In any case, if you haven't read this interview you must. While a bit long - it's great. I'm sure that any and every U2 fan has had to defend the band more than once. I know I have. I consistently hear how they are "sell outs," "sooo 80's," "too old," or "pompous rich men." This interview with Bono fires back.
Bono requested this interview after a couple Chicago papers ripped U2 up.
Transcript of Bono Interview
By Greg Kot
Tribune music critic
Bono: Larry [Mullen] is going to kill me for doing this. But I want
this on the record. Are you going to turn this thing on? Your vision of
what rock is, and mine, is 180 degrees apart. Some of what is going
around as a result of your article is not just unhelpful to our group
and our relationship to our audience, but just really problematic for
what in the broad sense you might call rock music. The things you think
are wrong with it, and the things that I think are wrong with rock
music, are polar opposite. And that's why I need to talk to you.
Kot: I understand. Let me tell you how the article came about. I should
say that you're an important band for my generation. A band that led by
example: This is how to do it, how to be a successful band without
compromising your principles. But when the ticket sale went wrong this
year, I got hundreds of e-mails from fans who felt you'd let them down,
that their loyalty was betrayed.
Bono: Everybody in this band knows about that debacle, and regrets it.
I think most fans understand what happened. Our eyes were not on that
ball the way they normally would be. Our eyes were on trying to
determine whether we would be going on tour at all. Whether we would be
pulling out, even with tickets on sale. There are things that we can't
discuss in the interview that were going on within the band that just
took precedence. Most U2 fans knew what that was [serious health
problems in the family of a band member]. I thought it was really
disingenuous of them and you not to recognize that this is not normal
behavior from this band. Complain, yeah. Something did go wrong. That
was a mistake, and we tried to put it right.
Kot: That's what started it. The first I heard about the internal
problems in the band was when Larry apologized about it at the Grammys.
I tried for three weeks to get information from the band, to interview
you. Yes, this was not normal behavior from U2. Instead, you steer me
to the record company president and the tour promoter. You let these
business guys answer for you.
Bono: I'm really sorry about that. It's our fault that didn't happen.
Kot: The ticket sale to me was just the tip of a larger issue, which
is: Is the band losing sight of what it once was? The I-Pod ad, the
Super Bowl halftime appearance, the Grammy Awards appearances — I
didn't think U2 was about that sort of promotion.
Bono: That's not accurate. We did all the things that we would have
done in promoting our first, or second or third albums. That's really
an important point that I want to get across to you. There's this
poverty of ambition, in terms of what rock people will do to promote
their work. That's a critical issue to me. The excitement of punk rock,
in the Irish and UK scene when we were coming up, was seeing our
favorite band on "Top of the Pops," right next to the "enemy." That
would be exciting. We did talk shows, TV shows, back then. It was proof
that you believed enough in what you did that you would go out and do
this stuff. It was the same with the Beatles. The great moments of rock
'n' roll were never off in some corner of the music world, in a
self-constructed ghetto. I don't like that kind of thinking. I know
some of it exists, and some of our best friends are part of it. It's
not for me.
Progressive rock was the enemy in 1976. And it still is. And it has
many, many faces. This beast is lurking everywhere. It can describe
itself as indie rock. It's the same [blanking] thing. It's misery. I
have seen so many great minds struck down by it. … When you suggest
we're betraying ourselves by doing TV shows and promotional stuff, to
me the Super Bowl was our Ed Sullivan moment. It just came 25 years
later. I didn't expect it. But it is the moment I'm most proud of in my
life. It was amazing. I mean, we had to build the stage in six minutes.
Just wild. And then you're on air. As usual we made it difficult for
ourselves by wanting the crowd next to us, a security nightmare. As
we're walking through the crowd, people are popping me on the head. I
have a wire microphone, and one more slap and I'm off air. A very
telling moment. I was terrified, but if you look at my face what do you
see? A singer smirking. [Spreads arms, imitates smirk]. Which is what I
always do in such moments.
We want that stuff. That's when it's exciting. Even Nirvana. I used to
love Kurt Cobain, when he was telling people we're a pop band. People
would laugh, they thought of it as good old ironic Kurt. But he wasn't
being ironic. He was a songwriter, he understands that when a guitar
solo is playing the melody of the song, that's pop. That's what the
Buzzcocks taught him, who learned it from the Beatles. That's what
makes him a pop star, that's what makes it pop music. He wanted to be
on MTV, he wanted to be stirring things up. He surprised us all with
where he did come out from.
Kot: Why is the idea of associating a song with a product a good idea?
Bono: I accept that that is alarming. I really do. Our being on TV, I
don't have a problem with that — we should be on TV. But OK,
associating our music with a product. You've got to deal with the
devil. Let's have a look. The devil here is a bunch of creative minds,
more creative than a lot of people in rock bands. The lead singer is
Steve Jobs. These men have helped design the most beautiful object art
in music culture since the electric guitar. That's the iPod. The job of
art is to chase ugliness away. Everywhere we look we see ugly cars,
ugly buildings… [he pauses, and looks out the window at the Chicago
skyline]… You're lucky here in Chicago on that front. But you see ugly
objects in the work place. Everywhere. And these people are making
Selling out is doing something you don't really want to do for money.
That's what selling out is. We asked to be in the ad. We could see
where rock music is, fighting for relevance next to hip-hop. And I love
hip-hop. It's the new black entrepreneur. It's about being out there,
loud and proud about what you're doing. Selling it on the streetcorner
if you have to. From penthouse to pavement. Advertising the new song in
another song. Taking on the world. Meanwhile a bunch of white
middle-class kids are practicing in daddy's garage saying [adopts fake
Midwestern whine], "No, man, that is just so uncool." And, "Hey, Bert,
get me a knife. I have to cut my ear off!" It's the bleeding ear
brigade. They try to find some viruses, interesting neuroses, or bad
habits, to make their round washed faces look grubby enough to be taken
seriously by the indie press. Hip-hop looks at this, and says, "What is
this [expletive]?" I got excited about hip hop production values, the
extraordinary drama to their music. They're way ahead of anyone else in
terms of working their way around the studio. Someone like Timbaland.
They make pop music. As hard as it is, as ghetto as it is, hip-hop is
pop music. It's the sound of music getting out of the ghetto, while
rock is looking for a ghetto.
We never wanted to be a garage band. We wanted to get as quick as we
could out of the garage. The people who say they like the garage
usually have two or three cars parked outside. Rock music is niche.
There was a survey that said 70 percent of youth culture listens to
hip-hop. There are lessons to be learned from that. I don't like all
the values that go with it sometimes. But I do think we need to take up
the challenge. Wherever you go, you hear hip-hop. We want people who
aren't in our niche listening to our music. If you pour your life into
songs, you want them to be heard. It's a desire to communicate. A deep
desire to communicate inspires songwriting. Rock music was most
exciting when it was in the 45 [rpm single], when it was disciplined
into a single. Whether it was the Sex Pistols, Clash, Buzzcocks,
Nirvana, the Beatles, the Stones. When the wind starts blowing in the
hair, and it meanders off, you can get some great [stuff], but it
doesn't interest me as much. The 45 is the pure rock to me. That is why
I wanted to be in a band.
Kot: I understand that, but I've seen some of my favorite songs
corrupted because of that attitude. [Iggy Pop's] "Lust for Life is now
a Jamaican vacation commercial. I don't know if I want to listen to
that song anymore.
Bono: Do you watch TV that much?
Kot: No, but that song has lost something for me because it's
associated with a commercial. I see [the Who's Pete] Townshend doing
that with his stuff now. Those songs are now associated with a product,
not something in my imagination. "Vertigo" is an iPod commercial, not a
single on an album.
Bono: You don't like MTV? Videos can do the same thing with your imagination.
Kot: Those are commercials too. Most rock videos aren't very interesting to me.
Bono: Don't watch them. Sometimes I've seen a great song ruined by a
bad video. Rarely. It doesn't bother me. If I love the song, I love the
song. We looked at the iPod commercial as a rock video. We chose the
director. We thought how are we going to get our single off in the days
when rock music is niche? When it's unlikely to get a three-minute
punk-rock song on top of the radio? So we piggy-backed this phenomenon
to get ourselves to a new younger audience, and we succeeded. And it's
exciting. I'm proud of the commercial, I'm proud of the association. We
have turned down enormous sums of money to put our songs in a
commercial, where we felt, to your point, where it might change the way
people appreciated the song. We were offered $23 million for just the
music to "Where the Streets Have No Name."
Kot: I might have to consider that [laughs].
Bono: We almost did. We sat down. I know from my work in Africa what
$23 million could buy. It was very hard to walk away from $23 million.
So we thought, "We'll give the money away." But if we tell people we're
giving the money away, it sounds pompous. So we'll just give it away,
and take the hit. That's what we agreed. But if a show is a little off,
and there's a hole, that's the one song we can guarantee that God will
walk through the room as soon as we play it. So the idea that when we
played it, people would go, "That's the 'such-and-such' commercial," we
couldn't live with it. Had it been a cool thing, or didn't have a bad
association, or it was a different song, we might've done it. But we
have to start thinking about new ways of getting our songs across, of
communicating in this new world, with so many channels, with rock music
becoming a niche. I hear so many songwriters describe their songs as
their children, that they have to look after them. [Nonsense!] They're
your parents, they tell you what to do. They tell you how to dress, how
to behave when you're playing them. They tell you what the video looks
like. If you listen to them, they manage you. And if you get it right,
they pay for your retirement [laughs]. Because songs demand to be
heard. "Vertigo," which you didn't like, is deceptively simple. That
riff, you can think, "Aw yeah, another rock song." It doesn't become
great the first time you hear it. It becomes great the thousandth time
you hear it. And that's true of a lot of rock riffs. So we have to get
the density of exposure for that to be a hit. And we knew that.
Kot: You said the other day, "We've 'Kid A'd' ourselves to death." It
was a funny line, but I'm disappointed to hear that. [A reference to
Radiohead's 2001 progressive-rock album 'Kid A'].
Bono: I just looked at the pop machine and the machinations of pop and
just said, we don't have it in us, we don't have the energy, to have
our way with that. I don't hear [Radiohead's] Thom Yorke singing on the
radio. I want to hear Radiohead, extraordinary band that they are, on
MTV. I want them setting fire to the imaginations of 16, 15, 14 year
old kids. I was 14 when John Lennon set fire to my imagination. At that
age, you're just [angry], and your moods swing, and it's an incredible
time to be hit with something like that. I don't blame them [for not
wanting to be on MTV]. But I think, what would my life be like without
the Beatles? If the Beatles had just kept going on experimenting after
"Sgt. Pepper," I'd be interested to hear it, of course …
Our last two albums are essentially about the combo. We used the
limitations of the combo. We had 10 years of experimentation. We
decided to rope it in, and tie ourselves to only one thing. And that's
the only discipline. Is it a great song? Is it fresh? Experimenting in
rock is at its best when you dream from the perimeters and bring it
back to the center. All my favorite innovators disappear into the woods
and bring something back, and you get to hear the songs distilled from
those experiments. I used "Kid A" as an example, because I love the
album. We did our "Zooropa," we did our "Passengers," even our "Pop"
experiment. There were great ideas on that album. "Discotheque," we
viewed it as our response to Peter Gabriel experimenting. We wanted it
to be our "Sledgehammer." Imagine if "Discotheque" was a No. 1 pop
song? Now that record makes sense. We didn't have the discipline to
screw the thing down, and turn it into a magic pop song. We didn't have
the discipline to make "Mo Fo" into a loud concoction of rock 'n' roll,
trance crossover. We learned from that album. We'd become progressive
rock! Ahhh! It's on us!
Kot: You're killing me now. I thought those '90s albums were great. I
didn't understand "Achtung Baby" right away. But after seeing the tour,
I realized it was your best album. I still feel that way. And I loved
"Zooropa" in that way, and "Passengers." I even liked "Pop." To me, you
guys were showing us how it should be done. You were [screwing] with
our heads and making great music. You were doing those weird ballads
from "Pop" as an encore at Soldier Field [in 1997]. I loved that you
were so far out on a limb with saw in hand, and you were trying things,
pushing things. And now you never play songs from those albums anymore.
Bono: There is still talk about the band going back in and fixing
"Pop," actually going in… because the bones [of a great album] are
there. Just to talk a little bit about our tours. We have ideas that we
want to communicate [in a concert], not just a bunch of songs. If we
get it right, it feels like one song. Pop Mart in the U.S., through you
and a few others championing it, it was well-received, especially in
Chicago. We actually did a few good shows and it really came together.
On this tour we have a particular ambition, it moves from punk rock,
past Vegas to a gospel show, and we're trying to… What band at our
level would play 10 songs, seven from the new album and three from our
first album? The reason we do that is because this album and our first
album have very similar themes. The first is an ode to innocence, as
it's being held onto. The latest is an ode to innocence, as it's been
remembered, with the thought that you can get back to it. There's
nothing in U2's catalogue that sounds remotely like "Vertigo." It's
completely fresh. "Vertigo" is actually quite a gem, contrary to what
you say, and it's very new. And there are beautiful little moments in
there, but they're subtle. And then the amazing thing happens. we
weren't going to play "Where the Streets Have No Name" on this tour. We
want to be fresh. We're sitting with [U2 show designer] Willie Williams
and constructing the show, and we still can't find a reason to play it.
There's a section of the show where we talk about civil rights, because
it's what's happening now. It's a great moment in American history when
that sort of injustice was stopped in its tracks. This journey of
equality is an interesting one. It started with Jewish farmers standing
before the pharaoh with sheep [dung] on their shoes, and the pharaoh is
laughing at them. "You people think you're equal to me? Get them out of
here." There is the great line that everyone is equal under God for 15
minutes. We had this struggle for equality and it moves along, and it's
annoying to people. The Jews become equal, but not black people or
women. Finally we've accepted Jews and black and Catholics as equal,
but only in these borders, not over there. Because if we really
believed that all people are equal, we couldn't allow the hemorrhaging
of life that is happening in Africa. The tsunami kills 120,000 people,
and the world stops. But 120,000 people die every month in Africa from
AIDS and malaria. Death by mosquito bite. A billion dollars could save
a million lives. So why wouldn't we do that? Because really we don't
The One campaign, I didn't want it named after one of our songs, and so
Andre Harrell, a really creative man, came up with this idea of calling
it Same As Us. I'm not a fan of testing, but it didn't test well, and
you know why? Because people don't think they are. People don't think
they are the same as us. They'll give them money, they don't want them
to die. "But, hey, they aren't the same as us." So we took this notion,
the journey of equality, and we start talking about it. This is our
generation's challenge. So we thought about using flags as a backdrop
during "Where the Streets Have no Name." I remember singing it the
first night, it's not a very good lyric, though really great ideas are
suggested in the lyric, the idea that you could go on a journey to that
other place. It's like Jim Morrison's "Break on Through (to the Other
Side)." Do you want to go to that other place? It puts the hair up on
the back of my neck. Because we want to go to that other place. That
lyric was written in a dusty field in northern Ethiopia. And I can
finally make sense of it. And then we go into "One," and we could do a
new arrangement of "One" as you might want us to, but you see, I'm only
one member of this band, and Edge is three. And if he thinks an
arrangement is perfect, why mess with it? He says, "I'm not jamming
here. That's a guitar melody. I've written it. I can't improve on it."
Adam and I are the jazz men in the band. But the Teutonic Larry Mullen
and the Presbyterian Edge always demand, "No fat. Back to the original
arrangement. We're not going to change the bass line just because we
feel like it."
Kot: It helped when you put "Original of the Species" in the set last
night. It made me want to hear what I missed on the record. That's what
was lacking in the first show [at the United Center].
Bono: It's a classic, especially on the album. But we have to remix it
for a single. We have to figure out how are we going to get that song
on MTV? Those songs do not come around easy. The melodies of most songs
are A-B, A-B, and this is A-B-C-D. The construction of it is unique.
And I want you to want us to have that song out on the radio. Because
it's about other bands [who value songwriting] coming though. It's not
just us. Rap-metal nearly put the white race in jeopardy [as a creative
force]. It's a travesty. Those [rap-metal] people should just take
suicide pills and go away. What we have to offer, if we're lucky, are
lyrics, some interesting arrangements, and beautiful melody. That's
what rock music can do right now. To be relevant, to set the
imagination off on a new generation coming up. Songs that up the ante.
That's your chorus? Make it your verse, then write a better chorus.
That's what it's going to take. Basic songwriting. I think what
happened in the UK music scene is instructive. Oasis came around and
they weeded out progressive rock-itis, and brought ambition back to
songwriting, and got a band to promote itself. Radiohead proved how
elastic a band could be with melody and guitar. They write
extraordinary melodies. "OK Computer" is full of beautiful pop songs. I
just want rock music to expand, and challenge people. If I know of an
innovative way of putting those songs across when you write them, I'm
going to do it. That's really why we are a rock band.
Kot: It sounds like "Pop" didn't work for you because it didn't sell.
To my mind, it worked because it was a good, daring album. There's no
shame in not selling.
Bono: It didn't communicate the way it was intended to. It's my
daughter's favorite U2 album, and people are warming up to it now. But
it was supposed to change the mood of that summer . An album
changes the mood of a summer when you walk out of a pub and you have
those songs in your head. And you hear them coming from a car, an open
window. It changes the mood of the season. Instead it became a niche
record. And I know you're a man who appreciates the niche. And I'm glad
you appreciate that one, but that's not what it was intended to be.
It's not about sales, we don't need the cash. It's about your ambition
for the song. We don't have to make albums at all.
One of the reasons I respect these men I've been in a band with for 25
years is that on a regular basis they turn down enormous sums of money
for obstinate reasons, sometimes we don't even have a reason. … In this
band, oftentimes I want a certain thing, I get another one. Even last
night [at the concert], I went out and misfired. I didn't have the fire
in my belly, and I thought well, I'll push it, and I'll get it. And I
couldn't. And then something else happened, and it became very special.
Something really happened. You have to accept what you're given, and
make the most of it. With "Pop," I always think if we'd just had
another month, we could have finished it. But we did a really bad
thing. We let the manager book the tour, known in this camp as the
worst decision U2 ever made, and we had to wrap up the album sooner
than we wanted. You don't need an album to communicate for you to enjoy
it, you don't need it to be trimmed of fat to enjoy it, because you're
enjoying the ideas, the textures. But for me to enjoy it, I need it to
do that [communicate on a wider level].
Kot: The last two albums look back. With "All That You Can't Leave
Behind," I thought you made your retro record, you'd made your [version
of the Stones' 1978 album] "Some Girls," an album that sums up all your
best moves in a concise way. You're allowed to make that album, once.
Now you've made "All That You Can't Leave Behind," and you're looking
back and I think, Whoops, you really are turning into the Stones. I
expected more, I expected you to break out of that box.
Bono: Hey, there are some amazing songs on [the Stones 1994 album]
"Voodoo Lounge." But what you're missing is that each time [in history]
has a mood. You think it's looking backward, I think it's looking
forward. I think to be in a studio, tied to the four piece band set-up
right now is a very modern thing to do. And to use that mystery and
power to write songs, we did two records like that. This one goes even
further than the last one in that direction. "Beautiful Day" returns to
the garage, but it's got a drum machine on it! You get beauty like
"Original of the Species" that you can play on a piano. Just put piano
and voice on that song, and it's special. That's not retreat. That is
progressive. That is progress.
Kot: The strength of your band has always been that you build a case
for your new music on the road. And it's my job to say when you don't.
Bono: As a writer who cares deeply about music, you're right to give
rock bands a kicking when they deserve it. And we have deserved it at
times. But you also need to explain to us how rock can progress. … The
value of writing is enormous. The new school of rock writing in the UK
has been Q magazine, in which they take the music seriously but not the
people who make it. I think that's an important distinction. With your
writing, you can direct traffic. We need from writers some rage, and we
need spleen, but we also need the pursuit of truth. And what I would
like to leave you with, is that it's important to rock music to do
that. I see it fighting for relevance. And I would like it if writers
would step back and look at what we've done like you would hip hop, or
you've come from Zanzibar, because there are loads of codified rules
and regulations that are suffocating rock music right now.
Great groups were broken up, like the Clash, because of ridiculous
concepts like not selling out. The bass player in Hole took her own
life. And when they asked her Dad what happened, he said, "She was
under a great deal of stress, because she'd just signed to a major." It
breaks my heart. It's the cultural revolution in China all over again:
Let's rid rock music of thinkers, let's rid rock music of big ideas. I
saw it destroy great groups like Echo and the Bunnymen, extraordinary
talents who crashed and burned on these things. You tell me about the
hundreds of e-mails you got, well I got them with every single turn
this band has made. I got them when we made the "War" album. I got them
when we made "Joshua Tree." I got them when we made "Achtung Baby." Of
course we're gonna lose fans along the way who don't like what we're
doing. But you need to understand what we're actually trying to do, and
that's why we had to have this talk.
Did you see the Killers? Great hooks, great tunes, melodies, savvy and
smart. They're pop stars. They make sexy Southern music. There's a
chance that things could happen in the next couple of years. There are
young bands, great songwriters, and they should be pushed and
encouraged [by the music press]. Jimi Hendrix was the trickster guitar
player until [music writers] said, "No, that's Picasso!" And he said,
"Picasso"? And he grew into the role [of the great guitarist]. The new
breed are going to take over the world. But how are they going to get
out of the ghetto? Answer: They make pop music, they make pop records.
Kot: I had to laugh, because at last night's show you said that "some
really annoying people are standing up" for what they believe in, "and
God bless them." That reminds me of you, including the annoying part.
Bono: [laughs] Yes, you're right.
Kot: But you do have the courage of your convictions. You don't care
what people think of you for having those convictions. You sparked a
week-long debate in this town about music, and what kind of social role
it should play, and why people care about it, and why they should care
Bono: Yeah, we love this city. We've always annoyed people. Around the
time of "Zoo TV," we were in danger of being cool, but we fixed that
[laughs]. Now there are loads of people who would love to murder me on
a daily basis. Stirring it up, it's good. Our definition of art is
putting your head above the parapet, and be ready for the custard pie.
I happen to love the taste of it.
You can find it over at interference