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In 1989, Bono graced our cover in a cowboy hat—and without the sunglasses. After the critical (if not financial) bomb of U2’s Rattle and Hum, the bandleader came to Mother Jones to talk about “capitalists, communists, and critics.” For a few years, U2 had been told they were the biggest rock band in the world. Foolishly, they believed it and started to act like it. Bono talked about the band being “on a mission,” as we wrote.
This got him dubbed a “thin-skinned egoist” (the Village Voice); it meant U2 was showing “self-importance” (the New York Times). “Bono and his songs take on some very big issues: violence and redemption, God and politics, love and death,” Adam Block wrote for this magazine. “That makes him prime game for skeptics, critics, and acolytes.”
Bono here is that wayward figure: a political celebrity. This is nothing new—and, of course, even those blithely sliding by as “apolitical” figures are still doing their fair share of shoveling out a certain kind of propaganda in playing a neutral game. But it is interesting to think just how long this game has been going for him. Remember that other cover, from Time: “Can Bono Save the World?” (“Don’t laugh,” the subtitle begins.) That article has a lot of, um, questionable politics now. As does Newsweek’s, for its Bono profile from 2000—even the title is terrible: “Can Bono Save the Third World?”
In 1989, Bono is just beginning his transformation into how we know him. (I did a spot-check with some youths on staff, and they do know him, by the way—mostly for dropping an album onto their iPods without asking and being played by their parents/the radio.) You can read his many thoughts here.
I highly recommend the long diatribe on sex and Christianity, which is as cringey as it gets.