"Uncertainty…can be a guiding light."
— From "Zooropa," the title track of U2's latest album
Sitting in the Ferryman, a dockside Dublin pub, U2's guitarist, the Edge, speaks about the political crisis in Europe: "The single most powerful feeling we have is of the uncertainty of the situation here. "Nothing really can be taken for granted anymore," he goes on, a Guinness close at hand, as strains of traditional Irish music float in from the bar's main room. "The old ideologies have fallen away. Capitalism won out. You can't even say it was democracy, because ultimately the ground upon which the battle was fought was economics — it was about money. And the West's economy won, and communism is pretty much over."
"Money, money, money
In the rich man's world"
— From "Money, Money, Money," one of the many ABBA songs played over the PA on the Zoo Plane, U2's private tour jet
But rather than the sense that 'Well, that's over — now we can move forward with certainty,' the opposite has happened," the Edge continues. "People are perplexed. Maybe the stability that the Cold War created was the foundation of the West's movement forward, and now that that's gone and we have the resurgence of radical nationalism, people in Europe don't know who they are trying to be. Not only do they not know who they are, they don't know who they want to be. They don't know whether they want to be Europeans, part of the European community or whether they should be fighting to protect their national and ethnic identities.
"Even national boundaries don't mean much anymore. You've got the movement in Italy to partition the country into two or three autonomous states. There's the Basque-separatist movement that's alive and kicking. Northern Ireland is still no closer to a real solution. And Yugoslavia is the most obvious example of where things are starting to dissolve. Sarajevo has been a symbol of this."
"We would like to hear the music, too, but we hear only the screams of wounded and tortured people and raped women."
— A Bosnian woman speaking live by satellite from Sarajevo to 35,000 people at the U2 concert in Glasgow, Scotland, Aug. 8
To the inattentive eye of the Irish regulars and German tourists sucking up beer and whiskey at the Ferryman a few feet to his left, the Edge might have seemed like just another bar-stool philosopher gassing about the issues of the day before heading home to pass out in front of the telly. True, he and his three comrades in U2 — Bono, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. — have spent plenty of time in front of televisions lately.
For the band, however — and in particular the Edge, whose increased musical and conceptual input earned him a co-production credit on the new Zooropa album (he also sang lead on the first single, "Numb") — the pangs of European politics have been anything but remote. In retooling the Zoo TV stadium extravaganza that blitzed the United States in the summer of '92 for European audiences, U2 charged straight into the belly of the beast. The show's opening visual assault on gigantic vidiwalls and banks of televisions now included dramatic footage from Triumph of the Will, Leni Riefenstahl's Nazi propaganda film from the 1930s. Huge flaming swastikas and burning crosses appeared on the vidiwalls during "Bullet the Blue Sky." Meanwhile, Zooropa, the Achtung Baby follow-up the group released in July, chillingly evoked the exhilaration and fear of Europe in the throes of the new world disorder.
During the Zooropa '93 tour, U2's frequent live-satellite transmissions from Sarajevo — in which residents of the besieged city spoke uncensored to stunned stadium crowds — triggered a heated media debate abroad about the ethics of mixing up rock & roll special effects with heart-ravaging disasters.
At one of the Wembley shows in London, Salman Rushdie — who has been in hiding since the late Ayatollah Khomeini sentenced him to death three years ago for blasphemies against Islam in his novel The Satanic Verses — joined U2 onstage in front of 72,000 people. And as if to assume the role in which many commentators were casting the band, Bono replaced his glitzy Mirror-Ball Man persona, the preening narcissist who closed the Zoo TV shows in the U.S., with Mister MacPhisto, an aging, world-weary theatrical devil, complete with horns.
* * *
"Ranking with the major megagigs of the 1970s and '80s, Zoo TV is the best live-music act in yonks. But again, it's like watching and rewatching atrocity footage such as, say, the Zapruder film, and trying to force the reality of it into your head. To paraphrase Bowie: In this context, whether it's Nazi Germany or Sarajevo onscreen, 'this ain't genocide, this is rock 'n' roll!!!'"
— Mic Moroney, Irish Times, Aug. 24
"What's the difference between Sarajevo and Auschwitz?"
"In Auschwitz they always had gas."
— Popular joke in Sarajevo, where gas supplies have been cut off
Bono is stretched out on the Zoo Plane, his legs resting on the seat opposite his own, as the band flies from London to Dublin. It is the evening after the fourth Wembley show — a truly spectacular performance in which Bono and the lads seemed only to gain inspiration from the steady rainfall — and he is tired and hoarse.
He is also hungover. After the show the previous night, the band threw a bash at the Regent Hotel, and given that it was closing night in London and one of the band's management crew was celebrating a birthday, the partying was especially intent. At about 3:30 a.m., Bono switched from beer to whiskey. I left at about 5:30; Bono was still going strong. He's suffering now. The couple of glasses of wine earlier in the day evidently didn't help. "Does anyone feel sick besides me?" he asks no one in particular.
Adding insult to injury, seated next to him is drummer Mullen, official U2 hunk, who always looks fit, groomed and at the peak of health, regardless of the hour, location or extent of alcohol intake.
Mullen: The essence of good rock & roll — it's about confusion on every level. That's what makes Zoo TV so odd. On one hand, you can have Sarajevo, which is real, and then you have to continue on with the show. I mean, even for us, after the Sarajevo linkups we did, carrying on the show was incredibly difficult. People took it in different ways. People took it as "How can you have irony and then be serious?" But that is the point.
Bono: That's TV!
Mullen: That is TV. You can switch the fuckin' channel any time you want. So I think a lot of people missed the point. I understand and accept the criticism, but it's not meant to be easy. It's not like going to a theater show, where you've got a beginning, middle and end. It's a different journey. This is coming to a rock & roll show and watching TV and changing channels.
Bono: It's about contradictions. It's about all those instincts — we have all of them.
"Serious shit — fan letters and murder in the same sentence. I don't like it."
— Bono, switching zoo TV channels at Wembley, Aug. 21, after a news report about a woman who shot an abortion doctor in Kansas. She had sent fan mail to a Florida man who is charged with murder in the death of a doctor outside an abortion clinic.
Bassist Adam Clayton is standing in a gazebo on the estate of Chris Blackwell, the founder and CEO of U2's label, Island Records. It's not a gazebo in the sense that you may have come to understand gazebos. It's shaped like a gazebo, but it's really more like a study, enclosed by glass on all sides, comfortably furnished and perched, surrounded by trees, on the edge of a large pond. In a silent way, the scene is breathtaking.
The U2 gang has driven some 40 miles south from London to spend this gray, cool Sunday afternoon enjoying Blackwell's tasteful hospitality and the secluded beauty of his home and grounds. Strangely, in this serene atmosphere, everyone seems a bit shellshocked. Clayton, smoking, sporting his dyed semi-mohawk haircut and decked out in purple pants, black hiking boots and black vest, takes in the enormous drooping willows, the people pushing small boats out onto the pond, the calm inside this room. He shakes his head.
"I haven't been programmed for an experience like this of late," he says with a laugh. "I feel quite vulnerable. I mean, there's not a TV in sight."
How did you hook up Salman Rushdie with you man MacPhisto?
Bono: In his isolation, I guess he gets to listen to a lot of music [laughs], so he's pretty tuned in. He turned up at our Earls Court show in London last year. We've kept in contact with him here and there. The issue of freedom of speech should be very close to rock & roll. At one stage we talked about sending him a satellite dish, and we would speak to him. We knew he was coming down to the show — which is very rare for him — and so we thought, "Well, look, if you're up for it… you did write The Satanic Verses."
"I also owe U2 a debt of gratitude for the gesture of solidarity and friendship they made by inviting me to join them onstage at Wembley. Not many novelists ever experience what it's like to face an audience of over 70,000 people — and, fortunately for everyone, I didn't even have to sing.
"Afterward I suggested that perhaps we could rename the band U2 + 1? ME2? — but I don't think they were for it. Still, one can always hope."
— Salman Rushdie, Irish Times, Aug. 24
"Rock & Roll — it's the new religion. rock &roll. I have a great interest in religion. Some of my best friends are religious leaders. The ayatollah, the pope, even the Archbishop of Canterbury — I think he's fabulous. They're doing my work for me… Nobody's going to church anymore. Shall I give the archbishop a call?
— Bono as Macphisto, while dialing the Zoo telephone onstage, Wembley Stadium, Aug. 20
"We're not scared of dying, but you can't get used to seeing wounded people everywhere…. Something has to be done to help us."
— A Bosnian woman speaking live by satellite from Sarajevo at the U2 concert in Glasgow, Aug. 9
The Edge: One of our Sarajevo connections had three women. One was a Serb, one was a Croat, one was a Muslim — all Bosnians. All in Sarajevo, all with their own story to tell. One of the girls said the thing that we'd always hoped no one would say — but she did. She said: "I wonder, what are you going to do for us in Sarajevo? I think the truth is you're not going to do anything."
It was so hard to carry on after that. It killed the gig stone dead. It was so heavy. I don't know how Bono managed to carry on singing. It was such a crushing statement.
"If you're watching TV and something serious comes on, you can just change the channel."
— Bono, while channel surfing onstage at Wembley, Aug. 20
Bill Carter, a startlingly fresh-faced 27-year-old filmmaker and relief worker in Sarajevo, sits in the bar at the Conrad Hotel in Dublin and describes how, after he'd traveled from Sarajevo to Verona, Italy, to interview Bono for 13 minutes, the plan for the live-satellite hookup was hatched.
"I had a real serious conversation with Bono and Edge about what was going on," Carter says. "They said, 'Well, what can we do?' That hit me with a huge trip — the largest rock band in the world is asking me what can they do. They wanted to play — Bono and Edge, all of them, really — wanted to come play in the disco in Sarajevo. But it was a difficult time then: a lot of shelling. I went back to Sarajevo and thought about it.
"A few days later, someone in their office called me and said, 'They really want to come — bad.' I wrote a long fax explaining why that shouldn't happen, but what about linking up to the show? They said, 'Let's do it.'
"We'd talk to 70,000 people and hit them with reality on their rock & roll fantasy. That's a huge medium…. In Sweden we got the fiancée of a guy in Sarajevo — she lives in Sweden, his family, too — to come to the stadium. He talked very powerfully about what was happening, and then he spoke to her. She hadn't seen him in 17 months. There she is, a refugee in Sweden, being feted backstage, and then looking up at him on the video. That was a heavy thing.
"We were offering a true human reality. This is one fact that is really important: No one in 17 months had allowed Bosnians — besides the politicians — to speak live to the world. When I first went back to Sarajevo with this idea, ABC News and all the rest, they were like 'Are you nuts? You're going to let someone from here speak live?'
"The trust from U2 to me was tremendous, to say, 'OK, go ahead — you're in a war zone, speak live to us.' They didn't know me. They knew me for one evening."
The Edge: The Sarajevo connection was so different from what you were seeing on the news. It underscored for me the difference between the reality of people telling their stories and the editorialized sound-bite style of most TV news programs, where everything is packaged and contextualized through some sort of journalistic narration. This was raw, unedited, live and at times almost unbearable. It suddenly dawned on me — actually it's something that I've probably known for a long time — that the TV news is now entertainment."
Art is manipulation
Rebellion is packaged
Rock and roll is entertainment
— Mottoes flashed on the video screens during U2's Zoo TV shows
Clayton: It's taken a long time for television to be thought of as rock & roll.
U2's last show at Wembley was attended by, among 72,000 others, Eric Clapton, Robbie Robertson and French singer and film star Charles Aznavour. Aznavour, 68, was asked if he wanted to leave the stadium early in the show when rain began to pour, but he refused, insisting on staying till the end. Among his other current projects, Aznavour is recording a duet with Frank Sinatra for his upcoming album of duets. So is Bono.
Bono wanted to do a version of Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'." "That could have been good," he says, preposterously. Sinatra, displaying his characteristically impeccable taste, refused, suggesting Cole Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin" instead. Understandably, Bono is concerned.
"I don't know what I can do with that," he says. "I'm not going to croon it next to him. I might talk. I want to spook it up, because those Cole Porter songs are spooky. I don't know if you heard that 'Night and Day' thing we did [on the album Red Hot + Blue] — that's where we connect with Cole Porter. They're spooky, fucked-up songs of obsession. Some people perform them so fruity — [belts in lounge-lizard fashion] 'Night and day/You are the one' — it's like whoa! These are really dark pieces of work."
"I listen to Sinatra a lot," Bono continues. "Miles Davis was a great appreciator of Sinatra's phrasing. That turned me on to him, listening to him in a different way. I've seen him about five times. We met him in Vegas — we went backstage, and we were hanging out with him. It was like Rent-a-Celebrity, and we were like gyppos, just knackers. Larry was talking to him about Buddy Rich, who'd just died, and he didn't want to talk about anything else. He came alive. You got the feeling that maybe not a lot of people talk to him about music, and maybe that's what he's most interested in. There were people knocking at the door, big names, and he wouldn't go out. He wouldn't leave the dressing room.
"Then there was a very amusing incident in Dublin. We all went to see him in this big stadium. He was with Sammy Davis Jr. and Liza Minnelli — that tour. We didn't go backstage; we didn't think he'd remember us. But the lord mayor went back to see him, to have his photograph taken with him. When the lord mayor came back to his seat — and this is very Dublin — he kind of leaned over a few rows and said, 'Oh, Bono, Frank was asking for you all.' That might have been the moment!"
Did your role in the band shift during the making of Zooropa?
The Edge: Quite why on this record I've taken a production credit and not on other records is hard to explain. I don't think my role has changed that much. But we're in an age where it's very hard to be clear about people's roles in the making of records.
I suppose I took on a level of responsibility that I haven't on previous records. That meant sitting in with Bono on lyric-writing sessions — just being the foil, the devil's advocate, bouncing couplets around — down to completely demoing some pieces, establishing their original incarnations, which then served as the blueprint when we began to formally record them. And then, generally, just worrying more than everyone else.
We're at a point where production has gotten so slick that people don't trust it anymore. This is something that we were really feeling over the last two records. We were starting to lose trust in the conventional sound of rock & roll — the conventional sound of guitar, in particular — and, you know, those big reverbladen drum sounds of the '80s or those big, beautiful, pristine vocal sounds with all this lush ambience and reverb. So we found ourselves searching for other sounds that had more life and more freshness.
That's something we were talking to Wim Wenders about. He's finding that — because of the way certain images have been stolen by advertising or bad moviemakers — that it's increasingly difficult to use imagery to tell his stories. He's now resorting much more to music and dialogue. He said that on his first movie he spent all his time editing and 10 percent of the time working with music and dialogue. Now it's the reverse. He spends very little time editing — he gets it so that he's happy with the overall series of images, but then he spends all his time working on music and getting the dialogue the way he wants it.
It's really bizarre how things are melting into one another: We're now using imagery to underscore our songs.
Tell me, what was the Edge's role in the making of Zooropa?
Bono: When we start records, Edge is a slow starter. He's not quick to be enthused about a project. But at the end, when everybody else is fading, he's the guy who's up all night for weeks. I mean, I'm allergic to the studio after a few weeks. We wanted to acknowledge the baby-sitting that Edge does.
Brian Eno was coming and going. Flood went to the end when there were mixes to do. I mean, we're all a part of it — we always have been. But Edge is the guy with the screwdriver.
Mullen: And the patience of a saint.
Bono: One of the things that worked about this record is that it was so quick. Edge is so good with the screwdriver, but we didn't give him much time to use it — which was great. He had more of an overall picture because he wasn't so taken up with the details.
There was a lot of publicity around the time Achtung Baby was released about your separating from your wife, Aislinn. How are things going for you personally?
The Edge [long silence]: It's a learning experience, Anthony [laughs]. I'm really no closer to bringing my private life to a conclusion than I was a year ago. I'm getting on really well with my wife, actually. I don't know, I'm feeling very positive about life in general, and that includes my private life. Whatever way it pans out, it's going to be OK. That's another thing that being off for nine months will help to clarify.
When you get off the road, you've got to reintroduce yourself to all your friends and family. We're lucky — we have a lot of very good friends and very patient families. But there is a limit [laughs]. And I think we passed that limit a long time ago.
So when are you and Naomi Campbell getting married?
Clayton: I really don't know. I would say it would be some time next year. We'll take January to have a clear break away from everything. I think in that time we'll decide what's best and how we want to do it. It's kind of a scheduling thing [laughs].
You're taking a rehearsal break, then playing Japan and Australia for five weeks. That will take you till the end of the year. What then?
Bono: One of us has to die in a car accident. One of us has to book into the Betty Ford clinic. One of us should get married. And one of us has to become a monk. We'll have nine months off.
Mullen: It'll be time to do things that we haven't had the oppurtunity to do — and I'm not necessarily talking about solo projects — so that we'll come back with new ideas and start up again. That's the idea. It's not nine months' holiday.
Bono [incredulous]: Jesus!
Mullen: Bono thought he was going to have his holidays [laughs]. I really noticed while we were making Zooropa — because we were all in the studio at the same time — that there were things I wanted to say on a musical basis that I couldn't articulate. I could only say what I felt, and it took so much time to explain. What I'd really like to do is…
Bono: Learn how to speak.
Mullen: What's your problem [laughs]? I'd like to learn how to talk in basic musical terms. The great thing about U2 is that there are no rules: Everyone has the chance to contribute as much or as little as they wish. After 10 years of being on the road, it's time now to advance a bit musically. I really want to learn how to explain myself in musical terms, the basics of music theory.
"The catatonic note-repetitions of the voice part in 'Numb' add up to a clear effect. The use of different texts simultaneously in 'Lemon' works well. It is a technique that seems to have been out of favour since the medieval motet. A lively song this, with its repeated-note accompaniment."
— Dr. Seorise Bodley, composer and associate professor of music, Irish Times, Aug. 24
The U2 management crew, friends and hangers-on pile on a bus that will travel from Wembley to the Regent Hotel in London, about a half-hour trip. It's about 1:30 a.m., the third Wembley show ended a few hours ago, only three shows remain until the end of the European leg of Zooropa '93. It feels like the last week of school.
Bottles of wine are being passed around and someone shouts for music. Someone else pops a cassette in the deck. Over the speakers comes the fanfare that begins "Daddy's Gonna Pay for Your Crashed Car," on Zooropa. An instant collective drunken groan: "Oh, nooooo!"
The Zoo TV show, which starts out so explosively, fades out on a far more ambiguous, introspective note. A desperately searching "Ultraviolet (Light My Way)" is followed by an equally desperate, equally searching "Love Is Blindness." Then comes Bono's eerie, falsetto rendering of Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling in Love." "Elvis is still in the building," Bono says softly, as U2 exits the building and Elvis' own version of the song comes up on the PA. Through all this Bono is dressed as the devil.
What's the meaning of all that Elvis business at the end of the show?
The Edge: Well, we wanted to move away from the well-established and longstanding tradition of ending on "40" [laughs]. It seemed like the only way to make sure we didn't have to.
Really, who else but Elvis could have made that possible? You have to call in the big guns, it always comes down to that.
I think at this stage, yeah. People still start singing "40" at the end of the set. I guess it'll be a while before we can lay that one to rest. People come to the shows who have seen U2 before, and you're constantly having to deal with their expectations as opposed to what you're trying to do. I know there are a lot of people who come away disappointed from the Zooropa show because we didn't play "Sunday Bloody Sunday" or whatever other old song they wanted to hear.
But you close the set proper with "Pride." How does a song as emotionally direct as that fit in with all the irony and media chicanery in the rest of the show?
At the beginning we weren't sure if that was going to work. I think it does work. It may be a bit of a jump to go from something as ironic as Bono as MacPhisto or the Fly and yet pull off "Pride," complete with Martin Luther King on the video screen. But it comes at a part of the concert where to make a connection like that is important. Amid the uncertainty there are certain ideas that are so powerful and so right that you can hold onto them no matter how screwed up everything else is.
"Everybody wants a long life. Longevity has its place. But I don't care about that now. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land!"
— Passage spoken by Martin Luther Kingon the vidiwall during U2's version of "Pride"
There's a really theatrical element to that MacPhisto character.
Bono: The cabaret aspect…I was called by a tabloid photographer, who said, "You know, the fellow you do in the fin-ah-lay" [laughs]. I thought, "Oh, wow."
It's great, your singing an Elvis song in the fin-ah-lay, too.
For me, MacPhisto is sort of sad, bad, not so funny but might be. It's like taking the rock jerk that the Fly is and — if you're going to play him — take him to his logical conclusion, which is when he's fat and playing Las Vegas. It's a bookend to the funky and fucked-up swagger of the Fly.
It's rather poignant. Also, whoever he is now — Jesus or whoever — Elvis once was the devil.
The "devil's music" — that was the thing, wasn't it? The beat. The sadness of that last song, though, that child's voice, that falsetto as the song ends, is the most poignant moment of the show, because, in among all song ends, is the most poignant moment of the show, because, in among all those fucked-up qualities, there's just that little childlike voice. That voice to me is the cover of Boy. If you study those films of Elvis — and I have — there were some very powerful moments as he was in decline. Maybe more powerful than when he was the svelte pop hero.
What's your feeling about the future of U2?
The Edge: I think with Zooropa we were reminded in a very nice way of how special the chemistry is between the musicians in the band. That was an unanticipated surprise, to rediscover how unique this collection of individuals is. I'm feeling very positive about our collaboration — there's a lot more there.
When things get really hairy, you start to think, "Well, maybe I should just excuse myself and wander off into something a little less hectic." Then I start to think, "Well, what would I like to do?" Well, I'd like to play guitar still. And I'm really not into working alone, so I'd like to get a group of people to work with. "And what sort of people would I like to work with?" Well, there are these other three guys that I've been getting on with really well for a while …[laughs]. You end up redesigning the band — again.
What would you like to see happen now as far as U2 and the situation in Bosnia is concerned?
Bill Carter: The ultimate connection would be for whoever in the group wants to come to Sarajevo. But it's critically important that it not be a circus and that nobody know about it. The connection is not for the media, the connection is for the people in Sarajevo. The point is not to announce, "We're going to Sarajevo" — that's pure bullshit. That's useless. They should go in a way that's very personal, to solidify the connection. It would be very powerful.
What would it mean for the people there?
It means a great deal. They have no faith in politics anymore at all. But it's a very cultured city. The Olympics were there 10 years ago. It's like Vienna — it's a beautiful city. U2 are huge cultural heroes, so the connection is important spiritually. They know that U2 speak to a lot of people, especially young people. And if they care, then that means people will remember Sarajevo for at least that little while. Because they're afraid that people are forgetting that they're there.
Clayton: Although it's a confusing time, I think it is genuinely exciting. I think the world is filled with possibilities at the moment.
Any final thoughts as we land?
Bono: How is my hair?