Authors: Michka Assayas,Michka Assayas
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Copyright Â© 2005, 2006 by M. Assayas
Cover design by Andrea Ho
Front cover photography by Andrew MacPherson, courtesy U2 Limited
Back cover photographs of the author and Bono by Lorna MarÃ©caut
Book design by Stephanie Huntwork
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RIVERHEAD is a registered trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
The RIVERHEAD logo is a trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First Riverhead hardcover edition: April 2005
First Riverhead trade paperback edition: April 2006
Riverhead trade paperback ISBN: 978-1-1012-1805-1
The Library of Congress has catalogued the Riverhead hardcover edition as follows:
Bono: in conversation with Michka Assayas.
Making or distributing electronic copies of this book constitutes copyright infringement and could subject the infringer to criminal and civil liability.
TO MY CHILDREN: ANTOINE AND EVA AND TO HIS: JORDAN, EVE, ELIJAH, AND JOHN
I'd like to thank Bono first. He certainly has confirmed his self-awarded reputation of being the world's most faithful
unreliable friend. Bonoâthanks for your time, though I had to fight for it, and, above all, your invaluable trust and generosity. I doubt a thousand bottles of Chablis Premier Cru will repay that. But I can try small installmentsÂ .Â .Â .
If it weren't for Catriona Garde, these conversations would not have happened. Catrionaâyou had the patience of an angel in the midst of chaos. I think this halo is getting bigger by the minute.
Paul McGuinness, Edge, Adam, and Larryâthanks for letting him do this. Hope you won't be pulling a face once you've read it.
Aliâthanks for your hospitality in Killiney and Nice. Hope you'll love your cameo.
I would also like to thank Sheila Roche and Dennis Sheehan for their help in Bologna; Susan Hunter, Nadine O'Flynn, and Candida Bottaci at Principle for helping me in Dublin; Christophe and Lorna MarÃ©caut in Niceâyou've been wonderful.
Ed Victorâyou always said the right thing at the right moment. But your best advice materialized on four wheels. Not forgetting everyone at the agency: Maggie, Linda, Abi, Edina, Cristina, Hitesh, GrÃ¡inne.
Andrew Nurnbergâthanks for your encouragement.
Bill Flanaganâwe had a great conversation too. Your advice was a rare thing.
Josh Beharâthanks for your enthusiasm.
Julie Grau, Katy Follain, Nick Davies, Olivier Nora, Jean-Paul Enthovenâthanks for your support.
Not least, Claraâthanks for helping me believe in what I've done here.
I thought I should drop you a short note on our book project. I just read it back: verbose, pretentious, immodestâand revealing. I wish I didn't recognize myself, but I do. No full stops or commas; long answers to short questionsâannoying questions sometimes, but always in the pursuit of truth.
I don't know why I agreed to this, but I did. It probably relates to your first chapter. To be serious for a second, I thought I had gotten away from my father's death. I thought I had escaped lightly into busyness and family. I've always considered myself as good at wailingâ“keening,” we call it in Ireland. But, as it turns out, I'm better at other people's tragedies. There's no obvious drama in the slow extinguishing of a well-lived life to a common scourge like cancer, but it had a dramatic effect on me and seems to have set off some kind of chain reaction. Maybe you're right, this is as close as I'll get to introspection.
Ali says I haven't been myself and should go on and talk to somebody
about what must have been a complicated childhood. She says I'm angry about something, and for fear of her own wrath, I seriously thought about it, but concluded I was too busy.
You, Michka Assayas, became that opportunity to look back into the house of my various lives and tidy my room.
Your exhibitionist patient,
What does it take to get Bono on the couch? As he confesses here, “I never talk at length with anybody who's writing or recording. They're usually drinking.” It's hard for me to say exactly why I became Bono's talking, drinking, and writing pal, but I can try to explain how it happened.
I first came face-to-face with Bono and U2 in May 1980, in what appears to me as a different lifetime. I sported a kind of bowl haircut then and wore spectacles with thick gray plastic frames. I was trying for a “new wave” preppy lookâwide-striped yellow and wine polo shirt and black baggy trousers, tightened over the ankles. It was my first week as a music reporter for a Paris-based magazine called
Le Monde de la musique.
I was not a fraud, but I felt like one. I mean, I was twenty-one, with a degree in French literature and an approximate grasp of the English language.
Le Monde de la musique
was a very serious and sad-looking magâit was printed in black-and-white and was mainly devoted to covering opera, prestigious conductors, and jazz virtuosos. They viewed rock music as a
which was their way of referring to the latest
musical trends coming from London. For my first assignment, they sent me there to check out the scene and suss out the Zeitgeist. The
New Musical Express
was my bible then. Each week, its writers Paul Morley and Ian Penman would champion some obscure band from Manchester whose first single (and choice of haircut and record sleeve) was supposed to set off an aesthetical and existential earthquake. I would write down the names of these bands and managed to meet most of them. Some were greatâYoung Marble Giants, especially, who made just one extraordinary album,
before vanishing. Some were goodâPsychedelic Furs, the Monochrome Set. Some wereÂ .Â .Â . well, interesting. U2âI didn't know them. I hadn't listened to a single note of their music before I set off to interview them.
The four members of U2 shared a Spartan two-room furnished flat in Collingham Gardens, near South Kensington. They struck me as incredibly warm and welcoming people. I found myself immediately under the spell of that voluble little guy from Dublin with the broad smile and funny name; I remember listening to him, dreading somehow that the music wouldn't be as good as the talk. Most musicians I'd interviewed were kind of nonplussed by my abstract questioning, probably wondering what the hell that French windbag was sputtering about. Not Bono. He looked as overexcited and insecure as I was, eager to dive into what I thought were deep subjectsâthe importance of youth cults in London, how U2 refused to fit into them, how the utterance of the soul had been tragically neglected in modern music, etc. To make his point, he'd try out different ideas, getting more and more heated in the process. His face would light up when he'd eventually hit upon the right one. The place was so small he'd walk and bump into walls while talking (now I remember that all of U2 would unfold their sleeping bags in the same room). I kept developing instant theories about practically everything that went through my head. What I didn't fully grasp myself, Bono would get anyway. (To quote Bob Dylan's words in
“When Bono or me aren't exactly sure about somebody, we just make it up.” So I have
company.) I've kept other visual memories from that day: The Edge's jeans, covered with punk graffiti, his benevolent smile and measured speech; Adam's smile too, albeit of a more mischievous kind; and Larry, looking like a fifteen-year-old, hanging his head throughout the interview. At the end of it, they gave me a copy of their first single on Island Records, “11 O'Clock Tick Tock.” It had a navy-blue sleeve, with black “new wave” streaks. To no immediate availâI had no turntable while in London. So I had to see them play live in order to decide if the music measured up to the talk.
That very night, U2 performed in a pub called the Hope and Anchor. Or was it the Moonlight Club? I can't be sure. There weren't many of us there: about seventy, I would say. I felt excited and embarrassed at the same time. When a club is half full, it looks like everyone involvedâband, audience, club ownersâmight have made the wrong decision. Thinking back on that night, I remember this tall guy with long hair who stood in the audience right in front of the low stage, totally pissed, ranting loudly and cryptically between numbers. I watched him, wondering if he was going to attack someone, on or off the stage. But the band didn't seem to care. A punk singer would have attacked the troublemaker, or encouraged the crowd to do so, would have fed on the tension anyway. Not Bono, not U2. They didn't seem to see or hear that tiresome chap. Bono probably climbed on the PA stacks, or something to that effect. In hindsight, I think he and U2 were sort of blind to the people there. We weren't a particular audience in a particular club in London, but rather a kind of makeshift template for the ideal audience, while U2 themselves were not this particular band from Dublin, but a makeshift template for the ideal band. Although they were quite aware there were only seventy of us there, they were busy focusing on something greater though invisible. I guess I was busy focusing on that too. Both band and audience felt the presence of an unborn beauty that night. We made a connection; it has been a strong one ever since.
During the first half of the eighties, I would champion U2 and
steadfastly review their records and concerts in
Rock and Folk
(a monthly magazine) and
(a daily). When Bono and Edge first visited Paris, I took them to Notre-Dame; it was their idea, not mine. I still have the sight of Bono breaking through the traffic, limping across like the hunchback of Notre-Dame. That was
while Steve-O was still in kindergarten. I couldn't swear to it, but I am almost certain that Bono had his first meal in a Parisian restaurant in my company. I'd go to see U2 backstage regularly. In that long-forgotten era, they didn't apply the concept of military security to music groups. Caked with sweat, Bono looked like a groggy boxer. What I loved about U2's music is that it had a sort of inspired clumsiness to it. They'd be daring in an unrealistic wayâthat was the utopian and retro part of itâbut, at the same time, quite aware of their limits in a very realistic way, and determined to make the best of it by producing the biggest and most visceral noiseâthat was the punk and contemporary part of it. They were too unhip for the hip, and, for a while, too challenging for the unhip. They were entering a wide empty continent, still unpopulatedâthat long white frozen steppe you'd see them riding horses on in the “New Year's Day” video. Lots of people would eventually follow them and colonize that wide open space, but in those days it felt lonely and bleak; you weren't really sure you wouldn't be left stranded and forgotten about, stuck there with those clueless Irish people and feeling silly about yourself.
The Joshua Tree
was released and went to number one on nearly every list. Some people thought U2 were the new Rolling Stones. This was ironic because with each new record they made, the band thought it was committing commercial suicide. And each time, success came back with a vengeance, as if irritated by their contempt for it. It took the arrogance of their wanting to make a “pop” record about ten years later (
) to bring about (relative) commercial disappointment. Like most critics, I'd enjoyed being there and being part of it, but I'd rather push the “fast forward” button on their outright colonization of the music world. Even though I thought some of their songs were great,
my heart simply didn't beat at the same pace. So I lost track of them. A sort of shyness overcame me too. These guys were becoming superstars, and that created a kind of awkwardness. The thing is, U2 didn't need people like me anymore. So it felt natural to take a back seat. Sure, I thought
was great, but nobody needed to hear that from me.
A few years later, I grew out of this shyness. That unbending suspicion I had about huge success was quietly loosening. So I took a kind of ex-boyfriend initiative. In 1997, I phoned the editor of the French weekly magazine
and asked him to send me on assignment to interview Bono and Edge, who were then promoting the
album. I guess I wanted to know whether the past was somehow still breathing inside of us. Because inasmuch as I had been irrelevant to U2's destiny for such a long time, I felt U2 had become irrelevant to my life for too many years. Unconsciously, something inside me rejected this notion and wanted to make it right. So I went back to Dublin for the first time in thirteen years. When he entered the hall of Hanover Quay studios and saw me waiting there, Bono looked flabbergasted, as though I had come back from the dead. Then he came up to me and gave me a long, silent hug. He kept on saying: “I had no idea it was youÂ .Â .Â . I had
Â .Â .Â .” In the blink of an eye, thirteen years were reduced to a speck of dust. We walked down to a pub, and pretty soon I forgot about the Che Guevara cap and the cigarillo. I remember I confided my skepticism about the whole Zoo TV thing, and we had a bit of an argument about it. It felt we were simply resuming the ongoing conversation we had started out in Collingham Gardens. I realized that, in my mind, it had never broken off.
On my way back to Paris, I started searching for a reason to see more of Bono in the future. That's when I thought of collaborating on a book with him. I proposed to follow U2 during the PopMart tour, keeping a sort of diary. But Bill Flanagan had already written
U2: At the End of the World,
and done a fantastic job. Bono and I talked on the phone, and he said that the band would have agreed to it, except for Larry, who had apparently said: “I don't want to be in a book ever again.” When the
PopMart tour stopped in Paris a few months later, I was there. The following morning, when I came home, a message had been left on my answering machine. A sort of breathy voice came out: “This is an old Irish friendÂ .Â .Â . I called out your name during the show, did you hear it?Â .Â .Â . I have a terrible hangover.Â .Â .Â . You can call me back, I am staying at the Royal Monceau, under the name Penny.” I couldn't make it this time. We had to wait for four more years. Not such a long time, according to our standards.
In July 2001, U2 gave a most extraordinary performance at the Palais Omnisports de Bercy, in Paris. I went backstage and congratulated Bono. He looked at me with this intense gaze of his and, completely out of the blue, just said:
“We've got to make a book together.”
Really? During the show, he'd shouted out my name from the stage (again), during the break in “I Will Follow,” when he recited a list of all the places that U2 had played in Paris. So, that's it. The singer from the number-one rock 'n' roll band in the world calls out your name in front of twenty thousand people. Somehow, you've got to answer that call.
I wrote a letter to Bono after that night, saying:
Here we are in 2001. You give one of the best performances of your career, and everything seems utterly natural to me: talking to you, linking the past and the present, etc. So an idea crosses my mind. You know, there is this tradition of books made not about, but with painters, writers, or cinematographers: some interviewer stages a series of dialogues centered on one specific aspect of their life and work (let's say: childhood and beginnings, their relationship with a particular artist, their achievements and failures, etc.), and then it gets published as a dialogue, a conversation. I find these sort of books very enjoyable, because they are quite the opposite of typical “rock books.” Of course, one could argue that you are still relatively young to do this. But you know better than I do that 23 years of experience in your field means very old and wise. If this is meant to be,
it will be. But if it's notÂ .Â .Â . well, you know it might still happen when we're 60.
So here we are. In August 2001, at the end of the Elevation Tour, Bono lost his father. Months later, he agreed to start working on these interviews. While we were talking, I often felt that Bono and I resembled two elderly people in a convalescent home, with all the time in the world. Well, that's not really true, because Bono would usually break it off with his usual phrase “I'm gonna have to run”âwhich he duly did. When it stopped, I always felt I was waking up from a dream, but those were deep dreams, and urgent ones. In the words Bono used to sum up my approach, “I went straight for the jugular.” I gave each conversation everything I had. I kept thinking: this might be the last one, maybe I won't get to talk to him anymoreÂ .Â .Â . But at the same time, Bono's words seemed to spring from a very serene and deep part of himself. He spoke with a compelling quietness and uncanny focus. The conversations were marked by an odd combination of urgency and serenity. It's not so much a paradox as a state akin to being suspended in the eye of the hurricane. I guess some of the greatest music comes from that place. I'd love to believe that a book could come from there too.