Bold Brave Birthday Bono
May 10, 2012 · Print This Article
You rocked into my life when I was only 15, when “New Year’s Day” invaded my television and a new hope invaded my heart. Until I listened to you, I longed for the ’60s, for my parents’ Beatles records, and for the resurrection of Lennon, who died when I was 12.
Then one early summer day, I found an article in Rolling Stone called “Blessed Are the Peacemakers,” and you stared directly at me (and a million others) with your devastating eyes, decorated with your unapologetic mullet, black denim and leather coat.
You said it then, and I don’t think it’s gone out of style in the last 22 years: “I think there is nothing more radical than two people’s loving each other.”
You sang a new song and I decided to sing with you because you reminded me that the revolution wasn’t about bricks, bats, bullets, and bottles broken under children’s feet, but about the love in our hearts that could open up three sunrises over a dead end street. You “talked story” about the big story in such a way that made your records required listening for every spiritually-motivated social justice activist in America.
Back then, my mates considered me mad when I took you at your word about being the biggest in the world. But soon you went from filling theaters to packing stadiums. And through sheer ambition (or is it God’s strange grace or even sorcerer’s magic?), you exceeded even your own brash and impetuous boastfulness.
After about six years of living every day with you in my heart and headphones, I tried over a decade of trying to live without you. Occasionally, I’d turn the channel to ZooTV just to see what you were doing. You never stopped raising the stakes as you chewed up the spectacle and spit it back out as strangely redemptive and postmodern art.
Then you got bigger and badder, and I found other songs to sing. But sometime in the new century, some of your latest noises climbed into my stereo to remind me what I always knew but had forgotten. With jubilation, you gave me “Elevation.” Taking me higher, I say that’s pretty soulful and funky for a white brother. With the poetic patience, biblical proportion, and enduring resilience of a Blake or Rumi (poets both known for their spiritual explorations), your voice announced a “Beautiful Day.”
Your songs sustain me, even when your pomposity and politics get annoying. You dare to dream out loud, even when you dream in slogans, press releases and prepackaged aphorisms best-suited for a bumper sticker. You remind us that it’s still acceptable to wear your heart on your sleeve, even when the shirt’s a mass-produced and over-priced jersey being hawked at your over-priced concerts.
You don’t want us to be fanatics and sycophants: you call us your “audience,” wax eloquent about our intelligence and admit that you owe your good life to our good graces. Some would say such solemn sermonizing about how smart we are is all part of your pose, but I sense that what pisses the cynics off so much is that they know you are sincere. If the rich will be with us always, then why can’t they all be like you? You are the least offensive globe-trotting gazillionaire I can conjure in my mind.
You get over 5 million Google hits in a tenth of second (and not that many were about the late Sonny Bono or congressperson Mary Bono), and the poetry engine Googlism writes a poem for you with about fifty lines; these are some of my favorites:
Bono is a tight what?
Bono is talking about Springsteen
Bono is real
Bono is everywhere at economic forum
Bono is boring
Bono is Jesus
Bono is still idealistic but he’s also grounded and relaxed
Bono is a poet of this generation
Bono is a Pentecostal snake handler
Bono is writing about the multiple lives he lives
Bono is such a Bob Marley fan
With the people I run with, it’s never been that “cool” to be into Bono but, as you remind us in the new book with Michka, you would rather be “hot.” Why should I care that it isn’t it considered “rad” for me to cry every time I listen to “Bad”? With that song, it’s almost like Live Aid every time, like every one of us–guys included–wants to be the one dancing with you.
Why did I take it so personally when the critics began bashing you after Rattle and Hum? Do you know that many of us loved your most earnest and evangelical phases? Why do you hit that heart muscle in me (and so many others) in a manner that other writers can only imagine?
Honestly, I can’t envision dealing with the death of a friend or with truly understanding the mythic pull of God, lover, family and tribe without your songs. Your life is so stitched with our lives that this lifetime of listening to you has been an unforgettable fire burning eternal in our hearts.
So on your 52nd birthday, I join all those others who’ll raise a toast to the bold Bono Hewson, husband, father, preacher man, crusader for justice, cigar-chomping singer, and delectable rock ‘n’ roll daddy.
Whether it’s in the car with the speakers straining, on the DVD player watching the Slane Castle concert, with the headphones on when the rest of the family sleeps, or blasting the doors open when no one else is home, whenever I listen to you sing, the spirit is, as you say, in the house.
Happy Birthday, Bono.
–Andrew William Smith, Editor (originally posted in 2005, updated for 2012)