Sunday, 20 April 2014

Bono On Bono - Michka Assayas


When New Order were once interviewed on television, vocalist Bernard Sumner referred to Bono as "that Bongo guy" and ever since then the name has stuck - in my mind at least. Bono's real name is actually Paul, and The Edge's real name is Dave but when considering U2 these real names don't exactly have the same ring to them as their pseudonyms. Personally, I much prefer Bongo. It just sounds less... inflated. So for the sake of this review, Bono shall now be referred to as Bongo and with this in mind this book shall now be referred to as Bongo On Bongo.
Which makes it sounds better already.

Written by French music journalist Michka Assayas, Bongo On Bongo takes the form of a series of conversations between himself and Bongo over a period of two years. Now, U2 are by no means the most boring band in the world; they play a good song and put on a good gig, and what does it matter if John Peel chose never to play them? They've always been very earnest (with a wink) and they've always been good source material for some decent quips and remarks: Boy George once commented that if Bongo still hasn't found what he's looking for then he's not looking behind him, because it's there sat on the drummer's stool (wink, wink).
In interviews, Bongo often made good copy. He was once interviewed by the NME where he spoke of his interest in such things as why at the height of The Beatles fame and glory did John Lennon sing 'Help'? It was a good observation. So, over the course of a whole book what might Bongo have to say for himself? Well, not a lot actually. In fact, though it's not intentional, if anything the book shows him in a curiously dubious light.

Each to one's own and live and let live and all that but for a start, Bongo's Christianity sticks in the craw. No matter what outlandish costume he might wear or extravagant show he might put on, not only does his faith keep his band fully contained and holds them chained to the like of Cliff Richard but there's something about being a Christian and a millionaire that just doesn't wash.
'It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.'
Bongo justifies his vast wealth by saying that in the eyes of two thirds of the world's population who are living hand-to-mouth there is no difference between the wealth of a journalist such as Michka and Bongo's own wealth. Both can eat well, can afford medicines, have time off, and don't have to worry about their children. So there you go. He then goes on to reveal how the Zoo TV tour cost a quarter of a million dollars a day to put on, which if you think about it for a moment is actually quite staggering. That's a lot of money for some Christian entertainment.

He then goes on to say that he has respect for such people as George Bush and Jesse Helms. But how can this be? How can anyone respect such a pig ignorant, sack of shit motherfucker? And as for Bush... there are no words.

Bongo gets to meet these presidents and politicians on behalf of AIDS charities and Drop The Debt campaigns. Bureaucratic administrators for these fucking creeps see that Bongo is representative of some kind of constituency so he's invited and welcomed into their fold to show that they're listening and that they're sympathetic to his cause. He's awarded promises, he has his photo taken with them and everyone is happy. In the meantime, however, the world outside grinds on with people being born, being exploited to the hilt and then dying in extreme poverty as modern day plagues sweep across nations.
For the powermongers Bongo is a foil, a sop to allow them to get away literally with murder. He is given bread crumbs from the table. A band-aid for a decapitation. Better than nothing a fan or a Christian might argue but in the grand scheme of things in actual fact it's not. It's a trick of smoke and mirrors to make it look as though efforts are being made to resolve problems whilst in reality things remain firmly the same. Poverty remains. Debt is not wiped out. AIDS is not vanquished.
The cheery photos are taken and gestures are made. A few million dollars given here and a few million dollars deducted there. But the show goes on.

If the political will was there then the debts of developing nations could be wiped out. Poverty in the First, the Second, the Third and the Fourth World could be eradicated. The spread of AIDS could be halted. To the eternal shame of mankind, however, the political will is not there and the token gestures are a pretence. It's a sham in which Bongo for all his compassion colludes.
The reason as to why world poverty and disease is allowed to continue is debatable. Is it to maintain a balance of power? Who knows? Do the presidents and politicians even know themselves? Again, who knows? Certainly not Bongo.

Some years ago at the G8 forum in Genoa, Bongo was inside the heavily guarded zone of the city where the heads of states were meeting, busily glad-handling and hobnobbing. A famous photo came out of it showing Bongo laughing away with President Putin like a couple of old drinking buddies. Meanwhile over in Chechnya the civilian population were being terrorised and murdered by Russian forces. And just a short distance away from the safe area where Bongo was laughing with Putin, thousands upon thousands of protesters from all over the world were in pitch battles with armed Carabinieri; throwing themselves at the police lines in a bid to shut down the G8 and chase the circus out of town. The city was a war zone. One protester - by the name of Carlo Guiliani - was shot dead by the Italian police.

It has to be asked, which side of the fence should Bongo have been on? Which side of the fence would his friend Jesus have been on?
It's probably a question that Bongo secretly does know the answer to.

Bongo On Bongo reveals that there's a major hole in Bongo's understanding of the world. To some extent he's filled that hole up with Christianity but there's a lot that he still fails to grasp. At one point in the book he talks about U2's first tour of America and how when they were staying at the Gramercy Park Hotel they bumped into The Clash and the Slits who were staying there too:
'It was like an American bohemia. I remember the Slits hadn't got guitar straps. They were so punk. Their guitars, they were around their necks by strings. I think Edge put out his hand to shake one of their hands, and the singer, Ari Up, slapped it. She said: "We don't do that".'
You see, back then at that stage - young, fresh, keen and green as a carrot - Bongo (and Dave/The Edge) just didn't get it. He just didn't understand. And after all these years, he still fails to.

Bongo On Bongo. Read it and weep.

There are no words
John Serpico

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