"Shop Till You Pop"

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Melody Maker, February 22, 1997

"Shop Till You Pop"

....The singer returns to the stage and U2 proceed to conduct a press conference with no little wit, panache and style. Bono does the majority of the talking, handling questions which vary from the perceptive and insightful to the teeth-grindingly tedious. The Edge also makes a few quietly-spoken interjections. Adam and Larry sit at the back on upturned K-Mart stacking crates and play the strong-but-silent rhythm section card they do so welI. Firstly, though, there's a snatch of performance. Bono winks at the compact crowd and yells, "Manhattan-this is the place ! PopMart and K-Mart ! We're here on business !". U2 pick up guitars and play the sheer heavily distorted "Holy Joe", the backing track to the "Discotheque" single, then there's a short photocall and hordes of snappers besiege the stage. When the question-and-answer session finally begins, a journalist from The Observer, um, observes that Pop Man appears an ambitious, expensive project. Who's paying?

Bono: "Well, as Imelda Marcos once said (laughter from the crowd)....what did she say about her shoes ? A million here, a million there, and soon it's big money ? Yeah, this is an expensive show and we're prepared to spend on it and people are prepared to spend to come and see it. (Pause. He indicates the band's gladrags). It costs a fortune to look this trashy !"

French radio joumalist: "Do you see U2's new sound as a fresh, danceable expression of the same ideals that your music has always had, or is it a radical departure ?"

Bono: "We still have the same ideals, we've just learnt to look like we don't. We've got a little smarter on that one."

The Edge: "Dance music ? Well, if you want to dance to our new record, you can dance to it. But we're still writing tunes. We have a great singer and a great lyricist. We've just taken on board some new ideas."

Daily Mirror: "Why are you launching your album in K-Mart ?" (Cue laughter from US hacks who wouldn't normally be seen dead in the downmarket, lo-price store)

Bono: "Well, we want to get to as many people as possible and we're a multi-outlet outfit ourselves. I can't quite remember how we got to the idea of taking a supermarket on the road but it made a lot of sense at the time ! I guess, basically, we're sitting here right now trying to sell our tour to the world, and there's nobody better than K-Mart at doing that."

CNN: "By holding your press conference in this setting, you surely don't mean to suggest that your music is flimsily constructed from cheap materials and that its discountable and ultimately disposable, do you ?"(Laughter)

Bono: (also laughing) I agree with every word you just said apart from 'discountable'."

The Edge: "We believe in trash, we believe in kitsch, and thats what we are up to at the moment."

US radio journalist: "Are you paying K-Mart for the right to use their name in PopMart ? And what do you think of K-Mart's policy of not carrying stickered albums carrying parental guidance labels warning of contents which are morally offensive ?"

Bono: "Oh, look, at least they're not selling guns, and that certainly helped in our choice. I have to say I'm genuinely amazed that K-Mart even let us in here today. They're being very kind and cool to us, we don't have to pay them anything, and stop being such a snob !"

Radio 1: "ZooTV was visually amazing - how are you going to top that onstage ? What are we going to see?"

The Edge: "Well, we've got some space junk, we've got the biggest TV ever devised...."

Bono: "....we're bigger, better, taller, wider more intimate, more spectacular ! But PopMart is just our latest window dressing. People who come to see us live come along to hear us play the tunes, and everything else we do is really just trying to make fun of having to play in very large spaces. If we tried to play small venues we'd be on the road for a very, very long time because a lot of people want to see us play. So when we go to these outdoor venues, we try to show that it is actually possible to turn these concrete and steel mausoleums into somethirig special - shopping malls, for instance !"

MTV Latin America: "In Latin America we've always been told that U2 wilI never play there because you'II never accept sponsorship from cigarette or alcohol firms. Now you're going to play Latin America, so whats happened ? Have you taken sponsorship ?" This is a topical question - a few US newspapers have suggested recently that U2 have sought a huge multinational firm to sponsor PopMart but failed to find one.

Bono: "No, we have no sponsor on this tour but its not like we've taken some high and mighty decision to that end. If we couId get someone to give us a load of money and not have to kiss ass we'd probably take it, but unfortunately we haven't been able to figure that out. "I think we're in a luxurious position, though, that we can afford to put on a show like this ourselves. It's one of the advantages of being....STINKO. I do believe in a few of the smaller countries, which may include Latin America, there'll be some sort of small association with companies, because without it we just can't go. We're prepared to go to places and not make money but we're not prepared to go to places and lose it because thats just condescending. "We've had some very good news today that we're playing Sarajevo, which is really good because we've been trying to organise that for a few years. But they're not interested in a charity event. Sarajevo is a cultured place, a smart place which has been nearly wiped out of Europe and they just want us to come and play. We're doing a real low ticket price but they don't want charity, man."

Mexican (Pepe Le Punk-style) journalist: What can the people of Mexico expect from your tour when you come in December ?"

The Edge: "We had a really amazing time when we were last in Mexico and we knew we definitely wanted to go back. It's the same production wherever we go. We don't believe in doing an A standard show and a B standard show. Wherever you go to see a U2 show, it's going to be exactly the same...."

Bono: (slyly eyeing up Edge's spangly disco shirt) "Mexico has been a very big influence on The Edge's gear actually...."

Boston Globe: "How much older material will you weave into your set on this tour ? On the last tour, it seemed to increase as you went along."

The Edge: "We started off last time playing about eight new songs and I think thats what we'll do this time as well. We'll obviously be playing a lot of favourite songs from previous records but we don't want this to be just a Greatest Hits tour. We'd find that pretty boring and I don't think our audience would like it much, either."

A Dublin magazine journalist called Brenda Donohue, who is close to the band, asks when the Dublin show will be finalised and tries to get the notoriously reticent Larry Mullen to speak.

Larry (grimacing) "I'll speak, but only for you, Brenda. We're still trying to find a place to play in Dublin. We've had problems with curfews at all the football grounds so we're trying to get Phoenix Park but there are problems with the license there. Phoenix is the people's park, though, so we're very helpful."

Donohue: (digging for gossip) "And who'll be packing your bags for you on these 100 dates ?"

Bono: "Well, if you think it wiII be AIi (Bono's wife) you're very mistaken, Brenda !"

Irish radio journalist: "By now U2 are into the second generation of people who have got into your music. Can anybody come into PopMart to shop and get something out of it, whether they're young or old ?"

The Edge: "Yeah, we've got something for everyone at PopMart. Everyone's welcome."

Irish radio joumalist: "And will there by any discount prices on the album ?"

The Edge: "No, there'll be no discounts. Maybe some special offers."

Toronto Sun: "Why did you all decide to dress up like The Village People (in the video for 'Discotheque'). Can we expect to see them out on tour with you ?"

Bono: "As far as that video was concerned, we didn't want our audience to think we'd gone all weird on them. We wanted to make a video which put its arms around people and said, 'Hey, its OK."

London journalist: "Can I just ask with regard to the size of Pop Mart - why is the squeaky nun so small ?"

Bono: "Because she's very large in our lives."

BBC Radio 5 Live: "'Discotheque' went straight in at Number One in the UK, four years after you last made a record. Did you find it very satisfying to find you were still at the top after so long away ?"

Bono: "The funny thing is that we seem to have been away for a few years but that wasn't really the intention. We've done a lot of stuff. We released....oh, fuck, what was it called ?" (Laughter from the crowd as Bono seems to have genuinely forgotten the name of the Passengers project) The Edge (in a stage whispers "'Passengers'.")

Bono: "Yeah,'Passengers', that's it. Well, that was originally going to be a new U2 record but they talked us down from that one. If it had been a new U2 record it would only be a year and a half now since our last album -but there again, we mightn't have had any fans left ! Oh, there's been various soundtrack stuff, such as the Batman theme, and (impishly)Larry and Adam are doing 'Mission: Impossible VII', or whatever it is, so thats very exciting for them ! To be Number One is great, though, obviously, and we've just learnt today that 'Discotheque' has gone in at Number 10 here in America. That's why we've called the album 'Pop' - we hope it might catch on !"

A South American journalist begins to ask a long and rambling question about U2's visit to her continent. Bono, bored of the formality of the event, leaves the stage and stalks down the aisle of the press conference, fixing the poor girl in his gaze. He comes to a halt sitting in the lap of the bemused journalist in front of the Argentinian girl as she stutters to a halt.

Bono: (kindly) "So whats that ? You've got a problem with your mother ?" (The room erupts as the poor girl tries again, clearly wishing herself back in South America)

Bono: "Yes, we've wanted to play South America for a long time but never managed to figure out a way of getting there, but now we have done. I think it'll be a highlight of the whole tour".

South American joumalist: "Why will it be a highlight ?"

Bono: (sweeping a hand through his hair contemplatively)."'Highlights ? Do you know, I think I might !" (He returns to the stage under cover of another gale of laughter)

Scottish radio joumalist: "On the Zoo TV tour you were phoning politicians or ordering pizzas from the stage. Will you be doing that again this time around, and who will you phone ?"

The Edge: "The pizza places are on to us now so that option's out."

Bono: "We made some great calls to politicians on the last tour. Calling Alessandra Mussolini so that 70,000 ltalians could sing 'I Just Called To Say I Love You' to her was definitely a high point. I don't know if we'll use the telephone as a weapon on this tour, but if we don't, we'll find something else."

Canadian TV joumalist: "You had some great support bands on the last tour. Do you have any plans for these dates yet ?"

Bono: "On the last tour we had a lot of great bands and on this tour we'll have the same. A lot of bands have shown interest and we're currently trying to sort it all out. I love listening to people like Underworld or The Prodigy, because l can hear a line there all the way back to Robert Johnson. They're where its at, really. The Prodigy are interested in doing some shows with us, but they haven't finished their record yet so I don't think they'll be involved in the early parts of our tour. We'll get back to you on who's playing with us, but we like to mix it up a bit."

US radio journalist: "That song 'Holy Joe' which you played to us earlier - is that title, together with the album name 'Pop', an attempt to deflate the aura of sainthood which has been around U2 for years and years ?"

Bono: (smiling broadly, and heavily tongue-in-cheek) "Ah, it just won't go away, will it ? No matter about all these miracles, all these stadium tours and tinsel and televisions we use, I'm always going to be the fucker with the white flag as far as you are concerned ! Isn't that right ?"

US radio joumalist: (defensively) "I'm not putting my opinion, just asking whether you're trying to deflate that perception."

Bono: "Yes. The honest truth is that U2 are still the bleeding hearts club. Our music is still painfully and insufferably earnest. We've just got really smart at disguising that fact and throwing people off our trail. If we'd called 'Achtung Baby' by any other name, I think we'd have been taken out and hung. But here we are, and it looks like you've copped onto us !"

US journalist: "How much will your ticket prices be this tour ?"

Bono: "Wow - a money question ! I think the average ticket price around the world is about $45 (about £30) which is pretty good. I mean, how much is the Superbowl ?"

US journalist: "That's different."

Bono: (mock-outraged) "What do you mean, 'that's different' ? With U2 you get the Superbowl every night"

CBS New York correspondent: "Is there any significance to holding this press conference on Ash Wednesday and staging the first date in Las Vegas ?"

Bono: (teasing) "A-ha - Ash Wednesday ! That's very well spotted ! I reckon the combination of Ash Wednesday and K-Mart just about sums U2 up, and therein lie our contradiction and the cross we carry. Carnival means a lotto me, because carnival should be the celebration of the flesh going into the denial which leads into Easter. Unfortunately, in Ireland we tend to forget about the carnival and go big on the denial ! Well, maybe we can be the carnival."

US magazine joumalist: "You are the first band to have been burglarised on the Internet (a reference to an early mix of 'Discotheque' being 'stolen' from U2's studio and posted on the worldwide web). Will you acknowledge the Internet on this tour and exploit that technology ?"

The Edge: "You mean, as compared to being exploited by it ? WelI, yeah, we did get - what did you say ? - burglarised, and we are interested in having a major presence on the Internet, but there's nothing definite yet."

Female US joumalist: (flirting) "What's your log-on, Edge ?"

The Edge: "Ah, you'll have to know me a bit better than that !"

US Sony Radio journalist: "How much input did you personally have on the design and look of the Pop Mart tour ?" (Bono seizes eagerly on this question)

Bono: "Well, everything, because thats what we do nowadays, basically. Why do you think its fucking taken us nine months to make the record ? Its been madness trying to put all this together and I honestly don't know how much longer we can carry on trying to assemble shows Iike this and Zoo TV. We're involved all hours of the night and day, and (U2 producer) Flood will tell you how frustrating he finds it to work with us on the music when we're constantly trying to work out the visual coefficient. Its very interesting how rock'n'roll is mutating into all kinds of things at the moment, though. We find it all very exciting. The bottom line is that playing a football stadium doesn't have to be like standing at the back of a muddy field in the Seventies. It can be an extraordinary event and it's very exciting for us to be aIlowed to do what we want to."

US magazine joumalist: "'Pop' is the first time in 13 years that you haven't worked with Brian Eno producing. Why the change ?"

The Edge: "I think going into the record we both figured that we were interested in doing fairly different things, so we came to the conclusion very painlessly that we wouldn't work together on 'Pop'. Brian felt the same as us: he wanted to concentrate on his solo work, and we wanted to concentrate on doing something we felt Brian wouldn't really be interested in. It was an easy decision to make. There was no problem."

Bono: (mischievously) "Plus Eno has a serious grudge against guitar players (The Edge blinks, twitches and mutters 'Well....) But he took a strong interest in 'Pop' and called us when he got sent a copy, which is....very cool of him, to remain interested on an outside level. Eno's great. Bands like us normally go to art college, but we never did - we went to Brian. He'll always be a part of us."

Polish radio journalist: "You are playing in Poland and the Czech Republic - was that difficult to organise ?"

Bono: "Yeah, because it was hard to fix a ticket price low enough to enable enough people to come to make the show make sense....(he looks concerned at the parochial nature of the question) Is this getting boring for people ? (Shouts of 'No' from the floor) Wow - are we really such funny, charismatic people ?"

Hollywood Reporter (US trade magazine): "How do you feel about the fact that Island, your record company, is not going to share promotional costs on 'Pop' with the retailer ? Will this affect album sales ?"

Bono: (wide-eyed in mock-shock a'la Bill & Ted) "Wow, dude ! Wow !"

Portuguese joumalist: "Do you plan to do anything in future along the lines of interactive TV ?"

The Edge: "No, the interactive TV idea we worked with about four years ago proved not to be very practical, so in the end we dropped it. Will we revisit it again - who knows ? At the moment Zoo TV is still an ongoing project, though."

Portuguese journalist: "In what way ?"

Bono: "We worked on some video games and we thought it might be interesting to take some of the characters from Zoo TV and set them off on their own. We wanted to turn Zoo TV itself into a TV station, and it may still happen - we have a few pilot shows coming up in the spring."

It's indicated that there is time for only one more question, and a US magazine journalist asks Bono to expand a little further on the choice of "Pop" as an album title and "PopMart" as the tour legend.

Bono: "Pop is just a great word, isn't it ? There's a big 'O' in the middle you can put your head right through ! I think it is an important point that 'pop' became a term of abuse during the Seventies and Eighties. In Europe, certainly, it was against the law to be Number One, and if you sold a lot of records you were regarded as having 'sold out'. That WAS the attitude in the UK and Ireland, and I'm glad it's over now because it led to a kind of miserabilism. As a band, U2 have always wanted to Write It Large. We don't share that dishonesty thing of white rock music where people just won't own up to having a vision and ambition. Hip hop, say, isn't like that, because those people want to see how far they can take everything, they want to take on the world and do it on their own terms. A lot of white groups have this whole thing about (affects a Cobain Vedder-style whine), 'Oh, I don't know how all this happened to me, I don't know how I signed to a major label and got myself a manager and got to be Number One, and l think I'd better go and kill myself !' (Uneasy laughter from the audience) Well, yeah, it is funny but it also ISN'T because its actually ultimately a political thing going on behind there. U2 have always wanted to be a band Iike The Beatles or The Who or The Sex Pistols - we've always just wanted to be BOLD. When I was 17 my mate Gavin Friday (Dublin poet/singer and long-time mucker of Bono) gave me the book 'A To B And Back Again' by Andy Warhol and I'd sit and read it for hours. I found great liberation in the way Warhol saw things. He never tiptoed around things, he just took them on. And that's what U2 want to do and to carry on doing."

Bono rises with a flourish. "Thank you very much."

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on February 22, 1997 9:52 PM.

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