U2 frontman Bono is 59, still young, compared to Paul McCartney, 77, and Mick Jagger, 76, who are still touring.
Retirement, or slowing down, seems a remote idea— even as Bono admitted a throat cancer scare and also recalled his bicycle accident.
Bono—born Paul David Hewson—and his bandmates The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr., are on the last six dates of the 2019 edition of “The Joshua Tree” tour—which started in 2017 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the album of the same name.
The tour proceeds to the Philippine Arena Dec. 11.
Here are excerpts of Rolling Stone magazine publisher Jann Wenner’s one-on-one interview with Bono shortly after U2 ended the 2017 “Joshua Tree” tour.
Brushes with death
In 2000, you had a throat-cancer scare, right?
No, it was a check for it. One of the specialists wanted to biopsy, which would have risked my vocal cords—and it turned out ok.
A few years ago, I visited you in the hospital with your arm in some kind of George Washington Bridge structure.
After my bike accident, pretending it was a car crash.
It looked bad, and then the latest thing. That is a lot of brushes with death.
There is comic tragedy with a bike accident in Central Park—it is not exactly James Dean. But the thing that shook me was that I didn’t remember it. That was the amnesia; I have no idea how it happened. That left me a little uneasy, but the other stuff has just finally nailed me. It was like, “Can you take a hint?”
You just finished the “Joshua Tree” tour. Nostalgia is something U2 like to avoid, so what was it like going out and playing an old album every night?
The stance that we took was [to act] as if we had just put out “The Joshua Tree” the week before. So there were no old Super 8 films or anything to give the sense of that time. We felt that its strength was that it had meaning, maybe even more meaning now than it did then. That was the conceit, and it got better and better. We ended with four nights in Sao Paulo, in front of, I think, nearly 300,000 people, and it was quite the crescendo.
I haven’t quite recovered from it. I gave myself to the singing in new ways, but there wasn’t a lot of going out and discovering the places we were playing, the cities that we were playing, which I really love to do. Stepping inside the songs was more of an ordeal than I thought it would be. They are very demanding in terms of their emotional—what word am I looking for—forthrightness.
How did your faith get you through all of this?
The person who wrote best about love in the Christian era was Paul of Tarsus, who became Saint Paul. He was a tough f–ker. He is a superintellectual guy, but he is fierce and he has, of course, the Damascene experience. He goes off and lives as a tentmaker.
He starts to preach, and he writes this ode to love, which everybody knows from his letter to the Corinthians: “Love is patient, love is kind… Love bears all things, love believes all things”—you hear it at a lot of weddings.
How do you write these things when you are at your lowest ebb? I didn’t. I didn’t deepen myself. I am looking to somebody like Paul, who was in prison and writing these love letters and thinking, “How does that happen? It is amazing.”
I do believe that the darkness is where we learn to see. That is when we see ourselves clearer—when there is no light.
I am a singer, and everything I do comes from air. Stamina, it comes from air. And in this process, I felt I was suffocating. That was the most frightening thing that could happen to me because I am in pain… This time last year, I felt very alone and very frightened and not able to speak and not able to even explain my fear.
How do you discover new music?
The band is always listening to music, and I have got my kids. Jordan is a music snob, an indie snob. Eve is hip-hop. Elijah is in a band, and he has got very strong feelings about music, but he doesn’t make any distinction between, let’s say, the Who and the Killers. Or, you know, Nirvana and Royal Blood. It is not generational for him. It is the sound and what he is experiencing. He believes that a rock-’n’-roll revolution is around the corner.
Do you believe it?
I think music has gotten very girly. And there are some good things about that, but hip-hop is the only place for young male anger at the moment— and that’s not good.
When I was 16, I had a lot of anger in me. You need to find a place for it and for guitars, whether it is with a drum machine—I don’t care. The moment something becomes preserved, it is f—ing over. You might as well put it in formaldehyde.
In the end, what is rock and roll? Rage is at the heart of it. Some great rock and roll tends to have that, which is why the Who were such a great band. Or Pearl Jam. Eddie (Vedder) has that rage.
I am holding on to the idea that through wisdom, through experience, you might in some important ways recover innocence.
I want to be playful. I want to be experimental. I want to keep the discipline of songwriting going forward that I think we had let go for a while. I want to be useful. That is our family prayer, as you know. It is not the most grandiose prayer. It is just, we are available for work. That is U2’s prayer. We want to be useful, but we want to change the world. And we want to have fun at the same time.
U2 The Joshua Tree Tour, Dec. 11, Philippine Arena, Ciudad de Victoria, Bulacan; smtickets.com; tel. 8-4702222