BONO: The Missionary ; the Saturday Profile

By Vallely, Paul | The Independent (London, England), May 13, 2006 | Go to article overview
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BONO: The Missionary ; the Saturday Profile


Vallely, Paul, The Independent (London, England)


There were no fewer than four US presidents sat on the platform, in the rain, looking faintly ridiculous under a hastily assembled selection of umbrellas. This was Little Rock, Arkansas, at the opening of Bill Clinton's presidential library last year. There had been speeches from George Bush Snr, Jimmy Carter, Clinton himself, and the incumbent George Bush Jnr. But there was no doubt from the reaction of the crowd who the star was. Enter the Irish rock singer Bono, and the U2 guitarist Edge.

It was a consummate performance: not just the impromptu rendition of Lennon and McCartney's "Rain", gently mocking the fact that the world's most powerful nation had not reckoned on bad weather, but also Bono's own speech, addressing each of the presidents individually and singling out something good each had done for Africa. And then he sang: "These are the hands that built America." To a British audience it might sound a little cheesy. But in the United States it was brilliantly judged.

The next time the rock star met the President privately, six months later, on the eve of the G8 summit at Gleneagles, it was to ask him to stump up $2bn extra to bring the pledged aid in-creases to the level the Commission for Africa had said was needed - and on which diplomatic negotiations had stalled. Bush paid up.

Bono's approach reveals something of the singer's personal style. "Bono's in love with the world," said his fellow campaigner Bob Geldof. "He wants to embrace it. I want to punch its lights out." The technique has made the front man of the biggest rock band in the world one of its most successful political lobbyists for change.

That is a lot of superlatives -but superlatives are the environment which Bono is used to inhabiting. U2 has sold some 170 million albums worldwide, making them one of the most successful groups of all time. The band has won 22 Grammy awards, second only to Stevie Wonder. They won no fewer than five this year for their latest albumHowto Dismantlean Atomic Bomb. U2 has been called by Rolling Stone "the band that matters most, maybe even the only band that matters".

As for the lead singer, Bono is the only person to have been nominated for an Oscar, a Grammy, a Golden Globe and the Nobel Peace Prize. This month he was named by Time magazine as one of the "100 People Who Shape Our World". Even those who don't normally respond to hyperbole have succumbed to his charm. The last pope was keen to swap a rosary for a pair of Bono's ubiquitous shades -which he wears constantly because of a light sensitivity in his eyes, as well as out of pop-star cool.

It is all an unimaginably long way from the 16-year-old school- boy Paul David Hewson, who spotted a card on the noticeboard at Mount Temple Comprehensive in Dublin seeking musicians for The Larry Mullen Band. Those who assembled in Mullen's kitchen not long after included Mullen, a drummer, Adam Clayton (bass guitar), Dave Evans (guitar) and Hewson (vocals). There were three others too, who eventually dropped out, leaving the four men who were to become U2. It was a world of recherch adolescent nicknames and the powerfully voiced Hewson acquired the moniker Bono after a Bono Vox hearing aid ad while Evans acquired the tag The Edge.

In the depressed Dublin of the 1970s, music was like an alarm call, Bono later said. "At 17 when I first heard The Clash they sounded like revolution to me." Within four years, U2 had a record contract and began the long haul to universal stardom. Bob Geldof remembers the first time he heard them in the States. "It was in a small club in San Francisco early on. To me, there was something recognisably Irish about them -the huge drum, the pounding bass, the enormousgorgeous voice and the powerful rhythm of Edge's guitar, very similar to that of the Irish fiddle. But there was a deep emotional core in it that people respond to, in any language.

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