Oprah: You have a gift, though. Does it come from a place you can't really describe?
Bono: Before I answer you, I want to say this: I think God gets annoyed with the gifted. We should know that our work is no more important than a plumber's or a carpenter's. And here's what I love about hip-hop artists: They set up the brand and start selling T-shirts. It's like, "Here's my chair. I built it. How many do you want?" Whereas with some other musicians, it's like, "I don't know anything about my record contract. I'm not involved in that stuff." That's such bullshit. That's one reason hip-hop is walking all over rock 'n' roll right now. In what I would call alternative music, there has been a bunch of lies—which meant that you couldn't own up to your ambition. You couldn't own up to the idea that art and commerce are certainly cousins, if not brothers. So where does all music come from—be it hip-hop or rock 'n' roll? I don't know. But I do know that all music is praise.
Oprah: I'll be quoting you on that.
Bono: It's praise to the god of your making. Which, in the case of a rock star, might be oneself. Or a woman. Or an idea.
Oprah: I love that.
Bono: When I was 10, I learned what unlocks creativity. We were studying William Butler Yeats, one of the great poets of the 20th century, and my teacher explained that there was a period when Yeats had writer's block. I put my hand up in class and asked, "Why didn't he write about that?" It was like, "Oh, shut up." I've since learned that there's something to being truthful. The Scriptures say the truth will set you free. The truth is at the root of every piece of creativity. So if you're truthful about your situation, whatever it is as an artist—whether it's despair, whether it's hope, whether it's ambition—suddenly you're there.
Oprah: Isn't that what all real art is—truth?
Bono: Yes. Truth is beauty. That can be a hard thing to say, because some things are not so attractive on the surface. But by owning up to them, we change them—just by speaking them. The first line on the page can be "I have nothing to offer. I'm empty today." That's why public confession—whether it's part of religious practice or on your show—is so important.
Oprah: Yes. Twenty years ago, people were living dysfunctional lives, but they thought they were the only ones living that way. I grew up thinking that people really did live like Leave It to Beaver. I thought, Gee, if I had a mom who made me milk and cookies, my world would be okay.
Bono: In my music, I try to be as truthful as I can. I'm not sure I can be as honest in my life as I can be in my music, because with manners comes insincerity. Like "How are you?" "I'm very well." But I'm not. I have a massive hangover. Truth is sometimes difficult.
Oprah: What makes you happy?
Bono: I'm not the happiest person, and I'm certainly not happy-clappy. There's a bit of "woe is me" that comes with melancholy, the Irish thing, and it's draining.
Oprah: Okay, so what gives you joy? Joy is a better word anyway.
Bono: Joy is the hardest possible thing to contrive as an act. It's easy to describe anger, rage, happiness. But joy is difficult.
Oprah: Is joy elusive for you?
Bono: I don't know. Our band has it when we're going off. There's a joy vibration there. It's not miserable-ism.
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