Copyright: Joe Jackson. Must not be used in whole or in part without written permission from the author
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Prologue. Bono: Soul Searching and Uncensored. Back Story. 2013.
Picture the scene. It’s February 5th 1994. Bono and I are sitting in the restaurant of a hotel near his Killiney home, which we left a little while earlier, after he told his wife Ali he’d be back in an hour or two, now he’s ordering a, ‘late breakfast’. It’s 2pm. I say, “Ali obviously doesn’t feed you, are you in the doghouse?” He laughs, knows I’m joking, tells a waiter he’d like, “a mixed grill, cabbage, mashed potatoes and a pint, to wash it all down!” Healthy eating, this ain’t. But it’s lunchtime for me so I order a chef’s omelette, no pint.
Bono then resumes what he was doing before the waiter arrived. Namely, flicking through the typescript of a book I began writing within days of the death of Elvis Presley, in August 1977. My goal was, as I told a girlfriend at the time, patently in a passionate moment, “to try recapture the purity, the Camelot-like innocence of how it felt to grow up as an fan of this ‘King’ during the 1960s and ’70s.” Bono likes the idea and has agreed to give me an interview about what Elvis meant to him during that period, how this influenced U2, especially the Zooropa tour.
During the world exclusive Zooropa interview we did a year earlier to launch the Zooropa album, we did touch upon on the subject of Presley in the context of Sun Records, a theme he wants to further explore today. But first, Bono is checking out sections of the Elvis book, and says he would “love to read it in full, as it stands, as soon as possible.” He’s excited, I’m delighted.
I’m also smiling as I think of two kids who passed us by as we walked along Killiney Beach on our way to the hotel. Bono and I were lost in one of our usual soul searching, maybe quintessentially Irish, metaphysical discussions, which no doubt would bore the ass off many, and one kid shouted, “Hey, Bono where’d ya get the jacket?” referring to his sheepskin attire. Bono, responded by turning towards the kid, adopting what I presumed to be a piss-take, rock star pose, and replied, “Yeah, it’s cool, isn’t it?” The second kid said, “No, it’s fucking woeful!”
We all laughed. After they walked away Bono remarked, “That’s what I love about living in Dublin. There’s always somebody ready to bring you back down to earth.” Now, I’m thinking that is just what Bono needs to counteract all the hot air that’s pumped up his ass by many of my media peers in Ireland. I want to warn him, “Ground control to major Bono, when Nietzche said, ‘Take care a falling statue doesn’t strike you dead,’ he should have added, ‘especially a statue of yourself’.”
Bono shivers, thus fracturing my reverie. I hope he hasn’t mastered the art of mind reading. Then, he glances up at me, probably wondering if I had noticed the shiver, I reckon, clearly trying my own hand at mind reading. But I say nothing. However, I do decide that at some point during the interview I shall ask Bono what he saw, or read, in my book that fired what seemed to be a shock of recognition.
Flash forward thirty minutes, or so, into the interview. I have asked Bono why he closed the show, during the Zooropa tour, with himself and Elvis singing Can’t Help Falling in Love, then left “the poor, dead King,” to end the song on his own as audiences left the gigs. Bono responds with the following explanation, which I include in full towards the end of this anthology, but edit heavily here.
The Bono on Elvis interview has never been published in full – although 1,000 words of the nearly 7,000-word text did appear in The Irish Times in 1994 – and nor has our, seemingly much-loved, by U2 fans, Zooropa interview of 1993.
Bono: The last voice was mine, in falsetto. To me, that sound, in essence, is the child on the cover of our first album. [Boy]. That, at the end of all this artifice [the Zooropa show] and the whole journey, [U2’s career so far] is me, saying, “This is where I come from.” The naiveté of that first record, repeated, all these years later, is the last moment in the show. So, what we are saying is that amongst all the trash, is a purity – this quiet little voice that is still there and is still pure and that is still true. That’s why people loved Elvis, even at the end, even among all the crap. There was still that aspect of purity. And that’s why, after I soar upwards, singing in falsetto our show ends with just his voice singing, Can’t Help Falling In Love.
Joe Jackson: That is so appropriate in terms of my Elvis book it gives me a chill. So, you obviously understand why I have that picture of Elvis as a child, [A portrait given free with the 1970 album, Elvis Country] for the illustration. That image, to me – and which I only now see, though I kick myself for not noticing this before, is so similar to the cover of Boy – represents Elvis as a lost innocent: the pure, unsullied soul that lingers even after his death – the child Elvis was, I was, we all were, to begin with.
Bono: That’s why I shivered earlier, when you showed me that illustration. But, let’s take this one step further – what if that image of purity is the mage of a Christian in the original stage of grace?
I really couldn’t believe that Bono had honed in on an iconic portrait of Presley, which was given pride of place on shelves in every location I had lived since 1970, and occupied a similarly pivotal space in my psyche, and he made me view it from a new angle. This was like looking at a cubist painting I loved, say, Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, and thinking, ‘I get it, at last,’ even if that feeling was fleeting and turned out to be totally wrong. What Bono said certainly reminded me of a time, when I was twelve, read that the name of Elvis’s home is ‘Graceland,’ and immediately inverted the word, see it as, ‘land of grace’ and loved it even more. Bono and I clearly were singing from the same hymn sheet, in more ways than one.
Not that Bono needed to be told any of this, at that point. He would probably come to similar conclusions after reading the book. So, I sat there and listened fascinated, as he thundered ahead with an anecdote that did take his premise one step further, and beyond. The deeper we delved into the subject the more it seemed to me that Bono just might be similarly unearthing new truths about himself, U2, Elvis, and the ever-evolving nature of his own faith.
Here I must get personal, for a moment – if only because that is what Bono, as he so often does with his finest songs, called forth. And I found that as Bono sat there speaking with missionary zeal and with utter conviction about his faith in Jesus Christ, I envied him, yearningly. Christ and I had, let’s say, one hell of a falling out in 1978, when I discovered my father dead, aged only fifty. I even wrote a poem in which, after evoking memories of my original Christian state of grace as a child, I said: ‘But now/ If Jesus Christ himself/Were to waft his robed way/Towards me/And say/ We took your father/As a test of your faith/I’d say wrong move buster/And head butt the bastard/All the way from here to eternity.’
Heavy? I know. But it is not blasphemous. And fifteen years later, when Bono and I did the Zooropa interview – the following is something else I never told him – one quote he gave helped me to come to terms with my rage against God. It even made me start to see myself as a kind of blues/gospel singer! God bless Bono!
Bono: I’ve talked about the Psalms before, but to me, they really are a predecessor of the blues because there you had an honest dialogue with God, David shouting at God and he was this character who was a real fuck up. [I later ran this analogy by Leonard Cohen who admitted that he never saw David as “the first blues singer,” and praised Bono’s insight for describing him as such]. And he wailed at God, “Where are you when I need you? My enemies are all around me and you call yourself God? What the fuck is going on here?” That’s the tone of the Psalms and that’s where I come into the music.”
And so, my hope, in terms of Bono: Soul Searching and Uncensored is that it will contain even one insight that may help even one reader to see something from a new angle and to unearth a new truth. I was very much inspired, in this sense, and inspired to put together this anthology, when I read on Amazon a recent one line review of my 2012 anthology, Tori Amos: Soul Searching and Uncensored. ‘Chrissy’ said, simply, ‘Thank you for writing this, it has made me understand things about my life I have struggled to understand.’
But Bono devotees be warned. I may be an ‘invisible’ interviewer, overall, and have publicly proclaimed that I despise the kind of interviewers who haul themselves centre stage alongside the people they interview, but I do make my presence felt in the previously unpublished sections of this narrative. Besides, this anthology isn’t an interview. It’s a variation on the theme of three interviews.
In fact, I lead you through this story in the same way that another of my heroes – who makes his presence felt in this anthology, courtesy of not only me but also U2 – Johnny Cash narrates, say, his 1977 concept album, The Rambler. And if that thought gives you mental indigestion then I would recommend that you skip, in particular, the ‘Bonus Track’ Chapter titled, Author’s Note. The Wanderer.
Also, healthy eating, textually speaking, this anthology ain’t – if you are into hagiography. Bono once said to me, in response to a profile I wrote – included here although I now agree with his criticism that I got the “tone” wrong – the following:
Bono: Yours is a critical voice and please stick the boot in, [or] praise [U2]. We [U2 and Joe Jackson] have that kind of relationship. It’s one of [mutual] respect.
That quote, from 2001, relates to a legal battle I had with The Edge, a year earlier, because a factual error in a Bono profile I wrote a year earlier. That tale has never been told but is told in this anthology. I also tell of the night, around the same time, when I brought up with U2’s manager, Paul McGuinness, the subject of that legal threat and he said, “It’s strictly business, baby!” That prompted my girlfriend to retort, “Listen you, no one calls Joe Jackson, ‘baby’ but me!” which, at least, made me laugh.
I dedicate Bono: Soul Searching and Uncensored to its subject. It is part of a two-volume set, the second of which is titled Bono: Other Perspectives, and includes U2 biographers, Eamon Dunphy – quoted in this book – John Waters and BP Fallon. Also, the likes of Frank Zappa, “Cowboy” Jack Clement, Sam Phillips, Tony Bennett, Dolores O’Riordan, Gerry Adams, and even Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland, soul searching on the subject of U2, and/or Bono.
Joe Jackson, Glasthule, County Dublin. July 9th 2013.