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U2's Bono Out to Shake Up the World

Aired January 1, 2002 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: Next on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS: The world tour may be over, but Bono, lead singer of the rock bank U2 and part-time political activist, still has a lot he wants to say.


BONO, U2: I'm not here to assess people's political lives. I'm here to ask them, are they ready to help?


ANNOUNCER: And, in the wake of 9/11, Bono and the band lend their support in fund-raising and in spiritual healing.


BONO: Music changes shape to fit the predicament it finds itself in. We are holding on to the songs a lot tighter now ourselves.


ANNOUNCER: From the streets of Dublin to the world stage, the evolution of U2 and Bono now on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.


DARYN KAGAN, HOST (voice-over): It's not what you would generally see from most 40-year-old men. But then Bono has never been what you might call an ordinary kind of guy. He's the charismatic and often controversial lead singer of U2. In whatever he does, Bono demands your attention. He certainly demands it at his concerts, and his fans seem happy to comply.

U2's current North American tour of 32 cities is a sellout. Career record sales have topped 75 million. And world leaders listen, too. They give him VIP access to voice his message, reducing the debt of third world countries.

BONO: We want the rich countries to drop the debts that they're owed to them by the poorest countries.

KAGAN (on camera): This is not the kind of issue that most rock stars are drawn to.

BONO: Right.

KAGAN: Why are you drawn to it?

BONO: The relationship between the so-called first and third world is just so screwed up. We give the tiniest percentage of our GDP every year toward the problem. I mean, it's a shocking statistic when you tell Americans or Europeans that the richer they get, the less they give.


KAGAN (voice-over): For Bono, his life's work is all about the possibility, a theme that can be heard in the songs he sings.


BONO: Music is more about soul and spirit than it is about, you know, anything concrete like politics. In order to be able to perform the way I perform, I have to kind of step inside the songs, you know.


KAGAN: Yet to truly step into Bono's world, you have to know where and how it began, in the Irish neighborhood of Ballymun, wedged between countryside and city.

BOB GELDOF, MUSICIAN: He was brought up in an area of Dublin that's a fairly normal area. It's beside a pretty crap area, but Dublin's quite like that.

KAGAN: Number 10 Cedarwood Road. As a child, he wasn't Bono but Paul David Hewson, the youngest of two boys. His father was a postal worker delivering the daily mail, while his mother took care of the home.

From very early on, the youngest Hewson was a dreamer, emulating his distant heroes -- King, Dylan, and Ali, cultural icons who fought for social change.

BONO: And, you know, when I was younger, used to kind of throw rocks and stones at, you know, the bad guys, as I saw them, you know, in the political establishment, the people who were -- you know, they were -- you know, they were, it turns out, quite easy targets.

KAGAN: But that all changed in 1972, when Paul Hewson entered the very progressive Mount Temple High School, a place where your religion, the color of your skin, and what your father did for a living had no consequence.

COLIN MACKENZIE, FORMER HIGH SCHOOL MUSIC TEACHER: I think only in a school like Mount Temple could they -- these four fellows have met, because they were from four totally different backgrounds. And I feel only here they would have jelled, they would have met. They couldn't have met in -- probably in any other school. KAGAN: Yet Paul's happy teen years would be tempered by tragedy. On September 10, 1974, Paul's mother died. He adored her, and according to a friend, Bob Geldof, his mother's death tore Paul apart.

GELDOF: His mum died, I think, when he was 13 or 14, and I think that had a very profound effect on him, as it does on us all.

KAGAN: His senior year was pivotal. He fell in love with a girl, Allison Stewart, and he signed up for an audition to join a rock band.

BARRY DEVLIN, FRIEND: You know the story of how they started. Larry Mullen put a notice up on the notice board in their school, and they were all school mates. So Bono always refers to Larry as the man who gave us all a job.

BONO: Yes, Larry started it all, you know, and he hasn't really let us forget it.

ANTHONY DECURTIS, AUTHOR, "ROCKING MY LIFE AWAY": The idea of being in a band was a bigger thing than whether or not you could play your guitar or you could sing or you would -- had any reason to think you could be in a band. Just the very idea of creating music was something that gripped people.

KAGAN: And that's all these four Irish boys had, the idea of creating music. Paul couldn't sing or play the guitar, but he was given a stage name, Bono, likened after this Dublin hearing-aid store.

Early names for the band included The Hype and Feedback, for their distinctive sound of music.

(on camera): If you go back to the early days of the group, even before you were U2, names like Feedback...

BONO: Ooh. I hate when people do those searches. Yes, I would disappoint you. Kids, really, you know, at school, I mean, Larry was 14, Edge was 15, Adam was 16. I was 16, just kind of hanging around with each other. We formed a band before we could play our instruments. It was really like a street gang, you know, people who are joined by the sense of humor and their sense of, you know, what they're against more than what they're for.

And, yes, we were a pretty crap wedding band, actually.

KAGAN: When the story of Bono continues, the band dreams of getting discovered.

PAUL MCGUINNESS, MANAGER, U2: It was very hard to get a record deal, because, quite honestly, there wasn't -- it wasn't like everyone wanted to have them. No one did.




KAGAN (voice-over): By 1978, the band had a new name, U2, recalling an American spy plane shot down over Soviet air space during the cold war.

Dublin band manager Paul McGuinness went to review the newly named band. What he heard was a blend of spiritual rock and a call for political healing.

McGuinness understood stage performance and talent, and he saw great potential in its lead singer, Bono.

MCGUINNESS: It's the primary colors of rock and roll, guitar and bass and drums and vocal. And four guys on a stage making an enormous noise and producing something very exciting. KAGAN (on camera): Just found a little photo album for you. Take us through these, OK? Who's that?

BONO: Nothing's changed, really. Wow. That's a photograph taken just before we caught the ferry to go to the U.K., coming out of Dublin. We're all kind of 16, 17. We're going off to try and get a record deal.

KAGAN: Could those kids have any idea what was in store for them?

BONO: Oh, yes. No, megalomania did start at a very early age with us. You know, it's -- your head is filled with songs and dreams and big ideas. And you're young enough and wet behind the ears enough to believe that everything's possible.


KAGAN (voice-over): Two years later, in 1980, U2's dream had come true. After much practice and polish, the band had a record deal.


KURT LODER, HOST, MTV: I think it's his voice which is just this soaring instrument, and the band really has a lot of punch and wallop to it, and it was just their punk background. And The Edge's guitar playing is very full, and it doesn't sound like anything else, and it's just -- it's rousing, you know, it's inspiring to hear it. It's a great sound.

PAUL SHAFFER, ENTERTAINER: Bono is like a motivational speaker of rock and roll, isn't he?

KAGAN: But by 1982, the dynamic of the band was changing. There was dissension over U2's direction. Bass player Adam Clayton threatened to leave the group, indicating the band's religious overtones as the reason.

THE EDGE, GUITARIST, U2: I think we value what we have pretty highly, and we realize how fragile it is, you know, a band is a very difficult thing to keep going. And when you're in a good one, you try and kind of make it work whatever way you can.

KAGAN: But the band's strong commitment to one another turned out to be greater than their spiritual divide. U2 remained intact.

THE EDGE: You know, I don't think any of us would have imagined we'd still be together after so many years when we first put the band together. But it's great that we are.

BONO: You're going to make me cry.


KAGAN: Meanwhile, on a personal note, Bono settled down with his long-time love, Allison Stewart.

DEVLIN: I just remember that the wedding was tremendous fun. There was a lot of dancing, there was a lot of people bumping into each other. There was a lot of high spirits. And it was a kid's wedding, you know. But it was a great day.

KAGAN (on camera): You're married to your high school sweetheart.

BONO: That's true, that's true. I'm lucky. I have an extraordinary friend that I've been married to for a long time, seems like since we were kids.

KAGAN (voice-over): Back on the road, back in the studio. By 1985, U2 had released three more albums, but failed to increase its following.

DECURTIS: The group had become kind of frozen in some way. You know, after the first three records. Particularly after "War," I think, you know, the group felt that they had become just this big guitar band.

KAGAN: Later that year, an event at Wembley Arena in London took U2 to another level.

GELDOF: Every band could do what they liked, but I basically said, Look, lads, it's the global jukebox. You do your hits.

KAGAN: The band, and especially Bono, gave an electrifying performance at Live Aid. The humanitarian concert played to audiences around the world.

GELDOF: Then I remember them going into the audience and start hugging the girl. And of course it was a great theatrical thing. And so what everyone was feeling on that day, he articulated visibly by going and just taking one person out of this sea and just cuddling her.

BONO: It's hard to describe for me what U2 is all about, and when it becomes U2. But I think it is probably when the band is playing "Liar." I think we've always -- that's the moment when they discover what it is that makes us special.

UNIDENTIFIED PHOTOGRAPHER: And can you move just out a little there? KAGAN: A fortune teller reportedly once told Bono's mother that she would have a famous son. In 1987, U2 released its seventh album, "The Joshua Tree." The record went platinum in just two days. As foretold years before, Bono had arrived.

DEVLIN: People have asked me, When you met them, you know, what was it like? Did you -- you know, they were kittens. How can you say that you could see something there? I didn't know how big they would be, but I could see that they had this sense, a belief in themselves and a belief in what music could be that was different from anyone I'd met.


KAGAN: When we return, fatherhood ignites Bono's political pursuits in a big way.


BONO: It's made me more militant. You think about the world that your children are about to inherit, and you want it to be different from them. So it's made me more angry.



ANNOUNCER: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. Here's Daryn Kagan.


KAGAN (voice-over): In the 1990s, the idea was, bigger is better. Concert tours like Zoo TV took U2 to stratospheric heights. Gross revenues topped $1.5 billion.

Still, Bono fought to stay grounded, always mindful of his beginnings and of the musical influences along the way. The 2001 Elevation world tour would be different and far more intimate, so close you could reach out and touch them: 113 shows in 64 cities, playing to more than two million fans, a personal triumph.

BONO: This has been the best year of our musical life and maybe my personal life actually with it.

KAGAN (on camera): A new baby.

BONO: And a new baby.

KAGAN (voice-over): But in the midst of that, person tragedy for Bono.

BONO: I lost my father also. But, you know, he had a good life. And we gave him quite a send-off. And I still think about him every day. KAGAN: When Bono isn't on tour or in the studio, you can find the three-time Grammy Award winner spending time with his four children at their Dublin home.

DEVLIN: He's a good dad. You might come into the house and discover him wearing a conductor's uniform, bus conductor's uniform, and giving out tickets for outside. He's a mad dad. They get in cars and go strange places, and -- but he just loves to spend time with his family.

KAGAN: But, on September 11, Bono wasn't at home and not on tour.

(on camera): Where were you on that day?

BONO: I was on vacation with my little boy, Elijah. He is 2 1/2. I was in Venice. My other kids couldn't got out because of school. But I was there with him. And I had gotten lost walking through the streets of Venice. And I came upon a hotel called the American Hotel. And I thought, well, they'll probably speak English and tell me how I can find my way home. And I walked in and they had CNN on in the lobby, actually, because it was literary after the first tower hit. And I think -- I was there when the second one hit.

And so, yes, the world was completely, utterly changed that moment.

KAGAN (voice-over): Bono has used his musical muscle to raise money for the victims' families of September 11. In November, he gathered some of the industry's top artists to record an old Marvin Gaye favorite for charity.

BONO: Music fills in for words a lot of time when people don't have anything to say. And I think music can be more eloquent than words alone. And I hope our music was a help there.

KAGAN: And he continues to be on the front lines to drop the debt of Third World countries, even if that means a little friction among friends.

KAGAN (on camera): Because there are members of U2 that would just as soon say, "Can we just play the music?"

BONO: Yes, there is a bit of that. They fully support what I'm doing. They just wish it wasn't so unhip. And they just wish that some of the people I'm hanging around with weren't so uncool.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You'll never be an outsider here. You will always be a friend here.

BONO: Thank you.

KAGAN: But you just can't let it go?

BONO: It's worth our time and effort. And it's an everyday holocaust. We must always remind ourselves of the situation in Africa, because I think history, and indeed God, will judge us very harshly if we continue to ignore it.

KAGAN (voice-over): With much lobbying, Bono recently convinced Washington officials to write a check for $435 million. That went into a trust found operated by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, moneys which, in one act, canceled out a third of the debt.

(on camera): For those like the treasury secretary of the U.S., who says debt relief is not economic reform, it's not economic development, these countries need more...

BONO: He is right. He is absolutely right. The treasury secretary here in the United States is very interesting, because he has had experience in Africa, Paul O'Neill. And we are going to Africa together in the spring. And his feeling on it is to, if you can show progress from debt cancellation, he is prepared to go further. So I am going to show him Uganda, where, since debt relief kicked in, twice as many children have enrolled in schools.

KAGAN (voice-over): U2's tour ended in the some city where it began: Miami, Florida. Bono says the tour changed after 9/11, as did the meaning of their music.

BONO: If September the 11th has taught us anything -- and it has taught us a lot about a lot of things -- it's certainly that the world has never been so interdependent. And it is impossible now to be an island of prosperity in a sea of despair.

And these songs that we wrote about mortality and fate vs. fear and all of the various themes on "All That You Can't Leave Behind" have suddenly come into focus after September the 11th for people. Even for us playing them, we are holding on to the songs a lot tighter now ourselves.





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