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A look into the life of U2’s Bono

Becca Saunders | Monday, November 10, 2003

It is hard to imagine a Notre Dame student who doesn’t know the name “Bono.” It is, in fact, difficult to imagine many people who do not know who Bono is. Nearly everyone in the world knows the name and knows the band U2, but how many really know the man himself?

In the biography of Bono by Laura Jackson called Bono: His life, music, and passions, Jackson takes the reader on a journey from the slums of Dublin to the glitz of world-wide tours. Through it all, the reader steals a glimpse of the real character of Bono: the constantly changing artist, the energetic performer, the devoted Christian and the untiring human rights activist. Bono is a man who refuses to be defined as any one thing, and the course of his life explains much of where his vigor comes from.

Born in May 1960 in Dublin, Bono’s real name is Paul David Hewson. A very Christian name, Bono was born to a Protestant mother and a Catholic father, a very unique couple for that time in Ireland. Jackson describes his parents as refusing “to allow the intense rivalry in Ireland between these religions to keep them apart. Bravely, they married – in the teeth of intense opposition.”

Bono was brought up primarily Protestant, going to church with his mother, which was untraditional at that time, as children were generally raised in the faith of their father. However, the unconventional nature of this arrangement is precisely why the Hewsons chose this path for their children, Bono and his older brother. As his father would wait for the rest of his family outside of the Church of Ireland after he attended Mass, Bono’s view of religion was deeply affected. Jackson explains that, “This segregation would inflame Bono and laid foundations for his views on the need to pursue integration and greater tolerance of different faiths.” Bono never quite classified himself as Protestant or Catholic. Jackson writes that, later in life, Bono felt “whether to class himself as Protestant or Catholic … ‘I always felt like I was sitting on the fence.'”

Childhood was not necessarily easy for Bono. With a stiff sibling rivalry and the death of his beloved mother during high school, Bono became a rebel of his own accord.

Bono attended one of the first and only non-denominational high schools at the time in Dublin with the other future members of the band U2. The band started almost by chance when drummer Larry Mullins Jr. posted a note on the high school bulletin board calling any potential band members to a meeting at his house. The band that is today U2 is who showed up.

Adam Clayton, the bassist, and Dave Evans, now known universally as “The Edge,” were probably initially the most talented, along with Larry Mullins Jr. Overall, Bono “did not exhibit any particularly outstanding musical talent, despite harboring aspirations to become the band’s lead guitarist.” The very name Bono is a shorted version of the Latin phrase “Bono Vox,” which means good voice. This nickname was more of a joke when first given to Bono, who originially hated the nickname. No one could deny, however, that Bono exuded “an irresistible verve and optimism, as well as a confident theatrical flair,” and that made him a natural choice as front man and, consequently, lead singer. The internationally acclaimed band thus began as four questionable musicians with enthusiasm.

Bono has always been known for his strong lyric-writing abilities. Songwriting is a very serious undertaking for Bono, and, in reference to his beginning songs, “his intention lyrically was to promote independence and freedom of thought, and to reject glossy, stereotyped media imagery. He also wanted to explore serious questions of spirituality – a subject avoided by most rock lyricists but one that Bono believed that teenagers did think about.”

The band’s tendency to write songs that are thematically Christian has caused increasing debate about whether or not U2 is a Christian band. The band members themselves are self-proclaimed believers, and one need not look far to find strong Christian ideas on any of their albums. Bono has consistently been very vocal about his beliefs, at one time coming out against the “commercialization of religious faith” saying, “I believe it is tarnishing something really beautiful.”

One should not get the impression, however, that Bono is trying to evangelize his crowds, Jackson explains.

“Invariably, U2’s answer was that they just hoped their songs might make people stop and consider exactly what was going on around them,” Jackson writes.

Even more importantly than talking about religion, Bono has spent his life encouraging living a life based on Christian ideals. Jackson takes the reader through the timeline of U2’s history of social justice. U2 has been instrumental in supporting the unification of Ireland and in raising awareness of the issues in Third World countries, especially those in Central America and Africa.

U2’s “Pop-Mart” tour to Sarajevo is said to have marked the “return to normalcy” in Sarajevo, and Larry Mullins, Jr. calls it the best concert in the history of. Bono has served as the international spokesperson for Jubilee 2000, an organization committed to aiding in Third World debt relief, and has begun his own organization called DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade and Africa). Bono, himself, believes social justice to be at the core of what Christianity is truly about.

Bono is a man of many faces but one heart. In his biography, Laura Jackson tries to introduce all sides and aspects of Bono. The title holds true to the content, as the reader is educated on “his life, music and passions.” While this novel may not initially appeal to the light-of-heart U2 fans, as the life of Bono unfolds, the reader meets a man who is intriguing on his own – a world-famous rock star who values family, friends, Christianity and social justice.

Jackson ends the chronicle best: “He is a genuine pacifist, yet he is capable of a militant attitude … and it is this central duality, right at the core of Bono’s personality, that ultimately intrigues. Bono is, and will always remain, unique.”

A fan of U2? Come to the U2 Tribute Concert: Drop the Debt Coffeehouse at 10 p.m. this Wednesday at Interfaith in the Coleman-Morse Lounge and help raise money to help causes in Africa.

Contact Becca Saunders at rsaunder@nd.edu