Thankfully, his self-deprecating wit is rarely far behind. “It’s a bit of a shame that you have bad hair in one of the greatest moments of your life,” he recalled wearing the award-winning 1985 day when U2 rocked more than a billion TVs with Live Aid. Mullet.
He knew enough ink had been spilled on the historical connection of pop culture and activism to one day shatter the myth of the outsider rock star and terrorize its followers into a new era of consciousness in one flat blow. But for the man who stole the show and went with the flow, Africa was a turning point: first as a concept, then as a lived experience that would accelerate U2’s goals and, to the growing horror of the other members, bring him Into the stinky corridors of real political power.
There are plenty of rock star stories here. Showcasing close-ups with Dylan, Bowie, Prince and Michael Hutchence; dreamlike encounters with Harry Belafonte and the thundering ghosts of Martin Luther King. Maybe it’s a sign of the devaluation of rock and roll memoirs, with world leaders—Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela, Angela Merkel, George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Rupert Murdoch—the closed-door meeting is even more gripping, as the author gradually takes on the weight of the real world.
With Zoo TV’s High Line spectacle and PopMart’s blunders and infamous iPod crash fading into the background, Bono lets us get sucked into the far less sexy drama of HIV drug treatment and Third World debt cancellation, which is No small feat, a sprawling undertaking that required him to “absorb the tedious details that pay for political change.” Not a slogan. Not sound clips. Just serious work.”
That’s why so many rock fans hate Bono. He’s the one who calls the party down with a loudspeaker and makes the announcement. He gets it. “You have to be skeptical of rock stars, supermodels, actors or billionaires queuing up for photos with the sick and dying,” he wrote. “I doubt it.” The tricky art of political compromise, “white messianic syndrome” and the distinction between charity and justice are humbling lessons to be learned.
As U2 inevitably retreats into nostalgia’s dead zone, many of Bono’s 40 songs will continue to sing: priceless balm to increasingly difficult times. Ironically, a passive return is not an option in the grand scheme of things he insists on. “The arc of the moral world does not tilt toward justice,” he wrote, daring to contradict Dr. King. “It had to be bent … it had to be dragged and kicked and screamed all the way down the line.”
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