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Bono In Conversation With Michka Assayas 
Author: Michka Assaya
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Pages: 323

Michka Assayas has used his privilege and responsibility wonderfully. Being given the privilege of half biographer, half shrink to the most famous rock star on the planet weighs onerously but this French journalist does a sharp and shrewd job. It is the closest we will come in some years to Bono’s autobiography but as Bono himself indicates at the end of the book, even his own account would not have delved in the directions that Assayas does. This might just be even better than the real thing exploring nooks and crannies never before exposed in Bono’s heart, mind and soul.

This unique approach to rock music books steals a more familiar approach with other kinds of artists but it is fresh and should give publishers some good ideas. What we have is one long interview held in different ways in different places over about a one year period. Assayas is no enabler for Bono to say what he wants. He comes at the task in many places as the devil’s advocate. He wants to test Bono on his life, his beliefs, his political causes. That he is not a believer in Bono’s spiritual path helps us to see the cutting edge of Bono’s beliefs. Though sympathetic as a friend, Assayas is not afraid to share his consternation that Bono could believe in Jesus as divine and he also wants to interrogate Bono on whether his strategy for Africa is sound. 

What he reveals in all of his questioning is that Bono is a busy man, that he has a real clarity of faith, has matured with a wonderful wisdom about life and that he is a multi-tasker who unlike his rock music persona is simply a humble man doing what he loves, believes in and is passionate about, without any sign of pretentiousness, though he sometimes plays the pretentious rock star because it is his job and expected of him. There is an amazement at how many people one man can know, how vast an array of backgrounds are invited into his inner circle and he can swing from the top of the political tree to the top of the business tree while remaining very much at the top of the musical tree. In the interviews, the human rights activist, business strategist and rock star dreamer all blur into one man.

The two most recurring themes are his Christian faith and Africa. The number of times Bono quotes the Scriptures on the widest range of issues has Assayas asking him at one stage why he has to always quote the Scriptures. He’s in the middle of aging and Keith Richard when he suddenly declares how much he prefers older people like Sinatra, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and an Irish painter Louis Le Brocquy when he bursts into a little commentary on the story of Jacob stealing his brother’s blessing from Abraham. He’s talking about Drop the Debt Campaign and suddenly he’s off on a look at the Children of Israel in slavery to Pharoah in Egypt. 

Perhaps most enlightening is his outing of Adam (U2’s bass player not Eve’s husband) as a fellow believer with the other band members. Adam had famously been the hedonistic non believer in U2. Bono suggests that today he is the most spiritually aware and then off he goes again blathering on about Jesus and his use of the sheep analogy for how we have gone astray. 

Bono’s own clarity of expression when it comes to his beliefs about Jesus and the cross will be surprise to even those who believed he believed these things but never expected him to utter the confession publicly again. Assayas is not a fellow believer and never lets Bono off without pushing him, suggesting that Christ is among the world’s great thinkers maybe, but son of God might be a bit far fetched. Bono is on it with CS Lewis-like apologetic: “But actually Christ doesn’t allow you that. He doesn’t let you off the hook. Christ says: No I’m not saying I’m a teacher, don’t call me a teacher. I’m not saying I’m a prophet. I’m saying: “I’m the Messiah.” I’m saying: “I am God incarnate.”… So what you’re left with is: either Christ was who he said he was ­ the Messiah ­ or a complete nut case. I mean, we’re talking nut case on the level of Charles Manson.”

From this identification of Christ and Bono’s obvious identification with Christ, he looks at the essence of and critical need for grace instead of karma much as he sang in the song "Grace" from All That You Can’t Leave Behind. His focus for all of this is what Christ achieved on the cross. The political tolerance in the air around him gets quite a stormy clash as Bono says he loves the idea that God would warn us that the selfish outworking of our sinful nature has consequences but then goes on to open up salvation; “The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That’s the point it should keep us humbled…It’s not our own good works that gets us through the gates of Heaven.”

There are other fascinating insights into U2’s work. For those wondering if there was a loss of faith during the decadent, seemingly faithless '90’s, Bono says that it was not a crisis of faith but a crisis of strategy. If anyone has followed Bono into the offices of dodgy political characters and wondered how he can befriend them and why he always seems to have something good to say about nearly everyone, he tells a story about Martin Luther King at a meeting to discuss how they would deal with Robert Kennedy. Everyone is bad mouthing Kennedy when King stops and asks for something positive. When no one could find anything positive he adjourned the meeting and said they would reconvene when they could find something as it was those good thing about people that were the doors to change. 

Bono waxes lyrically and thoughtfully on Africa. He believes again in the doors being there to really make a difference and will always return to his trip with Ali, his wife, to Ethiopia after Live Aid when he was called “the girl with the beard.” On coming home they said they’d never let that experience drift from their hearts and though they played Africa quite for another 15 years, he said they were waiting for the opportunity to reignite it and that came with Jubilee 2000.

This is as good an autobiography as we will get from Bono in some time and it is better than what he might have written unprovoked. He admits some of the questions would not have been asked had he written it. It is  Bono literally on the couch and there are lovely little caveats where his children or Ali, his wife, will appear. It is an ordinary man in his ordinary way chatting to a friend about what is most important to him. 
  
 

Steve Stockman is the Presbyterian Chaplain at Queens University, Belfast, Ireland, where he lives in community with 88 students. He has written two books Walk On; The Spiritual Journey of U2 which he is currently updating and The Rock Cries Out; Discovering Eternal Truth in Unlikely Music. He dabbles in poetry and songwriting and he has a weekly radio show on BBC Radio Ulster (listen anytime of day or night @ www.bbc.co.uk/ni/religion/rhythmandsoul). He has his own web page--Rhythms of Redemption at http://stocki.ni.org . He also tries to spend some time with his wife Janice and daughters Caitlin and Jasmine.

 

 

 
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