Bono sat with PBS and CBS newsman Charlie Rose last week for a fascinating interview about his activism and future music with U2 among other subjects. The hour-long session flew by as Bono shared all kinds of stories about American politicians and tech leaders, and how they’re shaping a new way forward on the continent of Africa.
Bono and the late, ultra-conservative U.S. senator from North Carolina, Jesse Helms, would have been the unlikeliest of allies, but that’s exactly what they were when it came to the fight against AIDS. Helms, Bono told Rose, was a convert when the call to action came, though U2 bandmate The Edge was appalled by Bono’s new pal.
Edge’s wife Morleigh comes from an American family deeply involved in the arts, Bono said, and Helms had hacked funding for the National Endowment for the Arts to bits.
Edge begged Bono not to meet the controversial politician, to no avail. “I did meet him, and he proved incredibly efficient in turning around evangelicals and skeptics on the right. Indeed he repented for the way he thought about AIDS, and he turned up for [African] debt cancellation,” Bono told Rose.
“And then he did one thing worse. He turned up at a U2 show . . . I asked him what he thought afterwards and he said this fantastic thing: ‘I looked out on those people, their hands waving in the air, and they looked like a field of corn in the wind.’”
Bono has befriended Helms and many other conservatives because he sees the issue of aid to Africa as a strictly bipartisan one, he told Rose.
“The single through line for me was not to divide the audience, not to go to the left or to the right, but find some sort of radical center. Let’s talk to everybody,” he said.
America, Bono added, has played the leading role in the fight against AIDS on the African continent. “It’s a heroic story. You are way out in front . . . of the over eight million people that are on antiretroviral drugs, most of them are alive because of America.
“Do Americans know that? Do people know they are part of this incredible story? To me this is as heroic as your intervention in the Second World War and no lives down, just lives saved.”
Bono also gave high praise to President George W. Bush and his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice.
“We [were] knocking down his door, telling him it is possible [obtaining AIDS drugs for Africa]. Lots of people around him were saying it’s not possible. Then Condoleezza Rice goes and says it might be possible, [chief of staff] Josh Bolton says it might be possible . . . eventually he got the support of the evangelical community, the religious conservatives, and wow, what’s happened! It’s really extraordinary.”
Democrats, Bono added, got the relief ball rolling. “Remember John Kerry brought in the first bill. The Democrats were there. Nancy Pelosi went into government to fight domestic AIDS so it was left and right. It just proves that in this awfulness that you’re in the middle of now, that if people get together across the political divide then anything is possible.”
President Obama, Bono said, may make a trip to Africa this year, and like a good businessman, he’s looking for results from American involvement.
“His tour of the continent of Africa would just be the more extraordinary thing. I cannot wait,” Bono said.
“His relationship with the continent is completely horizontal. He hates the verticals and so do they. He’s all about self-reliance . . . he’s a transformative character. He likes big ideas and he’s been great, very affable with me personally and I appreciate that.”
Though the thrust of Bono’s interview with Rose centered on his decades-long work trying to make Africa a better, healthier, more stable place, the U2 frontman made one thing crystal clear – if he didn’t have music and his bandmates – and indeed his wife Ali of more than 30 years – he’d have nothing.
“Music is my drug of choice,” Bono said. “Songs are everything to us in the band. When they arrive, and they have been recently, it’s incredible.”
Bono didn’t put a timetable on a new U2 release. “Does the world need another U2 album? I’m not sure. There are so many of them out there . . . for sure they don’t need it unless it’s great,” he said.