and London again, slowly working his way back home. Van's been living in Dublin lately, carousing around the town with the Chieftans, Shane McGowan of the Pogues, and another new arrival, tax-exile Jerry Lee Lewis. A motlier crew of musical brigands is hard to imagine.
I think I made Bono feel bad one night while we were contemplating the great men by suggesting that both Dylan and Van might have been drawn to faith in God because after losing their families and after being worshipped like gods themselves, it was the last thing bigger than them that they could turn to. I was indulging in idle speculation, but it really seemed to bother Bono. He's a firm believer in grace and a man with few enough stars to steer by in his own life. After many drinks Bono suggested, "It is a funny thing that even though they're believers, they seem to see God in very much an Old Testament light. There seems to be a lot of judgment there, and maybe not a lot of mercy."
At the Point on Friday night Dylan plays a countryish set with a standup bassist, drummer, and second guitarist. It's a sort of Hank Williams persona for Dylan, after years of wailing electric shows. He performs songs he rarely sings in concert-"She Belongs to Me,"
"Lenny Bruce," "Tangled Up in Blue," and "Everything Is Broken"-as well as the expected "All Along the Watchtower" and "Maggie's Farm." After the concert Bono, McGuinness, and some other local celebrities -Elvis Costello, his wife Cait O'Riordan, country singer Nanci Grif-fith, and honorary Dubliner Chrissie Hynde-go with Dylan and his entourage to Tosca, Bono's brother Norman's restaurant. Chrissie wants to know what Dylan thinks of heavyweight champ Mike Tyson going to prison for rape. "I think it's a dirty shame, but what do I know?" says Dylan. "There's lots of guys in the joint." This leads to comparisons to Muhammad Ali being stripped of his title because he refused to go into the army during the Vietnam War. Chrissie asks Dylan how he avoided being drafted back in his protest days. "I was in New York," Dylan says. "Nobody bothered about the draft in New York."
Word comes that Mornson's court is in session around the corner at Lillie's Bordello. Dylan sends word inviting Van to come join him here;
Van sends back word that Dylan should come join him there. The two kings never do confer.
The next night, though, everyone including Dylan goes to see Van put on an electrifying show, inspired, perhaps, by having Dylan in the house. He goes back to the sixties for "Sweet Thing" and up to the nineties for "Enlightenment" and makes plenty of stops in the decades in between. For the encore Van summons Bono to join him on "Gloria." Bono isn't sure of all the words, but he is annoyed that the audience is sitting in their seats reverently, so he improvises a gospel rant on the theme, "This is not a church-but this is holy ground!" That gets the crowd on their feet and jumping. Van looks over at Bono, impressed.
Van starts summoning the other famous guests from the wings. Edge, having visions of himself banging a tambourine, refuses to go, but Hynde and Costello are there in a flash. Dylan is still looming offstage, hidden under several layers of hooded shirts and coats. Bono goes back and hauls him out, recruiting Elvis and Chrissie to help peel the layers of clothing off Dylan while Van leads them through "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," a Dylan song that Van recorded in 1966. Celebrities are climbing out of knotholes onto the stage around Morrison now. Who knew Kris Kristofferson was in Dublin? How did Steve Winwood get behind the organ? It is a surreal finale to a remarkable pair of evenings.
Van throws his arm around Bono's shoulder and tells him he did well
on "Gloria" with the paternal pride of a dad who's let his sixteen-year-old borrow the family car for the first time and has seen it returned to the garage undented.
There are many beautiful women in the room and Bono is ap-proached by former Miss Ireland Michelle Rocca. Van comes up and tells Bono, "That's my girl.'" Van starts pointing to all the best-looking women in the room and saying, "And that's my girl, and that's my girl and that's ..."
Bono is happily drunk, as are most of the other people bellying up to Van's bar tonight, but through the haze he wonders just how important alcohol is to the pursuit of the muse. Most people are delighted when Van has a few drinks, loosening up and shaking off the angry Morrison persona that usually keeps even well-wishers at bay. Who's to say he shouldn't indulge that social impulse? Yet Morrison and Dylan's pursuit of art and faith seems to have taken them up some strange and painful roads. Bono is trying to keep his balance while exploring those roads- trying to get a taste of the journey without falling off the edge of a trail on which the map is always changing. He often dwells on something Dylan told him: "There's only two kinds of music: death music and healing music." Dylan and Van are two decades farther along the road than Bono, and perhaps that much farther away from healing them-selves. Maybe Bono is more blessed than they are. Maybe he has less genius. Or maybe we should wait and see where he is in twenty years before making any assumptions.
death in the family/ the clinton inauguration/ adam and tarry solicit a new singer/ everything don henley doesn't like/ bono and edge at the thalia theatre/ unbuttoning fascism's fly/ what the president said to the prime minister
there are two momentous events set to take place in America in late January of 1993. Bill Clinton is being sworn in as president in Washington and U2's farewell dinner for Ellen Darst is taking place in New York.
Although U2 doesn't feel comfortable accepting as a band an invita-tion to Clinton's swearing-in, Paul McGuinness and his wife Kathy go along. At the last minute Adam and Larry decide to join them. They arrive in Washington and jump into a buzz of parties and get-togethers between all the guests, entertainers, and dignitaries piling into town for the ceremony and the balls that follow it. Paul hooks up with some of his Democratic connections and is having a real good time being a power broker among power brokers when word reaches him that his younger brother has died suddenly of heart failure.
Paul, stunned, begins arranging for a flight back to Ireland. It is a terrible reenactment of a past tragedy. Thirteen years before, when U2 was making their debut album, the young manager flew to America for his first meeting with Frank Barsalona to discuss the agent taking on U2. When his plane landed in New York that time, Paul was met with news that his father had just died of a heart attack. He had to cancel the meeting with Barsalona and get right back on a plane for Ireland then too. Both times his family members died, he was off in America attend-ing to business. And to have both die the same way-his younger brother now, not even forty-must inevitably make Paul wonder if he is black-marked by heredity. He goes and packs his bag and heads to the
airport. He will miss the presidential inauguration; Ellen's farewell dinner will have to be rescheduled. He will go home to the funeral, and to grieve privately.
Adam and Larry are left on their own, but their celebrity is their pass to various parties. Wherever they go people come up and introduce them-selves and invite them someplace else. At one club they run into Michael Stipe and Mike Mills of R.E.M., another half of a band that was involved in voter registration and is here for the inauguration. Stipe tells Adam and Larry that he is going to sing with 10,000 Maniacs at MTV's televised inaugural ball, and he and Mills are thinking of doing an acoustic version of "One"-would Larry and Adam like to play it with them?
Larry and Adam look at each other, hem and haw a little, and explain that they didn't really come to perform. But after about two hours of socializing and celebrating their resistance is worn away and they agree to do it. After all, it's a U2 song. They have Michael to sing, Larry to drum-and two bassists. Mills offers to play guitar. It also seems logistically easier if Larry plays congas rather than a full drum kit. "Make it simple, don't complicate it," Larry says. "There's a large chance we could come across badly, whereas if I have the congas there it won't be too loud, we could get a good mix on the TV." They will get together the next afternoon and rehearse. Now all they need is a name. They combine the title of R.E.M.'s latest album, Automatic/or the People, with U2's latest to come up with Automatic Baby.
The next morning is beautiful in Washington-sunny and clear. The security is so tight it looks like a war zone, but the mood is so festive- and there are so many souvenir hawkers in the streets-that it feels like a carnival. I make the mistake of waiting a little too long to cross the road to the Capitol for the start of the ceremony and have to elude a cop who tells everyone to hold it, step back behind the ropes, here comes the presidential motorcade. Well, no way am I going to risk being locked out, so I go under the rope and run around the cop and across the street. When I get to the tents that hold the metal detectors you have to pass through on the way into the lawn where the inauguration takes place, I turn around to see if I'm being chased, and instead see rolling past me the side of the presidential limos that the crowd doesn't see. The people gathered behind the rope see Bill Clinton waving out
the left rear window of the limo. I see George Bush in the right. The people behind the rope see Al Gore smiling and giving them the thumbs up. I see a dejected Dan Quayle leaning his head against the window, staring sadly into space.
The ceremony is genuinely moving. A podium crowded with the top officials of the U.S. government and visiting dignitaries sits beneath the Capitol dome, which is itself illuminated by a bright winter sun. Maybe it's just the pageantry, maybe it's associations with childhood, but I am more choked up than when they shot Old Yeller.
Bono, watching on TV, is taken with the Reverend Billy Graham's invocation and with the poem read by Maya Angelou in which the ground of America cries out for the people standing on it to study war no more and learn the song the Creator taught the land "before cyni-cism was a bloody sear across your brow."
Bono had actually summoned the nerve to send Clinton a letter elucidating his theory about the need for the new president to make a speech of expiation. Clinton's aides called and said that Bill had loved the letter and might want to quote from it, but that doesn't happen. Bono supposed it was not possible for the president to make the sort of public act of contrition Bono suggested; it would just lead to people saying, "You want to make it up to the Indian? Okay, give back the land." But watching the speeches on TV in Europe, Bono feels that Graham and Angelou make the important points.
Graham says in his invocation, "We cannot say we are a righteous people, for we are not. We have sinned against You. We have sown to the wind and are now reaping the whirlwind of crime, drug abuse, racism, immorality, and social injustice. We need to repent of our sins and to turn by faith to You."
After taking his oath of office Clinton gives an address that deals with the end of the old world ("I thank the millions of men and women whose steadfastness and sacrifice triumphed over depression, fascism, and communism. Today a generation raised in the shadows of the Cold War assumes new responsibilities in a world warmed by the sunshine or freedom but threatened still by ancient hatreds and new plagues") and the birth of the new ("Communications and commerce are global, investment is mobile, technology is almost magical, and ambition for a better life is now universal. . . . Profound and powerful forces are
shaking and remaking our world. And the urgent question of our time is whether we can make change our friend and not our enemy.")
When the inauguration ends there is a lot of milling about on the lawn, as if people aren't quite prepared to leave the field. "What struck me about it," the usually cynical Larry says, "and I think it happens at all inaugurations, was that there was a great deal of emotion. I think particularly this time around because there was a very large black pres-ence. There was a real sense of change. I noticed a lot of older people were incredibly emotional, there were tears. I'm not used to it. I know nothing about how the systems work. But from an observer's point of view it was something I won't forget. There are people here who really believe that this is going to change things. When he was sworn in there were tears running down people's faces. It was quite touching." He pauses and says, "There was something there. I really felt that."
Larry still has ambiguous feelings, though, about U2's strange em-brace of Clinton during the campaign, and mocking of George Bush during the American concerts.
"I wasn't sure if it was something we should be involved with," he says. "There were differing opinions in the band about being involved at all, about using George Bush. I was a little concerned about that. I'm naturally cautious. I'm still unsure whether it was the right thing to do. I enjoyed the ride, it was very interesting to see it from a different perspective. Meeting Bill Clinton was good. He came across like he still comes across. He seems to be an all right guy. But I'm not living in America. I don't have to live under his administration's policies. That's why I was worried about it. We don't live here. Are we endorsing him? What exactly are we doing? And the truth is, it was an ambiguous gesture. We weren't officially endorsing him and yet on the other hand we were saying, Yeah, he's all right."
"And making fun of Bush," I remind him.
"Yeah," Larry says. "It was all a bit odd."
"I'm very suspicious of a U.S. president who hangs out with rock stars," Adam says. "But at the time Clinton didn't know he was going to be president. It's great he could do that and be elected. The old men of Russia and England and China never could. The colorful leaders of Europe always did and always will."
Walking around the Capitol as the crowd disperses, there is a sudden
whoosh of wind as a marine helicopter rises up into the air. There in the window, looking down and waving, is George Bush being carried away.
As the day progresses the festivities devolve from the profound to the silly. My two favorites are watching inaugural guests go wild over actor Henry Winkler ("Fonzie! Hi, Fonzie! Sign this for me, Fonzie!") and the chanting that accompanies the President and Mrs. Clinton as they walk the last leg of their long parade route from the Capitol to their reviewing stand across from the White House. When the people in the exclusive bleachers set up just beyond the president's stand realize that he is going to take his seat without greeting them, they all chant, "One more block! One more block!" Bill and Hillary hear them and come over to do the big wave and smile and Presidential Point. They have this last one down; Bill touches Hillary's shoulder, whispers in her ear and points toward different spots in the guest stands and then she lights up and waves to that spot, as if they have just noticed the Most Important Guest of All. They do this about every thirty seconds.
After the parade the Clintons get dolled up for the inaugural balls. By the time they arrive and greet the crowd at the MTV party Adam, Larry, Mike, and Michael have "One" down so tight that Bono had better be careful he's not put out to pasture. The MTV people are mighty excited by this coup, and it is clear that this one-night-only, half-and-half supergroup should close the evening with their single song. The only unpleasant question that is raised is, who's going to tell Don Henley, the announced show-closer, that someone else is going to follow him? It's like the Amnesty tour all over again!
Now, you might think this is not a big deal. You might say: So Henley does his whole inaugural set as planned and then the other guys come out as a little encore and sing "One"-what's the problem? The problem is that Don Henley may be a great singer and a fine songwriter and a good-looking drummer, but Don Henley is not an easygoing guy. He has been known to fume and fester because the hotel maid hung the toilet paper with the flap out instead of in. He is, to put it politely, a perfectionist. He does not, to put it gently, suffer fools gladly. He was, to put in karmically, in another life the high school gym teacher who made the whole class stay after until the fat kid climbed to the top of the rope.
Tonight Henley, the former voice of the Eagles, seems to be taking his gig so seriously that one suspects he may be under the impression that his performance at the MTV inaugural ball will determine whether
or not Clinton appoints him Chief Justice. He has prepared a sort of musical social studies lecture for the young people, climaxing with a performance of Leonard Cohen's "Democracy." Tom Freston, MTVs likable CEO, is told by his minions that as the boss he has the ugly job of telling Henley that this R.E.M./U2 supergroup is going to close the show.
I wouldn't want to be in Freston's shoes! A few years ago I drove with Henley from Cincinnati to Detroit and I remember him shaking his head about some of the new things in the music world that he just didn't get (by which I think he really meant he just didn't like): one of them was U2 and another was R.E.M. and a third was MTV.
Freston goes up to Henley and says, look, Don. You do your whole set, close the show, then after the applause ends these other guys'll come out and do "One" as a sign-off.
Henley goes pale-he looks shaken. He reminds Freston that he is supposed to close the show. Then he turns, goes into his dressing room, and shuts the door. Freston is left staring at the closed door wondering if he should knock, when someone comes up, hands him a portable phone, and says he has a call. Freston says hello and gets an earful of Irving Azoff, Henley's powerful manager, telling him he's made a big mistake and now Don's not going to go on. While Freston is saying Oh, come on and trying to deal with this he hears a voice announcing, "The Vice President of the United States and Mrs. Gore!" and suddenly MTV employees are tugging at Freston's coat shouting that He has to m up and greet the Cores right now. Freston is trying to explain his situation to Azoff, saying, 'Irving, I gotta call you back, the Vice President is here," and Azoff is demanding to know who's more important, the Vice President or Irving, and the MTV staffers are yanking Freston toward the grinning Gores and click Freston hears Azoff hanging up on him.
So Automatic Baby go on before Don Henley, and perform "One" as beautifully as it's ever been done. When that song appeared in the studio in Berlin it seemed almost like a gift telling the struggling members of U2 that they could trust each other and lay down their arms. Later, it became the centerpiece of an album about the struggles within a marriage. As an AIDS benefit single, it spoke of the possibility of conciliation between those who hate gays and the victims of that hatred. It was the song that led Axl Rose to U2's perspective and that reunited David Wojnarowicz with his family just before his death.
During the making of the video at Nell's in New York, "One" was a source of silliness and laughter. But tonight, at the televised inaugural ball, when Stipe sings, "We're one but we're not the same, we get to carry each other," he is using the song to try-however hopelessly-to plead a case and make a promise to this whole country.
That's a lot of weight for a song to carry! "One" is a pretty strong song.
While one half of U2 is playing it to celebrate democracy in Amer-ica, the other half is playing it to ward off fascism in Europe. Bono and Edge, accompanied by the Indian violinist Shankar, are singing "One" at the Thalia Theatre in Hamburg, Germany.
They have been invited by Vanessa Redgrave, the actress and activist, to perform in an antifascist evening at the Thalia. Also there is author Gunter Grass, actor Harvey Keitel, Native American poet/activist John Trudell (who declares, "As far as I'm concerned, when Christopher Columbus came to America he was wearing a Nazi uniform"), old pal Kris Kristofferson, and director Robert Wilson, who is in Hamburg staging a new version of The Black Rider with book by William Burroughs and songs by Tom Waits.
Bono goes to see The Black Rider, also at the Thalia, and for all the effort of following the German translations of American writers, the creepiness of the supernatural German folktale comes across. In the story a young man must pass a marksmanship test in order to marry the head forrester's daughter. The devil offers to help the kid out by giving him magic bullets guaranteed to hit anything he aims at-except for one bullet, which will hit the devil's secret target. The young man makes the deal, and the devil's bullet kills his fiancee (what black heart decided Burroughs should adapt this story?). Actor Dominique Horwitz plays the devil-called Pegleg-as a grinning, cloven-hoofed smoothie, more like a German cabaret performer than a traditional Mephistopheles. The show ends with Pegleg alone onstage in a tuxedo, singing Waits's sentimental "The Last Rose of Summer" like a nightclub entertainer.
A different sort of devil haunts the Thalia's antifascist evening, where Bono makes a speech about the dangers of creeping Nazism in the new Europe: "We are united not just because we are antifascist, not just because mostly we're Europeans, but because as artists, filmmakers, writers, we all work in the realm of imagination and know that is our best weapon. I suggest that it is our failure to imagine both in art and
other spheres that has allowed this latest movement to the far right to take place.
"The inability to put ourselves in another's shoes is the core of intolerance. In his novel The Book of Evidence, Irish author John Banville's narrator and murderer confesses to the unforgivable crime of having failed to imagine what it was like to be his victim. 'I could kill her,' he says, 'because for me she was not alive.' If we want to challenge hatred, emphatic imagination is central.
"As survivors of the Holocaust both Hannah Arendt and Primo Levi implored us 'to tell our stories.' And we must, not just to make real the oppressed and the oppressor. Not just to break down the idea of separateness, that we understand each other better. Not just so we don't forget! We tell our stories to put flesh and blood on new ideas-and to play them out, as the company of the Thalia Theatre has done for one hundred fifty years now with such wit and style. To them I would like to say thank you.
"We need to paint pictures and see them move. I think of the still frames of Helmut Hartzfeld, who changed his name to John Hartfield in protest against the original Nazis. I think of Berlin dadaists whose movement unzipped the starched trousers of the fascists, exposing them as serious-painfully serious-dickheads. Close to the poison you'll find the cure. As well as an antidote, humor, laughter is the evidence of freedom. I think of Gunter Grass's black, black comedy The Call of the Toad, or Volker Schlondorffs film of Grass's novel The Tin Drum. It was from a Mel Brooks movie called The Producers that U2 took the name of their last album. In the bizarre musical an S.S. officer is met with the greeting, 'Achtung, baby!' to which he replies, 'Ze fuhrer would never say baby!' Quite right. The fuhrer would never say baby. We are writers, artists, actors, scientists. I wish we were comedians. We would probably have more effect. 'Mock the devil and he will flee from thee.' 'Fear of the devil leads to devil worship.' Anyway, for all this: imagination. To tell our stories, to play them out, to paint pictures, moving and still, but above all to glimpse another way of being. Because as much as we need to describe the kind of world we do live in, we need to dream up the kind of world we want to live in. In the case of a rock & roll band that is to dream out loud, at high volume, to turn it up to eleven. Because we have fallen asleep in the comfort of our freedom.
Rock & roll is for some of us a kind of alarm clock. It wakes us up
to dream! It has stopped me from becoming cynical in cynical times. Surely it is the inherited cynicism of our political and economic think-ing that contributes so much to the despair of the 1990s.
"The fascists at least recognize the void, their pseudostrong leader-ship a reaction to what feels like no leadership, their simplistic rascist analysis as to what ails the economy and why there is so much unem-ployment a reaction to our government's gobbledygook, which even the smartest among us cannot understand. . . .
"Fascism is about control. They know what we won't admit: that things are out of control. We started this century with so many compet-ing ideas as to how we should live together. We end it with so few.
"The machismo-and it is machismo-of the New Right has much to do with the impotence of an electorate who feel they have only one real choice anyway. It has much to do with a consumer society that equates manhood with spending power. Maleness is an elusive notion, distorted but made accessible and concrete by the Nazis. We shouldn't underestimate this. The fascists feed off youth culture and if we are to overcome them we must understand their sex appeal. And what is our appeal? The neo-Nazis have a perverted idealism, but do we have any idealism left? What is the ground we stand on politically? Economi-cally? Spiritually?
"I don't know, but I know that in the history books democracy is the oddity.
"Democracy is a fragile thing and though the Greeks invented it, they never could live it. The Judeo-Christian idea that all men are equal in God's eyes has been suppressed everywhere. It has raised its peculiar head. Obviously this is not a German problem. In fact, we look to a people who have survived not one but two totalitarian regimes in the last sixty years. The hundreds and thousands who took part in the candlelight marches all over this country last month sent a signal to the rest of us that Germany 'will not let it happen again.' But for that you need our support, because while it is fine to fight darkness with light, it is better to make the light brighter.
"I would like to thank Vanessa Redgrave and thank you for listening. Good night."
Back in Ireland, the newspapers report that when Prime Minister Albert Reynolds was introduced to President Clinton, the President told him that "that wonderful group U2" played a big part in getting
him elected. Bono is startled when he hears this. Either Clinton is giving the band more credit than they deserve, or he's using U2 as shorthand for the whole Rock the Vote registration drive, or he's taking his introduction to the Irish leader as an occasion to demonstrate an ability to speak in blarney. The newspapers say Clinton told Reynolds that he had been trying to figure out Bono's last name. "After an hour with him I realized he didn't have one, but it didn't matter."
the rescheduled Ellen Darst farewell dinner is held at the Water Club, a restaurant on New York's East River, in Feb-ruary, one month after the original was canceled because of the death in Paul's family. Adam says he reckons it will be a year before Paul can get over the shock of his brother's death, but the manager is being a sociable host during the cocktail hour this evening. Adam's here and Larry's here. Edge cannot attend-he is deep into a recording project that is being called an EP but may expand to become a film soundtrack, part of a U2 interactive project, or anything else one can do with the music Edge hears running through his hatted head.
That means, as everyone sits down to eat, that the only person missing is Bono. Word has come that the well-organized singer missed his flight and will be along eventually. Meanwhile the guests find seats and tie on the feed bags. Adam recalls what Ellen brought to the infant U2 when they set foot in America for the first time. "Ellen was always a great communicator," Adam says. "She'd explain to us why we were going to this radio station, why that record shop, why we were meeting this person. She brought that influence to the organization and it continues." Adam points out that a big part of the bad feelings in Berlin making Achtung Baby came from forgetting Ellen's rule.
As mentioned earlier, Ellen also brought to U2 an inclination to put women in charge of running their operations. I ask Adam if there is a specific reason they stick to that and he says, "They're the only women we get to meet!" When we get done laughing he says, "I suppose we've always felt very uncomfortable around men who are part of that rock &
roll culture, that macho thing. A lot of men in rock & roll tend to be overdramatic. They act like queens, regardless of their heterosexuality. They seem to be hysterical, rather than just happy to work away at something. And I think it's a need for female contact within our world. It's a very male-dominated world and we don't feel comfortable with that."
As I scrape my soup bowl it occurs to me that Ellen's greatest gift to U2 was to make every disc jockey, journalist, and rack jobber feel that he or she had discovered the band. She is the proof that there's no limit to what you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit. Paul announces that like all such U2 functions this will be conducted as "a Quaker wedding," which means anyone might be called on at any time to get up and make a speech.
The soup is just being cleared when a great commotion starts hubbubing back at the door and rolling through the room like one of those cartoon balls of dust, shoes, and mayhem. It's Bono, racing through the restaurant, dragging behind him Naomi Campbell, the twenty-two-year-old top fashion model in the world and icon of Adam Clayton's dreams. Bono is grinning like a maniac as he hauls the somewhat confused-looking Naomi up to the head table, kisses Ellen on the cheek, and plops into a chair while dropping his surprise date into the seat next to him.
Adam looks like an adolescent boy would if the pinup on his bed-room wall had just come to life. His unrequited crush on Naomi is a running joke around Principle. In the U2 tour program each member of the band is asked what he wishes for that he doesn't have. Adam's listed choice is "Naomi Campbell." He has been inviting her to U2 concerts as long as he's known about her. She actually showed up at Giants Stadium last summer but Adam was tongue-tied and she seemed disin-terested. Later, after Bono did the Vogue cover shoot with her pal and fellow famous model Christy Turlington, Christy brought Naomi along to a post-Brit Awards get-together at McGuinness's London apartment. Adam was flabbergasted when Christy brought Naomi over to say hi to him, but he says he chatted so blandly that they lost interest and walked away. I doubt that's quite what happened, but the way he tells it makes clear this woman's ability to raise in Adam the sunken hull of a thirteen-year-old.
After making chitchat for a few minutes Bono asks Adam if he'd
mind swapping seats so that Bono and Larry can finish a private discus-sion. Before Larry can say, "What private ...?" Bono is finishing Adam's dinner and Adam is next to Naomi.
As the new couple chat Bono leans over, wet with glee and perspira-tion, and says in a low voice, "I almost couldn't get on a plane to come here! I got scared about the flight, I don't know what it was. So unlike me, I must say. I've been so relaxed lately, so happy with my family. It was very, very hard to get on that plane today and step back into it all. I think maybe that's why I got the anxiety about the flight. Maybe that's what was really going on.
"But I got it together and went to London to get a later flight. And on this flight I met Naomi Campbell! Now Adam's got a thing for her. So I said to myself, 'I must get her here for Adam!' "
I'm getting nostalgic for the night ten years ago when Bono and Adam did the same sort of musical chairs routine in order to make sure that the woman I had a crush on (also a Ford model just in from London on the Concorde, come to think of it; also with Keryn Kaplan sitting across from us winking like she's winking now) had to sit next to me all evening. The next night as I was walking home from my first date with her, U2 pulled up in their tour bus to ask me how it went! It went great. We got married and she's here with me tonight as Adam takes a turn with the glass slipper. If this singing thing ever runs out of steam Bono could certainly host The Dating Came.
Paul gets up to begin the speeches. A presidential seal, probably swiped from the inauguration, is hung on the podium, altered to read in E.D. we trust. McGuinness makes a generous toast in which he says he learned all about the music business from Ellen Darst and he envies Elektra Records the talent they've gained. Then he asks Bono to come up and say a few words.
"Bow your heads," Bono begins. "The reason I don't have a speech," he explains, "is 'cause I spent the whole plane ride trying to set up a date for the bass player." Everyone laughs and Bono points to the two empty seats where Adam and Naomi have disappeared. "And it must have worked-he's split the party!"
Bono goes on to give a beautiful speech in which he refers to the death of Paul's brother and how last month what was to have been an occasion for celebration instead became a time of mourning. He says that whenever you go to a wedding you relive your own wedding, and
whenever you go to a funeral you bury your own people again. Bono says his own dad didn't encourage him much, maybe to save him from being disappointed. And his way of rebelling has been to prove he can go out and win the love of the whole world. But it's a funny need for compen-sation, Bono says, that makes you need fifty thousand screaming people telling you they love you in order for you to feel normal. Through the years the approval he's sought most has been the approval of the band, and the approval of Paul and Ellen. He felt from his first days traveling in America with Ellen that if he had that he really had something.
Adam, meanwhile, is out in the moonlight pitching woo (and if you've ever gotten hit with a faceful of woo out there by the FDR Drive you know how romantic that can be). It turns out that he and Naomi are both flying to L.A. for the Grammy Awards the next day. Bad news is, they're on different flights. Worse news is, they both have dates; Adam's going with Larry, Naomi's going with a prominent guitar player.
They spend the whole night talking. In the early hours Adam drops her off at her door with a peck on the cheek and, he notes, no "Come in for coffee." The next afternoon Adam picks up his hotel phone mes-sages and there's one from Naomi Campbell: "Ring me; I've missed my flight. I'm on the same flight as you." Adam leaps to the phone like a hyena on a gazelle and calls his dream girl.
"I'm going to be on your flight," Naomi tells him. "If you get to the airport before me, will you save a seat for me? And I'll do the same for you."
Hubba, as the poet said, hubba. Adam says okay and then spends more energy than a nervous dervish trying to get the deliberate Larry Mullen moving so they can get to the airport on time. (I'll bet I don't have to tell you that they end up arriving late, wondering if they're even going to make the plane.)
When they walk into the flight lounge Adam is surprised to find a bunch of airline personnel making the sort of fuss over him that usually ends with his hands cuffed behind his back. "Are you Mr. Clayton?"
"Miss Campbell's on the plane.' She has a seat for you! She wants us to bring you straight down!"
"This is pretty strange." Adam smiles as he's escorted off while Larry stares after him with a look that asks. What's he got that I haven't got?
Adam is whisked down the shute and into the first-class cabin where the couple are reunited like Rhett and Scarlett. On the flight to Califor-nia Adam and Naomi chat and hold hands and fall asleep on each other's shoulders. And when they wake up, they kiss.
Dropping into L.A. they say their sad good-byes-they won't meet again this trip; she has to stick with her date. The U2's get to their hotel and get about their business, representing the band at the Grammy Awards where Achtung Baby is nominated in several categories, including Album of the Year.
As soon as they get to the Grammys Adam and Larry regret coming. They'd forgotten how uncomfortable they were with the frenzied showbiz schmoozing at the Grammys when Joshua Tree won. Adam had actually slipped out of that ceremony early, after being blindsided by the haste with which the winners were shuffled from their acceptance speech to a series of backstage promotional duties and photo opportunities. Adam bolted and went back to his hotel. Tonight he remembers why.
"I don't have a problem with awards of merit going to whomever they are deeming whatever it is worthy of recognition," Adam says. "But there is so much puffing up of the chest that the Grammys are in some way a significant artistic achievement, which I find offensive. It's stupid to deny the effect of a good performance at the Grammys, but you're not really going along as an artist-you're going along as a performer, as a press item, as a piece of television. And that's really the worst way in which to receive something that is about the merit of your work. For us the balance is the wrong way."
You know that if an occasion like this is annoying the easygoing Adam, it's wreaking havoc with the bullshit-hating Larry. His verdict is, he will not only never go to the Grammys again, he will never vote in the Grammys again.
Arrested Development go up to collect an award that, Adam notes, was great when it happened last year, but why must they win again for the same album? Producer of the year goes to Daniel Lanois for Achtung Baby. There's an ironic postscript to that prolonged tooth-pull of a recording project. Those are about the only awards tonight that are not going to Eric Clapton, who wins a pile of trophies for "Tears in Heaven," his moving tribute to his five-year-old son who died. Clapton
is visibly embarrassed that the Hollywood community seems to be trying to assuage his grief by giving him the Grammy in every category for which he's eligible. By the time the biggest award. Album of the Year comes up, Clapton has already won six others.
The envelope please-the Album of the Year Grammy goes not to Achtung Baby but to Eric Clapton's Unplugged. Clapton himself, staggering under the weight of his seven trophies, is generous enough to say in his acceptance that Unplugged was not the best album of the year. That's not news to Larry Mullen, who can't wait to wash the stain of this outhouse off the seat of his pants.
Adam doesn't care. He only has eyes for Clapton's date. Naomi Campbell.
When he gets back to Dublin Adam inaugurates a series of long, late-night telephone calls to Naomi. Their friendship grows without their ever seeing each other. Were he free to do so, Adam would be flying to her side like Jonathan Seagull, but that maniacal Mitch Miller lookalike, the Edge, has the whole band chained to the makeshift studio set up in the Factory and isn't letting anyone out. Phone calls are all the young romantics have.
Bono has a theory about all this; he figures fashion models are the 1990s equivalent of silent movie stars. We see them but never hear them, so we can project onto them whatever qualities we want. Adam is having the opposite problem-he hears his but never sees her.
Naomi is a very famous woman, and she's famous in all the places U2 knows little about-the tabloid press and scandal sheets and super-market checkout papers. There are always stories about her stormy relationship with Robert De Niro or Mike Tyson or whoever they've decided she's seeing this week, and true or not, these papers need to keep the stories coming. So inevitably, rumors begin to appear in print that the British bombshell has taken up with the bass player in U2, having met him at the Grammy Awards while she was supposed to be comforting the grieving Eric Clapton.
these two players cannot hear each other, the combination of their musical inclinations produces the sound of U2.
Before long Edge and Adam have found what they were looking for. Bono arrives in the alcove and U2 are ready to get to work. They send someone to round up Larry, who has wandered off. A few minutes later Larry strolls in in a cocky mood, asking, "What's so important you had to interrupt a perfectly good crap?"
"We need you to do some drumming," Bono answers.
Larry says, "Call my manager."
"We sent a letter to Mr. Paul McGuinness," Edge says, "requesting your services this week to play some drums."
"It's the song we were playing last night," Bono says. "Apparently you did a tremendous job, but the rest of us . . ."
Adam says, "Amazingly enough, you were fine."
"We face a problem we have faced in the past," Bono explains. "The song has no chorus."
"Aha!" Larry says.
"So," Bono continues, "we have to go in now and come up with one."
The four members of U2 go into the big room, pick up their instruments, and start playing. Producer Brian Eno stands near them swigging Elixir Vitae. The song they are working on is called (at least for today) "Big City, Bright Lights." As they jam on it, Bono makes up lyrics about coffee stains, ghosts, and streets.
At the mixing console in the control room a little red light goes off in the head of the man called Flood, another producer of this project. Streets is one of the words on Flood's list of forbidden rock song cliches, along with, for example night, magic, and secret. Flood figures fresh think-ing starts with the little things. While Eno, Bono, and Edge will debate musical and lyrical ideas endlessly, Flood scores his points by attrition. He sits quietly while the others talk themselves out and then does what he had planned to do all along and waits to see if they notice.
Bono stops the song and suggests a chord change to Edge. U2 begins playing again. Bono tries pushing his voice two octaves higher, which makes the performance edgier. He improvises lyrics: "Think about forever . . . think about the rain . . . desperate sea. Jacob's ladder rescue me."
There is a great deal of speculation afoot in the outside world about just what U2 is doing in here. What was supposed to be a four-month
break between tour '92 and tour '93 has turned into a marathon recording session. There has been vague talk of coming up with an EP, four or five songs to release with the summer tour of Europe. But everyone's working much too hard for that. There has been a lot of suggestion that they are recording a film soundtrack, though there is no actual film. Nobody wants to say out loud that U2 might be making their next album here, because there is only a small amount of time and nobody wants to put more pressure on the band. Ask Edge why no one will say the "A" word and he'll give you a lot of double-talk about the subtle distinctions between albums and soundtracks and projects, be-tween songs and tracks and "vibes." Ask Adam and he'll be more straightforward: "I don't know if what we're doing here is the next U2 album or a bunch of rough sketches that in two years will turn into the demos for the next U2 album."
The idea of working through their vacation time seems to have taken hold when Edge got antsy coming home to face an empty house and the reality of the end of his marriage. He needed something to do to maintain the energy he had built up making Achtung Baby and touring for a year-and to keep his mind off his personal loss. Bono was going nuts hanging around his home while still in full tourhead. As he knew U2 had almost a whole other year of roadwork ahead of them, he was not prepared to begin the psychological downshifting that usually allows him to ease back into domestic life.
So when Edge wanted to get into the studio and do some recording, Bono was quick to sign on. Eno and Flood agreed to come in and see what U2 could come up with this time. The band is back to their original method of songwriting-the four of them getting into a room and jamming until a song emerges. Eno or Edge then go through the tapes, finding sections they like and editing them together into proper song form. Then the band listens, suggests alterations, and tries coming up with words and melodies to go on top of the edited tracks. Bono or Edge will then sing these lyrical and melodic ideas into a Walkman while the track plays. When a song has taken shape that way, U2 listens to the tape, goes back into the studio, and tries to play it.
Eno has, with professorial organization, set up an eraseable poster board on a tripod in the studio. On it is written, along with the musical symbols for sharps and flats:
CYCLE HOLD STOP CHANGE CHANGE BACK
Sometimes Eno likes to stand at this board with a pointer while U2 plays, directing when he wants them to go to the next section or change to a different chord. It's actually a workable system, but watching the thin, bald Eno use his board and pointer to direct a rock band is hilarious, like Ichabod Crane conducting the Rolling Stones. I am reminded of the old Three Stooges episode in which Curly is mistaken for a professor at a women's college. He puts on a mortarboard and black robe, grabs a pointer, and teaches the coeds to sing "B-I-bee, B-O-Bo" while he dances around the classroom. I keep expecting Eno to drop his pedagogical demeanor and yell, "Swing it!"
U2 start another song. Sam O'Sullivan, Larry's drum tech, runs into the control room to ask Flood what this one's called. "If God Will Send His Angels," Flood says. Sam rapidly flips through a stack of papers and says, "We don't have a tempo for this!"
"It used to be called 'Wake Up, Dead Man,' " Flood says calmly. "One twenty-eight will do fine. One-twenty-eight or one twenty-seven. Each song U2 plays has its tempo set by an electronic timekeeper, a click track, that not only holds the rhythm steady but allows the group to go back later and edit together sections from different parts of the song, or even from different takes. When they perform the songs on-stage Larry has the option of using those clicks to find his place or set the pace. He decided years ago that he hated having a tick tick tick coming through his headphones on stage, so he instead had the sound of a metronomic shaker or maraca fed softly through his monitor. It sounds more musical, it's unobtrusive, and if a bit of it gets picked up by the microphones it actually adds a subtle color to the sound. In the studio, though, he has to use the headphones and click track-which after eight or nine hours leaves him with a blinding headache.
The band is not sure if the tempo Flood called for is the best speed for "If God Will Send His Angels." They try playing it slowly, they try
it faster, they try it too fast. "If God Will Send His Angels" goes from the stately pace of U2's "Walk to the Water" to the energetic plod of Iron Butterfly's "In a Gada Da Vida" to the stumble-footed stampede of the Doors' "Break on Through." This is not progress.
Edge adapts his guitar playing to every different tempo, finding some inspired alternatives along the way, from low, funky wah-wah to high, Ernie Isley phase-shifting to something that sounds like a mosquito pumped up to the volume of a buzz saw. Finally he lands back on the ringing dream tones that a generation of young guitarists calls "the Edge."
Eno is hitting buttons on a synthesizer, searching through the files. Bono addresses the booth through his vocal mike: "We're looking for Brian's 'Dead Man' sounds on the keyboard."
While they're looking, Larry begins playing another song. Bono picks up on it and joins in. This whole Jam/tape/edit method encour-ages the musicians to keep their creative juices flowing-as quick as they get bored with one song they move on to another. The sorting will be done later. Edge comes in with a psychedelic guitar. Bono starts singing about climbing the highest hill, then he repeats a phrase from one of his literary inspirations, Charles Bukowski: "These days run away like horses over a hill."
"Dirty Day" emerges as the title of the song, though Bono also tries out some of the words he's using on another track, "Some Days Are Better Than Others." The lyrics to these two songs might sound ab-stract (a cynic would say nonsensical) outside this room, but given Bono's current state of mind they make perfect sense: "Some days you wake up with her complaining," "Some days you wake up in the army," "Some days you feel like a bit of a baby," "Some days you can't stand the sight of a puppy."
It's a pretty fair peek into Bono's current state of mind as he prowls around his house, trying not to trip over his children, his brain still filled with the smoke and mirrors of the Zoo TV tour. He is in that strange mental neighborhood where life on the road seems vibrant and natural and home life, real life, feels claustrophobic and flat.
Bono was rambling on earlier about trying in these recordings to capture the feeling you get when you're lying in bed in the morning trymg to sleep and the music from your kids' cartoons is coming through the wall. Without the pictures, Bono said, the soundtracks are
amazing. They are disjointed, cut up to follow the action in a way that defies the rules of music, and you never know when the violins and trumpets are going to be augmented with a sudden scream, freight train, or shotgun blast.
His divided mental state is affecting Bono's songwriting. A song called "Daddy's Gonna Pay for Your Crashed Car" begins "You're a precious stone/ You're out on your own/ You know everyone in the world but you feel alone." Sounds like a good description of U2 on tour in America to me. Bono tries handing me a line about the song as a religious metaphor ("Daddy may be God," he says, "but he could be the devil too.") and I say, "Ah, come on, Bono. Daddy is Paul McGuinness. Daddy is the organization that provides you with all these cars and planes and fancy meals and settles the bill after you leave, pays off the posse if you break something."
Bono says, yes, that's right-but he would probably say that even if it had never occurred to him before. He may very well have in mind for these songs bigger metaphors and deeper meanings than life as a rock star, but the fact that he is so deep in a tour mentality while he's writing means that they are completely informed by that strange perspective.
The new lyrics are full of U2's inability to slip out of the clusterfuck mentality and back into what's supposed to be normal life. And I hear both trepidation and excitement at the prospect. Achtuny Baby was about being tempted away from conventional commitments by the excitement of Nighttown, but the character on Achtung Baby always knew where home was-he was testing how far away he could step and still get back. The character in these new songs has lost his map. He can barely remember how he used to think or who he used to be.
The music, meanwhile, has a slightly drunken feeling. Eno and Flood are getting a sound like conventional pop music underwater. It conjures up the way that, when you're in a strange country and a little drunk, the crappiest disco or pop music can sound weirdly attractive. It's not that you don't know it's stupid-it's that you don't care. It may have some-thing to do with your being, at that moment and by the standards of that place, a little stupid yourself. (At dinner last night Bono held forth on the brilliance of the Bee Gees: "Equal to Abba, perhaps even supe-rior. 'Tragedy' is genius.")
"Crashed Car" begins with a beat like an anvil-harsh, loud, ham-mering-which as the song takes off is replaced by a sound like a bass
drum heard from the bottom of a swimming pool. It takes me a minute to figure out what that switch in tone reminds me of: pushing through an excited crowd into a waiting car and then rolling up the window, sealing all the adrenaline panic outside your glass-enclosed luxury.
Structurally, the songs on Achtung Baby were. conventional-"One" or "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses" could have fit on The Joshua Tree. What was radical was the production-submerging Bono's vocal in distortion on "Zoo Station," for example. On the new material, though, the song structures go off in all sorts of bizarre directions. It is up to Bono and the others to come up with lyrics and melodies that impose some sense of order on these wandering tracks. On Achtung Baby U2 took conventional tracks and radicalized them; on this material U2 is taking radical tracks and covering them with a veneer of convention.
U2 returns to working on "If God Will Send His Angels." It is upbeat, a little Doorsy but clearly in the U2 Big Music tradition, which may make it hard to fit with the more disjointed new songs. This song, too, needs a chorus, and Bono has a plan for how to get one. He wants the band to break down at a certain point and beat out one phrase over and over while he chants the title line on top of it. Bono asks Larry to just ride his cowbell to affect this big dynamic shift. Edge and Adam are puzzling over what they should play to make the dramatic gesture Bono wants while still providing the energy lift necessary for the chorus to pick the listener up-not drop him through a sudden sonic trapdoor.
"It doesn't have to be a big deal," Eno says. "You could just hold the E for another two hours."
"Larry," Bono says, "try one of your rolls at the end of this se-quence." Bono mimicks the beat he wants rat-ta-tat-ta-tat and then sings, "OO-OOH, GO-OOOOOH"
They try it a couple of times. Flood says it works. They play it again. Flood says they're losing it-the chorus is now a drop-off, "Not the uplift I imagine you want."
Bono suggests they come into the control room and listen to the different versions. Sitting on the couch during the playback, the band agrees that the song isn't working. Bono says that a circular progression such as this needs a great guitar part to raise it up as the chords go around and around. (In other words, let Edge solve the problem.) Eno says that the problem may be Bono. He's pushing against the
top of his range. He has to climb too high for the chorus, "Squeaking." Eno observes that the song is in E, a tough key for Bono.
"Yeah," Bono says, "E's tough, but guitar and bass players love it, and unfortunately U2 starts with the music. It's a discussion we often have." Bono says he's good in G, A, and B, but Edge and Adam don't like playing in those keys. Edge is impassive. He's not going to let Bono snake out of dealing with the vocal problem by changing the subject.
After listening to several versions of the song, Eno and Bono agree that a ragged early take is better than the later ones where everyone knew exactly where they were going and the shifts between verses and chorus were sharply denned. As the early version plays again, Eno praises it, saying, "See, that's tense without being thuggish. The way you're doing it now is lowbrow,"
I'm impressed with Eno's use of semantics to sway musical judgment. A different producer might listen to the same version and say, "See, that's nervous without being ballsy. The way you're doing it now has guts."
With the backing track thus selected, Eno begins pushing Bono to figure out how he's going to get over his problem with the key and register and find "a real vocal character" for the song. Bono ducks the issue, which gives Eno an opening for his own agenda. While experi-menting in the studio earlier today Eno ganged together several effects and came up with "a great new vocal sound-thin and hard." He thinks it's just what Bono needs for "If God Will Send His Angels." The cynic in me suspects that excited as he is by today's discovery, Eno would find it the perfect sound for "What's New, Pussycat," "Nights in White Satin," or any other song that Bono happened to be singing tonight.
Bono asks suspiciously if this new sound of Eno's has anything to do with the Vocoder (a device for altering vocals electronically). Eno as-sures him it does not. Bono tries to slip away from the subject by suggesting that he belt out the refrain, "If God will send his angels," like one of those American TV evangelists, like the Mirrorball Man, "in-stead of how I'm doing it now, like a bad rock singer." Bono tries it, sounding like Foghorn Leghorn. It is a slippery attempt to use a caricature to avoid his responsibility to actually hit the notes.
Eno, sensing his opponent's weakness, comes back with a semantic uppercut: "This new vocal sound I've found is like a ... a ..." he
pretends to search for an exact description but he knows damn well what he's going to say, "a psychotic evangelist!"
Bono's eyes light up. "That's what I want!" First round to Brian Eno.
As Eno's setting up his sound,' Bono tells Edge that he thinks the guitar should stop altogether during this new cowbell breakdown chorus. "It doesn't matter if you're playing different chords," Bono says, "if you're just playing them the same way."
"The chords are just the canvas," Edge says, Zen-like. "What shape canvas do you want?"
While Larry wanders off to shoot pool and Adam to go home, I sit on the couch between Edge and Bono marveling at the complex higher reasoning function of U2, the bisected hemispheres of the band brain- Edge on the left, Bono on the right-seated high and proud atop the long backbone of bass and drums. Eno washes over both sides like a superego. (Tim Booth of the British group James, who Eno also pro-duces, has pointed out that Brian Eno's name is an anagram for "One Brain." Heavy.) It's great to watch each of these three smart, articulate men try to get his own way by bringing different forms of rhetoric to what are, finally, just matters of taste.
Eno comes on like a philosophy professor, using apparent logic to win his case. Under close scrutiny, though, Eno's .syllogisms are a little shaky. He does not proceed from fact to fact to conclusion. Rather he hits on a conclusion first (based on taste or instinct or expediency) and then bends a few facts to make them fit that conclusion. So when Bono mentions that he wants to sing like a TV preacher, Eno tells him that his new vocal sound is like "a psychotic evangelist." I'll bet if Bono had said he wanted to sing like King Kong, Eno would have described his new vocal sound as "evocative of gigantic monkeys."
Bono, equally clever, tries to win arguments by couching them in moral terms. Even with Eno's new effect Bono does a bad job on his crazed-evangelist vocal. He wants to leave it and go on to something else. Eno keeps after him to redo it, until Bono, pushed into a corner, declares, "I am actually ashamed of that vocal. It embarrasses me." He pauses for effect before coming around with the left hook: "And maybe it is right that I should be ashamed at that moment. Maybe shame is what that lyric demands!"
Here is a bit of rhetoric any schoolboy late with his term paper could appreciate! Bono makes a moral imperative out of his desire to avoid
resinging the song, and suggests that as he is being brave enough to charge into the machine-gun nest of public humiliation for his art, the least Eno could do is provide cover.
Edge tends to listen quietly, scrutinizing these arguments between Eno's professor and Bono's martyr, and then punctures their balloons with his own talmudic logic. Edge analyzes the conflicting propositions like a rabbi and bides his time before zeroing in on the weak spot where Eno's circumlocution or Bono's manifesto can be shattered.
Flood listens to it all and says nothing. When everyone else is talked out, exhausted, and home in bed, he will still be here, making it sound the way he wants.
"A lot of the time I'm like the junior partner," Flood says when the others are gone. "It's almost like you go around with the broom after-wards."
while U2 is dredging their psyches and adrenaline to make it through these recording sessions, the hysteria of tour preparation is going on all around them. There are a hundred decisions to be made, and everyone wants U2's attention. In the sitting room at the Factory, illustrations of various designs for Edge's wool hats are laid out for his inspection. There is a check mark next to a drawing of a snake eating its tail, along with a quotation from a mythology text: "Ouroboros: A gnostic name for the great world serpent." Fintan Fitzgerald, the wardrobe captain, has so despaired of ever getting the band to sit still long enough to have their butts mea-sured that he has convinced Suzanne to grab pairs of their jeans to send overnight to the tailor in London standing by to cut his clothes. The tailor will just have to base his work on these swiped trousers.
There are piles of faxes with handwritten messages across them, things like "Needs Answer Todayl" Suzanne tells the band members they have to agree on the aliases they are going to use for their hotel reserva-tions. They decide to take the names of Irish fashion models. "I want to be Mr. Doody!" Bono declares. "You can't," Suzanne says, "Edge al-ready has it." Edge says he will be "Mr. Rocca" in honor of the former Miss Ireland now dating Van Morrison. Bono can be Doody.
U2 wants to focus their attention on the big stuff. They want the Zooropa tour, the European stadium shows, to be different from what they did in America. Bono is sure that they can push the boundaries of taste further in Europe than in the USA. They convene in the sitting room to look at the video footage that will play on the great Zoo TV
screens during the concerts. The men responsible for assembling this are Ned O'Hanlon and Maurice Linnane, the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of the mighty U2 enterprise. Ned and Maurice run Dreamchaser, a Dublin video company that, while dependent on U2 for much of its revenue, is not actually a U2 subsidiary. In other words, although U2 are Ned and Maurice's biggest clients, although Ned and Maurice are very close to the center of all Zoo tour action, Ned and Maurice are not U2's employees. (Ned's wife is, though-she is Anne-Louise Kelly, the director of Principle Management Dublin.) This independence manifests itself in small ways, such as Ned and Maurice not having to sign the confidentiality agreements Principle employees sign, and in the bemused demeanor the two men affect as they deal with translating and executing U2's endless ideas about their video image.
As Ned and Maurice roll in a big TV and prepare their latest video presentation, Adam is in a chair getting his hair done for the impending tour. His head is wrapped in a towel and his hair is piled high with some horrible purple goop. Adam looks up from under his turban and asks Maurice if he went on holiday during his recent break.
"Yeah, to a Greek island."
"The gay one?"
Bono comes into the room saying, "Larry went there once. He couldn't believe it. The nightmare of his life. Everything that's hap-pened to him since he was twelve years old times a thousand."
Edge and Larry come in. Ned and Maurice put up the film montage that will open the concert. There's an opera singer cutting to a 1950s dancer cutting to African tribesmen cutting to Bono in his fly shades speaking in a jumble of European languages.
Bono says hold it. He doesn't want himself in there. "It's not good enough, there's no content." He objects to the jokiness of the image of himself. Ned and Maurice won't let that go by.
"This from the man who came out on stage and said, 'Bend over, San Francisco!'?" asks Maurice.
"The man who said, 'Seig heil, Berlin!'?" asks Ned.
Bono will not be moved. He also wants the African tribesmen put somewhere else-the way the film is cut now they come right after a series of ridiculous images. Bono thinks it will look like U2 are mocking them.
Ned and Maurice groan and note the changes. Next up is the video that will run across the screens while U2 plays "With or Without You," a long, slow mood-lit pan across the mountains and valleys of Adam Clayton's naked body. "Uh-oh," Adam says while unwrapping his head to reveal hair of phosphorescent blondeness. "Maybe I should see this one alone first."
"It's going to be seen by thousands, Adam." Bono laughs. "This is no time for modesty."
The film rolls. On the screen a nude Adam, standing at attention, is bathed in deep shadows and red light as the camera pans slowly around him. The cinematography is artsy, the focus fuzzy. It is tasteful to a fault. "There's no narcissism in this," Bono explains to me as we watch. "The idea is to eroticize the male body instead of the female. You're not sure at first which it is."
The film was a reaction to an objection raised by Catherine Owens, the band's artist pal, Trabant painter, and Zoo TV board member, who insisted that the tour needed some male eros to balance the belly dancer and the pulling-women-from-the-audience-to-dance-with-Bono bits. As usual, Adam "Body Double" Clayton was drafted for the buff shot.
When the band finishes watching the clip Bono observes that there is no full frontal nudity.
"We can arrange a personal appearance," Adam offers.
The touchiest decision U2 has made is to go into Europe with snatches from German filmmaker Lent Riefenstahl's Nazi propaganda films Triumph of the Will and Olympia. It's partly a commentary on the rumblmgs of a fascist resurgence in Europe now, partly a comment on the ambience of giant stadium rock shows, and partly just to fry peo-ple's brains. Bono figures that by the time U2 projects Triumph of the Will up on giant video screens in Berlin's Olympic Stadium, the cultural tension will be stretched close to snapping. Europe is at a turning point. The Cold War order we grew up with has disappeared. The European peoples will either continue down the road toward economic and cul-tural unification or break apart into the ethnic tribalism where fascism breeds. U2 wants to hit their European audience over the head with their idea of how extreme those choices are.
The TV pumps out what sounds like an African tribal beat and the screen fills up with a shot from Olympia of a little German boy in what might be a Hitler Youth uniform beating furiously on a marching-band
drum. That image desolves into Joseph Stalin into Margaret Thatcher into the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.
"It's too much!" Bono protests. "The only song that could follow that is 'The End of the World.' You can't go from that into 'Zoo Station.' It's too hard a cut. If I were in an arena and I saw that and then a rock band came out I'd riot!"
So it goes. Ned and Maurice have been working day and night to have these images ready and now they suffer the death of a thousand cuts as Bono ticks off his objections and orders changes. In years of working with U2 Ned and Maurice have memorized a long list of taboos. No shots of Edge without his hat. Avoid showing Bono's feet- he thinks they're too small ("I have no feet-my legs just end!"). If you can ever manage to get a shot of Adam on stage without his chin in the air, savor it.
One time the band okayed a U2 TV commercial Ned and Maurice had made. A week after it went out, Larry decided there was one shot of him he didn't like. Which caused Adam to mention that if they were going to reedit it anyway, there was a shot of him he'd like changed too. The discussion escalated until Bono announced of the clip, "I actually hate that."
"But you said you loved it last week," Ned protested.
They swear that Bono's reply was, "When I said I loved it, what I meant was, I hate it." Ned and Maurice are used to being sent back to the drawing board.
Right now U2 has to go back to the mixing board. The band members convene in the control booth with Eno, Flood, and engineer Robbie Adams. They have pads and pencils. It is time to listen to a number of the edited jams and assign them grades. Maybe this way they can figure out which damn songs to finish before the luggage has to leave. The first track plays. Bono (who Eno once described as "the Mother Teresa of abandoned songs") thinks it has a lot of potential. The others give it the bum's rush.
"I give that one two out of five," says Flood.
"Four out of ten," says Eno.
"But the mood is so unusual," Bono protests. "It's at least five out of ten!"
They listen to another track. Eno says it's a great jam but the guitar going cha-chaaang on the third beat makes it too reggae. He wants to
move the bass and kick drum over one beat to compensate-have the bass land on the one instead of the two. Adam smiles and says, "And I worked so hard to not play on the one." Everybody remembers that the last reggae song they decided to try playing straight turned into "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," one of their biggest hits. Eno says that the band should plan on jamming some more tonight from 7 till 9.
Robbie protests that at this late date more jamming seems like a waste of time. Eno says, "It's actually time efficient." Edge, Adam, and Larry can keep jamming, coming up with new stuff-while Eno and Flood mix the best jams and Bono goes off and finishes the lyrics and melodies.
Bono calls it "songwriting by accident," and tells Robbie that what they have to decide now is if this is going to be a song record (see The Joshua Tree) or a vibe record (see The Unforgettable Fire). And how is U2 to address this decision? Roll out the blackboard!
Soon the band and their producers are studying a catalog of their options that looks like a Chinese menu:
If God Will
Jesus Drove Me
Wake Up, Dead Man
Kiss Me, Kill Me
Bono wonders aloud if they should edit short bits of many of the different tracks together, creating a montage. He raves about the latest Beastie Boys album. He hated their raps but loved the way their songs jumped in and out of each other. Flood says that's because they couldn't play their instruments well enough to keep a groove going for a whole song, but Bono says that doesn't matter. "It's applying a deejay mental-ity to rock & roll. And about time."
He says that rappers make records at superspeed: "De La Soul made
an album in a week! Everybody's on the floor doing everything, includ-ing writing the lyrics. These guys don't have degrees in electronics, but they know how much studio time costs. We need some of that."
As the band goes in to start jamming again, Bono apologizes to me for the tedium: "Making records is like making sausages," he says. "You'll probably enjoy them more if you don't see how it's done.
U2 falls into a jam around a bass figure similar to that of "This Is Radio Clash." Edge stays on one chord, hitting his pedals to try out different tones while Eno, at the synth, drops in little electronic accents that float around the groove like musical satellites. When they finish playing Eno says he really likes that one.
"Yeah," Edge says, "you like it 'cause nobody ever changes their part!"
"Nothing changes," Eno says. "My dream! I listened to a blank twenty-four track today. It was bliss. Turn up that hiss!" Everyone laughs.
At dinnertime Adam has to leave; he's going to appear on the Irish Recorded Music Industry's TV awards show to make a presentation to R.E.M. Edge and I go into the Factory's lunchroom to eat some Indian takeout. He turns his attention to one subject that has all the members of U2 feeling blue: they have looked at their financial prospects for the coming year. The monumental cost of keeping the Zoo TV tour on the road through the spring and summer in Europe and the autumn in Australia and Japan will eat up almost all the profits, ij the tour is a smash and sells out most of the dates. If Europe should have a rainy summer, U2 could lose millions. A year ago, when the band was sitting here dreaming up the most extravagant rock show ever, money seemed to be made to burn. But twelve months into a twenty-four-month haul, the excitement of breaking new ground doesn't seem quite as valuable.
"We've painted ourselves into a corner," Edge says. "I can't figure how we can work for a year and earn nothing." I ask if that's literally true. "It's so close," Edge says. "The budget is so tight that if one big thing goes wrong, there goes the profit."
On the TV in the corner Adam is handing an award to Mike Mills of R.E.M. (and Automatic Baby).
Bono is in the other room suffering through a bad interview. A journalist from a French magazine has arrived. He is smart and full of insightful questions. Unfortunately he's not getting to ask many of
them because the magazine's publisher (or some equivalent boss-U2's not sure exactly who he is) has accompanied him and is dominating the conversation with obnoxious non sequiturs delivered in what seems to be a parody of Gallic rudeness.
"Rock een roll!" he says to Bono. "Ees all bullsheet, non?" Then he snorts though his long nose and lets out a braying haw haw haw. Every time Bono tries to talk about U2's intentions this potbellied Frenchman makes a face and interrupts, usually to say something like "Stop right there, you little bastard!" and then guffaw. It occurs to Bono that this might be a technique-a good cop/bad cop routine to get him to drop his guard in the interview. Or maybe this guy is just a goon. "I like you," the bigmouth says. "I'm saying nothing against you, but rock een roll is bullsheet, haw haw haw." He lets Bono know that U2 is too hung up by their Catholic upbringing, oblivious to the fact that Bono, Edge, and Adam were raised Protestant. Bono has a way of getting out of situa-tions like this, and his name is Gavin Friday. Gavin is supposed to be coming by for dinner with Bono, Eno, and the writer. Gavin susses the situation and steps in to take the journalists off Bono's hands. Gavin has been through the routine a hundred times. This will be another one Bono owes him.
Standing in the sitting room, waiting to depart, the Gaul with the gall tells Gavin he doesn't want to "go to any trendy sheet! We go to real Irish pub!"
Gavin says he knows just the place. The Frenchman asks, "Weel there be peegs on the floor?"
Gavin is startled, but he tries to keep a straight face. "No, there won't be pigs there. Dubliners are not farmers. Dublin is something else."
The Frenchman tells Gavin how poor Ireland is. "There are no tall buildings!"
'There's two reasons for that," Gavin says. "First, the British took all the money out and put nothing back in. Second, religion. The church wanted the steeples and crosses to be the highest points."
They head off to dinner with the Frenchman throwing out insults and idiocies (he is thrilled to be in the land of the great Irish writer Dylan Thomas) until Gavin is ready to choke him. He marches him all over Dublin, the Frenchman huffing and puffing and pleading for a cab while Gavin is saying, no, no, we poor Irish peasants walk everywhere.
Finally Gavin leads his two continental guests to a private club he knows, a British royalist bar with pictures of the Queen on the wall and Orangemen drinking to the Empire. This, Gavin tells the Parisian, is a real Dublin pub!
I'M buying my groceries in a shop on Baggot Street one morning, paying no attention to the small talk of the Dublin housewives and little more to the radio playing quietly on the shelf of the man behind the counter. The news is on, saying something about a group of Irish relief workers in association with Amnesty International who are going to try to drive a caravan of food and medical supplies through the Serbian military lines besieging Muslim, Croatian, and secular enclaves in Bosnia, in what used to be Yugoslavia. Boy, I think, those relief workers must be saints! And like saints they are going to be martyred. The nationalists who have seized control of Serbia want blood. They have been carving their way across Croatian, Muslim, and multiethnic territory since the moment Communism lifted from Eastern Europe. The Serbs have the remnants of the Yugoslavian military machine (the Croats claim the Serbs are simply the communists trying to hold on to their power by raising the flag of ancient nationalism; the Serbs respond, Oh, yeah? Well, your daddy was a Nazi!") and the West has refused to get involved, except to pass U.N. resolutions refusing to allow arms shipments to either side. As the Serbs are already heavily armed, this has had the effect of leaving the Croats (who at least were part of the establishment of the country that disappeared under them) at a disad-vantage and the Muslims (a religious minority within the officially godless former nation) defenseless.
It is a horrible example of diplomatic malpractice, but the unspoken attitude of the West is, "You don't make an omelette without breaking a
few eggs. We have seen simultaneous peaceful revolutions on a scale undreamed of as the dictatorships in Poland, Czechoslovakia, the Bal-tics, East Germany and-who could have imagined-the Soviet Union itself have been swept aside. Political change that might have cost as much blood as World War II has happened with peace and speed. Now, if the people of, say, Romania, want to drag their dictator and his wife before a kangaroo court and shoot them, that's ugly-but it is far less ugly than World War III would have been. So, sure, there are going to be power struggles and ethnic infighting popping up here and there as the new nations settle themselves. It's sad, but it's inevitable, and all we can do is deny them any more weapons so it does not drag on too long."
Maybe no one in the West expected the Croatians to fight back. More likely, no one expected the Bosnian Serbs to be so bloodthirsty. They do not want to conquer the Croats and Muslims, they want to destroy them. They, too, have seen the execution of the dictators of Romania and the lesson they learned was to exterminate your rivals before they can exterminate you. The Irish have been leading the efforts to raise money for relief of the besieged cities and "safe areas" of what was Yugoslavia. The English and French have been hiding under their tables, hoping it will go away; the U.S. has been oblivious-most Americans could not find Bosnia on a map. Pretty soon that won't be a problem 'cause the way things are going it won't be on the map. But what causes me to drop my groceries on the floor of this market is when I hear on the radio what sounds like talk about U2 leading this humani-tarian effort to run the Serb blockade. I couldn't have heard right, could I? I just have U2 on the brain, surely the announcer said "U.N.," not "U2."
I lean over the counter, trying to catch the news above the noise of the store and, yes, that is Adam Clayton speaking about the need to take the risk of getting these supplies past the Serbian guns: "It is unaccept-able in the world that we live in that these things can still be allowed to go on without being challenged!" I can't believe it. I walk back toward the Factory in a daze. Are we really going to Bosnia? Are we really going to war? Does U2 think their backstage passes will get them safely through the Serbian artillery?
As the Serbian atrocities mounted this spring there was a moment when President Clinton was pushing NATO to send in troops, but at that point the Croatians suddenly turned and started attacking the
Muslim population, too, as if to say to the conquering Serbs, "Never mind us, let's team up on the new kid!" When that happened, outside confusion about which side was the victims reached a peak, and Clinton was unable to muster support for Western intervention.
There has been speculation (not only from Muslim groups but from, for instance, Richard Nixon) that the West is not willing to defend Muslims from genocide as it would Christians and Jews.
Adam's already at the studio when I arrive. "I half heard you on the radio just now," I say to him in the sitting room. "Tell me we're not going to Bosnia."
"No, no," Adam says. "We can't, we've got this tour! We're involved in funding this caravan of supplies that's going in, but we're not going ourselves. They asked me to come down and speak this morning, to help them get publicity for it. That's all."
"That's a relief," I say. "I checked my airport travel insurance. It's void in a war zone."
Adam says very seriously, "I think, though, if we didn't have the tour I would go along. We all sit and watch this stuff on television and say, 'Why doesn't somebody do something?' I think if you have the chance to check it out, you must."
When you read that in a book it might sound like hot air, but when Adam says it to me in a room in Dublin it's not, it's entirely sincere. If he were free of his obligations to the others I believe Adam would be willing to risk his life not out of the sort of religious passion Bono musters but out of an old British sense that this is simply the proper thing for a man to do. There is something contradictory in Adam, who, as Bono says, has been thinking that he's now middle-aged since he was twenty, but who is also like a little boy determined to show that he will not be afraid, he will not be denied, he will do whatever must be done and make no fuss about it. When you first meet U2 you think that Adam has the most understandable personality of any of them, but eventually you realize that he is the most complicated. He registers everything; I think he feels everything. But he shows almost nothing.
Contrast that with Bono, who shows what he's feeling in his face, what he's thinking in his words, and what he had for breakfast on his shirt. Bono does not disguise his complexities. I go into the control room and Bono is hammering at the Powerbook personal computer that has become his salvation after a lifetime of losing his lyrics.
"So hard to watch the news from Bosnia," Bono says. "It was hard not to feel accused. A relief worker was looking at me, at each of us, saying, 'You are a jerk for doing nothing.' It made it very hard for me to consider working on this"-he gestures at the studio around him- "important."
He reads me what he has been writing:
I read a book once, called "In Cold Blood" About a murder in the neighborhood Pages of facts did me no good I read it like a blind man, in cold blood So the story of a three-year-old child Raped by soldiers though she'd already died Made the mother watch as they fucked her in the mud I'm reading the story now in cold blood More now coming off the wire City surrounded, funeral pyre Life is cheaper than talking about it People choke on their politician's vomit On cable television I saw a woman weep Live by satellite from a flood-ridden street Boy mistaken for a wastepaper bin Body that a child used to live in I saw plastic explosives and an alarm clock And the wrong men sitting in the dock Karma is a word I never understood How Cod could take a four-year-old in cold blood I live by a beach but it feels like New York I hear about ten murders before I get to work What's it going to be, Lord, fire or flood An act of mercy or in cold blood?
"I'm thinking of reciting it on the album with just a drum," Bono says. "Bring in a note of brutal reality. Do you think that's too much?'
I suggest that describing soldiers raping a child is going to overpower everything that comes after it-it will disrupt the album in a way from which it might not be able to recover.
Bono says perhaps he should do it on stage-a blast of ugly truth amid all the camp, postmodernism, and irony. He goes into the other room to do an interview with Joe Jackson from the Irish music paper Hot Press, in which he continues to talk about Bosnia and how small U2's concerns seem when stacked up next to that.
He reads "In Cold Blood" to Jackson and then says, "Sometimes, in the middle of all the kitsch you have to stick the boot in. But that lyric, too, is about overload and I want to use it live, though it may only be samples or lines I like. But it's not so much about the cold blood involved in the various acts I describe. It's about the way we respond to those things."
The symbol of the terror in what was Yugoslavia is the ongoing seige of Sarajevo, a great cultural center quite Western in its ways and now ringed by Serbian guns. Sarajevo represents what is at stake in this war because it is not an ethnic enclave, it is a modern city. The Muslims there are not fundamentalists, they are as secular as British Christians or American Jews. Sarajevo is a city-like New York or London-where ethnic background is not a big subject among the citizens. It is impor-tant to understand that the Serbian nationalists who are firing mortars into Sarajevo are not only shooting at Muslims, they are shooting at Croatians and Serbians too. The Muslims, Croats, Jews, and Serbs of the city are huddling together trying to figure out why these backward fanatics are trying to kill them and why the outside world doesn't care. Imagine if your own hometown were set upon by bands of lunatic fundamentalist Christians and you'll get a sense of what they are going through. In fact, it is this intermingling of different tribes, the erasing of ethnic lines, that the reactionary Chetniks in the Serbian army most want to punish and destroy.
I suspect that the Western reluctance to defend Sarajevo has roots so deep neither Sigmund Freud nor Big Bad John could ever excavate them. Sarajevo, after all, is the exact spot where the twentieth century went off the tracks. It was in Sarajevo in 1914 that the Bosnian nationalist Gavrilo Princip managed in spite of Chaplinesque incompetence to assassinate Archduke Ferdinand on the third try, setting off World War I, which in turn set off like dominoes the Russian Revolution and the spread of Communism, the rise of Nazism in Germany, World War II and the development and deployment of the nuclear bomb, and from which all the horrors and more than a few of the marvels of our century
descend. Every statesman making decisions now learned as a kid in history class that the world went wrong because of entangling alliances- because all the countries of Europe were nuts enough to allow them-selves to be drawn into a dispute in far-off Sarajevo.
It feels these days as if this entire century-spanning sequence of events was a big historical aberration and that as the 1900s come to a close all of those mistakes are being untangled so that the next century can begin normally. The last few years have played like a videotape of the twentieth century running backward, undoing all the detours of the decades since the Archduke got plugged: zip, there goes liberalism, zoom, there goes the sexual revolution, holy smoke, the Berlin Wall just got unbuilt, Eastern Europe is free, oh, there're those rotten Nazis, Com-munism evaporates, wow, there goes the USSR itself, the Dickensian underclass returns, and here we are, back to war in the Balkans and the whole world trying to avoid being sucked into a mess in Sarajevo. Yikes, says the battered old twentieth century, this is where I took that wrong turn! The "widening gyre" Yeats described in "The Second Coming" turns out to have a rewind switch.
Further back, behind all the historical and political baggage, I think there's another reason the West is so frightened to stick their collective nose into Bosnia. Superstition. Anyone with even a childhood memory of the book of Revelations has to get a little twitch of millennialist dread when thinking about the impending approach of the year 2000. Certainly Ronald Reagan made no secret of his belief in a coming apocalyptic confrontation between the forces of divine justice and Sa-tan's evil empire. He happily talked about it until his advisers warned him to shut up, he was scaring the horses. Bill Clinton claims to have that old-time American Baptist religion too. As Jimmy Carter did. Despite what the sophisticates in the middlebrow media think, this stuff isn't just the province of yahoos and hucksters. God or His impostors lurks in the back of brains from Washington to Teheran, from Waco to Jonestown, and whenever a century ends He starts humming loudly and clearing His throat. When a millennium ends? Even Castro checks his Holy Water.
There are only two places where God (alive or dead) is not consid-ered a factor in human events-England and academia. Elsewhere He figures into most equations right alongside money, sex, property, and power. In the West during this century the principle End of the World
myth has been the legend of the Third Secret of Fatima. According to the popular story (which flattens out or ignores a lot of ambiguities in the actual reports), the Blessed Mother appeared to three Portuguese peasant children during World War I and predicted (I) that the current war would soon end but an even bigger one would follow and (2) unless Russia was converted it would plunge the world into Armageddon in the second half of the century.
A third prediction was sealed and was supposed to be made public in I960. It never was-one apocryphal story had it that Pope John XXIII opened it, read it, and fell over dead. (Maybe it was a metaphysical practical joke, maybe it said, "Pope John will die when he reads this.") There has been all sorts of speculation about what the Third Secret of Fatima is. The most common rumor is that it gives the date of the end of the world, and the Church is afraid that if they tell the public, despairing people will go out and lose themselves in orgies and aban-don. Which actually makes no sense at all, because anyone who believed in an end of the world prediction given by the Virgin Mary to the Pope would obviously be someone who would spend all his or her remaining time going to confession and collecting plenary indulgences-not partying like it's 1999. From the Church's reaction it seems more likely that the third letter of Fatima predicted the ordination of women or the end of clerical tax breaks or something else that would really spook the curia.
Just as the Fatima visitations followed closely on the first Sarajevo crisis, the current crisis has been accompanied by reported sightings of Mary in Medugorje, a Yugoslavian village in the mountains about a hundred miles from Sarajevo. The Blessed Mother is said to have begun appearing to children there in 1981. Word spread quickly and the faithful started flooding to Yugoslavia in trains, planes, and automo-biles.
I got the lowdown on Medugorje from my uncle Gus, who journeyed there with a planeload of American pilgrims. When he got back I asked Gus how holy his hejira was. He said it was hard to get past the attitude of his fellow faithful. "When we arrived there one fella began cursing all the local citizens who didn't speak English. He yelled, 'This place is full of foreigners!' Then we got to go into the room where the children were kneeling. We all stood there watching for a while. All at once they began smiling. Their eyes moved together across the room. 'The Blessed
Mother is here,' our translator said. The children would speak, carrying on half of a conversation with someone we couldn't see. Then they asked if any of us American visitors had any questions we wanted to ask the Virgin Mary."
"Gee, Gus," I said, "that's quite an opportunity. I hope you didn't waste it asking about the dog races."
"No, at first no one knew what to ask her. Then one lady raised her hand and said, 'Are there cats in heaven?' The translator explained to us that that was really not the sort of question with which the children wanted to pester the Mother of God and did we have anything really important to ask. So then one man raised his hand and asked, 'Are there black people in heaven?' "
The translator gave up then and Gus considered that maybe large portions of humanity had good reason to worry about being cast into hell. I guess the Black Madonna of Czestochowa was not on this group's itinerary.
Even though the country around the shrine has been destroyed by the war, pilgrims continue to arrive in Medugorje, and the children who say they've seen Mary have been given secret errands to run. To prepare for what, no one knows-maybe they're picking up groceries for the next Last Supper.
Don't think this search for end-signs is only the province of Roman Catholics, either! Protestant fundamentalists began genuflecting like Jesuits after the accident at Chernobyl, the Ukrainian nuclear power plant, in April of 1986. The Chernobyl disaster was in many ways the first public evidence of the coming collapse of the Soviet empire. Radia-tion levels shot up as far away as Norway, where the reindeer were irradiated. Bible readers freaked at the news that Chernobyl translated into English was "wormwood." The book of Revelations predicts that one of the signs of the end of the world will be the pollution of rivers and springs by a great flaming star: "The name of the star was Worm-wood; and a third of the water turned to wormwood, and men in great numbers died of the water because it was poisoned."
Next Monday Bono's wife All is going to Chernobyl for three weeks with a Greenpeace group to make a documentary about the effects of the radiation there. She brushed off Bono's concerns about the danger by telling him that he will be exposed to more radiation standing at the
center of all the electrical fields on the Zoo TV stage every night than she will be at Chernobyl.
Eno attempts to calm Bono's anxieties by telling him that according to one theory the disaster at Chernobyl was exaggerated by the Ukraini-ans in order to embarrass the Soviet authorities and speed up Ukraine's secession from the USSR. It's a nice theory, but it doesn't explain why Rudolph is no longer the only reindeer who glows.
Since the fall of Communism there has been all sorts of hoodoo in the air. While U2 is struggling to capture on tape the contradictory moods of relief and trepidation, the nations of Western Europe are opening their borders and debating intermingling their currencies. The whole Zoo TV enterprise is taking place as the Channel Tunnel that will connect England to France is being scooped out. Cables are being laid, satellites are going up, walls are coming down. It is certainly the end of one world. The anxiety buzzing through the culture is about what will come after it.
It occurs to me that we might learn something if we figure out when this temporal bulge crested. Let's see, 1914 to 1994 is a nice, neat eighty years. Cut it in half and it means that the pinnacle of this cacophonous century occurred in ... 1954. Well, of course it did! You know and I know the only important thing that happened in 1954, don't we? It was the year that truck driver Elvis Presley went into Sun Studios for the first time and mixed together hillbilly music with rhythm and blues. That year was the beginning of rock & roll! The halfway marker between Sarajevo and Sarajevo is "Milk Cow Blues Boogie." Whoot, as the scholars say, there it is.
U2 ARE jamming again, coming up with enough songs to insure boxed sets for years after their plane crashes. Watching them work this way, it is really striking how much of the U2 sound frequently credited to Edge alone depends on Adam and Larry. Adam often plays with the swollen, vibrating bottom sound of a Jamaican dub bassist, covering the most sonic space with the smallest number of notes. Larry, who taught himself to drum and consequently got some things technically wrong, plays with a martial rigidity but uses his kit in a way a properly trained drummer would not. He has tom-toms on either side of him, and has a habit of coming off the snare onto them that is contrary to how most percussionists use those drums. We're not talking about huge technical innovations here; we're talking about personal idiosyncrasies that have over fifteen years solidified into a big part of what makes U2 always sound like U2, no matter what style of music they are playing. It is also why bands that imitate U2 never get it right, and why all the guitarists who try to play like Edge end up sounding so lame; their rhythm section never sounds like Adam and Larry.
The great joke is that Adam's and Larry's playing so perfectly reflects their personalities. Larry is right on top of the beat, a bit ahead-as you'd expect from a man who's so ordered and punctual in his life. Adam plays a little behind the beat, waiting till the last moment to slip in, which fits Adam's casual, don't-sweat-it personality. The great bass-ist and composer Charles Mingus said that musicians should not think of the beat as a dot that has to be landed on precisely, but as a circle in
which one has to land somewhere. Adam and Larry, who have learned their instruments together since they were schoolboys, are working illus-trations of Mingus's point. They've played together so long that they seem to spread the beat out between them. And they create a blanket on which Edge's chord layers rest.
Flood says, "Larry and Adam are constantly pushing and pulling, but because they know each other so well they can work within that. And you get this weird tension in the rhythm tracks. It's such a great back-bone that it allows Edge a sort of freedom to manuever in the fore-ground."
The band finishes playing a slippery jam and then parleys with the producers in the control room to listen to it. Edge grabs a felt-tipped marker so he can add it to the list on the drawing board. "What shall we call it?" Edge asks. "Slidey," Bono suggests.
Edge starts to write it and Eno, smiling, says, "Squidgy." Everyone laughs at that. "Yes!" Bono says. " 'Squidgy!' " Edge writes it. Squidgy is the pet name that Princess Diana is called by her alleged lover in an alleged tape of one of their alleged phone conversations that the British tabloids (and in fact, newspapers all over the alleged world) got hold of and printed. Bono wants to know, "Can we get the tapes?"
Edge says that actors portraying the princess and her paramour read the transcripts on TV last week. "Great!" Bono says. "Get those!" The idea is quickly hatched to have the dialogue between Di and her boy-friend be the vocal over this track. U2 and their sidekicks are turning somersaults in ecstasy at the malevolent brilliance of the idea. "Our je t'aime to the royal family!" Bono says.
Edge says he agreed with Prince Charles for the first time when he told his mistress, in another taped phone call, that he wished he could be reincarnated as a pair of women's trousers. Bono announces that this 'Squidgy" track should be seen as a statement of support for Charles, People roll their eyes and cough loudly at that one.
Finally U2's genetic Englishman speaks up. "You realize," Adam says, "that if we go through with this my mother will never forgive me. Pop star or no pop star you're not coming in this house!' " 'She's a royalist?" Edge asks. "Yes. She's beyond logic." "Who does she like?"
"Charles. She thinks Diana's lost it. 'Of course, she'll lose the chil-dren. . . .' "
"Anne has become the popular one now," Edge says. "She's the Bruce Springsteen of the royals. 'Got to give her credit, she's hung in!' Whereas Charles is now Sting."
"I guess," Larry says, "that makes Fergie Madonna."
It's time to try playing the track again. Eno summons Larry and Adam back to their instruments by calling, "Send for the plumbers!" Adam-making a horrible mistake-wonders aloud where the word plumber comes from. This sends Eno into an hour-long tutorial on the root of the word plumber deriving from the same Latin root as lead, which leads him to the entwined histories of plumbing and lead poisoning, back to ancient Rome. Eno theorizes that the fall of the Roman Empire may be attributable to lead poisoning (Larry and Adam put down their instruments and pick up the phone to order Indian food) from bad plumbing adversely affecting ancient Italian sanity.
Pretty soon we're in the pub room opening bags of tandoori as Eno continues his exegesis and Edge throws in the occasional question. Over the takeout Eno explains that a modern historian re-created a meal served to Nero from an excavated recipe and found the resulting supper to be so full of salt as to be literally inedible. "Now," Eno says, his index finger rising as triumphant as a battle flag, "what disease has as one of its symptoms the loss of the ability to taste salt?" A hush falls over the table. "Lead poisoning!"
There is little salt shaken at U2's table tonight! As we finish eating, Bono looks around the lunchroom and says, "This is like where we played our early gigs, but those places were smaller."
Larry asks if the others remember the place where Bono had to sing standing on the pool table. He says he was thinking the other day about all of them driving to some gig in the south in Paul McGuinness's car. . . . Bono jumps in: "You kept kicking him in the back through the seat with your knees-and he thought you were doing it on purpose!"
Larry is laughing hard now: "He thought I didn't like him! There s a great book to be written about the early days of U2!"
Edge looks at me and says, "Oh, no, there isn't."
Bono tells the story of when Barry Mead, U2's first road manager, first came to America. He was nervously carrying $10,000 in earnings in the back of a New York cab stuck in traffic when a robber fleeing
from a $70 stickup jumped into the taxi, put his gun to the driver's head, and shouted, "Take off!"
"We can't take off!" the driver said. "We're stuck in traffic!" Before the argument could continue the cops ran up and blasted the robber dead. They then dragged the shaken road manager off to the station to explain the paper bag filled with money.
The band returns to work. Bono is still trying to find a vocal approach for "If God Will Send His Angels" and still getting nowhere. He is trying out different melodies, singing a newspaper article about a scandal involving a movie star, looking for lyrics as he goes. Suddenly Bono jumps to his feet, his tandoori takeout demanding evacuation. "I'll be right back!" he yelps. "An Indian is after me!"
While he's gone Larry, who listened silently while Bono improvised, says he has an idea for a melody. He sings it and Eno, Edge, and Flood think it's good. When Bono returns Larry sings it for him, and he tries working with it. He's distracted. Bono has promised to spend time at home with Alt before she departs for Chernobyl and so far this week he's been a big liar. Soon he is gone. Eno decamps with engineer Robbie Adams to Windmill Lane studio, around the corner, where they have set up a second shop in order to keep the assembly line humming.
While Edge plays with more of the tapes, Adam and I head into the sitting room to talk. I ask Adam if he was as shook as Bono at the bad reaction to Rattle and Hum and the dead end that trail hit.
"Everyone understood what had happened over the movie," Adam says. "I don't think deep down it really hurt Larry, myself, and Edge that much. I think we felt, 'Okay, fair enough.' But the band made a lot of effort to make new music for the soundtrack album and worked very hard to make it sound good in the movie and to make the sound good on the record. Edge was doing all sorts of different mixes: there was one for the movie in stereo, one for the video cassette in mono, a third for the album, and on top of this, producing some great new tracks, some good quality work. Everyone was pretty pissed off at being kicked after going through a lot of effort to make something we were all proud of and was good value for our fans."
So the band was in bad spirits and feeling under intense pressure going to Germany to begin Achtung Baby. I remind Adam of Larry's insisting that the four of them lay down their arms before finishing the album in Dublin.
"More than finishing the record," Adam says, "that had to do with being able to be on the road together for the next two years. Certainly the spirit with which we went out on the road was much healthier.
"In Berlin we were dependent on each others' company and we had to decide how much we liked each other. I'm not saying that was easily resolved. It probably took the whole of that record to resolve all those issues. I just remember everyone was leaning on everyone else to solve their problems. Whatever went wrong was always someone else's fault.
"The problems came because the vision wasn't clear. Dan as a pro-ducer was rooted in the old way of what we did, adding atmospheres and textures to what we played. That was very frustrating for Bono because it wasn't giving him the inspiration he needed. So he was kind of fighting on all fronts. Bono was trying to invade Leningrad and secure Europe at the same time.
"There was a general problem with communication between every-one. There was a misunderstanding about the amount of effort and cohesion needed to see the project through. Whereas with this project there are probably less songs than there had been starting Achtung Baby, but the communication is very clear and we don't have much time. On Achtung Baby we had time and that was a two-edged sword. It enabled us to not face the problem, to just continue to be frustrated. When in doubt, Edge would do another guitar overdub. He'll do anything to keep the feeling of momentum going. Doing guitar overdubs for a week will do that.
"When Edge gets on a roll he gets on a roll. He's always been happy to keep going. I think his process of keeping going, although damaging on a personal front, has allowed him to make great strides, has been the right thing for his career. He's made tremendous progress, he's a great guitar player."
Did you think in the last days in Berlin that the band might break up?
"It's hard to talk after the event but I felt optimistic. I felt it was there if we could only let it happen. I didn't feel we were as far away from it as Bono felt. It just lacked a few ballsy decisions made with everyone contributing to the consensus. And Bono, through his own frustration and anger and alienation from everyone, had actually got to a point where he wasn't prepared to listen to anyone else's point of view. Maybe
he was so under pressure that his own point of view had become so eroded that he needed to overstate it to get it across."
The new U2 that emerged out of all that tension is wide enough to contain a lot of contradictions. For all the confusion about what they were trying to pull off with Achtung Baby, in retrospect the album proba-bly saved U2's career. Although no one predicted it at the time, all of U2's 1980s peers who recently released albums in their usual styles- Springsteen, Dire Straits, INXS, Gabriel, Petty-suffered big drops in sales. It turned out that there was a cultural shift going on in pop music that would have sunk a Joshua Tree 2 as surely as it hit those other artists. A whole new crowd of bands from Pearl Jam to Smashing Pumpkins has taken over radio, MTV, and record sales. By changing just one minute ahead of the culture, U2 set themselves up as the first of the new groups rather than the last of the old.
"We've been lucky to have been a young band," Adam reminds me. "I'm the eldest and I'm thirty-two. A lot of our contemporaries were still struggling at this age. By the time they're in their forties maybe it's just a little too late for them to be able to go back to the drawing board. The early mistakes we made-not understanding cool, not understand-ing attitude, clothes, and haircuts-were because we were seventeen and eighteen and our idols like the Clash and the Jam and the Police, who had all that shit down, were making their first records at twenty-seven or twenty-eight. We were making our first record when we were twenty! So, yeah, they had their image together. It's taken us fifteen years to get an image together, or indeed to realize that image is important." Adam smiles. "And not important."
Eventually Edge comes in with a cassette of a U2 jam on a boom box, sits in on the stand-up piano, and starts playing piano chords along with it. Adam gets up and wanders back to the control room. It's after 11 p.m. and Flood's the last crewman on deck. Adam and Flood trade faces about the state of the sessions. One of the strangest aspects of this method of working is that when the four members of U2 jam together they naturally come up with songs that sound like every era of the band -from Boy to The Joshua Tree. But the rules of the new U2 demand that any such familiar sounds be scrapped or subverted. For Adam, it is sometimes an exercise in intellectualization that does not necessarily produce the best possible music.
He tells Flood that he won't be in tomorrow-he is going to an old
friend's wedding and really looking forward to the break. Adam says he remembers the "black hole" U2 went into after The Joshua Tree. "Record-ing The Joshua Tree was relaxed, great fun," Adam says. "Then it all exploded. That tour was a piece of shit. Rattle and Hum was a piece of shit. Making Achtung Baby was a piece of shit." Adam is talking about the working atmosphere, by the way, not the work.
Flood commiserates, "I remember one meeting about scheduling a meeting to decide about making a decision."
"It was only on the Zoo TV tour that it really came together again," Adam says sadly. "And now here we are, back in the studio doing it to ourselves again."
"But you accomplished what you set out to," Flood says. "When a band's reinventing itself, as U2 has, there has to be a lot of theorizing. From now on you're going to have to carry that extra burden."
It's not hard to understand Adam's frustration with the Socratic approach to record-making. When there's a disagreement about which way to go with a song the argument is as likely to be won by who scores the most debating points as which music sounds the best. Of course, if everyone agreed on which one sounded the best, there'd be no debate.
Adam says that making the first three U2 albums was joyful. They were done in weeks. "October was a bit of a slog, waiting for the lyrics. For War we had all the songs and it was easy. Unforgettable Fin was tough. Same black holes, waiting for the lyrics on that one. We had six songs, then Brian came up with 'Elvis Presley and America' and '4th of July' and gave us something to tie it together." He sits sadly, blue about the amount of baggage that has been tied to a band that used to just get in a room and play.
Edge sticks his head in the door. "Phone for you, Adam. I think it's Naomi."
Adam goes off to the alcove to pick up his call and Edge comes in to play Flood the piano part he's just recorded on the boom box. Flood loves it. "Let's find a backing track with no chords," Edge says, "and put it down. We'll play Bono something he's never heard and just hand him a microphone."
Adam comes back in with a canary-scaring smile across his face. "Guess who I've got as house guests for the weekend," he announces. "Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington! They just decided! They're going straight to the airport."
The two supermodels are stuck in Paris, too late to get a plane out, so Adam just offered to hire a plane and send it to fetch them to his castle.
Flood looks at Adam, whose black mood has been transformed, and says, "Tough life."
Adam takes off to prepare his bachelor pad for visitors. This is the time of night when Edge and Flood go to work like shoemaking elves, cranking through the small hours so that when the others return tomor-row they will be amazed at the creations laid out before them.
Edge's guitar tech, Dallas, points to his boss and smiles, "That guy never goes home." Dallas has worked for a lot of top dogs in the business, from the Eagles to Prince, but U2, he says, is something else. He says they often come into the studio without a song, jam away and you think nothing's going on, and all of a sudden-wham-a song will appear. And they'll change anything. Most bands get locked into playing a song a certain way. U2 will work and work at something, get it almost finished, and then one of the guys will suddenly change the part he's playing and they'll all follow him off in a whole different direction, Bono will start singing a different melody, and you'll think, "What are they doing? It was almost done! Wrap it up!" But often, Dallas, says, that new part will lead them into something better than what they had.
It seems to me that U2 has more faith in the strength of the song itself than many bands do. A lot of artists treat their songs as fragile things that can easily be destroyed. U2 knows that if an experiment fails, the original is still there to be returned to.
Edge puts up his new demo and listens to it. He asks if Larry is still in the building. No, Flood says, Larry went home. Edge gets up and goes out to the big room, takes a seat at Larry's drums and starts whacking out a raggedy beat while his demo plays. He spots a roadie packing a flight case and asks him to come over and just keep doing this. The roadie does, and Edge moves over to a keyboard, adding another part.
Flood records the whole thing and then Edge listens to it play back. He thinks there's a song there but would really like to hear it with a different structure-use this part as an intro, repeat the verse twice the second time through, repeat the intro going into the final chorus. He thinks about it for a while and then asks Flood if it would be possible to sample each section of the song onto a keyboard, so that hitting one key
would play just the chorus, another key just the intro, another key the verse. Flood says sure. He digs out a sampler and sets about doing it.
Forty-five minutes later Edge is in Edge heaven, sitting on the studio couch with a keyboard in front of him, masking tape on the keys labeling the different parts of his song. He can play a dozen var