THE STEWARDESS lS trying to avoid tripping over bags in the gangway, the ‘fasten your seatbelt’ sign is being ignored and the pilot has failed to call his passengers to order. The Boeing 727’s interior looks like a school bus on an annttal class outing.
Only these are not overexcited schoolies. but a millionaire band who have chartered the jet for a fourteen-month tour of what is billed as the biggest show on earth.
‘Can I bring yott something.’ the stewardess asks a bearded. hooded man. U2’s singer Bono refuses. smiling. There is no
banqueting over the Atlantic. no popping of
champagne. corks. Like a tired black abbot. Bono moves over the gangway to flop into his seat. exhausted. He looks pale. tired and older than he deserves to.
It is about 2am. somewhere in the sky over Ohio. U2 and their entourage are on the night flight to Washington DC. the next stop on their Pop Mart tour. During their two-day stay they will take lunch in the White House with Bill Clinton. but Bono isn’t thinking about that now. In his head. he is still on stage.
Forty minutes ago he was playing before an audience of 50,000 at Ohio State University. in a kind of theatre of the absurd. Like a character from Samuel Beckett's ll’at’ting For Got/or. Bono had stepped onto the catwalk wearing a bowler hat and quoted grotesque-sounding lines into a cordless microphone.
The lrish writing legend has been Bono’s inspiration before. Dttring the recording of Pop. the singer stuck a couple of Beckett quotations on the studio walls. ‘My favourite quotation is “Pop. what’s that‘.”’. spoken by Lucky in l'l/(lfllillg For Godot.’ says the singer.
If Beckett had been alive. he might have been included in U2’s personal tour of literary figures. which has included visits to cult American writers William Burroughs. Charles Bttkowski and Allen Ginsberg.
l.’2‘s hotline to the literary world is not new. Shortly before his death in April. Ginsberg had said he was prepared to read out the words from U2‘s song ‘Miami’ on camera for the band‘s video.
In l‘)‘)3. the ‘dirty old man' of literature. Bukowski. overcame his prejudice against rock stars to attend a U2 concert in Los Angeles as Rolling Stone’s guest writer. Earlier he had cursed rock musicians who drank his booze. smoked his cigarettes and threw their fag ends into half-full beer cans.
‘He totally slated the event.’ grins Bono. ‘but his wife Linda is a U2 fan. During the concert. Larry dedicated the song “Dirty Old Town" to him and he was very touched. We understand each other very well.’
Shortly before his death. Bukowski rang Bono from hospital one last time. He said simply: ‘Bono l’m fucking with Doctor Death. and do you know what? l think the Doctor is winning this time.’
L72 later dedicated the song ‘Dirty Day‘ to Bukowski. quoting his poem ‘The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over The Hills’.
William Burroughs was so taken with U2 that he offered to work with the Irishmen twice. After reading for the ‘Zooropa’ tour. the 84-year-old icon of counter-culture made a guest appearance in the video for the band’s latest single ‘Last Night On Earth’. It was a showcase role for the apostle of nihilism who
died just weeks ago. In the video he embodies
an angry force bringing about the end of
‘Burroughs was a trip in himself.’ smiles Bono. mimicking the writer’s rasping voice. ‘He wore sunglasses as big as diving goggles. He said he hadn’t carried a gun for a long time because he now has a sword. Then he pulled a blade one and a half metres long out of his walking stick.’
In his poem ‘Defining The Magic". Bttkowski wrote: ‘A good poem is like a good
'Rock ’n' roll is always defined in terms of a youth culture which makes a break with the past, but people like Bukowski or Ginsberg had the power to reach out
over the generations.’ Bono
beer when you need it. a good poem can let
you shake hands with Mozart.’ Something of
the magic. something of Bukowski’s surreal subversion. is evident in Bono’s writing. The singer is undoubtedly proud of the
respect his lyrics gained from the likes of
Bukowski and Ginsberg.
‘These people fascinate me.’ says Bono. ‘Although rock ’n’ roll is always defined in terms of a youth culture which makes a break with the past. people like Bukowski or Ginsberg had the power to reach out over the generations. When artists of this calibre give me their blessing. I go before them like a novice.’
Bono: are you calling me transparent?
However impressed America’s literary gurus have been with Bono’s writing. he knows the media has a different agenda. ‘The media's interest in [’2 can be reduced to how many (’l)s and tickets we have sold.‘ he says bluntly.
The tension of the past few weeks is reflected in Bono’s face as l'Z’s plane approaches Washington. The band have at times been on the defensive since the faltering start of their Pop .\lart extravaganza in Las Vegas. They have had to contend with poor first night reviews and reports of falling ticket sales.
These high fliers accustomed to success have suddenly been obliged to prove that despite their latest changes in image. they are still on top.
['2 manager Paul McGuiness appears unfazed by the sense of unrest surrounding the tour. As the jet lands at 3am. he sits bear-like in his seat. totally relaxed.
And with good reason. The 50.000 strong audience in Colombus goes on to enjoy a performance that proves L72 are far from degenerating into anonymous dance floor musicians. Their music is a complex mixture of dissonant sounds and cutting edge dance rhythms — joy. anger and sadness are all there in one performance.
The band‘s opening song. the techno rock ‘Mofo'. is already becoming a stadium anthem. and soon has an indifferent audience
29 Aug ‘l l Sept 1997 THEUST9