FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Sir Bono: the Knight Who Fled From His Own Debate

by DAVE MARSH

As CounterPunch and Rock and Rap Confidential disclosed in September, last May U2’s Bono confronted Irish journalist Gavin Martin and myself in the lobby of Dublin’s Merion Hotel. He asked what I’d been working on. I said “the premise that celebrity politics has been a pretty much complete failure.” Bono replied that he wanted to debate the topic in public. He reiterated the challenge the next evening. The witnesses included U2’s manager Paul McGuinness and my wife, Barbara Carr, among others.

I made sure that Sirius Satellite Radio, which was to broadcast the debate, knew about Bono’s invitation. By mid-June, U2’s New York office confirmed the plan, asking only that it be delayed until U2 finished recording its next album. I kept it public via RRC and my Sirius show, Kick Out the Jams.

In November, U2 manager Paul McGuinness rang me. After some brief personal palaver—I like Paul even though I know he’s alluded to me as a “Trotskyist” behind my back—McGuinness sheepishly said “Bono has asked me to ask you if he can withdraw” from the debate.

I said “Sure.” McGuinness expressed gratitude that I was taking it so well.

“Of course,” I added, “this was a public challenge. Backing out’s not gonna be private.” I did not ask why Bono ducked the debate. Maybe he’d come to his senses, as his apologetics for world capitalism disintegrated with the stock, housing and employment markets. Maybe he was too busy preparing the banalities he’d blare on the new album.

In the wake of the New Depression generated by Bono’s tutors in world finance, it’s hardly necessary to issue a point by point refutation of his statements about how the world works,. Based on Bono’s response to criticism of U2’s tax avoidance, he plans to carry to the grave the ardently stupid globalization orthodoxy of Forbes, the Wall Street cheerleading rag he co-owns. Can there be anyone else who’s ventured a deep thought in the last several months who still believes that the only path to change involves bending the knee to the powerful?

As for the lyrics, don’t jump to the wrong conclusion. It can’t be denied that Larry Mullen, Adam Clayton and the Edge can still make fascinating music. Bono’s yelped vocals are another matter, his hollow lyrics–where every platitude yields to an obscurantist pretension and back again–yet another. Unfortunately, even if he’d come up with a lyric as great as “One,” Bono also carries into each project his off-stage political pronouncements, and his fawning affiliations with war criminals such as Tony Blair and George W. Bush.

I don’t know why Bono spit the bit on debating these issues in a public forum with a well-informed antagonist. Maybe he decided that he’d fucked up and was about to lower himself by going head to head with a journalist. Maybe he doesn’t want to deal on the spot with descriptions of his repeated appearances at the conferences of the leading capitalist nations where he’s yet to ask his first hard question about anything but Africa; about his settling for promises from world leaders that patently weren’t going to be kept, and never doing more than mewing when they weren’t; about why it is that Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo, by no means an anti-capitalist, observes that she met him “at a party to raise money for Africans, and there were no Africans in the room, except for me,” or why so many other Africans have complained that he claims to speak for them but has never so much as asked their permission. In regard to the last, I did receive more courtesy than Andrew Mwenda, the Ugandan journalist Bono cursed for raising such questions at an economics conference. (But then, I’m white and Celtic-American.)

It certainly isn’t my fault that I have to say “maybe” about all of this. Bono never got back to me, or had any of his handlers get back to me, about the ground rules for our projected “debate”–his term, not mine. I’d have settled for an honest interview although “debate” would have been more fun, even though the result was inevitable. No matter how many people sided with my being able to see through the kind of thing William Burroughs once poetically dubbed “a thin tissue of horseshit” it wouldn’t be enough to outweigh Big Time Pop Star status.

I don’t know. More to the point, you can’t know either.

U2 could be in a fair amount of trouble. The band is old by rock standards, and on the cover of Rolling Stone Bono looked much older than the rest because of a physical makeover that tries to deny it. No Line’s first single flopped on the radio. The band’s decision to have its song publishing company flee Ireland for a tax haven in the Netherlands has been subject to protests in the streets of Dublin and has no obvious justification, despite Bono’s fatuous counterclaim that it is his critics who are the hypocrites because free-market values were what created the “Celtic Tiger” of Dublin’s capitalist boom economy. The Tiger’s death throes look to be particularly messy, in part because of capital flight of just U2’s kind. The band’s attempt to alter the Dublin skyline with its Clarence Hotel expansion is another example of its ruinous distance from everyday Irish reality.

Bono’s self-promotion fares much better on this side of the Atlantic than at home. For instance, he got away scot-free in the American press after declaring during the Inauguration Concert, “What a thrill for four Irish boys from the north side of Dublin to honor you sir, Barack Obama, to be the next president of the United States.” But Shane Hegarty wrote in The Irish Times that only one of the band now lives on Dublin’s working class north side while Bono has lived more of his life on the south side.

“During the band’s performance of ‘In The Name of Love,’” wrote Hegarty, “he described Martin Luther King’s dream as ‘Not just an American dream–also an Irish dream, a European dream, an African dream, an Israeli dream . . .’ And then, following a long pause reminiscent of a man who’d just realized he’d left the gas on, he added, ‘. . . and also a Palestinian dream.’ This was his big shout out to the Palestinians… You can’t help but marvel at this latest expression of Bono’s Sesame Street view of the world. Hey Middle East, we just have to have a dream to get along.

“Just ignore the sound of those loud explosions and concentrate on Bono’s voice.”

So listen, Bono, if you decide to suck it up and face me, I’m still available. I can’t win a debate, we both know that, and why you’d want to continue to look feeble and cowardly when you have virtually nothing to lose… well, that’s another question I suppose you’ll never be asked.

It doesn’t mean that those questions are going to go away. Maybe for the tamed tigers of the American pop press, but not for me, or for those people in the streets of Dublin calling you a tax cheat, or for the Africans who feel insulted by your ignorance of their lives, or for that matter, the fans who wonder why you insist on siding continually, if slyly, with the powerful against the powerless.

MAN O’ WAR

In 2005, the annual Man of Peace award was given to Bob Geldof, despite his promotion of the bloodthirsty Bush and Blair regimes. In mid-December the Nobel Peace Prize laureates who give the award gathered in Paris to bestow it on an even worse choice: Bono.

Bono is no man of peace–he has yet to speak out against any war. Bono is part owner of Pandemic/Bioware, producers of Mercenaries 2, a video game which simulates an invasion of Venezuela. Last year Bono met with US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to discuss plans to set up a new U.S. military command for Africa. Forbes, the magazine Bono co-owns, constantly beats the drums for war (Bono says he was attracted to the magazine because it has a “consistent philosophy”).

Like Sir Bob, Bono sings the praises of some of the most warlike public figures. It starts with Dubya and Blair—Bono praised the UK prime minister for “doing the things he believed in.” He clearly meant to include massive British involvement in the war in Iraq. Bono also has nothing but praise for arch-reactionaries such as Jesse Helms and Billy Graham. In the video for Pat Boone’s video, “Thank You Billy Graham,” Bono intones “I give thanks for the sanity of Billy Graham, a singer of the human spirit.” Interesting. In 1966, Graham followed LBJ to the podium at the National Prayer Breakfast to give a ringing endorsement of the war in Vietnam. “There are those,” Graham said, “who have tried to reduce Christ to a genial and innocuous appeaser; but Jesus said ‘You are wrong—I have come as a firesetter and sword-wielder. I am come to send fire down on earth!” Sing that human spirit, Billy—you’ve got Bono on harmonies. Indeed, surrounded by America’s most hawkish politicians, Bono gave a fawning keynote speech at the 2008 National Prayer Breakfast. In a recent interview with the British music magazine Q, U2 drummer Larry Mullen said he “cringes” when he sees Bono hanging out with George Bush and Tony Blair, adding that those two world leaders should be tried as “war criminals.”

It might seem strange that a group of Nobel Peace Prize winners would anoint Bono as a man of peace. But maybe not. Past Peace Prize winners include Henry Kissinger, puppetmaster of the violent overthrow of Chile’s Salvador Allende and architect of the bombing of Cambodia, and Bono’s buddy Al Gore, who backed both Gulf wars after voting for the first-strike MX missile.

One of the people who might have injected some new thinking into the Man of Peace festivities in Paris is Tookie Williams. A co-founder of the Crips gang in LA who became a spokesman against the gang life and an author of children’s books while on Death Row, Williams was nominated five times for the Nobel Peace Prize (and once for the Nobel Prize in literature). Of course, Williams could not attend because he died of a lethal injection at San Quentin on December 13, 2005 after California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger refused worldwide pleas for clemency.

Yet on October 23, there was Bono, the “man of peace,” gushing with praise for Arnold as he gave yet another keynote, this time at the California Women’s Conference in Long Beach. Other speakers included the Governator, his wife Maria Shriver, and Madeline Albright. Albright, Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State, once said on national television when asked how she could justify the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children as a result of Clinton/Gore sanctions: “We think the price is worth it.”

Bono made no mention of the dramatic increase in California poverty caused by Schwarzenegger’s pro-corporate policies. Not a word about the two million children in the state who go hungry or about the immigrants hunted in the streets as if they were animals escaped from a zoo. The main theme of Bono’s rambling talk was poverty in Africa and Africa only, although he did make brief mention of how as an aspiring musician he was inspired by the Clash (ironic since they were artists who made their opposition to war very explicit).

Despite the inspiration that many people take from the anthems Bono has written, there is not one shred of evidence that he disagrees on any issue—war, tax shelters, immigration—with the power brokers he wants us to believe are the last best hope of mankind.

DAVE MARSH (along with Lee Ballinger) edits Rock & Rap Confidential, one of CounterPunch’s favorite newsletters, now available for free by emailing: rockrap@aol.com. Marsh’s definitive and monumental biography of Bruce Springsteen has just been reissued, with 12,000 new words, under the title Two Hearts. Marsh can be reached at: marsh6@optonline.net

 

More articles by:

Dave Marsh edits Rock & Rap Confidential, one of CounterPunch’s favorite newsletters, now available for free by emailing: rockrap@aol.com. Dave blogs at http://davemarsh.us/

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

June 28, 2017
Diana Johnstone
Macron’s Mission: Save the European Union From Itself
Jordon Kraemer
The Cultural Anxiety of the White Middle Class
Vijay Prashad
Modi and Trump: When the Titans of Hate Politics Meet
Jonathan Cook
Israel’s Efforts to Hide Palestinians From View No Longer Fools Young American Jews
Ron Jacobs
Gonna’ Have to Face It, You’re Addicted to War
Jim Lobe – Giulia McDonnell Nieto Del Rio
Is Trump Blundering Into the Next Middle East War?
Radical Washtenaw
David Ware, Killed By Police: a Vindication
John W. Whitehead
The Age of No Privacy: the Surveillance State Shifts into High Gear
Robert Mejia, Kay Beckermann and Curtis Sullivan
The Racial Politics of the Left’s Political Nostalgia
Tom H. Hastings
Courting Each Other
Winslow Myers
“A Decent Respect for the Opinions of Mankind”
Leonard Peltier
The Struggle is Never for Nothing
Jonathan Latham
Illegal GE Bacteria Detected in an Animal Feed Supplement
Deborah James
State of Play in the WTO: Toward the 11th Ministerial in Argentina
Andrew Stewart
Health Care for All: Why I Occupied Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s Office
Binoy Kampmark
The European Commission, Google and Anti-Competition
Jesse Jackson
A Savage Health Care Bill
Jimmy Centeno
Cats and Meows in L.A.
June 27, 2017
Jim Kavanagh
California Scheming: Democrats Betray Single-Payer Again
Jonathan Cook
Hersh’s New Syria Revelations Buried From View
Edward Hunt
Excessive and Avoidable Harm in Yemen
Howard Lisnoff
The Death of Democracy Both Here and Abroad and All Those Colorful Sneakers
Gary Leupp
Immanuel Kant on Electoral Interference
Kenneth Surin
Theresa May and the Tories are in Freefall
Slavoj Zizek
Get the Left
Robert Fisk
Saudi Arabia Wants to Reduce Qatar to a Vassal State
Ralph Nader
Driverless Cars: Hype, Hubris and Distractions
Rima Najjar
Palestinians Are Seeking Justice in Jerusalem – Not an Abusive Life-Long Mate
Norman Solomon
Is ‘Russiagate’ Collapsing as a Political Strategy?
Binoy Kampmark
In the Twitter Building: Tech Incubators and Altering Perceptions
Dean Baker
Uber’s Repudiation is the Moment for the U.S. to Finally Start Regulating the So-called Sharing Economy
Rob Seimetz
What I Saw From The Law
George Wuerthner
The Causes of Forest Fires: Climate vs. Logging
June 26, 2017
William Hawes – Jason Holland
Lies That Capitalists Tell Us
Chairman Brandon Sazue
Out of the Shadow of Custer: Zinke Proves He’s No “Champion” of Indian Country With his Grizzly Lies
Patrick Cockburn
Grenfell Tower: the Tragic Price of the Rolled-Back Stat
Joseph Mangano
Tritium: Toxic Tip of the Nuclear Iceberg
Ray McGovern
Hersh’s Big Scoop: Bad Intel Behind Trump’s Syria Attack
Roy Eidelson
Heart of Darkness: Observations on a Torture Notebook
Geoff Beckman
Why Democrats Lose: the Case of Jon Ossoff
Matthew Stevenson
Travels Around Trump’s America
David Macaray
Law Enforcement’s Dirty Little Secret
Colin Todhunter
Future Shock: Imagining India
Yoav Litvin
Animals at the Roger Waters Concert
Binoy Kampmark
Pride in San Francisco
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail