In Defense Of Bono

A rock star for post-partisan times

OK, I get why I also should be sipping on the hater-ade when it comes to Bono, lead singer of U2, businessman and humanitarian. There's the intentional grandiosity he feels he must always project -- no matter the song or cause; the need to pick up the Concerned Citizen of The World mantle that Bob "Do They Know Its Christmas?" Geldof wasn't even ready to surrender.

And, yes, dang it -- twenty-plus years of those freakin' shades! And then, the act that has unleashed the hordes of the blogosphere on him -- a column in the Sunday New York Times that was meandering and so full of itself that it made Maureen Dowd seem a model of literary restraint. The Times even had to post a correction on Wednesday.

All that said, I'm willing to cut Bono some major slack.

It's partly personal: U2 provided a soundtrack to the bulk of my adult life. The connection was forcefully recharged with All That You Can't Leave Behind: Though released nearly a year before 9/11, the album's songs uncannily spoke to the most shocking event in the nation's domestic history -- particularly for those of us living in New York, dealing with the reality of a smoking pit called Ground Zero: "Beautiful Day", "Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of" (Hello??), "New York", "Grace", "Elevation." The coincidence was almost supernatural.

But, beyond the personal connection. I forgive Bono because, unlike most celebrities, he's concerned about two things: Making music as passionately as he and the band did from the start -- and making a difference in the world in a more-than-dilettante manner.

He's also a decent human being. The only aspect of the "rock 'n' roll lifestyle" that consumes Bono is the music itself -- whether playing it or talking about it. He's been with the same woman for 33 years -- married to her for 26. He doesn't show up in the tabloids or gossip columns with supermodels, fighting in bars, collapsed out in the streets, strung out on drugs, etc.

For all of the trouble Bono's gotten into for occasionally dropping an F-bomb on live television, a U2 concert is as safe as a Jonas Brothers show for young kids. During the "Vertigo" tour three years ago, I saw them at the New Jersey Meadowlands. A family -- parents in their mid -40's with a teenage daughter -- all looking like they'd had a great time.

He is both harbinger and embodiment of the current political mood. Note that Bono and Barack Obama are the same age. Though one hails from Ireland and the other America-via-exotic back-story, they see the world through similar (sun) lenses: They put a premium on post-partisanship.

Indeed, Bono admits that his trips to the Bush White House didn't exactly go over well with his band-mates -- or others in the entertainment world. But Bono wouldn't pile on with the Bush-bashing. He realized that if he wanted to get the US to support his Africa relief plan -- beyond just individual donations -- he would have to engage American decision-makers. So, he wasn't going to let partisanship get in the way.

Yeah, it's easy to say that Bono's ego is such that he doesn't care who's in the White House -- as long as he gets to hang there and be "cool." Well, maybe so, but how does that explain former Sen. Rick Santorum? One would be hard-pressed to find a less "cool" Republican to hang with. But there was Bono after one of the sessions of the 2004 Republican Convention -- hanging out at Santorum's after-party at the Columbus Club on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

There wasn't a horde of paparazzi either outside or in. He had no entourage with him. He was just chatting with whomever would listen about his DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade Africa) and ONE organizations. He said he was there because Santorum invited him -- and Republicans are in the majority so I have to talk to them . A couple years earlier, Bono dismayed fans by meeting with the late Jesse Helms -- who pronounced Bono as "genuine" and "well-prepared" in trying to get aid to Africa that would actually get to the people who needed it. This is the sort of common sense you wish every cause-chasing Hollywood-type would follow. With that post-partisan pragmatic approach, Bono sounds like Obama (or, more accurately, Obama sounds like Bono).

Ironically though, Andrew Sullivan who loves and admires Obama's pragmatic sensibility, dismisses Bono for his "opaque" lyrics. Right -- and no one has accused Obama of high-flying rhetoric that appears not to mean anything at first glance?!?! The similarity between singer and politician are pretty strong.

A friend once said, in a rather disapproving tone, that "U2 is the biggest Christian band in the world -- spreading the Word under the radar." Sounds about right. Bono once praised John Paul II "the best front man the Catholic Church ever had." He recognized rock 'n' roll charisma wherever it manifests itself. Bono is basically a "temperamental conservative" who sincerely believes the best way to encourage people into doing good is to convey the joy he finds doing good.

So, Bono wants to inspire others to do the same -- starting with young people and then convincing the "grown-ups." Sound familiar?

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