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U2 goes back to its '70s roots for inspiration

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U2 frontman Bono says the band's yet-to-be-released new album isn't a nostalgia trip, though the quartet did revisit its early days in London.

MICHEL EULER / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge Image

U2 frontman Bono says the band's yet-to-be-released new album isn't a nostalgia trip, though the quartet did revisit its early days in London.

222"It opens with, 'It's like the room just cleared of smoke/I didn't even want the heart you broke/It's yours to keep/You just might need one,'" he says. "Then it goes, 'I finally found my real name/I won't be me when you see me again/No, I won't be my father's son.'"

Bono pauses. "That's a heavy thing, I realize, as a father myself -- to not take your family name, you know? I'm known as Bono. And I realize now that all the angst and rage I had at that time," during his youth, "must have really hurt (my father). I thought my family was the problem, but I was the problem. A typical thing."

 

The man born Paul David Hewson, who is now 53 and lost his dad 13 years ago, reached back a lot in working on U2's upcoming album -- which still doesn't have a release date.

"We've been at it for a while now," Bono admits, his tone becoming lighter again and self-effacing. "In this band, a song isn't finished until it's being sold online, or in the shops. And even then, Edge might try to remix it."

It has been nearly five years since Bono, the Edge and bandmates Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr. released their last studio album, 2009's No Line on the Horizon, and they know fans are getting itchy. A U2 song, Ordinary Love, was featured on the soundtrack to last year's biopic Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom; it won a Golden Globe Award for best original song earlier this month, and is up for an Oscar in the same category.

Bono says Ordinary Love was inspired by late South African president Nelson Mandela's love letters to his former wife, Winnie. "They're really worth reading, with this very quaint, almost archaic language that's tender and beautiful." The activist-turned-political leader had Shakespeare's works smuggled to him while in prison, Bono notes.

The songs being readied for U2's new album draw inspiration from the more recent past. "We went back to the reason we wanted to be a band in the first place. We started listening to music from the late '70s, remembering our early trips to London," he says. "I remember being with Ali, my girlfriend at the time -- now my wife -- feeling incredibly uncool in the middle of this punk-rock explosion."

Not that the album will be a nostalgia trip. "There are some very different moods, and some extraordinary guitar stuff out of Edge," with modern-rock and R&B savant Danger Mouse producing most of the album -- though the group "might experiment with some new people" in the final stages, Bono says.

"As a band, we never think about the past," Bono says. "But going back to the '70s as a starting point brought up so much, just to return to that moment when you're formed. I started dating Ali the week I joined U2, I think -- a good week."

That period marked a political coming of age for Bono as well. He cites Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu as key figures in his becoming an activist, "anti-apartheid and anti-poverty. These two men turned our lives upside down -- or right-side up, more accurately.... Mandela gave this beautiful speech in (London's) Trafalgar Square in 2005, where he said that poverty is not a natural condition. It is man-made; it can be overcome by the action of human beings."

That philosophy got Bono involved with the cause of international debt relief 15 years ago, and continues to propel his advocacy against extreme poverty. He has "made some unlikely bedfellows" in the process, courting conservative politicians whom many pop stars would shrink from, "but as uncomfortable as I've sometimes felt, I get over it quickly when I think about the lives we are trying to save and improve."

Occasionally, Bono says, U2's other members "will fret... when I get lost in the development of something. But I always come back, energized by it all."

Despite the band's reputation for cohesion, the musicians have had "big fights" in their more than 35 years together, Bono insists. "We've very Irish. It's a noisy, messy family business, but there's deep love and respect between us at the same time."

U2 will likely tour after its new album is released. The group emerged energized after a recent surprise performance at Beverly Hills' Montage Hotel, at the third annual benefit for Help Haiti Home, thrown by Bono's buddy Sean Penn.

"We played in this little ballroom -- we hadn't played a ballroom in a long time," Bono notes. "I realized there's something very fresh about just guitar, bass, drums and a voice. The way music is processed at the moment, when you hear that you go, 'Wow!' Though it's obviously been around for a while."

You'll likely be able to catch U2 at bigger venues, though not necessarily stadiums. "I'd like to play indoors again. Some of the best nights of my life have been at (New York's) Madison Square Garden. Venues that size are in a lot of cities. I think it might be nice."

Bono quips, "I always know that we're getting close to touring time when the missus asks me when we're going out again. I think, should I read something from this question? 'No, not at all -- you're great at home.'"

And the globetrotting rock star/philanthropist enjoys being there. "As they say in Dublin, we've a lot of weather. But it can be beautiful, the mornings here, and I'm just on the edge of the city, so I get to walk in the hills and down by the sea and all that kind of stuff. I'm away more than most, but I always look forward to coming home."

-- USA Today

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 1, 2014 G2

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