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Old 07-14-2004, 10:34 PM   #1
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Rolling Stone Mar09 1989 - Reader's choice awards

This issue was for the Reader's and Critic's picks for the 'best of...' 1988. U2 was chosen Band of the Year (no surprise) and there was an article about them. Bono was on the cover (below). This article is not available on, nor is the cover, for some odd reason.

The following is part of a two-page photo at the beginning of the story - sorry, my scanner's not THAT big!

Artist of the Year
Rolling Stone, March 9th, 1989
By Steve Pond - Photographs by Anton Corbijn

Having conquered the world, U2 tries to figure out what to do next

"What do you think we should do?"
On a cloudy afternoon in Dublin, U2 isn't acting much like the band with all the answers. Instead the members of the group are acting more like four guys who are themselves trying to answer a few important questions, and the main question - which Bono poses within minutes of the time he sits down in a pub and orders a pint of Guinness - is what his band should do on the heels of Rattle and Hum.
If they don't have an answer, at least they finally have the free time to think about it. That's something that's been in short supply for the past two years, from the release of their 1987 breakthrough album, The Joshua Tree, through the subsequent international tour, to the recording and filming of a controversial two-record set and motion picture Rattle and Hum.
"The last few years," says Bono, with his customary intensity - but also with a distracted air that suggests he's groping to put a rather deep-seated confusion into words - "have been such a merry-go-round that when you get off and you're on dry land, it keeps spinning. And we haven't quite come to terms with being at home. I have to be strapped in at night, you know? There's this thing of wanting to move..."
He trails off, then looks around at his three bandmates. "Wanderlust, I suppose," he says. "That's been with the group for a few years, in many ways, and I suppose it's what Rattle and Hum is about. Not just in terms of locations - towns and cities and places - but musical wanderlust. So now we're in detox."
"We would be lying, I think, if we said that everything is okay these days. Everything's not okay, you know? Even talking about U2, we really don't know how to talk about U2 anymore."
Bono shrugs. "I think it's really important to preface your article by saying that one of the reasons we haven't done many interviews lately is that we don't really have that much to say."

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Old 07-14-2004, 10:37 PM   #2
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The following ten paragraphs in the article can be summed up in these two sentences:
As Rattle and Hum the movie heads for videocassette and Rattle and Hum the album continues its stay in the top Ten, it's clear that U2's problem is more than simple overexposure. After years of favorable fan and press reaction to the band's music; years of dramatic stage performances; years in which underground credibility turned into mass success; years of articles based on intense conversations with a hyperbolic, socially minded lead singer and his three more retiring band mates; years of grainy black-and-white photos of deadly serious, brooding faces, growing from dewy-cheeked youth to bestubbled adulthood; after all that, the U2 backlash has set in.

No sooner have the members of U2 settled into a small, high-walled private booth in a pub down the road from Dublin's Guinness brewery - "the snugs," these little rooms are called - than Larry Mullen Jr. is recommending U2's favorite local band. It's called the Joshua Trio.
"They're hilarious," says Bono quickly. "They do things like 'Nobody Cares': 'What about unemployment? What about the ozone layer? Nobody cares. No, wait! Bono cares!' "
It's a measure of the band's impact in its home town that another group exists doing nothing but U2 spoofs. Another measure is the fact that the only way the band can spend a few hours in uninterrupted conversation is to reserve one of the snugs, booths originally built so that Dublin's drinkers could sequester their wives away from the exclusively male territory of the main pub.
In fact, the fame means they have to chose their pubs more carefully, too - especially after Bono's introduction to "Sunday Bloody Sunday" in Rattle and Hum, in which he excoriates the Irish Republican Army and ends by saying, "Fuck the Revolution." Since then, says Edge, "certain pubs in Dublin we don't feel as comfortable in. But I think our position has changed in Ireland, irrespective of that. We now drink in little boxes like this." Adds Adam Clayton, "Our world gets smaller the bigger the band gets."
As they hang up their jackets - which range from a leather New York Police Department model for Larry to a blue pin-striped number for Bono, who's looking corporate in vest, tie and gray beret - the boys in the band order a round of the locally brewed dark stout (except for Larry, who sticks to coffee) and settle into the little box. Larry thinks it's "a bit claustrophobic." Bono likes it. Adam says he feels like he's "in a men's toilet." And after listening to his band mates argue the snug's merits, Edge speaks up quietly. "It's a bit like being in U2," he says.
But if the four men who've come to this pub on a cloudy January afternoon are feeling enclosed, uncomfortable or affected by the storm that Rattle and Hum stirred up, they're also more willing to talk. As usual, Bono takes center stage and summons up his characteristic fervor when the conversation turns to U2's music, but everybody chimes in when the talk deals with Ronald Reagan's place in history, or the months the band spent living in Los Angeles last year, or the band members' admiration for musicians as diverse as Jerry Lee Lewis and Nanci Griffith, or their plans for their own Mother Records label, which will soon release a record by Guy Clark and is looking to sign other veteran country and folk performers like Joe Ely and John Prine.
"I must say," says Bono, "that my heroes at this point in time all have lines on their faces. I mean, if U2 set out to see through the Fifties rebellion in the Eighties - because it didn't work, and it was stupid to think that somebody with a safety pin in their nose and a leather jacket therefore had something to say - well, then, this other idea of a generation gap is also out the window in the Eighties. The young-punk idea is nonsense. I prefer to spend a day with Johnny Cash than a week with some up-and-coming pop star."
This is precisely the kind of thing U2 began to do during the American tour that led to Rattle and Hum - listening to blues and gospel music, recording at Sun Studio, cutting songs with B.B. King and the New Voices of Freedom gospel singers, doing versions of "Helter Skelter" and "All Along the Watchtower." But in the process, the band drew charges that it was using past heroes to boost its own status.
"Everyone slags us off for comparing ourselves to great groups," snaps Larry Mullen, "but that's bullshit. I mean, they said that to the Beatles, as well."
When the laughs die down, Bono picks up the argument. "Seriously, folks," he says with a chuckle, "we're in this big band, but in our own heads we're still fans of the greats, from Elvis Presley and Billie Holiday to Bob Dylan to the Band to the Waterboys to whoever.
"What happened around the album is remarkable," he says, "maybe even a bigger work of art than the album. The very idea of Rattle and Hum was, if not to burst the balloon, to let the air out of it. Everything about it, from doing really bad cover versions, which is how we started... A big band should be able to be a garage band if it wants to. Being brilliant is to take risks. I don't mean taking risks in the shallow water of the avant-garde but in the deep water."
Bono takes off his beret and runs his hand through his slicked-back hair. "You know," he says, "they say in the Eighties that rock & roll is dead. I don't think it's dead, but if it's dying, it's because groups like us aren't taking enough risks. You know, make a movie. Put yourself up there against what's out there, Robocop and Three Men and a Baby. That's great for rock & roll, not just for U2. I think you've got to dare."
Edge cuts in. "Like Megadeth doing 'Anarchy in the U.K.'," he says.
"Yeah!" says Bono with a grin. "We mustn't be responsible, we must be irresponsible, artistically speaking. Wouldn't it be awful if we said, 'Oh, we're in a big group now'? Rock & roll ought to be irresponsible, at least in the sense of being able to do a wicked cover version or say something like... How's it go? 'This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles. We're stealing it back.' If that's gonna get up some people's noses, all the better. I don't even know what it means. It means something, though."
To many people, it means U2 is announcing itself the heir to the Beatles.
"Let's get down to the Beatles, here," says Bono, the evangelical gleam in his eye getting fiercer with each word. "We're not saying we're a better band than the Beatles. But we are more of a band than the Beatles. We are. There's four of us - a street gang essentially, who drew no lines. Not Lennon and McCartney songwriting and Ringo's the drummer. When we walk onstage, it is the band that is the real work of art, the four of us.
"And when we were sixteen," he says, "we didn't think, 'Oh, let's not be the Beatles.' I thought, 'Fuck the Beatles, fuck the Rolling Stones.' They may have been our musical idols, but every band in the world thinks it's better than the Beatles. They are the blueprint. And we are fans and in awe of their music, but we're not reverent. It'd be childish of us to say we're better than the Beatles, or we're worse than the Beatles. I'm just saying that we're more of a band."
Larry Mullen, who fidgets as Bono grows feverish, sighs. "Back to that one again, are you?" he asks, rolling his eyes.
Edge looks over and laughs. "Oh, shut up, Ringo," he says.
Beatle jokes aside, though, it's unlikely that many of Rattle and Hum's detractors would be convinced by these arguments, because for anyone who thinks U2's music is overstated or pompous, the band's interviews can seem similarily self-serving and humorless. And while it may have been daring to make a movie, that movie didn't make a case for humility.
The band members never really address the issue. They talk about the album but around the movie, other than to complain about the compromises they had to make for the cameras. "I think the movie is great for them," says Phil Joanou, "because in a way it's them, but they don't have to take responsibility for the film because they didn't make it. It takes some weight off them, and that's good."
And the relentlessly serious tone? "That's totally my fault," says Joanou. "The movie was meant to be a fairly serious depiction of their music, as opposed to a light one. I have footage that could have changed that, but my plan was to do an aggressive, grab-people-by-the-throat-and-shake-them kind of movie rather than a romp through America with U2. A romp with U2 wasn't something I could swallow, so I went for" - he chuckles - "an overly serious, pretentious look at U2. That's a fair criticism, but what the hell?"
But if the members of U2 are perfectly capable of being funny guys, Bono doesn't seem to mind the "humorless" rap. "The time we live in, nothing is taken seriously," he says. "Part of the yuppie ethic is 'Let's not take everything so seriously, man.' The fact that a third of the population of the earth is starving, let's not take that so seriously. The fact that we're moments away from oblivion because of nuclear weapons... You know, these subjects don't get big laughs. That's why I admire people like Robin Williams, who can make their point and make people laugh. That's his job. I don't know, maybe our job is to make people cry, weep, tear their hair out, gnash their teeth... I mean, we are a very serious band about our work. We are. Deadly serious. Annoyingly, appallingly, boringly serious about our work."
And what is their work?
"To go where no band has gone before," he says, as the entire group howls with laughter. "To boldly go where no rock & roll band's gone before, to search out old soul records and steal their spirit..."

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Old 07-14-2004, 10:39 PM   #3
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The question is crucial, and history says that U2 will settle it with its next album. So far, the band has adhered to a pattern: first it makes an assertive, relatively straightforward album (1980's Boy, 1983's dramatic War, The Joshua Tree), then it follows it with one that's harder to get a handle on (1981's mystically minded October, 1984's atmospheric The Unforgettable Fire, Rattle and Hum).
That might mean it's time for another more forceful and cogent LP - except that these days the stakes are higher and the risks of overexposure very real. "I'm sick to death of reading about U2," says Edge.
"It's a very interesting time for U2," says Bono, as the afternoon turns into evening and the band orders another round (Larry finally shifts from coffee to vodka). "There is a sense of 'Up drawbridge,' cut ourselves off, and a sense of feeling misunderstood, and sense of the antagonism toward us. You know, Rattle and Hum was the end of something."
"The safe thing to do," says Edge, "would be to wait three years and then do the next record. But I don't think I could wait that long."
"People say, 'Better not release a record within two years.' " Bono says. " 'It mightn't sell so well.' But so what? We don't have to do anything we don't want to do now. That is what it is to be rich - and in that sense, we are filthy rich. We used to have to finish albums and go on tour just to stay solvent, right up until The Joshua Tree. We don't have to do that now, so we're just gonna play where we want to play."
If financial security means they don't have to do anything in particular, Rattle and Hum also says that they can go in just about any direction they choose. By being something of an undefined, sprawling mess, it gives them freedom: instead of suggesting any one future direction, it simply shows a band that's learning more about the roots of its music and trying to use that new knowledge somehow.
"I do think we're slow learners," says Bono with a chuckle. "We really move at a snail's pace. We just learned the fourth chord. We've done alot with three - just wait till we start using the fourth.
"There are few bands that have come so far with so little," he says. "I think U2 has, as a white rock & roll group, broken a lot of barriers. In terms of subject matter, even in terms of vocabulary. There are certain words that as a writer, I own. Lots of them. There are certain tones in the guitar, certain approaches, which we own. I'm very excited about U2, looking back at what we've done. But I'm much more excited about what we're about to do."
"It's the end of the cold war," he says, "and I think it's also the end of the cold wave. You know, that sort of Halloween, bogyman music, death-march music. And we just did not fit into that, and we have been flying in the face of that for ten years. And now I think that's ending. You see artists in Germany, the new avant-garde, their idols are people like {nineteenth-century romantic painter J.M.W.} Turner. It's extraordinary. To see soul music at the center of things, Cajun music, Irish music..."
Not, he hastens to add, that U2 is going to become a band of roots-rock purists. "The future is not to look back," he says. "The future is to reinterpret the past. We didn't really reinterpret the past on Rattle and Hum. We gave in to it, and it was fun. But the future is to reinterpret, and to preserve the spirit. That spirit is the real key, the spirit of abandonment."
With that, Bono heads to the men's room, and the conversation lightens. The other band members, it seems are just as happy to order a few more drinks and talk about the history of sexual segregation in Irish pubs. Then their singer returns, announcing as he steps through the door, "All my favorite words are stolen."
"They are?" asks Larry with a start.
"They are," Bono says. "They're all gone, meaningless. Like born again. What a great idea - everyone should want to be born again, every day. But now it means nothing, because some very dangerous people got a hold of the word. Wherever I look, words have been used up. Gone. They don't mean anything. God. Light. Sex. And the most powerful word has got to be love, but the fight is one for that one."
He sighs. "That's the key for U2 as well," he says. "With all these big ideals, we've got to bring things down to two people, really. One is good, two is better. And that's where I see us going."
And so, in the end, we have to ask Bono the question he himself asked a couple of hours and a couple of pints ago: In 1989, after Rattle and Hum and everything that came with it, what should U2 do?
"I think we're really clear about one thing, maybe," Bono begins hesitantly. "What we have to do is simplify. Simplify everything and just get to the center of what it is to be in a band, which is to write great rock & roll songs and perform them. We picked up so much along the way that's just extra baggage - people and houses and big motorcades and airplanes and helicopters and boats...
"They're all there, but we don't need them," he says. "All we need is three and a half minutes. You know, the spirit that we found that was always in our music is stronger now. It's exciting for a rock & roll band to strip itself right down, to take off all recognizable signs and just bash away and say 'This is still us.' "
The final question, though, is still troublesome. At this stage in their career, is it possible for the members of U2 to truly simplify themselves? They spent the last decade carefully, consciously and deliberately building themselves up to the point where they are a Big Band in nearly every sense of the term; are they really willing or able to demythologize U2 without at the same time remythologizing themselves in some other way?
"I don't know," Bono says simply. "That's our dilemma. All we can do is simplify, strip away and just make shiny, bright music. Music that will..."
He stammers for a minute, struggling to find the right words. Finally, he gives up and shrugs. "You know, just dream it up," he says quietly. "Just dream it up."
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