"Ah, I always take you to the most glamorous places," said Bono with a laugh, as he hugged me in greeting one afternoon in September of 1999. He was being ironic, of course. I'd jetted around the United Kingdom with the band U2--a galvanizing force on the popular music scene for more than two decades--as I'd covered the group for Rolling Stone and other publications. That September, however, we were meeting in a completely nondescript conference room in Washington, D.C., and Bono was about to address a conference on the plight of highly indebted poor countries.
Now, a year and a half later, most people who care are familiar with the extensive, hands-on work Bono has done with the Jubilee 2000 coalition to have the world's richest nations forgive the onerous debts of the most impoverished ones.
|I often wonder if religion is the enemy of God. It's almost like religion is what happens when the Spirit has left the building.|
Bono got involved partly to complete the work begun by the Band Aid and Live Aid events back in the '80s; partly to find a dignified, compassionate way to mark the new millennium; and partly out of his own spiritual convictions. In many ways, that last motivation intrigued me the most. In his debt-relief efforts, Bono did not travel the typical celebrity route of writing out checks or performing benefit concerts. Instead, he was meeting incessantly with politicians, bureaucrats, and world leaders--often behind the scenes--to lobby for legislation.
It's one thing to confer with Pope John Paul II, former President Clinton, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, or even conservative senators like Jesse Helms and Orrin Hatch. It's quite another to sit for hour after hour with the under-secretary of this-and-that or academic economists or World Bank functionaries, as Bono did--that's the labor of a true man of faith. "I never thought it would get this unhip," he complained to me at one point.
U2 is busy rehearsing for its upcoming world tour, but Bono decided to take a short break--and a genuine leap of faith.
"I've successfully avoided talking about my faith for 20 years," he said after we completed this interview, which he did by phone from Ireland. "But with you, I felt I had to. I said, 'I can't turn this guy down--he's been on every blinkin' boring story!' And I thought to myself, it's OK to open up a little bit. The problem is, when I do these kinds of things, the way it turns out in the tabloid papers here and in England is, 'Bono Pontificates on the Holy Trinity.' And then we're off! But at the same time, I can't let them gag me. These are the unformed, unfocused thoughts of a student of these things, not a master."
While the Jubilee 2000 Coalition accomplished a great deal, it failed to achieve its ultimate goal of complete debt forgiveness. The coalition has disbanded, but the work goes on. What is the current initiative, and what is your involvement in it?