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Old 07-06-2003, 01:50 PM   #1
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Bono: Everything is possible, the world is moe malleable than we think

WHEN he speaks of the work he does, and of the extraordinary stratum of society he now operates within, it is with an easy familiarity that draws you into his spell. Bono talks and the names roll out, a salvo of the celebrated. Here is Clinton, with his administration of youth. George W Bush and the old guard. Brainstorming with Bill Gates. Handshakes with David Rockefeller. Minutes pass and the spell is complete; suddenly you are thinking as Bono thinks, that the elite is accessible, all encounters are possible and even the most unreachable plum is there for the picking. All you need to do is stretch out your arm. Just reach a little further up the tree.

There is dislocation here. Bono the activist is talking of world debt, of the Aids crisis in Africa and the projects and schemes he has worked tirelessly to promote. His conversation is peppered with encounters, a spiced life of privilege earned, of using his status to tease pledges of hard cash from the leaders of the millennial world.

And then there is Bono, our Bono, the singer, the musician, the Dublin boy. If the conversation has swept us to Washington, via all points east and west, there is no trace of the sly loss of home in Bono's recognition of his life.

"God, Aengus," he says, "I wish I knew more about where I live. I started to feel recently that I don't really live in Dublin any more. I live in the Clarence. I live in various pubs and drinking holes and the kids go to school. And I'm wondering if my experience of Dublin is the same as everyone else and whether therefore my opinion is less and less valuable."

Sometimes he seems to reflect with a conscience that spans continents, but Ireland's most famous living export remains rooted in his home patch. He muses on Ireland, worries that he cannot keep wholly up-to-date with the pace of change in the peace process, and with the island's giddy rush through the hoops of new sudden wealth.

"I think there is a bit of a challenge coming up to our little country," he tells me, "which is to see if we can keep the same soulfulness and the same critical faculties in place with all this prosperity around."

Bono has the knack of personalising a concept, bringing focus with example. Sometimes he gathers from history, from the world that inspires him; sometimes the example is himself. Ireland, the Ireland he grew up in, has always enjoyed an easy rapport with wealth, he explains. Here, even the world's best-known rock singer can feel at ease, when everywhere else people would be "down on their knees to you", because if you are wealthy, then the logic goes that you must also be interesting.

"In Dublin it's rather the opposite," he says, explaining that in Ireland the wealthy are almost sidelined by their success. "Now we are wrong, too, but I'd rather be around this than the chasing of success, and always wanting to give it a big kiss. I want my kids in a school where they value people for their sense of humour or their originality or their ideas or their sense of public service. And yes, if they're smart and they work hard for success, but I don't want it to be just about money.

"I think that's the biggest challenge we have right now, because actually it turns out that we are quite good at making money. The entrepreneurial spirit in Ireland is quite high . . . I think that the future could be very brave here if the school system stays as good as it's been. That's really the marked difference between Ireland and America. The overall quality of education for most people seems to be better."

Today, Bono is well aware of his position on the world stage. He uses it, he freely admits, to pursue his projects. As an example, he tells me a typical story about his first encounter with Paul O'Neill, Secretary of the Treasury in the Bush administration.

"President Bush wouldn't see me at first because I was associated with the previous administration," he explains. "I then tried to see Paul O'Neill and he wouldn't see me either. He thought I was trying to use him. I told him: 'I am trying to use you, and you can use me back. But in the end what we are surely both after here is a new approach to foreign systems where we can transform the lives of individuals and millions.'"

For someone who relies on his links with world leaders, Bono clearly feels no restraint in discussing the people he meets. His forthright comments are typical of his approach; talk directly and honestly, but from a wider stance than mere polemic.

He admires Tony Blair, finding a rare conviction in his personal politics that goes beyond the cynical spirit of the age.

"I think he is one of the great men of British politics and that people have forgotten what it was like under Margaret Thatcher and the sort of impenetrable facade that she and 10 Downing Street tended to have," he says. "Then, of course, I disagree with the way they went into the war and I think the UN is something to be protective of and to gather around. I still find it amazing to be alive in a time when a politician can risk absolutely everything he worked for, for no gain."

Bono believes the British prime minister's convictions have led him to a political impasse.

"There is no gain," he tells me. "I can't see a way for him to win out of the decisions that he has made, even now . . . I don't think there is a way - from the Labour base, from populist support, from the media, from looking like he was following Bush. There is no way he is going to win."

Blair's stance on Iraq, he argues, went against the Labour party's traditions. The conviction Bono admires took the Labour leader into territory his own supporters - and many besides - could not comfortably inhabit.

"No one wants to see bloodshed in the end, no matter how ra-ra-ra the British media can get . . . and if you compare the UK media with the American media, it was like being in a different planet. He is getting an unbelievable amount of bile and spleen from usual Labour voters, and I just think that is extraordinary. And even though I completely disagree with his decisions I just thought that there is a man moving out of conviction."

Bono believes Tony Blair acted from an honest motive, the desire to launch a pre-emptive strike against terrorism.

"I think he genuinely believed that unless they acted quickly, it was only a matter of time until we wake up one morning and a corner of Chicago or a corner of London was missing. I think that they genuinely operated on tenterhooks, expecting the worst. I think that they should have waited. It looks very much like they could have waited. But I am still struck to be around at a time when a politician is prepared to risk everything for very little."

His comments encompass both praise and criticism, and there has always been a frank, non-partisan quality to Bono's world view. He has argued to get the drug companies on board in the fight against Aids, against the more usual demonising of campaigners. He moved adroitly, too, from Bill Clinton's White House to the austere corridors of the New Right. Somehow, he manages to play the game and still keep his ideals intact.

"When we first went to Washington it was Bill Clinton's White House," he recalls. "It was very informal, young people. We had known him before he was elected and the door was opened. I think that when President Bush took office he was determined to, quite deliberately, formalise the White House and make it a punctual place, and a place where conservatives could feel at home."

He remembers endless meetings with America's bureaucrats, called in the crisis hours of his drive to support a cancellation programme for Third World debt.

"I would walk in the door and they would look at me like an exotic plant," he says. "I had the meetings because probably the staffers were all my age and they wanted to meet me, but the politicians, some of them were interested, some were not. Some of them wouldn't even look at me; some of them would look over there.

"It was a real learning curve for me to walk down those halls. And they are amazing halls. There are underground labyrinths. You start to see who the real enemy is - bureaucracy itself. It's like Kafka."

Once, in a meeting with an official called Sunny Callaghan, Bono felt himself stonewalled.

"[He was a] you know, a tough guy, who said, 'This money is going down a rat hole, I can tell it's going down a rat hole. If you think that you're going to get my foreign procreation money to put me through your fanciful idea, the answer is no.'"

Bono persisted. Far from throwing money away, debt cancellation would be carefully monitored, to avoid the perception, common in some government circles, that aid is just cash to fund corruption.

"Later he turned around," Bono says. "I've been to Uganda and there are three times the amount of children going to school as a result of debt cancellation."

The path to debt cancellation was fraught. Bono recalls a snakes-and-ladders run of success and setback as he struggled to come to terms with the machinations of the American political system.

"I had, for instance, a very, very good relationship with Lawrence Summers who was the Secretary of the Treasury under President Clinton. And meeting a man whose signature is on every dollar, you know it's going to be an interesting day. When I first met him he kind of rolled his fingers on the table and stared. I wasn't sure I had made a very good argument for debt cancellation.

"When he left that meeting he made a decision to try and help us, and he became very crucial, not just in getting the money authorised, which is the signing of the cheque, but in getting the money procreated , which is the cashing of the cheque. In the end, I'm in the business of cashing the cheques, whereas politicians like to sign them. They often go bang, meaning Congress doesn't approve the money. Lawrence Summers was a very, very important person in helping us to get the debt cancellation money appropriated as well as authorised."

Bono discovered that a gulf of potential pitfalls exists between signature and encashment.

"This is where my education in American politics came in," he explains. "I had thought that we had won on the day President Clinton announced complete debt cancellation in 23 countries. I had just arrived in France, I was with my father and my brother. They heard it on the news, and I hadn't been home, which was unusual. Then the phones started to go . . . "

Three days before, Bono had been in America, where the debt programme had run against Congress opposition, and Clinton's team was pessimistic.

"They came in on the Saturday and said, we can't do this," he recalls. "I said, you really must because you are not getting applause for your present strategy and you deserve and your President deserves to be let knock this one out of the park. They worked over the weekend, literally on their way to the World Bank. Clinton wrote his speech and went in and surprised everyone with it. It was big news."

But two months later the project hit further snags.

"They called and said, 'No, it's not that simple.' Congress runs the United States, not the President, especially when the President doesn't have a majority. Congress runs the United States and . . . they were about to turn it down."

Bono began an extraordinary run of meetings. He recalls one encounter where an official who had lost his voice whispered to him for help. Bono told him: "Yeah, I have a day job, but give me the names.

"So I went and saw them, the David Rockefellers, the Paul Volkers, the people who were at the top, if you like, putting down their debt cancellations. I went to them. And then I went to the head of Foreign Procreations. I had to really get to know American politics because without that we would never have got the money together."

Tony Blair's New Labour, by contrast, has always been a welcoming target for a visiting lobbyist.

"Blair has always been really open," Bono says. "His door has always been open. That's just his thing. He is completely himself at all times. You can have a row with him . . . I'm amazed, if you're hanging out with Geldof, just how loud the rows are."

He remembers one vehement argument between the British prime minister and the former Boomtown Rat.

"I think that my second time to meet Blair was at the G8 in Cologne. We went through over 30,000 protesters. We went up onto the balcony and Geldof is extremely explicit. He is just going on, as only he can. With Bob his speeches are never rude, they are poetic. It's Shakespearean, his insults are Shakespearean.

"I remember Tony Blair dodging some more abuse coming from him. We need that from Bob. Bob is the most eloquent spokesman we have. In his trail I will walk in and try to do it and know the numbers . . . "

Bono sees his role within the movement for Third World activism in terms of a particular ability, his facility with what he calls 'the numbers', with juggling possible programmes and outcomes to prompt world political and business leaders to reinterpret their stance.

"A lot of my job is getting them to look at the numbers, and imagining a new scenario other than the crisis that they are managing at the moment, that's on their desk. But I say, 'Look, when you leave office, this is a part of what you did and this is something that you are going to be the most proud of'. President Clinton is most proud of what he has done in Africa . . . and of course, what he did during his visit to Ireland."

This is, perhaps, Bono's key strength, a visionary talent that enables him to keep hold of the myriad vested interests of government, while interpreting a wider tableau. His view is rooted, he tells me, in his early reading about the civil rights movement in America. Martin Luther King's Pride and Love was a key work in Bono's understanding of the language of the movement, the essential currency of its ambition.

"I find that inspirational," he says. "This African stuff is the civil rights movement of this age. This will define our moment. There are probably three things that will define our moment; the internet, the war against terrorism, and about Aids. This is how we will be judged, and I think a lot of the anger that you saw in Seattle [the anti-globalisation protests] and places like that . . . it basically has at the heart of it a sort of unrivalled anger at what I would call a crisis in capitalism - that globalisation does not work for the majority, and that, in fact, it works against a lot of people.

"Africa is way worse off than it was in 1975. In terms of trade, their ability to trade with us has been curtailed. I think that that rage that is on the streets is just a sense that we are sort of complicit in an extraordinary tragedy, by our own action."

He points to the need for Aids drugs in Africa.

"They don't cost that much," he says. "The cost is in the research and development. Once they're up and running they don't cost that much. We have them. At what point will it look as mad that we did not even get to that point?"

Bono has no ideological difficulty in working with the drug companies, if the end result brings increased health in Africa. When I voice a common criticism, that the pharmaceutical giants will be profiteering in a tragedy, he is adamant it does not matter.

"I couldn't give a shite," Bono replies. "We need the drugs. They're in commerce, they are in business. Let's not expect commercial companies to behave like a health service."

He develops the thought. The official health services should put more pressure on drug companies to reduce their profit margin, but Bono warns, too, against making easy assumptions about private individuals. He cites the case of Microsoft magnate Bill Gates, who has pledged billions of dollars to the Third World Aids project.

"Bill Gates, when I am sitting with him . . . his attention to detail is laser-like, and he is as applied to these problems as he is applied to Microsoft," he says. "Let me assure you of

'It's the band's current state and their convictions are bound up in this as much as mine'

that. All the billions he is giving away, it's not just out of his conscience for all the money he has made. He is as demanding of those products that they go to work for children. It's scary, it's a real force in the room. He really wants to make it work, very hard."

The profit motive has inevitably complicated the movement to rid Africa of Aids. Bono tells me of the time Bill Gates - seen by many as the icon of modern capitalism - suggested companies should supply products for free to alleviate the tragedy. Then he speaks of another problem, the inherent paradox of health care and private profit.

"They will give you the drugs for the ongoing treatment but the actual vaccine that might get rid of the virus, they're not working on it," he said. "So conspiracy theorists here can jump up and down. It's something else. The reason pharmaceutical companies aren't working on an Aids vaccine is because of people like me. Because they know that if they found one, that the only market for it is the developing world, and we demand it for free. So people running companies, maybe not even in a dark way, they just move into an area where there is going to be less trouble.

"And at that moment, sitting with Bill Gates, I really realised that I needed to rethink some of my dustbin lid activity. I'm good at banging dustbin lids, but sometimes you have to think things through a little more closely. So I said, bring them in, bring the pharmaceutical companies into a project. We need their creativity, we need their innovation. There are some amazing scientists out there. The more that they lower the price . . . but let's give them something, because they are not going to do it if they are not making a profit. They're not going to do it if they don't make anything."

A new project, aimed at moving Africa beyond its current political problems, is now exercising Bono's attention.

"Tony Blair is very, very excited about NEPAD," he explains. "NEPAD [The New Partnership for Africa's Development] is this idea of a new partnership with Africa. It's like a Marshall Plan for Africa, but from the bottom up. It's what they need, as prescribed by them. We were all very excited about this, and then when Mugabe ran amok in Zimbabwe and Africans didn't deal with it, it dealt a very severe blow to NEPAD.

"One of the key parts of this new partnership is a thing called peer review, which is where Africans would police corrupt states, and try to deal with their own problems if given support from the developed world. It was all set to be a new dawn in that whole relationship, which, let's face it, has been a really corrupt relationship for hundreds of years. It's the right time to try and put that behind us and start afresh. Tony Blair has put a lot of time behind it, as has President Bush."

Though Africa and its problems have inevitably brought Bono into the world spotlight, it would be wrong to assume his main motivation was anything other than his music. With U2 he is in Ireland, working again on songs that are fuelled by what he describes as "high energy". When I ask him what the recordings are about his answer suggests the continuing link between the songwriter and the wider world that is both his spur and his inspiration.

"It's full of the sense that everything is possible," he tells me, "and that the world is more malleable than we think.

"In the end, it's the band. It's the band's current state and their convictions are bound up in this as much as mine. They are proud of the work I'm doing and they are also getting feedback from it. They are proud because we are doing things that we really thought were not possible. That infuses them with a certain positivity . . . "

Bono has certainly persuaded the world to dance to his tune, and is clearly happy to pass on advice to others following in his path. He advises young musicians to form their own corporation, bringing a package of careful planning to the record company as they make their pitch.

"Form a circle of people who are smart and keep it," he says. "Decide what you want to do, the look of your album covers, how you want to meet the world in terms of how you want to do videos, tour, whether you want to break slowly. And then go to the record company and tell them what you want, because the record company in the end doesn't have a lot of imagination. They're not just looking for people with imagination, they are looking for people with a plan, because that makes their lives easier."

He cites U2's own beginnings, explaining how the band and its manager set out with a clear vision of theirdesired future. "I have to thank Paul for wanting to go to America first because he thought the UK would be sort of, mood-shifting, mercurial," he says.

"You could never be sure whether rock bands were in or out each week. Whereas in America we can bring that success and come into Europe and follow that route. Paul was really good at that, and that was a plan that we dreamt up together.

"Paul, because he's a bolshie, the record company wouldn't mess with us. And he was a brilliant enough character for them to believe that he was probably right. It wasn't just rhetoric. He could follow through."

Despite gloomy forecasts that internet piracy will kill off the record industry, Bono remains optimistic - typically using the same facts to wring out a different approach.

"The record industry is shrinking right now," he admits, "but I don't think it will be for long. I believe in the record business and I believe that the downloading of music will actually introduce more people to it, and in the end people will pay for music; if it's not too expensive and it is easier to do that than to rob it.

"I'm kind of confident about the music business."

He is confident, too, about his own future, and aware enough to realise he has already made a singular contribution both to his art and on the wider world stage. He will keep to his path, too, he tells me, as will his wife Ali, another dogged campaigner for the downtrodden.

"It is the direction she too wants to travel," he says. "We want to do something with our lives. We have been spoiled by this success; the country through the artists' exemption has been generous to us. I think that it probably encouraged us to stay. I think that we probably would have ended up following the Boomtown Rats, Thin Lizzie, Van Morrison.

"That helped us to sort of stay, but then you know it brings with it a certain sort of civic duty, if that's not too pretentious a word. There is a sense that you have got to do something with this.

"And I think we are."

Aengus Fanning




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Old 07-06-2003, 02:19 PM   #2
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Was this in a Dublin newspaper? Thank you for posting it!
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Old 07-06-2003, 02:25 PM   #3
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Old 07-06-2003, 02:33 PM   #4
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Amazing article, amazing guy!!
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Old 07-06-2003, 02:45 PM   #5
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Quote:
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Was this in a Dublin newspaper? Thank you for posting it!
Yes, it was on today's Sunday Independent
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Old 07-06-2003, 02:59 PM   #6
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Old 07-06-2003, 03:08 PM   #7
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How I love him so

Thanks NS!

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Old 07-06-2003, 03:35 PM   #8
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Ali

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I like this picture!
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Old 07-06-2003, 05:06 PM   #9
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OMG!!! Luv the pix!!!
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Old 07-06-2003, 05:48 PM   #10
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hehehe Ali for Prime Minister!!!
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Old 07-06-2003, 06:22 PM   #11
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nice pics
thanx for the info
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Old 07-06-2003, 10:49 PM   #12
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Great interview...thank you for posting this! Music doesn't occur in a vaccuum..and I am curious how bono's "night job" will affect his "day job". This interview gave me some clues...and is really the first interview I've seen that has linked the two together...especiallly on how it has affected the band as a whole.
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Old 07-07-2003, 06:47 AM   #13
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This article also blows away the rumours that the the band is poed at Bono for the work hes been doing!Great article!
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Old 07-07-2003, 08:19 AM   #14
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Excellent article-thanks for posting that Niamh

President Bush wouldn't see me at first because I was associated with the previous administration," he explains

Gee, that's mature

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Old 07-07-2003, 11:57 AM   #15
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He is amazing, as usual

I liked a lot of what the writer had to say about Bono. It's so gracious and mature how he can in the same breath state why he disagrees with a person but why he admires that person based on the very issue Bono disagrees with him. He does it a lot, and that's a great characteristic to have so he does not alienate people he needs.

Thanks Niamh!
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Old 07-07-2003, 04:01 PM   #16
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Finally! The last pages of the Sunday Independent article! ( I'm such a lazy arse )





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Old 07-07-2003, 10:15 PM   #17
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Great article!! Thank you!
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