Magazine article The Christian Century

Christian Megastar: Bono on Record

Magazine article The Christian Century

Christian Megastar: Bono on Record

Article excerpt

WHEN IT EMERGED in the 1980s, the Irish rock group U2, with its lead singer Bono, displayed a spiritual passion that countered the big-haired, "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" synthesizer pop of that era. The band was sincere and idealistic, and its lyrics sidestepped the standard topics of sex, parties and relationships. The band consciously rejected the detached "cool" that most rock stars sought to embody, exploring instead what Bono refers to as "the nature of awe, of worship, the wonderment at the world around you."

Over the next two decades, U2 became one of the biggest rock acts in the world and Bono a recognizable name not only in music but in international politics. For the past ten years Bono has served as a mouthpiece for such projects as the Drop the Debt campaign, which erased over $100 billion in Third World debt. In 2000 he cofounded, with Bobby Shriver, the organization DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa), and he has sought to raise money to fight Africa's AIDS epidemic. His political activism has generated continual press attention, culminating last December in his being named Time magazine's "Person of the Year," along with Bill and Melinda Gates.

This book of conversations with Michka Assayas may be as close as we'll get to a Bono autobiography. Bono ad mits at the front of the book that he isn't prone to introspection. The death of his father and the prodding of his wife led him to enter into a series of discussions with Assayas, a French journalist and longtime friend. Although the book's subtitle uses the word conversation, the exchange is mostly one-way, with the skeptical, introspective, agnostic Assayas throwing out questions and observations for Bono to field.

Assayas wants Bono to analyze his violent working-class childhood, to question his motives behind his political involvement, and to explain how his Christian commitment squares with a life of wealth and fame. Bono half-jokingly refers to Assayas as his therapist.

What emerges is a man aware of his weaknesses, a man with a keen religious instinct, a man of bottomless energy and passion, a man grounded in long-term relationships, and a man for whom prayer and scripture are critical to his understanding of the world.

Bono's early Christian faith was often in tension with his musical aspirations. He and fellow musicians Larry Mullen and "the Edge" lived in Christian community during the early years of the group. Band members shared their resources, attended prayer meetings and engaged in regular Bible studies. "We didn't want the world to change us.... We were kind of zealots." It took years and the near-breakup of the band before they learned that "self-righteousness, self-flagellation" could be as dangerous as sex and drugs.

The subject of Africa evokes Bono's most powerful language. He refers to the AIDS crisis in Africa as "the biggest pandemic in the history of civilization. ... And it is not a priority for the West. Why? Because we don't put the same value on African life as we put on a European or an American life God will not let us get away with this, history certainly won't let us get away with our excuses."

Bono refers to his celebrity status as "silly" and "ridiculous," yet he's learned that "it is a kind of currency" that has given him access to the world's power brokers. He claims to feel few butterflies when meeting with world leaders like Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac, Vladimir Putin and George Bush: "I'm never nervous when I meet politicians. I think they should be nervous because I'm representing the poor and wretched in this world. And whatever thoughts you have about God, who He is or if He exists, most will agree that if there is a God, God has a special place for the poor. The poor are where God lives. So these politicians should be nervous, not me."

His success in winning over political opponents like Jesse Helms is inspired by the work of Martin Luther King. …

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