Has he come around to your work?
Yeah, I think he almost likes the music now. In fact, he'll say, "I like that one, I don't like this one." He's full of opinions. He plays at being a crank. It's traditional in our family to have a row at Christmas. We always have a fight at breakfast at Christmas – it's like the polite thing to do where we come from. And I only recently figured out that he was doing it with a wink. I'd spot it in the schoolyard, I'd spot it from anyone else. I just didn't think that's where he was coming from. And he's just one of those, a stirrer. But I'm really enjoying my father at the moment. I put him in the "One" video.
You mentioned R.E.M. earlier, and it seems like U2 and R.E.M. are among the few bands to strive for a mass audience while maintaining a respected position in the alternative-rock camp. What do you think of the resistance to mainstream success that seems prevalent in the alternative scene?
It hasn't happened before in America, but it's been like that in the U.K. for a long time, so we're used to it. And a bit bored by it, having been there. "We'll never play theaters, we'll stay in the clubs!" Oh, all right, okay. Then a year later, these groups say, "Oh, we'll only play theaters, we'll never play arenas." Then it's "We'll play arenas, we'll never play stadiums." AAAAGHH! Let me out! To hear it all happening again is just incredible to me. And it's all middle-class kids that are saying it. You never hear working-class people saying those things, you never hear blacks saying it. It's such a bourgeois phenomenon. It almost identifies you as bourgeois.
From where U2 started, do you understand the impulse?
Yes, especially in the American culture, I do understand it. I don't think it's very rigorous, though, I don't think it's well thought out. I can see why somebody would just retch on the lowest common denominator that has dominated rock & roll from radio play and sales pitch. There is a sense in which you say, "Well, whatever that's a part of, I'm out of there." I can understand that. But you gotta think it through, and in my experience in England, what they call independent is a bogus term. With independent record companies, a lot of times you have smaller corporations bullying you.
By the way, I think it's good that Sonic Youth and Nirvana are on Geffen Records. I don't think they should be embarrassed by it. I think Kurt Cobain is a fine singer. I know the "R.E.M. with a fuzz box" argument, but I actually think they are an important group and they've got vitality and they should just do anything they want to do. The fact that they sell as many records as Madonna is great. You see, we've been there. There is kind of a Catholic guilt that can go with success, but I just hope some of these groups don't start tiptoeing.
I always felt it was our responsibility to abuse our position. That was one of the ways we went into the sessions for Achtung Baby. Because we had been spoiled by success financially, we had what Groucho Marx called "fuck-off money." If you waste that, you're just a wanker, you don't deserve anything. At this point in U2, we've made more money outside U2 than we ever did inside U2, so there's only one reason for walking into a recording studio, and there's only one reason for going out on tour, and that is to do exactly what we want to do.
Is there any concern that in playing the showbiz stuff to the hilt, you risk tarnishing your protest image? To stage a dawn raid on the Sellafield nuclear plant in full Fly gear – can people sort that out?
Well, I always thought of the Fly as a meltdown kind of a guy. I don't want to put too much emphasis on this character, but you gotta find new ways of saying the same things, you really do. I don't think it's a contradiction to find yourself on the beach at a nuclear power plant wearing those sunglasses. I think it is very surreal, and it was amusing to us even then. We were aware of how ridiculous it was.
What did you think of last year's Pope-shredding incident by Sinéad O'Connor?
Maybe you have to be Irish to understand her bitterness toward the pope. You could argue that the pope is sincere, but to deny people contraception at this moment in time is a very irresponsible act. It's more than an irresponsible act. You can't buy condoms in this country – not easily – and so when Sinéad talks about him being the enemy, I imagine that's what she's talking about.
I don't want to be her apologist, and she doesn't need one. I felt very close to her in the early days, and I still feel strongly about her. We fell out with her, with her manager actually, who was her boyfriend, and as a result we were the devil for a few weeks. But now that she's the devil [laughs], I think we're getting on a lot better. To live off your emotions is a necessary evil if you're a singer, but it doesn't make for an easy life.
What's the band's history with David Wojnarowicz. [a controversial American artist who died of AIDS last year]? You used his images in the ''One" video. Did you collect his work before?
Adam is the man who turned me on to Wojnarowicz's work. Whatever you do now, you are in the post-AIDS age. It's there, and you've got to walk through it or around it. And if a record deals with any kind of erotic subject matter, the specter of AIDS is even all the more close.
You know, if Freud was even half-right, if sex is even close to the center of our lives, how is it that we leave it to pornographers and dum-dum guys? We leave the subject to them, and it's reduced to titillation in the cinema, to these kind of half-baked plots. Wojnarowicz dealt with the subject seriously, he took it on. I can't believe how people can just walk around it, you know? I'm sympathetic to Madonna in that respect, too. Whatever you think about her work, she's actually just trying to say: "Look, here I am, and I have these feelings and ideas, and I know you do, but you're not owning up. I will."
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