Bono fears the new US pres­i­dent will undo years of progress on Aids and de­vel­op­ment work

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - NEWS REVIEW - Brian Boyd

‘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.

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