‘I DON’T WANT TO MEET DONALD TRUMP’
Bono fears the new US president will undo years of progress on Aids and development work
‘How do we keep getting away with it?” Bono is wondering at the end of the first US show of the Joshua Tree 30 tour last Sunday night in Seattle. For a band who have always been disdainful of nostalgia, they’ve just got away with making a tour of songs originally released three decades ago the biggest selling global music tour of 2017.
Bono is acutely aware of the irony: “If you look back to what we were singing in 1987 – “Desert Sky, Dream beneath a desert sky, The rivers run but soon run dry, We need new dreams tonight” – it’s just the strangest thing to me, because those Joshua Tree songs now sound like they were written for this very moment,” he says.
“This is the way I feel now; the way I think everyone feels right now. If there’s an original idea out there, we sure could use it. We really do need new dreams tonight. I think both the political left and political right are a little stuck for solutions now; in fact, they both seem like useless terms given what’s happened.”
On the night of November 8th last, when Donald Trump got elected, songs they had written 30 years previously in response to the Reagan/ Thatcher era appeared to the band to suddenly acquire a new relevance for the Trump/May era.
Bono seems to have a personal dislike of president Trump, and the singer gets visibly angry when talking about “that person”.
“I’ve never met him before and I don’t want to meet him,” Bono says of Trump. Sighing deeply, he continues: “There are many things that are upsetting. A paper emerged over the new year of cuts to a lot of programmes; programmes that a lot of us have fought very, very, very hard for over the years. It’s essentially a 47 per cent cut to eight budgets being mooted.
The U2 singer says he has a particular interest in the US president’s emergency plan for Aids relief and fears that, even if the fund is not cut, it is likely to be levelled off. “Bill Gates will tell you that levelling off [ that budget] won’t work because people will die,” he says.
His fists tighten as he says: “This could be seen as hyperbole but for me one of the greatest things America has done has been the largest intervention in the history of medicine in the fight against HIV/Aids. Really, I think this is of second World War importance.
“The Americans have led this fight; there has been cross- party support. Bush started it, Obama continued it. Obama was never going to get the praise for it even though he spent more money than Bush on the programmes. It was $46 billion under Obama being spent on this virus, and that is a truly heroic story. There are 18 million people alive today because of this medical intervention. So the idea that Trump might undo this . . . A person like that . . . he’s not welcome at our shows.”
During the concert itself, there are plenty of loaded remarks about the current US administration. “A government should f ear its citi zens; not t he other way around,” Bono shouts. Elsewhere he salutes “the social movements” engaged in protest and dissent against Donald Trump’s presidency. “Millions of people getting organised can scare the shit out of politicians.”
Though billed as the Joshua Tree tour, the concert covers more than the original 11- track 1987 album. “We want to show people how we got to The Joshua Tree so we’re opening with Sunday Bloody Sunday, New Year’s Day and Pride, he explains.
When they first toured this album in the 1980s, there were none of the technological bells and whistles of today’s stadium concert experience. This year’s show is very much a Joshua Tree 2.0. The 200ft by 40ft stage (thought to be the largest ever used) runs the width of the stadium and features new video art in full 8k resolution.
The built-in encore is a greatest-hits EP with Beautiful Day, One and Miss Sarajevo all featuring. They finished in Seattle by “bringing it back to our beginnings in Dublin” with a turbo-charged I Will Follow.
At least two of the songs on the set-list – Sunday Bloody Sunday and Where The Streets Have No Name – are about Northern Ireland (the title of the latter refers to how you can tell a person’s religion in Belfast from the street on which they live).
‘‘During the Seattle concert there are plenty of loaded remarks about the current US administration. ‘A government should fear its citizens; not the other way around,’ Bono shouts
Bono is mordant about the possibility of a hard border between the Republic and the North as a result of Brexit.
“A hard border? That would be a great laugh, wouldn’t it? Back to the good old days of the shootings and the riots. Brilliant craic. This is madness, absolute madness. Particularly as we’re seeing now how borders are really impossible ideas.
“You’ve seen what a country the size of Syria has done to Europe, [and] the shape of Europe. So now imagine if a country the size of Egypt or a country the size of Nigeria were to implode, which is the stated objective of Boko Haram.”
In such a scenario, what does Europe become, he asks. “Fortress Europe? Can you really build walls that high? We’ve seen how people will strap themselves to tin cans, to pieces of wood. So I think the whole concept of the border will have to be looked at again. There’s no drawbridge big enough to block the future,” he says.
‘Songs of Experience’
When this tour winds down in August, there won’t be that much time off before U2 are on the road touring again on the back of Songs of Experience next year. And fans are already clamouring for a 30th anniversary tour of Achtung Baby in four years’ time. How long can you sing these songs? “I think I could live without it,” he says. “But we don’t really have a choice. I mean, what else are we qualified to do? I don’t have a choice with writing songs; the songs have always answered questions for me. A great song is its own argument for itself. But yes, it is getting harder.
“In the early days, when I was sleeping on Gavin Friday’s couch, being with the band was a replacement for the family I didn’t feel I had. Wherever we went in the world, that was home to me.
“But it did really strike me, going home to Dublin after the last tour finished in Paris. I was walking around the house in Dublin late at night and I just realised ‘Oh, I do have a home.’
“And now there’s this other realisation – particularly playing these Joshua Tree songs again – that these songs don’t belong to us any more. They belong to the people who went through stuff when they heard them first. People are in their own thing when they hear these songs again. It’s as if we’re the smallest part of all of this,” he says.
When a fifth person arrives into the interview to press their hands hard down on his shoulders and sternly say: “Seriously Bono, we really have to go now,” the singer glugs down what’s left in his bowl of soup and buttons up his jacket. There’s a midnight flight to catch from Seattle to San Francisco to start setting up for the next show.
“It’s a thrill doing this. But how long can it last?” he asks.
A reissue of The Joshua Tree album will be released in June. U2 play Croke Park on July 22nd
‘We want to show people how we got to The Joshua Tree’: left, Bono with The Edge in Seattle on the opening night of the US leg of the 30th anniversary tour. Far left, US president Donald Trump.