Bono on the History of Rock & Roll

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Bono: History of Rock & Roll

In early 1995, Time Life Video, Time (Inc.), and Warner Bros. Domestic Television distributed a lengthy documentary titled "The History Of Rock & Roll." The series was also shown on the Fox TV network in the U.S. This is the text of Bono's interview which was excerpted throughout the documentary.

Bono on Elvis, the early years, and the future of Rock

QUESTION: U2 got together as a garage band in Dublin. When was that?

BONO: We got together in 1976. It was an odd thing. At the time, right across the world it would appear, people were just fed up with stinking rich, mega-rock groups -- like U2 have now become -- and they formed little small garage combos as a reaction. We were part of that, and it was kind of a back-to-basics Rock 'n' Roll. We couldn't play. In fact, we formed the band before we could play and we formed the band based on people. We were into the people, you know, we wanted to hang out and the guitars and drums were really just an excuse.

QUESTION: What kind of impact did the British punk movement have on you? The Clash, the Sex Pistols?

BONO: John Lydon's voice was extraordinary. It was like that Munch picture, "The Scream." It was just this big howl. He was second generation Irish living in England. The Sex Pistols were just blowing everything out of the way. It was an incredible roar of Rock 'n' Roll, the Clash, too. I mean, we related to the Clash. The politics. But I think it was more ... just the way they walked. [he chuckles] It was the shoes, both of them.

QUESTION: There was a certain element of violence in Punk.

BONO: Yeah there was, but spittin' on your heroes has been popular ever since. In different ways, maybe that's okay, and maybe that was the part of Punk -- about the anti-hero, really.

QUESTION: Punk had a sense of hopelessness, a cynical-ness, yet there was something very different about U2 in terms of their message.

BONO: We thought we were a punk band for about a minute and I remember we played support to some punk band in a bar downtown. We were just waffling on about some existential notions on some odd beat, and I remember somebody shouting from the audience, "There's more punk in the Monkeys!" [he laughs] So, I guess we were just coming from a different place. But we related to that spirit, you know.

QUESTION: What about the Ramones?

BONO: The Ramones kind of saved our neck at one point because we were rehearsing one day and a TV director was coming down to see us. He was going to put us on a TV show. He'd heard that we were writing our own songs and he thought that was kind of unusual because we were all fifteen and sixteen years old. He thought 'this'll be interesting.' So he came down to see us in Mount Temple, and we had been fighting in the rehearsal. Guitars were being thrown at various members. It was a horrible scene early on and we couldn't agree on how one of our songs should go -- the song we wanted to play to him. So when he walked in the door, we hadn't got our song prepared so we thought, well, that was the end of it. But actually, I told the band to play three Ramone songs that we'd learned earlier in the week. We lied and told the director they were ours and he believed us and put us on the show. I told Joey Ramone this later. We changed it to our song when we got on the show, so nobody else knows. I owe Joey one.

QUESTION: You once said that Punk was a revolution, but it wasn't a real one. What did you mean by that?

BONO: It was a style revolution more than anything else. See, in the UK, they really relate to nihilist ideas and they like all that hard stuff. When it comes to dance music, they need a lot of drugs to dance. I think it was a way of disguising those other things that are not allowed in England. It was just a different kind of 'Stiff Upper Lip.' In Punk there was a lot of fascist imagery. Of course, it was supposed to be debunking fascism, but in all honesty, some of the punks I hung out with were not aware of that.

QUESTION: Okay, let's go back to Elvis.

BONO: Elvis Presley is like the 'Big Bang' of Rock 'n' Roll. It all came from there and what you had in Elvis Presley is a very interesting moment because, really, to be pretentious about it for a minute, you had two cultures colliding there. You had a kind of white, European culture and an African culture coming together -- the rhythm, okay, of black music and the melody chord progressions of white music -- just all came together in that kind of spastic dance of his. That was the moment. That's really it. Out of all that came the Beatles and the Stones, but you can't underestimate what happened. It does get back to Elvis.

QUESTION: What happens to the pop star?

BONO: They snip away, you know.

QUESTION: I guess. A handful of Rock & Roll stars like Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon and Elvis Presley.

BONO: Yeah, there's a funny thing in Rock & Roll. It's some kind of pseudo-religious thing that we put on performers, you know. We turn them into shaman. We're really disappointed if they don't die on a cross at 33, and I've always felt very angry at losing, you know, when we lost a talent like John Lennon or recently, Kurt Cobain. I just wonder about the records they were about to make or could have made.

QUESTION: Especially Jimi Hendrix?

BONO: Yeah, especially Jimi Hendrix.

QUESTION: Did he have a big impact on you or the band?

BONO: Yeah. We were talking about punk earlier and U2 is not a punk band, but there's this kind of violence present in our music. I don't know where ... you just probably pick it up or it's just in me, but I really relate to that side of Rock 'n' Roll and Jimi Hendrix. He had this role of exorcist, you know. He put Vietnam into that amplifier and just kind of, you know, put so much into that guitar. So much came out of him. He's the great instrumental genius of Rock 'n' Roll. Really!

QUESTION: Do you think there was some violence in Bob Dylan?

BONO: Mental violence. It wasn't such a visceral thing with Bob Dylan. He certainly painted a picture of what was going on around him. The sixties and seventies in America were very violent times. America is a culture that's come out of violence and has this obsession with guns. To me, that goes back years and years. There's cities in America that are built on the sites of massacres. It's just this bloodletting that won't stop and I feel the same about my own country.

QUESTION: You also said something about taking the love from the sixties and putting it in your music.

BONO: Well, the sixties didn't invent love. I just meant that some of those groups in the sixties were able to describe what was going on in the negative sense. There were also, you know, great songs about very positive songs. You know, Dylan wrote a lot of them.

QUESTION: Do you think that somebody like Madonna or Michael Jackson really sold an image rather than a sound? BONO: I think they're bound up in each other. I think all this thing about plastic surgery and pop stars obsessed with the way they look ... they're kinda cuttin' bits off themselves, you know. To me, that's just an extension of editing. These people have been in the studio too long. They're used to 'turn up the snare drum,' you know, 'turn down the bass drum, turn up the bass.' And then they just look in the mirror and do the same thing to their head.

QUESTION: Where do you think Rock & Roll is heading?

BONO: I don't know. I think, what I'm excited about right now is that Rock & Roll is mutating. It's turning into something else. In fact, the term Rock & Roll is probably over. I'm just excited to be at that point where the ground is giving way. I can really feel it just about to go under our feet and I just want to let go. I want to just go with it wherever it goes. I don't even think of U2 as a Rock & Roll band, you know. I don't know what we are.

Copyright © 1995 TLV & T & WBDTD. All rights reserved.

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on March 26, 1995 10:08 PM.

Eno: The Story Behind "Original Soundtracks 1" was the previous entry in this blog.

"The Fly" on the Stage: Readings and Misreadings of the "New" U2 is the next entry in this blog.

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