“And I think that gave us the sort of courage to pour our lives into it. It’s been amazing. It’s been a hell of a ride.”
U2 came together as teens back in 1978 while attending Mount Temple Comprehensive school in Dublin. Bono’s wife Ali, the former Alison Stewart, was also a student at the time; they began dating the same month as U2 formed.
Bands come and bands go; they fight and break up, and often they never make up. But U2 is different.
The relationships between the four members can naturally be testy at times, especially when they’re creating new music, but at its core U2 is glued together by an abiding respect and admiration. Simply put, Bono loves these guys, and clearly the feeling is mutual.
How have they managed to stay together longer than many marriages?
“Well, I don’t know who said it, maybe it was Neil Young, but to really, really know someone you need to know their memory,” Bono said.
“It helps if you know their memory, that’s for sure, and if you know the things that bond them. These are very deep relationships because we don’t just know where each other has come from, but we’ve also seen each other take shape and form.”
They’ve had their moments, Bono admits, “but in general people return to their basic values, and we share a lot of basic values.”
U2 has an incredible catalog of work that was built to last. Generations from now won’t remember a flash in the pan like Miley Cyrus, but U2, like the Beatles and Rolling Stones now, has surely earned its historical place.
Bono, though, isn’t completely sure of that.
“Well, you never know,” he says. “You hope that might be true, that if you can be really relevant in the moment, in the time that you’re in, that perhaps it give you a type of quality. But I don’t know because you can’t tell.
“I mean, there have been surprises over the years. In the 1970s, the music that people thought would be timeless for the period, a lot of it sounds like rubbish now. And the kind of music that we thought would be shallow and uninteresting and a bit bland has turned out to be incredible.
“Look at Abba. That’s like folk music now. I love Abba. And I like disco music. I like all that stuff. Some of my friends look at me like I’m from outer space when I try to explain to them the genius of the Bee Gees.”
When asked about the current state of pop music, Bono feels there’s a place for everyone.
“I think that the world needs all music, and if you’ve got a great song on the radio your day is just better for it,” he says. “We need pop music. It’s a big thing in the world.
“Rock radio plays us, and every so often we’re on pop radio. We love to be on pop radio. Because, you know, when you’re walking down the street or getting out of a taxi and you hear songs coming out of a boutique or whatever, you can just feel the pulse of a city.
“I remember when Marvin Gaye’s ‘Sexual Healing’ was everywhere in New York, coming out of every possible place. It was the pulse of Manhattan. There are moments when that happens, and those are great moments.”
U2 is hardly through with making more of their own moments. Bono talks excitedly about recent studio work and a fruitful collaboration with Brian Burton, better known as Danger Mouse, half of the former duo Gnarls Barkley with Cee-Lo Green.
“You know, there might be life in the old dog yet!” Bono says.
“We’ve hit a vein. We’re working with this special soul, Brian Burton. He listens in a very different way.”The sound, Bono says, is hardly old school U2.
“There are things that have always been in our music but maybe not being accentuated. It’s really very, very different. It’s shocking how different it is.”Edge, Bono says, is on fire. “He’s unbelievable when he works. I feel very sorry for his family,” Bono laughs. Larry and Adam are also pumped.
“There’s a bass line coming up that you literally cannot believe. It’s just unbelievable. So yeah, it’s exciting.”But Bono isn’t putting a timeline on when the music will be finished, or even if it will see the light of day. If the band isn’t completely thrilled with the end result it will go nowhere.
“We can still spoil it, and you know, I could be wrong,” Bono says. “And if so then people will not hear from us because there would be no reason for us to be around.
“There’s no sense of entitlement with these men. They are absolutely, you know, as honest right now as they were when making our first album, Boy.
“They don’t expect there to be an audience for us every time we go and put an album out. We have to dig down very deep.”
THERE’S the music, and then there’s Bono the activist and humanitarian. His advocacy work is hardly a hobby or a break from the day job. Highlighting the dreadfulness of life in Africa for so many is very much his life’s passion. His African awakening has unfolded in many parts. There’s Bono the hands-on activist, visiting camps and orphanages and schools to see first hand what’s unfolding on the ground.