Bono, Behind the Fly: The Rolling Stone Interview

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How much of the hyper imaging of Achtung Baby and Zoo TV was in reaction to that?
I think that we just knew it wasn't fun the other way. This trying to explain yourself – which is what I'm doing right now – wasn't fun.

It's all about imagination, nothing else. Nothing else is important. It's not about scale – big, small, independent, alternative, anything. Whether you earn a million dollars or lose a million dollars. None of it really matters. What matters is the work and the imagination of the work.

We used to have this thing about our image: "What image? We don't have an image. We're playing with images, like the desert or whatever, and we dress in a way that is sympathetic with the music, but it's not an image." And finally, I just said, "Fuck it, maybe it is." In fact, if it is, let's play with it, and let's distort it and manipulate it and lose ourselves in the process of it. But let's write about losing ourselves in the process of it, 'cause that's what's happening to everybody else on a smaller scale anyway.

Do you have more respect for somebody like Madonna?
Oh, yeah.

Is that something you would have seen before?
No. No, it wasn't where we were at anyway, it just wasn't for us. But Madonna – I'm interested in anything she does. The music is a little off the shelf for me, but it's almost like the lack of personality in the music heightens the personality in her voice.

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Does having a rock & roll fan like Bill Clinton as president of the United States defang rock & roll? Can there still be any sense of the rock & roll rebellion you're playing with?
We obviously need to find a new word. Saying Clinton likes rock & roll is like saying Clinton likes books. It's the stuff written in the books that's important. Did you see the inauguration? I watched it all.

What did you think?
There was a sense of people wanting it to work. More than I had ever seen before. It strikes me that people just so want it to work. There's almost a last-chance feeling about it.

Larry and Adam went over there. They ended up doing a version of "One" with the guys from R.E.M. – with Mike Mills and Michael Stipe. The song always deserved a good singer, as far as I'm concerned. Stipe's just a great singer. He's kind of like a Bing Crosby of the Nineties, though, isn't he? He's a crooner.

Tell me about U2's meeting with Bill Clinton.
We were on tour, and we got into the Ritz-Carlton in Chicago at about midnight, one o'clock, and I had this really over-the-top Cecil B. DeMille suite. So it was the room for the meetings and the parties, and there was a party in my room – and there was drink involved – and we'd heard he had arrived earlier in the evening, and we said, "Get Bill around, he'd like a slice of pizza." This is like three o'clock in the morning, but somebody thought we were serious and went out to wake him up and was met with twenty-five Secret Service guys who said, "You know, I'm not sure, it's late, he's gone to bed, had a hard day." But the next morning he got the message and said, "I'd love to have seen them, where are they now?" and he came round to my room. We were all looking fairly rock & roll after the night before, and he just laughed out loud. He was very relaxed with it.

Larry asked him, "Why would you want to be president?" and he said: "Well, you know, I don't know if the president of the United States can be the one person to turn it all around, but I know one thing: No one else can." What's interesting about him is that he seems very accessible and wants new ideas and wants to be challenged. We told him that we weren't going to endorse him, that wasn't what we did. And if he got in, that we'd be on his back for the next four years anyway, cause there is an uneasy relationship between us and politicians. But he knew that. He got that. That's when I realized he's pretty cool.

I always thought it was dumb and dangerous to write off all politicians as corrupt. It's just too easy.

Is there any other moment like that you'll take away from this tour?
I'm getting on with my father better than I ever have.

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Is that something new?
My mother died when I was, like, thirteen or fourteen, and it was just three men in the house. And one of them, you know, was pretty obnoxious [laughs]. My father tried very hard to keep it together. He managed, he did keep it together, but he had to become a kind of general to do so. I mean, he kept the house together, but I suppose at that point it wasn't really a home. And I often wonder if that's the reason I feel so rootless sometimes, if that's what attracted me to the wanderlust aspect of rock & roll. I would sleep on Edge's floor, turn up at people's houses at meal times. I can still sleep anywhere, I can sleep on the street. It must have something to do with that.

And now you have enough distance from that time?
Yeah, to get on. I met somebody recently who told me that my father was incredibly smart at school and when he was taken out, the Christian brothers went around to his mother and said, "Don't take him out of school, he's really great, and he should be able to go on to college and probably be a lecturer." But he did leave, and he went on with his life very practically. He actually taught me not to dream. His idea was, don't get into that, it'll only make trouble.

He was never one to dish out a compliment, that's not his way. I remember I brought him over to the U.S. to see us play, I think it was Miami or Atlanta on the Joshua Tree tour, and I told one of the spotlight operators to get ready. I just introduced this guy – "It's his first time in America, here's my father, he's come here to see us play" – and 20,000 people turned around, and he just stands up and gives me the finger. Like "Don't you do this to me." I just laughed. He's very cool like that.

But afterwards backstage, I remember hearing footsteps behind me as I left the stage, and I looked round, and here's my father, and he put his hand out. I looked at him, and I thought, "Wow, he's really gonna say something really big here," and he just looked at me and said: "You know something? You're very professional" [laughs]. And of course, that was a high compliment from where he was. The fact that professionalism has nothing to do with . . . for me, that's like the last thing I'm interested in. It was very funny.

I don't generally talk about my family, but another thing he did, he taught me chess. That's something I've never admitted to because it was always so uncool to be a chess player. It's the most un-rock & roll thing you could do, so I never ever talked about it, but that was actually my obsession before rock & roll. When I was a kid, I played in adult tournaments and played internationally when I was ten or eleven. Things like that were important moments for me. I really, really enjoy opera now, 'cause he used to listen to it all the time. He'd just kind of throw you something like that.

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A country-folk song of epic proportions, "San Francisco Mabel Joy" tells the tale of a poor Georgia farmboy who wound up in prison after a move to the Bay Area found love turning into tragedy. First released by Mickey Newbury in 1969, it might be more familiar through covers by Waylon Jennings, Joan Baez and Kenny Rogers. "It was a five-minute song written in a two-minute world," Newbury said. "I was told it would never be cut by any artist ... I was told you could not use the term 'redneck' in a song and get it recorded."

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