Stories for Boys
Record Mirror by Chris Westwood (1979-11-10)
“A conscientious publicist might feel obliged to line U-2 up against the new wave, but the only props he’d have for such a scam would be their youth and its attendant vitality. Yet, if the first punk manifestos are interpreted to include both these values, and also music that’s no easily categorisable, then U-2 fit the bill.” (Bill Graham, Hot Press)
Paul “Vox” Hewson is 19. You’d almost think he was somewhat older. He litters his conversation with thoughtful irony, studied little stories illustrating the points he’s making.
There’s a man living in a box, his whole life revolves around boxes, square room, square window, square furnishings. He wants to escape. He climbs to the very top of the box, peers over, falls out. He lands in another box, smaller and darker, more oppressive. There are three other people in the same box.
This is a story Paul “Vox” Hewson tells sometimes on stage. The story is his perception of breakaway from capitalist control, the bleak possibilities of independent alternatives.
And then he’ll resign and question himself, wondering if he’s got it all wrong. Paul “Vox” Hewson is Bono, throwaway pet name thrust upon him in Dublin, his hometown. There, he fronts U-2, simply the most evocative, romantic new rockpop band since heyday Penetration/Buzzcocks.
Bono is strikingly profound and endearingly naive; he’s a learner, he wants to be educated and to achieve. I believe U-2 will achieve.
Bono is one of these types whose very words represent the essence of spirit, adventure, and determination; these qualities are inherent in all U-2 music. It’s a case of — to paraphrase a colleague — never having a band in live performance, yet still recognising their unquestionable air of greatness.
U-2 stand at the centre-point of a current growth and maturity in Dublin music; the Boomtown Rats may have provided a local context for the region, but their music serves no purpose, not for the Modern World. It’s bands like U-2 who will ultimately live out the fragile promise of this decade’s latter quarter, right into the ’80s.
Their growth has been steady, assured but underplayed: “Instead of shouting, rapping at the door,” says Bono, “I prefer to call, to have people come, look, and think. Then they can decide.”
During their first year of existence, the four piece (then five piece) were still schooling, operating under the name The Hype, a moniker later discarded for its irrelevance. “U-2” was chosen for its neutrality, its freedom from trend-connotations.
“A lot of punks reject us,” Bono explains of Dublin audiences, “and of course, as it is here, a lot of the hippies reject us because we’re new, so we have this peculiar audience, this cross-section. That’s why the name U-2 is ambiguous, it’s in between, like a tightrope we’re treading.”
Formation was something more adjacent to reaction than inspiration. Disillusionment with 1977 chart material fostered a need to develop, to formulate an expression of their own. Mastery and proficiency came with experience: with experience came a natural ability to involve ideas, lyrics, and audience in emotional communion.
Bono speaks in soft, assuring Dublin tones, often using his hands theatrically to emphasize a point of conversation. He makes himself understood. He enjoys the spur of the rock and roll spectacle; greater still is the actuality of being the spectacle…
“I’m like the clown, calling people to look at the stage…it’s like putting a magnet to iron fillings, drawing them in. And once they’re in that position, you can feed them, give them what you have. We give — and people look, and we give all — and that can affect people’s emotions; so we get a sensitive audience, people who are aware. You see, I might be a hero on stage, but off-stage I’m an anti-hero — you’ve seen me, I lose my bag…I louse up phone calls to John Peel…so you’ve got this hero image, which is rock and roll, and the reality, where I meet the fans afterwards and I can’t talk because I get embarassed.”
The on stage Bono is an extension of the off stage Paul “Bonovox” Hewson, the transformation. The personality revolves around the myth of rock and roll; U-2 aren’t preserving the myth, but questioning the separation it inflicts, the false elevation of performer over spectator. There’s a warmth and naturalness in U-2 that transcends just the music, if Bono is anything to go by. He says: “What we’re looking for is real people, people who have real emotions, and people in Dublin are actually quite real. They’re in no hurry to get on, in no hurry to break down The System. There, The System is broken by apathy. There’s an actual section of the Civil Service that doesn’t exist! The people sit there all day filling in crosswords. Irish people can be efficient, but they’re generally not. They’re more interested in life, in conversation, in pubs. They like to drink. They like to talk and to learn.
“The traffic’s very fast here in London — the lights go green and Wham! they move off. In Dublin, they’ll cough, scratch, and away they go. Like, Dublin’s in a constant state of amber.”
The traits displayed by Bono the individual — youth, vigor, a developing awareness overcoming naivety — are very much reflected in U-2’s music and words.
A boy eats a bar of chocolate. He has yet to discover adolescent emotions. He eats and enjoys, and this is all he knows. The boy is the consumer, and also the marketer. The chocolate is product, feeding both parties.
Bono wants his chocolate to reach the shops. He wants his Caramac to be marketed, and viewed as such. He hates misrepresentation, mistrusts perfection.
“I believe that perfect beauty can be harmful. Did you ever notice that the really beautiful girl in the school was never really all that together, ‘cause she got things handed to her? Perfection is unreal, everybody’s un-perfect…but you’ve got these heroes on TV — and this is the first TV generation, if you like — people being bombarded with perfect images. Superman, Bionic Man, the girl from the perfume ad, and everyone playing let’s pretend. When I was six or seven, I had a Batman suit, went walking down the road, and the big boys pulled the mask over my eyes so I couldn’t see where I was going. I never wore it again. Everything should be pointed toward the individual, making them think for themselves…if people could just pull off that layer, that mask, that macho man image…”
The thing that makes Bono and U-2 so believable is their awareness of vulnerability; both in themselves and in other individuals. They see acceptance of this as central to the very concept of harmony, unity, and self-belief. And that’s important.
Reports suggest that U-2 are asserting the ideals propagated but unpracticed by so many of our 1977 rebels, while injecting their music with a breadth and flexibility that seemed lacking until, say, Penetration or The Cure made themselves felt.
Bono might be unassuming, deceptively so, but he realises the worth of U-2. And he realises they have the ability to lift and inform a substantial part of our young generation.
“Frankly,” he concludes, “I enjoy getting on my own, reading books I want to read, going out with me girlfriend, writing songs. But I don’t just want to stick to that environment. I’m an outgoing sort of person. I want to take everything and break everything. I want people in London to see and hear the band. I want to replace the bands in the charts now, because I think we’re better.”
U-2’s “Out of Control” one-off with CBS Ireland will soon see light of day on this side of the wash, through Rough Trade. Dates may collide with December.
Four individuals — Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen — are U-2. Four people maintaining perspective, balance, and youthful verve: the box they choose to inhabit will become larger, not smaller.
© Record Mirror