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Old 10-17-2004, 10:15 AM   #1
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U2 Walk on Water

I cut and paste this from @U2:

By Adrian Deevoy

[From the November issue of Blender]

They drink vintage wines, fly in private jets and, um, own sheep. But U2 may have also just made the best record of their lives. "You can't live like this," Bono says, "and put out a crap album!"

The South of France isn't everyone's tasse de the. Too much sun, too much money, too much of a reminder that the world divides unevenly into the have-nots and the have-yachts.

But this slender strip of the Cote D'Azur at least attempts to buck that big-buck trend. Eze-sur-mer, situated on the coast-hugging road between Nice and Monaco, could almost be described as bohemian. Almost.

The Papaya Beach bar is just the sort of joint James Bond would choose to shake the sand out of his shorts after a spume-spattered encounter with Ursula Andress: straw ceilings, wood floors, attentive but first-name-friendly owners. Depending on the tide, the ocean is either a five or 25-second walk away.

Such is the carefully considered comfort of U2's universe that even waiting for them is a pleasure these days. Fresh fruit is juiced, low-sodium sea-air plays in your hair and another platter of carb-free hors d'oeuvres arrives as if by magic.

Gazing out toward the turquoise horizon, you can't help but notice a large yacht moored to your right. This vast vessel is owned by billionaire Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

"That's not a yacht," croaks a familiar voice. "It's a bloody big ship."

Bono adjusts his cowboy hat, the better to take in the boat. "It's got two helicopter pads on it as well," he says, puzzled. "What Paul wants two for I've got no idea. Arrivals and departures perhaps?"

"There's a recording studio onboard, too, and a full-time sound engineer," adds the man everyone calls the Edge, who has just arrived on foot.

"And something like 60 suites," says Adam Clayton, ghosting into the bar.

Ever the king of the deadpan one-liner, Larry Mullen Jr. has the final word. "That is a ferry," he declares. "A ferry with very influential friends."

* * * * *

THERE IS A certain joy in watching U2 reunite. Even if they have seen each other the previous evening, they greet like old friends after a long war. They neither hug nor gush, but there is a touching warmth as they salute the other members of their band. A band, lest we forget, whose career has now exceeded that of even Elvis Presley.

"What?" Bono says, always on the sniff for a new sound bite. "U2 have been together longer than Elvis? That's brilliant! Can I use it?"

Go on, then. It's on Blender.

"Have I mentioned," Bono improvises, "that we've been together longer than Elvis?"

U2 are actually 25 this year: That's a quarter century of their holy rock & roll. By way of celebration, the Edge (ne David Evans) orders a cold beer. Clayton -- off the booze now for the best part of a decade -- opts in passable French for a dainty coffee and a glass of water. Mullen contents himself with some nibbles while Bono (Paul Hewson in a past life) tucks into Blender's drink, blind to the trifling concept of beverage ownership.

We have convened today to discuss the state of the U2 nation, their intriguing take on the world, and their eleventh studio album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. But before we can contemplate the latter and its bewildering title, U2 has some business to attend to and politely invites Blender to sit in on an impromptu band meeting.

"We're not fully agreed on what to do here," Bono explains, "so maybe you should vote, too."

The problem, if it can be called that, lies in the album's running order. After numerous attempts, U2 have yet to find a satisfactory flow, leading them to believe that there may be too many songs. So, right now, they must decide which tunes should be sacrificed.

As it stands, the album is three seconds shy of an hour and, as Bono says, "too much of a good thing is a bad thing," so drastic measures need to be taken.

"I have a theory," Mullen begins, and a reverential silence descends as the drummer -- traditionally the first band member to be shouted down in these situations -- states his case. After just five minutes, it has been unanimously decided that the track "Mercy," a six-and-a-half-minute outpouring of U2 at its most uninhibitedly U2-ish, must go.

Hence a song that any self-respecting band would be proud to call a single becomes what Bono immediately anoints "the best B-side you've ever heard."

Later, another more experimental candidate entitled "Fast Cars" ("an Irish/Mexican vibe") gets evicted, and the album becomes a lean and lithe 11 tracks.

"Without sounding totally phony," Bono says, "I think this might be our second best -- if not our best -- album. It's up there with Achtung [Baby]. It had to be. You can't live like this and put out a crap album or else people are going to want to shoot you."

Before the meeting winds up, Bono feels duty-bound to explain the album's "sort of spooky, '60s-ish" title.

"We've always found it appropriate to what the whole album deals with," he says. "I was telling my mate Gavin Friday that I felt it was a great name for the album. And Gavin said, 'Well, you know what that's all about?' I'm like, 'What?' And Gavin had it spot-on. He said, 'It's all about your dad.' "

Bob Hewson's passing -- he died in August 2001 from cancer, at age 75 -- and its effect on his son run through the album like a river.

Blender reminds Bono of something he had said in a private moment at the time of his father's death, during the Elevation tour. "I'm an orphan now," Bono said. (He lost his mother, Iris, when he was 14.)

"I remember that conversation," Bono says with a sigh, his pale blue eyes crinkling behind yellow shades. "That whole time, during the gig, flying home every night to see the old man, sitting by the bed, still fighting..."

Bono's relationship with his dad is tenderly documented on How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, directly on "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own" (which U2 played at Hewson's funeral) and "One Step Closer to Knowing," and indirectly on "All Because of You" and "Crumbs From Your Table."

"These are the most direct and concise lyrics we've done," says the Edge thoughtfully. "There's no hiding behind mysterious metaphors."

Yet, as with much of Bono's writing, the personal becomes universal and the universal personal. Songs directly addressed to his "Da" could as easily be about a lover, a country or the entire human race.

"It struck me again and again when we were making the record," Bono marvels. "A song about a specific time, a particular person or incident would suddenly sound like it was written about Africa or some great global theme, which, of course, as a writer, you must never try or you'll burst through sheer pretentiousness. Which can be terribly messy."

He laughs, but despite his high spirits today (when asked where his head is at he promptly replies, "About to be wedged up Blender's arse!") there's an untouchable sadness about Bono. "Funny, isn't it?" he exhales, having anticipated the turn in the conversation. "The 'man' thing, growing up." He breaks off to quote a new lyric. "Hey, Edge!" Bono shouts. "I've been born again, and again and again and again."

* * * * *

THERE IS A strong feeling in the U2 camp that it's good to have Bono back. Throughout the making of 2000's All That You Can't Leave Behind, the band's frontman had become so immersed in the laudable but all-consuming Jubilee 2000 campaign -- a political and economic initiative to write off Third World debt -- he appeared to have forgotten about the day job.

While three-quarters of U2 sweated, singerless, in the studio, Bono was spending time on Capitol Hill persuading senators and captains of industry to pardon millions of dollars' worth of profit.

"We were worried about how far Bono was getting into it," the Edge admits. "If only for himself. It all worked out in the end, but there were times when we needed him and he wasn't around. There were a few tense moments, definitely."

But this time round, Bono is fully on message. Although he has wholeheartedly taken up the cause of bringing to the world media the horror of AIDS in Africa, he hasn't shirked in his duty to U2.

That said, first-time listeners may come away with the belief that this is "an Edge album." Guitars -- great, chiming armies of them -- come at you from all angles. He even dusts off his echo-laden clang that once prompted Bob Dylan to remark to Bono, "Everyone's going to remember your songs, it's just that nobody's gonna be able to play 'em."

Edge chuckles, "You get into that thing where you're worried that you sound too much like yourself. But that's what I sound like. I can't help it, that's how I play the guitar. I think I just stopped worrying about it."

"There's even a reference to Boy," Bono boasts, and mimics the guitar harmonics that baffled more conventionally minded musicians back in 1980.

"Drang, dur-ang!"

* * * * *

BLENDER IS IN the shower the following morning when Bono calls. But, as any friend of the Sonic Leprechaun will confirm, he's not a man easily deterred by voicemail. He chats freely, and even gives regular weather reports.

Bono has been up for hours, boxing -- getting in shape for the upcoming world tour -- listening to music, strolling on the beach, jotting down ideas.

"I've been trying to meet the muse on the way home rather than walking her home," he jokes, but, being Bono, he's also had a few more serious thoughts.

"I don't know whether we should talk about the Presidential election," he says. "You see, I'm not going to come down on one side or another. I'm bipartisan. There, I've come out and said it. So it might be a cool thing not to discuss it anyway. I dunno."

A month later, Bono and his wife Ali are in bold attendance as John Kerry makes his Democratic Convention acceptance speech (with its suspiciously Bono-like "I'm reporting for duty" opener). The speech segues seamlessly into U2's "Beautiful Day."

* * * * *

BACK AT THE PAPAYA Beach bar, Larry Mullen, U2's ageless drummer, casually lifts his shirt, revealing abs on which you could grate carrots. The intake of breath from the women -- and a few of the men -- in the room is audible. Oblivious to this sudden lack of oxygen, Mullen idly scratches his stomach and lowers his narrow behind onto a convenient sofa.

Bono will tell you two facts about Larry Mullen Jr. (and rarely has the "Junior" been so apt): He is resistant to the ravages of time because, like Dorian Gray, he keeps a painting in his attic that ages horribly every year while Mullen preserves his boyish looks. He calls this hideous image "Bono." Secondly, never get into a fight with Mullen because he's always got a backup. "He might not necessarily thump you," Bono explains, "but you never know who's around the corner."

But right now, the taut, tough beat-master is observing a cute kitten as it skitters across the bare boards toward him. The tiny ball of fur, no bigger than one of his sneakers, suddenly lunges and the fearless drummer shrieks like a girl. "I hate cats," he shudders, pathetically attempting to regain his composure. "I had a horrible experience with one as a child."

By way of a distraction, Mullen rhapsodizes about the bands that U2 cut their teeth with on the London club circuit.

"You listen to some of the records now and they're still brilliant," he enthuses. "Echo and the Bunnymen and Teardrop Explodes' first albums. Great songs. They really stand up. They had a real confidence and presence about them. I've been listening to all that stuff again recently."

Could the reemergence of the Edge's classic guitar sound, the reappearance of Steve Lillywhite (producer of U2's debut) and Mullen's reacquaintance with the School of 1979 suggest a midlife crisis? A 40-odd-year-old yearning for long gone youth?

"Possibly," says Clayton, who has in recent years taken on the clean and serene demeanor of a plain-clothes Buddhist monk.

Despite his untold millions and a bulging property portfolio, he appears to have renounced the material world and wears the comfortable sandals of a man who has seen the error of his drug-gobbling, supermodel-bothering ways. "We had a lot of fun back then," he smiles wryly.

Ask Bono when was the last time U2 went out together and let their hair down, and he'll preface his answer with "Well, of course Adam doesn't drink..." before adding, "but we've had some pretty wild games of Scrabble." Then, "Sometimes we'll still pour petrol on our heads, light a match and see what happens."

But, in their well-loved jeans and favorite Ts, U2 has never been about outlandish decadence or conspicuous consumption. It's well known that they own large chunks of Ireland, with enviable slices of French and American real estate on the side. But their business affairs, suavely conducted by their manager and "fifth member" Paul McGuinness, have always been the very model of gentlemanly discretion.

Bono might share a sandwich with Bill Gates and have the Clintons around for dinner, but, given the choice, he would still take them to the local pub in his battered Volvo. He is certainly one of the few stars with the Pope's home number on speed-dial, but what did Il Papa get as a cathedral-warming gift? Some cheap sunglasses and a stubbly kiss.

While U2 have outwardly succumbed to the more vulgar rock-star trappings -- Elevation Air, a 40-seater 727 jumbo jet with staff pilots and stewardesses was the chosen means of transport for their last tour -- such investments often make sound financial sense.

They've bought the houses, the Harleys, the holiday haciendas and, in Bono's case, a couple of sheep, but they've all learned, often the hard way, that "a house doesn't make a home."

Hence, we find ourselves once again gawking like teenagers at Paul Allen's floating gin-palace -- the 413-foot Octopus turns out to be one of three such yachts he owns -- which is virtually obscuring the perfect sunset behind it.

Bono has allowed himself a beer and is attacking the house salad with commendable zeal. He orders carpaccio of squid with French fries and mayonnaise ("God's own fish 'n' chips") for his guests and selects several bottles of the robust local rose with the air of a regular who won't be needing the wine list, merci.

Over dinner, Bono frets about tomorrow's shoot for the album cover. He wants to portray the band as friends who have made it into their 40s and accept each other, faults and all. Perhaps, Bono suggests, a picture of U2 sitting around a cafe table drinking coffee and talking? Or maybe, he teases, just a shot of a muscular drummer diving naked into the ocean.

This idea seems remarkably popular with all but one person here tonight.

"Feck that," says Mullen.

Before Bono slips his feet into his thick-soled sandals, preparing for the short walk home, his features take on a beatific glow. "How do you dismantle an atomic bomb?" he asks. In the absence of any sensible reply, he removes his glasses and lowers his voice to a whisper. "With love," he says. ["HEE HEE HEE;;;;" - Bun, @U2 Extra Special Editor]

"And a lot of care," Mullen adds.

As always, it takes Bono an age to leave. An incurable socializer, he drifts around the restaurant, gossiping with the early diners and trafficking wine to the outside tables. "So what have you been doing with yourself?" asks an attractive older lady and Bono, international powerbroker, suddenly becomes a tongue-tied schoolboy. "Well, we've finished our new record," he stammers, "which is...really good. We've just got to get the songs in order and it's kind of finished."

* * * * *

THESE WORDS RING hollow the following evening when, at the end of a publicity shoot, the Edge goes to his boombox to check the running order he's been tweaking all day, only to discover the disc is missing. The fact slowly dawns that U2's album has been stolen.

As there are only a handful of complete copies in existence, the potential for bootlegging is immense. The French police are called, and the U2 organization goes into smoothly efficient overdrive. Two years' work and millions of dollars are at stake. People in high places are contacted. The Edge is behind himself with worry; Bono is bullish; Mullen is very quiet, and Clayton retains a Zen-like calm. As they weren't planning to release the album until November, four months away, they need a solution -- and fast.

"U2 Still Haven't Found What They're Looking For" crow the newspapers the next morning as the story breaks. But the band has a plan. Should even one track appear on the Internet they will release the whole album through iTunes immediately. Other than that, they'll have to wait.

"Well, that's our holidays fucked," says Bono bravely and casts his mind back 24 hours to less stressful times.

He was sitting in a bar by the beach, staring at the sea and wondering what the four members of U2 will be doing at age 80.

"God willing, we'll be in the snug of a Dublin pub," he says smiling, regarding his band mates with fatherly affection. "Larry will still look 25 years old. Adam will be sitting cross-legged having found nirvana and the Edge will be sipping a pint of Guinness, taking it all in, saying, 'I've just had a thought...' "

And Bono?

"It's a fairly safe bet," says Mullen, squinting into the middle distance, "that Bono will probably still be talking."

� Blender, 2004.

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Old 10-17-2004, 10:23 AM   #2
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One big revelation here is that it was Larry's idea to cut Mercy. Mercy is described here as a song any other band would be proud to call a single. I will admit when I first learned that the album would only be 11 tracks, I was disappointed. I mean, it has been FOUR years, I was hoping for 12-13 tracks. But after reading this article, I can respect their decision. It is obvious that they really care about the flow of this album to sacrafice a song like that. The track order as it currently stands will most likely blow us away! Mercy, even though it may be a great song, probably stuck out in the track order and messed up the flow. I really hope this makes it as a b-side, I can't wait 4 years for this to show up on the next album!
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