The self-conscious rebel-rocker transforms passionate intensity into action that just might change the world.
The idea of the rebel-rocker is sorely tarnished in these days of "pop lite," but there's nothing sugarcoated about the intensity Bono brings to the world. Consider these few events from the past year in the life of U2's charismatic front man: a sold-out tour; the All That You Can't Leave Behind album went to number one in 32 countries; the birth of his fourth child in May; talks with the leaders of the world's strongest economies—the G8; the death of his father in August; countless one-on-ones about AIDS relief and trade with cabinet officials from Colin Powell to Condoleezza Rice. Where does his stamina come from?
"God made me stubborn," Bono says with a throaty laugh that tells you something about the state of his vocal cords. "Stubbornness and Catholic guilt," he continues. "That'll work for you every time. And I've had the best life that a man's ever had."
This is how Bono talks—long strings of run-on sentences that can encompass pub life, the AIDS pandemic in Africa, blues guitar and a healthy dose of self-deprecation. The bottom line of all his speechifying is that it's time for a major initiative that would combine debt cancellation for the world's poorest nations with trade reform and a commitment from pharmaceutical companies to give free HIV drugs to African countries. Bono spouts numbers effortlessly and accurately, noting that sub-Saharan Africa spends around $13.5 billion a year repaying debts to rich countries, which is more than double what it spends on health care.
His charm lies in the fact that whether he's at an audience with Pope John Paul II or singing "Beautiful Day" for 20,000 fans, his need to communicate is palpable. There was a time when Bono harangued the world, all the while making it clear that he didn't give a damn if he was. A decade later he has learned a more effective path.
"Sometimes, instead of climbing over the barricades, you've got to walk around them, and sometimes you discover that the real enemy is not what you think it is," he says.
That attitude has led to some strange-seeming bedfellows such as Senator Jesse Helms, the 80-year-old archconservative from North Carolina, who became Bono's champion in the struggle to get a debt-relief plan through Congress.
We Hear You!