U2 – What Rock’N’Roll Has Taught Us

Bono and The Edge on being bad drivers, nearly bankrupting themselves, and laughing at Morrissey.


Being successful doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve compromised your credibility

The Edge: Looking back, there are so many bands that, at different times, were considered to be the zenith of what was important and relevant and resonant but who are now gone. Having lived though the whole rock Vs disco thing, it’s a shock to realise that disco was better than most rock. Bands like the Bee Gees, OK, they had terrible dress sense and not everything they did was great, but their best work is genius.

So that’s kind of our challenge, we’re not surprised that at times we’re written off as being on the wrong side of artistic credibility. There have been so many groups that have tried desperately to hold on to their status of cool and just ended up becoming so bloody safe and repetitive. They end up in a ghetto of their own making artistically.

Morrissey is up there with Bob Dylan.

Bono: I laugh out loud listening to Morrissey albums. Only Bob Dylan and Morrissey make me laugh. Sometimes, I’ll be listening to the music and doing some press-ups and I’ll fall over.

Bono might seem like a saint but he can be a devil when it comes to driving.

The Edge: Bono’s a ‘creative’ driver who sees the rules of the road as helpful suggestions. He’s fine as long as he’s not trying to play you music at the same time, because male brains are more mono-orientated. Female brains have more connections between the two sides – that’s an actual fact.

Men tend to be great focusing on details of things as a result. Bono’s incredible at keeping the wide-angle view, but when he’s driving he really can’t. He has terrified people at different times trying to play our work in his car while he’s driving.

Musicians and politicians can work together – if only because they’re all human beings.

The Edge: I know Bono gets stick for meeting with politicians, but he cares deeply. That’s not so unique – a lot of people out there care deeply – but what probably is unique is that he has opportunities that very few other people have. I think if you were to ask him he would admit to being amazed how successful his initiatives have become, how many of the doors of power have actually swung open and the influence he’s been able to have.

I suppose it says that, in the end, no matter whether you’re the Prime Minister of Britain or the President of the United States or the Chancellor of Germany, you’re a human being and it’s about relationships and it’s about everyone wanting to do the right thing in the end. Whether you want to admit it or not, I don’t think there’s a politician in the world that’s ever got into politics who didn’t want to do the right thing.

If you’re gonna get into politics, one of the great calling cards if you’re doing what Bono is doing is to be bipartisan; this is not about supporting one side or the other in political terms, it’s about just getting the job done with whoever he has to work with.

Don’t underestimate the business side of things.

Bono: The Grateful Dead’s music didn’t connect with me, but as a phenomenon, they’re doing something similar to us. They invest, they were into business – bunch of hippies, but into business. They were early investors in the internet. I think you can be creative in business and if you’re not creative in business, it gets you by the throat.

That’s the other thing that screws bands, you get a few albums and then they’re looking around wondering whether the money went up your nose or on some accountant’s new nose. We’re spending fortunes trying to turn stadiums – which can be ugly, brutal pieces of architecture – into extraordinary places of imagination and soul. And we’re spending fortunes, nearly bankrupting ourselves. But we’ve learned to be savvy about business.

You’d be surprised how far back fans can remember.

The Edge: There was one gig we played at The Lyceum in London – it must have been the early-’80s, because Echo & The Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes were on the same bill I think. Every other act on the bill was sort of shoe-staring, totally cool, 25 minutes getting their hair right, all the rest.

U2 came out, looking like a complete mess and proceeded to just go at our thing with total energy and commitment but in a totally haphazard and uncool way. Bono ended up ripping his pants and freaking out, berating the crowd. There are still people who hate us vehemently for that one performance!

If you’re into playing the guitar, Rory Gallagher is someone you need to know about.

The Edge: Very early on, Rory Gallagher was the first guitar player I really had a connection with, probably because he was Irish. His early albums were really raw and really inspiring and he always had something very interesting on them.

Living in Dublin keeps you grounded.

The Edge: In Ireland, people love us and they hate us. They don’t hate us really, but there’s a kind of healthy disrespect, put it that way. Everyone really wants to bring you back down to earth.

I remember Bono did a guest slot with Bob Dylan early on at Slane Castle, which was a big, big deal for Bono. He did a song with Bob called ‘Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat’ and he had no idea what the lyrics were. But he didn’t wanna say that to Bob, so he did the song and totally made up all the lyrics on the spot – went into a stream of consciousness moment.

After the gig, some guy was at a set of traffic lights in his car and Bono was crossing over the road and he said, ‘I saw you with Bob Dylan there tonight, what the fuck were you talking about there?’ That’s Dublin.

Did You Know?

*U2’s first demo tape was funded by winning a talent show staged in Limerick on St Patrick’s Day, 1978.

*The first U2 single to be released outside Ireland was ‘11 O’Clock Tick Tock’ in 1980 – produced by the now-legendary Martin Hannett.

*Ten out of U2’s 12 studio albums have gone to Number One in the UK.