Even Bigger Than The Real Thing: Our 1993 U2 Interview

Martin Scholz: Last year we saw Zoo TV — will the Zooropa tour be the same, only bigger?  

Bono: Some of the stuff we do now is quite pertinent to what’s happening not just in Germany but all over Europe—I’m talking about the new fascists. With Zooropa we’re trying to follow the roots of the Berlin Dadaists and use humor to mock the devil, as it were. We’re taking this macho aspect of fascism and poking fun at it. ‘Cause we have it everywhere, even here in Ireland. We don’t know exactly what we have in mind. We’re just experimenting. There is no exact philosophy of Zooropa, it draws on whatever is in the air at the time, whatever is being transmitted—that’s what ends up in the show. 

During the tour you’ll also play the Olympia stadium In Berlin, the place Hitler built for the Olympic Games in 1936. At the moment, people are arguing over whether to begin the Olympic Games of the year 2000 in that same building. Do you have strange feelings when you play in a monument to Nazi architecture? 

Bono: I think it’s important to go to these places. The Hansa Studios, where we recorded Achtung Baby, was used both by the Allies and the SS as a baIlroom. And when we went there you could ask yourself: Are there still any demons here in the room? We had the sense that if there had been any demons, music had driven them out. I think fear of the devil leads to devil worship. And I don’t want to give fascists power to the extent that you might be afraid to go into a building where they once were. We have the same here in Ireland with the provisional IRA—and they’re probably much better organized than the neo-Nazis. They’re a paramilitary group, they have a network, and they’re fascists. They don’t represent a majority, either in the south or in the north of Ireland. Even among Catholics in the north of Ireland they don’t represent a majority. I think we need to stop speaking about these people in hushed tones—we should laugh at them. I would paint the stadium in Berlin pink [laughs]. That’s what I would do. 

You’ve completed work on a new full-length record, Zooropa. But why are you in such a hurry to record a new album before your European Zooropa tour this summer? You could have relaxed, couldn’t you? 

Bono: When we came off the Zoo TV tour, we thought we could go into a decompression chamber and come out the other end normal. We thought we could live a normal life and then go back on the road this summer. But it turns out that your whole way of thinking, your whole body has been geared toward the madness of Zoo TV. So our feet didn’t quite touch the terra firma when we got back to Dublin. So I met Edge: “Are you feeling better?” “No,” he said. So we decided to put the madness on a record. Everybody’s head was spinning, so we thought, why not keep that momentum going, instead of standing on dining tables at nine o’clock and throwing fruits around the restaurant? 

Have you done that? 

Bono: No [laughs], that was a metaphor. It’s this kind of feeling when you want to throw a waiter out of the window. Because on tour, you’re ready to go at nine o’clock. Everything is set for some kind of explosion to go off—and then, back at home, it doesn’t go off. It’s a bizarre thing. 

I met David Coverdale and Jimmy Page recently. They said one shouldn’t present one’s rock extravagance on tour as satire, one should simply enjoy the jet-set life. What do you say? 

Clayton: They’ve obviously only heard The Joshua Tree.

The Edge: So, they’re telling us, we should just enjoy the roller coaster? But how can you take it seriously? You can’t go through that kind of stuff and not see the funny side of it and the irony. Four guys from Dublin in a 727, jetting around in America—it’s just ridiculous. 

But then some people didn’t get the joke. Some said the new Bono, dressed up as an egomaniac in black leather, was even worse than the serious “rock preacher” he was in the years before. 

Bono: [Laughs] Well, if they see it that way, then we’ve succeeded. 

Clayton: I think we miscalculated. If art reflects life, then we were serious. And then, when we weren’t going to be as serious, we didn’t realize how serious everyone else was. It’s very serious out there. And we’re laughing at it. There’s something wrong. 

Bono: We have this idea of the rock star as some kind of malaise. You’ve got to ask yourself: What’s up with it? Is it the trappings? Or is it the music? What is most important? The most boring people can be politically correct, they can form a group, have all the right ideas—and the music is just hogwash. Then you get some asshole, who beats his wife and reads all the wrong papers and—

Larry Mullen, Jr.: —wears sunglasses and a fly suit. 

Bono: [Laughs] Yeah, he might as well wear sunglasses, whatever it is, you can add it all up. But then the music that this character makes may be sublime. You shouldn’t confuse the musician with the music. People expected too much of U2. The only thing that we’re responsible to is the music. And we have a dialogue in that music with our audience, and the rest is nonsense. We used to think that the trappings were very important. We spent the ’80s trying to figure out a way of dealing with money, stardom, and all the bullshit. And in the ’90s, we realized that it wasn’t very important. The music is important. 

And now that you know that, you can sit back in your 727 and have a drink at the bar? 

Bono: If a 727 is the most efficient way of flying ’round with your crew, affording them some kind of life—the only responsibility is to at least not take it too seriously and enjoy it. These are legal vices. They’re unimportant. But it’s quite important that, if your audience is wrapping you, dressing you in the clothes of morality, you take them off. Because that’s not the job of the artist. People wanted to make us heroes, so that then, if we agreed to that job, they could throw stones at us, telling us we were preaching at them. But if we don’t preach at them, they throw stones at us anyway. So it’s all a waste of time. 

Nevertheless, you took part in a protest action against the nuclear power station in Stellafield [England] last year—and you wore all sorts of antinuclear clothes. Is this serious fun? 

Bono: Yeah, it worked. 

Clayton: I think people realized that, if nuclear power wasn’t stopped, everyone would end up looking like that. And these aren’t great clothes to go anywhere. [Laughs] 

The Edge: It’s possible to do what you do with a little bit of wit and also hit some serious issues along the way. Music without any humor and that sense of humanity can get very dreary. 

Before you started your U.S. tour last year you said you didn’t want to get involved In the U.S. elections—

The Edge: Yeah, we lied. 

Bono: But we didn’t know we were lying at that time. 

You even met with Bill Clinton. Don’t you think it’s a bit strange that a rock band from Ireland has such, well, an influence on American politics? 

Bono: You shouldn’t forget that the American President has a great deal of influence on all of our lives—here in Ireland, in Nicaragua, everywhere in the world. 

The Edge: But we didn’t sit down and plan to make a statement on the election. It almost happened by accident as the Zoo TV tour started. Then the George Bush video and the calls from the stage to the White House happened. Our feelings about it started to come through almost in spite of what we wanted. ‘Cause we were very anxious and nervous about making any direct statements. We were aware that we were outsiders, coming in. 

Bono: We even told Clinton that we wouldn’t endorse him. And he was okay about that. But it was, I have to say, very surreal when our prime minister went over to see Clinton. Clinton turned ’round to our prime minister and told him that we played a large role in getting him elected. And I said, “What?” We all scratched our heads over that. 

The Edge: I think Clinton was referring to Rock the Vote—getting people of our generation to vote—when he met our prime minister. 

At the inauguration party, Larry and Adam joined Michael Stipe and Mike Mills of R.E.M. How did this Irish-American joint venture come together? 

Larry: It was a split-second decision. Adam and I said: “Okay, let’s fly over and see what’s happening.” So we went to this party where we met Mike Mills and Michael, ummm…  

Edge: His name is Stipe, Michael Stipe. [Laughs] 

Larry: Well, yeah, Michael Stipe. Then they said that they were going to do a version of “One” on stage and asked if we would like to join them. We were not sure whether—

Bono: Whether you knew the chords. [Laughs] 

Larry: There was a problem. Mike Mills is a bass player and so is Adam. So who was going to play guitar? It was all a bit messy. 

Adam: Mike won. 

Larry: Then we rehearsed one afternoon and it was great. It was nice to get together with a couple of guys who share the same spirit. They’re good people. In fact we’re planning to do an album. 

Bono, what did you think of Michael Stipe singing your song? 

Bono: I thought it was like David Bowie singing “Little Drummer Boy.” 

In the studio, R.E.M. often changes roles—the drummer plays guitar, the bass player hits the drums, and so on. Have you ever thought of giving Bono drumsticks? 

Edge: The closest we’ve come is Adam and I changing roles on “40.” But I don’t think it would be as fruitful an experiment for U2 as it is for R.E.M. 

Bono: You’ll never know how radical a thought that was. [Laughs] We’d have Phil Collins in reverse then.


U2, Part Deux


Like most celebrities of their stature, the members of U2 are protected, boxed in, tracked down, solicited. They smartly control their image. No photographers. No TV crew. 

We hooked up with them at the Factory in Dublin, in the heart of their sound empire. Their studios occupy two whole buildings in the middle of the warehouses of a huge but dying port.

We sat in a cramped office with Bono, smaller and less well-shaven than expected, his energy barely harnessed by his tight black leather pants, and the Edge, calm, reserved, serene. On the eve of their Zooropa tour and album, Bono reflected on the difficulties of a zebra—or a fly—changing its stripes. 

Bono: With Achtung Baby we made ourselves the enemy. People didn’t understand this album because we didn’t talk about our usual causes. They believed that we betrayed them by playing at being stars. Some people took the whole thing at face value. 

Bernard Zekri: All of a sudden it seemed you no longer wanted to be militants. 

The Edge: We will always be militants. 

Bono: This time we just wanted to present our passion differently. In the ’90s, in the matter of political and cultural shake-ups, the comedians will be first in line. Musicians have had their day. Now, as soon as they open their mouths they find themselves under the gaze of the media. 

Jean-François Bizot: Hold on, Bono! Stop saying bad things about Journalism, you little bastard! 

[Taken aback, Bono gives Bizot a dirty look, but doesn’t get too upset.] 

Bono: [Laughs] It seems like this is going to be a good interview. 

Bizot: Kevin Godley, the ex-10cc member who you chose to produce and direct Zoo TV, is quite well known for his work directing television commercials. Was this part of the attraction? 

Bono: We were intrigued by commercials. The idea behind Zoo TV was to catch everything that was happening on the airwaves during the tour. With the satellite antenna that we brought with us, we could pick everything up on stage. What we saw influenced us: the American elections, TV evangelists, pornography, and commercials. People watch a lot of commercials; they’re more instructive than most programs. 

Bizot: We had a little déjà vu while watching your video Zoo TV. Do you know the New York artist Jenny Holzer, who uses this type of electronic anti-establishment sloganeering? 

Bono: Actually, the idea to use this type of text came from Mark Pellington, an American who had worked on our video for “The Fly.” He had worked with Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger…That said, we wrote most of the clichés projected during the show. I collect them like the most beautiful guitar riffs. 

We had started doing this type of thing in the ’70s. We used rolls of wallpaper. We would stick it to the walls on the corner of the street and write slogans on it. The slogans—what they say and how they got there—these elements are also the two most important ingredients of rock: the forbidden and the mysterious! 

Zekri: While capturing and projecting American television every night on tour, you must have surely enjoyed the bastardization of U.S. culture that is prime-time TV. 

Bono: Yes, especially on Thanksgiving Day, their big celebration. [Bono imitates William S. Burroughs’s quavering voice just as it sounds on the Zoo TV video] “Thanks for the wild turkey and passenger pigeons destined to shit out through wholesome American guts. Thanks for Indians to provide a modicum of challenge and danger.” 

Wim Wenders says it best when he says, “America has colonized our subconscious.” It’s for this reason that we did The Joshua Tree, for this reason we confined the album to the desert, for this reason I said: “I live in Ireland but my imagination is on the loose in America.” Amerika, spelled with a K, is the universal America. It is not the geography of America but the idea of Amerika. We would be foolish to deprive ourselves of their good ideas. Popular culture is one that stems from them. This is what sets us apart from England, where there is still a strong resistance against popular culture. In England, they have made pop music legendary, but they hold it in contempt, they still don’t accept it. America’s strong point is that they don’t hesitate. 

Zekri: Have you been subjected to the prejudice of Intellectual types? 

The Edge: Er…yes, English intellectuals. 

Bono: In Germany, they blame rock for the fascination with the Third Reich. Yes, we’ve had to deal with intellectual snobbery. America is not hindered by this. It’s one of the positive things we can envy about them. 

Zekri: There is a long-standing rumor that you wanted to stop U2 in the beginning. That a good review in NME made you carry on… 

The Edge: Most English critics discouraged us from carrying on. And the NME has a love-hate relationship with us. When it comes to us, it goes from genius to useless. Anyway, the English have a problem with the Irish…. 

Zekri: The English have a problem with everyone. [Laughs] 

Bono and the Edge [in unison]: True, true. 

Bizot: They find the Irish simple-minded. 

Bono: That’s our reputation. The Irish have written some of the most beautiful poems, sound philosophical essays, and the world’s greatest novel, James Joyce’s Ulysses… It took Joyce 16 years to get rid of seven centuries of English occupation. 

Bizot: By the way, Joyce wrote it in Paris. 

Bono: I went to the restaurant where Joyce wrote, the Fouquet on the Champs Élysées, and they didn’t let me in because I was not wearing a suit. I went and bought a suit, put a fish in with it, and sent it to them, on behalf of Joyce. 

Bizot: Didn’t you also go to the Parisian hotel where Oscar Wilde lived? 

Bono: Did you know that Wilde exploded in his room? He was bloated with syphilitic gas and he blew up. He had said to some friends in passing: It will be the wallpaper or me, yes, one or the other will have to go. Both their accounts were settled at the same time.

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