jonesing for U2 schtuff, and I have time on my hands, I'd do my fannish civic duty and put this up. This article came out in an Australian Optus subscribers-only newsletter. It's a little old, April-June of this year, but I have only just this weekend seen the friend who saved it for me. There's not a *whole* lot of new stuff in this, but there's lots of Edge love, so yay! I've no scanner, but I do have a cameraphone, so I put the cover and title page photographs at the end of the post. Enjoy :-)
HE'S THE UNSUNG HERO, THE ENIGMATIC COUNTERFOIL, THE ENGINE ROOM, THE
DRIVING WHEEL, THE GUITARIST WHOSE ZEN-LIKE CALM AND AMBITION POWERS U2'S
VISION OF MUSIC WITH NO ROOF ON IT.
Interview: Mark Ellen
Photographs: Anton Corbijn
With the roar of applause still filling the night air, the motorcade moves
out. There's a howl of sirens, a metal gate springs open and eight black
vehicles leap down a ramp and onto the expressway. We barge through stop
signs with our motorcycle escort, waved on by police with scarlet
light-sabers. U2 are "doing a runner". Boston's basketball arena to the
airport in just over six minutes. Is that a good runner as runners go?
"That's a fantastic runner," The Edge confirms. "I'd give it, ooh, nine
point two. Better than Barcelona when they drive at a speed that's actually
life-threatening. And better than Italy where the cops bang on your roof
with their batons."
The Edge wipes the condensation from the window and peers into the blur of
blinking lights. He shrugs self-consciously in a manner that suggests the
whole thing's preposterous but, at their level, it's the only practical way
they can operate.
Dave Evans have lived like this for nearly 20 years, a cycle of songwriting, recording and performance that started when he was 17. He's known no other life. And for the last 20 years he's operated at this kind of level, travelling with a team of three technicians and 60 crew in order to replicate as faithfully as possible the music he creates in the studio. He was born in Essex to Welsh parents, moved to North Dublin at the age of one and is now 44 with three daughters by his childhood sweetheart, and another daughter and son by his second wife, the band's former choreographer. He's helped sustain a formula that sells both records and tickets in every last reach of the world market. He's the unsung hero that orchestrates the sound of the greatest rock and roll success story of our time.
"Bono is still hungry and that's the reason the band's lasted so long,"
Edge's brother Dik Evans told me. "Bono does his bit - and that's critical - but none of them do as much as my brother. Edge is basically the engine room, working every day in the studio to make the records happen. And they wouldn't happen without him."
"It's just simple analogue equipment," Bono told me, "that turns our
three-piece into a ten, 20, 30-piece orchestra. I lent Edge his first echo
unit. He has an otherworldly quality about him and I thought it would make
him make otherworldly sounds. Very early on he began to create soundscapes
that we, the band - or anyone - had never heard before. Edge is to the
Memory Man what Jimi Hendrix was to the fuzzbox."
"I have a kind of scientific bent, and I'm more comfortable with technology
than the other members of the group,"Edge admits later, on the plane.
"That's just my role. But the group is about the four individuals and what
we can bring to the table. There's a tendency for everyone to overestimate
their own importance and underestimate everyone else's but that's the way of
the world, that's a given. The trust thing is key. I go to parties with
these guys", he points around the cabin, "and I end up sitting in the corner talking to them. It's weird, It's actually weird. It's the weirdest thing. I have other best friends too - I'm not saying they are my only friends, but they are my best friends.
The following afternoon, Edge is to be found in a 12th floor apartment in
Soho stirring an iced tea and gazing out to New Jersey through a wall of
glass. He's good company - thoughtful, quite serious and very dry at times -
"what I'm most proud of is my humility," he tells me at one point.
His perfectly constructed sentences betray the intense powers of concentration required to operate the gigantic sound system reproduced on
stage by, essentially, just a trio with a singer.
"I first saw him in the green corridor of Mount Temple School, Bono
remembers. "He was like an Apache Indian. He was a Neil Young fan and could
play Needle and The Damage Done better than anyone - or maybe I mean me."
Edge had written some songs, among them Cartoon World and Life on a Distant
Planet, and they began playing them live along with Bono's first composition Alone in the Light and a group effort Shadows and Tall Trees. What bound the four of them so tightly together was a belief that the rock and roll of the previous generation had "lost any relevance and ability to connect with its audience. It was steeped in its own self-importance," as Edge puts it. "You don't have to be Emerson Lake and Palmer. The band and the audience are basically the same and there should be no distinction. If you're on a stage, you'd better have something worthwhile to say."
To insulate themselves from the mindless gallon-of-Guinness teenagers around them, they'd famously invented a parallel universe known as Lypton Village, the imagined centre of their brave new world. Fellow member Guggi (also of The Virgin Prunes) rechristened the four of them. Paul Hewson was initially T'Einrich Van Hewsonole Bangbangbangbang, and then, inspired by the name of a hearing-aid shop, and with a sarcastic nod to the Dublin tradition of calling people by their title and address - he became "Bono Vox Of O'Connell Street". Perhaps less well known is that Larry was "Jam Jar" and Adam Clayton was "Mrs. Burns." Dave Evans was always The Edge.
Guggi remembers: "We used to try to find a word that sounded the way someone looked - Bono thought I looked like a "guggi" and it's stuck - and I thought Dave looked like the word "Inchicore", which is a little village on the West side of Dublin. It captured what was going on physically in his head. It sounds the way he is. The it got abbrveiated to "The Edge" and then "Edge". These days there are even a few people who call him "Reg".
Even back then you felt the scale of U2's ambition. The Stones' generation
had written songs designed for blues bars which they'd then wrenched out of
shape and adapted for the emerging stadium circut of the '70s. But U2's
music seemed custom-built for the big arenas from the start.
"Well I don't think it was a conscious thing, but our music has no roof on
it. It was inspired by the juke-joint blues mentality, it was coming from a
different place. I love what the Stones do but it's not what we're about.
We're playing to our strengths and our strengths in some ways are to keep it very stripped-down and simple".
But the trick persumably is to create a sense of intimacy even in an
"Well I've seen bands in small venues and they can't communicate and I've
seen stadium shows where everyone is completely unified, so it's not really
about the size of the venue. It's largely about the songs. It's not about
internal performance, not about trying to maintain your cool. It's about
having an instinct about what's required to put on a great concert, where
there's never a dull moment in the night."
How does U2 write songs?
"You start by being the new generation that establishes its identity by
rejecting the previous generation, that's part of the cycle. But in the end
you keep writing 'til you get close to what you think is the best song in
Which for you would be what?
"Different things for different times. We'd always go to different people in our heads. it could be Bob Marley. It could be John Lennon. It could be The Clash. Early on it was probably the Fall, the Bunnymen, Magazine. All those influences are at the back of your mind when you're working on something, and you kind of jump off those influences. But we've never put anything out because it reminded us of somebody. In the end it's got to be something unique."
Co-producer Danny Lanois told me, "Edge is smart enough, they all are, to
let ideas come from any part of the studio. It takes a big person to accept
that. But Brian Eno is a big brain and I'm a huge heart and heart and soul
is a lot of what U2 is about. I was yelling at Edge - that's good, not that, do that one again! - and Bono was waving his arms about as usual. They've had a number of very beautiful songs based on four repeat-chords, but he is the master of the riff, one of the great musical forces. He's the driving wheel, pretty much in charge of what happens harmonically."
"Ultimately if rock and roll is going to be around in 500 years' time, it's
going to be because people are still writing great songs."
In a concrete corridor deep in the bowels of Madison Square Garden, Level
Five's after-show is fairly heaving by the time we get up there.
The least accelerated person at the party has every right to be the most;
the guitarist whose onstage position is so preoccupying that he asks the
crew to put the house lights up twice a night to allow him to look up
briefly "and get a sense of the place." Quiet and contented, Edge stands out a mile in this top-end Manhattan bun-fight, sitting there with a glass of red and his back to the window, a fresh t-shirt for the occasion and his
ever-present knitted skull cap which you wonder if he ever removes.
"I was hatless for the Popmart tour and, yeah, hair loss was part of it. A
lot of musicians just shave their heads, but I just like the way it looks
and it's become a trademark thing."
He talks about the score to the Spiderman musical he's writing with Bono,
intended as a Broadway production in two years' time. And about his wife and how she says he's insufferable for the first month after he comes off tour - at eight every night he gets this tremendous burst of adrenaline; in fact he can't hear The Arcade Fire's Wake Up without the blind panic that he should be onstage in three minutes. But mostly he talks about his relationship with three other boys from Mount Temple Comprehensive and the luck, hard work and delicate negotiation that's allowed their relationship to survive.
"Not everything Bono does I would neccessarily agree with, but you've got to acknowledge that everyone's got their own particular opinion. We don't like all that the others do but it's the compromise that makes it work. Nobody has ever betrayed their initial commitment to the group and what's best for it. It's all about the songs. If it's great, it's great in spite of us, not because of us. I honestly still think of us as four chancers from North Dublin".
The three other chancers get a little emotional when asked to shine the
light on the engine room.
"Edge when I met him always had this otherworldly quality," Adam reflects,
"along with amused, detached cool. My impression now is exactly the same."
"In nearly 30 years," Larry says, "I've learned never to underestimate him.
On any level. His dogged, relentless search for the perfect song, the
perfect sound, the perfect idea. He possesses so many qualities I aspire
Bono's slice of poetry is delivered with a wolfish grin. "Beneath the
stillness, the Zen-like mastery of arpeggios and perfectly chosen crystal
notes, there is a rage, an explosive side, as I've learnt on more than a few occasions. Never pick a fight with a man who earns his living through
perfect hand-to-eye co-ordination."
*I'm sorry, did anyone else end up with Tenacious D in their heads when they
read that line? :-) - lydia_petze