Pride of Dublin

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By Lise Hand, New York Post

A superstar in the United States, an ambassador in the Third World, a saint in Rome, Bono is something else in his native Ireland - ordinary.

My friend Craig de Wald found that out in a rather comical way when he strolled into the men's room of a Dublin bar last year and found himself standing next to his longtime hero.

De Wald had first seen U2 in action in San Francisco in 1987, and since then had criss-crossed the country six times to see them play. "I've always looked on Bono as a bit of a role model. I find him interesting because he has the ability, as Rudyard Kipling put it: "To walk with kings, nor lose the common touch."

The closest most Americans will get to U2 is in the audience at one of the band's sold-out shows this week at the Continental Airlines Arena and Madison Square Garden. But in Ireland, you pass them on the street.

De Wald and fellow New Yorker Paul Bossert were visiting me for a weekend, and I had mentioned that I knew Bono. In Ireland, the theory of six degrees of separation goes out the window when it comes to the U2 frontman. Everybody "knows Bono." Everyone went to school with him, saw the fledgling band play in the early days, scrounged a pint off him, offered him song-writing tips.

While most of these claims of kinship are, shall we say, a tad fanciful, Bono does possess an uncanny ability to move about his native city with an ease unknown to most superstars. Although he is usually instantly recognizable, wearing his uniform of peaked cap, tinted shades and hastily assembled collection of black clothes, he is rarely swarmed by fans - and if he is, it's invariably by disbelieving tourists rather than more blas‚ locals.

I don't recall the first time I met Bono. Like many over-35-year-olds, U2's music was a soundtrack to our growing up, particularly through the tedium of the early 1980s, when Ireland was an ignored and unfashionable backwater, and the only buoyant figures were the unemployment rates.

I refused to go and see the band play in the Dandelion Market in the late 1970s (this venue was to U2 what the Cavern in Liverpool was to The Beatles). I reckoned U2 was crap, and a rival Dublin band called DC Nein was destined for greatness instead.

Based on this and other incredible insights, I became a rock journalist. In the mid-1980s, Dublin's rock scene was incredibly vibrant, and everyone drank in the same bars and clubs; it was a close-knit community, save for the usual bouts of back-stabbing and "my-bass-is-bigger-than-yours" posturing. I had changed my mind about U2 by now, and was on friendly terms with all the members of the band and had written about them on various occasions.

But I definitely remember the first long conversation I had with Bono; it was in 1990, and I bumped into him in the city one evening. I was bone-weary, having spent the entire day moving my stuff into my new apartment. I moaned about having to go home and unpack everything and wished aloud I was a rock star like him, who had furniture-moving elves to do that sort of heavy lifting.

An hour later, I was tussling with packing cases when the doorbell rang. It was Bono, offering to help out. By this stage, the one item I had liberated was a bottle of vodka, so I broke it open, and we sat on two boxes and solved the problems of the world. He realized I wasn't looking for a team of workmen, but just a bit of company on my first evening in my new home.

Since then, our paths have crossed on numerous occasions, and it's always fun to meet him. He's witty company and extremely considerate; if I'm with friends, he makes a point of drawing them into the conversation. It's not hard to bump into Bono; when he's in Dublin, he's often out and about in his favorite haunts. Once a week, he and his gang of buddies, whom he has known since his school days, end up in top Dublin nightclub Lillie's Bordello, which has played host to an endless list of celebrities, from Bruce Springsteen and David Bowie to Julia Roberts and Colin Farrell.

Valerie Roe, who ran the club for 13 years, describes Bono as "completely normal and down-to-earth. He never asks for any special treatment; he never has a driver because he walks everywhere." Says Roe, "He likes to hit the dance floor, and sometimes brings new U2 tracks for our deejay to test out on the dancers. He's thoughtful, too - he gave me a Christmas present last year, a signed copy of his 'Peter and the Wolf' book."

Another close friend of Bono's is movie director and fellow Irishman Jim Sheridan, who is currently shooting a movie with rap star 50 Cent. Sheridan describes the U2 singer as "a genuine friend, there's no bull---t about him. He's one of those people who acts as a tipping point and who can genuinely bring about great change."

Sheridan believes that it's the attitude of Irish people to their famous sons and daughters that keeps the singer grounded. "Irish people often begrudge success among their own, and watch out for any sign you've gotten too big for your boots. They tend to keep you in line!" he laughed. But the director adds, "For such a public person, Bono is amazingly private. You may think you know a lot about him, but you don't really. He has that rare ability to hide in plain sight."

That day last October when Craig de Wald and Paul Bossert met the singer in Dublin, they were treated to a vintage performance. The two New Yorkers and myself were sitting at the bar, feeling a little fragile after dashing ourselves on the rocks of Irish hospitality the night before. I was on my cellphone talking to my sister when Bono suddenly appeared and snatched it from my hand. "Lise looks terrible. I think she's in costume," he informed my bemused sister.

He then joined us for a drink.

Craig de Wald has gotten mileage out of the story: "My American friends can't believe that we just ran into him in a neighborhood bar. Nor that he turned out to be a genuinely great guy, having a beer and a laugh."

Copyright © 2005 New York Post. All rights reserved.

1 Comment

great story!! the 'culture of celebrity' warps out many 'stars' and fans, so it's nice to hear that not only is bono (& U2) well grounded, down to earth, 'real' but also neighbours and people in his hometown... mutual dignity, respect, honor, belonging, just chummin around. so important! keeps the band, music, & their perspective real, honest, connected, and probably contributes to their creative ability & longevity. home is 'home', more than just birthplace, and they can not only rejuvenate but have serenity & balance in quality of life.... the ability to just 'be' & have a 'normal' life are obviously embraced, not just taken for granted. Thanks for posting.

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on May 16, 2005 3:35 AM.

U2's March of the Tired Warhorses Hamstrings Fine Ensemble Effort was the previous entry in this blog.

Bono: "We Need to Talk" is the next entry in this blog.

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