Saturday, November 14, 2009


"...As U2 toured October through ´81 and ´82 theye became hardened by roadwoark. They had regained their confidence as a rock band.Bono was driven by a need to bring all the pieces together.Now was the time to declare war on everything that was cynical, phoney, defeatist and limiting.Their thrid album would be a document of the times.There could no shirking.
Personally,politically and musically, U2 would declare their indepencece. Loud, angry and demanding, the War album and tour woudl see U2 triumph..."

from The Stories Behind Every U2 Song by Niall Stokes.

War is the third studio album by U2, released on February 28, 1983 . The album has come to be regarded as U2's first overtly political album, in part because of songs like "Sunday Bloody Sunday", "New Year's Day", as well as the title, which stems from the band's perception of the world at the time; Bono stated that "war seemed to be the motif for 1982."

While the central themes of their earlier albums Boy and October focused on adolescence and spirituality, respectively, War focused on both the physical aspects of warfare, and the emotional aftereffects. The album has been described as the record where the band "turned pacifism itself into a crusade."

War was a commercial success for the band. In 2003, the album was ranked number 221 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

That was what the magazine Musician(May '83) published about War:

Bono likes the smaller victories. The time the band wasn't "bottled" off the stage in Arizona, despite the promoter's warning that the kids there didn't like opening acts. The 1976 showcase gig at the Hope & Anchor pub in London when the Edge went offstage to fix a broken string and the rest of the band, fed up with the record biz crowd, followed him off and sat down. The overzealous moment in Birmingham when Bono, the Edge and bassist Adam Clayton simultaneously jumped into the crowd, guitar chords popping out of the amps...

The conflict in Northern Ireland is part of what goaded Bono and his bandmates to call their new record War, but the concept is not entirely military: "Sunday Bloody Sunday" is not so much about the Sabbath day bloodlettings in 1920 (in Dublin) and 1972 (in Londonderry) as it is about "the trench we build within our hearts"; "New Year's Day" was inspired by Poland's beleaguered Solidarity movement, and the accompanying video uses stock footage of fighting on the Russian front in World War II, but the cut also evokes lovers' separations; "Surrender" deals with suicide in Manhattan. Bono wrote, "A Day Without Me" (on Boy, their debut album) partly in reaction to the news that Joy Division's Ian Curtis had taken his own life. Since then, a school chum of Bono's, having survived electro-convulsive therapy in a Dublin institution (Boy's "The Electric Co.") has "had a go at himself with an electric saw. He told me that there's only two ways out of the place -- either over the wall or just to cut his throat." While visiting that friend during his recuperation, Bono was approached by a second acquaintance from his old school, who informed him the world was going to end on April Fool's Day, 1983. "I'm going through the wilderness now," he said, "but I'm coming into my glory soon. I've picked a good day for the end of the world." Bono summons up the barest of grins. "You've got to laugh. But it's disturbing, and I feel like there's a high level of mental illness in this country. And I think there's a link between that and a kind of spiritual unrest."

This spiritual unrest is hardly alien to Bono himself. The Bono who wrote an entire album as an excursion "into the heart of a child" bid goodbye to an emotionally troubled boyhood only to make October by virtually speaking in tongues, raging for days on end into the microphone inside an isolation booth hastily erected of corrugated iron. "Having had my notebook stolen in Seattle a few weeks before, I had no lyrics written down. So I just tried to pull out of myself what was really going on in the songs. The things you are most deeply concerned about, lying there in your subconscious, may come out in tears, or temper, or an act of violence..."
Or, in Bono's case, in a couple of months of raking through his own heart and mind and spilling the results onto tape. Steve Lillywhite, the young producer who's worked on all three U2 albums, cleared a space for the singer; out of twenty-four available tracks, he left eight open for Bono's resinous wail to resound in. "Gloria" was sung partly in a monotone derived from the recordings of Gregorian chants that U2 manager Paul McGuinness had supplied; some lyrics poured out in Latin, and when Bono dashed out of the studio for a Latin dictionary in order to translate his own dis-gorgings, he ran into a friend who'd studied Latin and hauled him back to translate. The English words are a supplicating howl describing the exact situation Bono found himself in: "I try to sing this song/I try to stand up/But I can't find my feet..."

"William Butler Yeats," says Bono, "said that once there was a period where he had nothing to say. Well, to say that is in itself a statement of truth about your situation, so say that. I had this feeling of everything waiting on me, and I was just naked, nothing to offer. So I went through this process of wrenching what was inside myself outside of myself."

The song that now frightens him, Bono says, is "Tomorrow." He'd originally thought that the words, with their images of a black car waiting by the side of the road and a dreaded knock on the door, had to do with the killings in Northern Ireland. A few months ago, he realized the song was about his mother's death, which came when Bono was about thirteen. "I realized that exactly what I was talking about was the morning of her funeral, not wanting to go out to that waiting black car and be a part of it. People sometimes say October is a religious record, but I hate to be boxed in that way."
Bono has by now transported us to Malahide Village, a suburb just north of Dublin, where the Edge lives with his family. Edge's real name is David Evans, and his father Garvin moved the family from Wales to Ireland because that was where his engineering business took him. As we pull up, Bono does a fond impression of Garvin singing "If a Picture Paints a Thousand Words" at the wedding of drummer Larry Mullen's father. Garvin Evans answers the door. "Why have ya still got your suit on, Mr. Edge?" asks Bono, gesturing towards the night sky. Mr. Edge, sharp-featured like his son, momentarily tries to look stern: "Somebody's got to earn the crust."

Even though they have had virtually no time off from their 1979 signing until Bono's honeymoon last August, the band refuses to complain. They have a mission, and they are decidedly unified in their determination. "When people ask us what our influences are," says Bono, "we always say, 'Each other.' "

Larry Mullen, who organized the band by posting a notice at Mt. Temple Comprehensive School after being kicked out of the Artane Boys' (marching) Band for wearing long hair; Adam Clayton, who Bono says, "couldn't even dance" at the time he picked up the bass; The Edge, who had quickly gone from acoustic noodler to budding guitar hero through a seemingly innate gift; and Bono Vox, born Paul Hewson, with the slapdash good looks and unselfconscious swagger to match his drive. "It had been a long time," recalls Dublin rock writer Bill Graham of an early U2 gig, "since I'd seen a singer who went for an audience that way, all the time watching their eyes."

Their stage show was much too large in scope for that low-ceilinged, under-populated function room at Southampton College. The Edge's clarion calls on the treble strings. Larry's martial ferocity and Bono's upthrust arm showed an expansive, hot-blooded streak that had been developed naturally in what Bono called "a garage band," as they went from being utter novices to playing in open market squares to the soused and skeptical local teenagers, to the kind of reputation that enabled them-before they even had a contract-to fill Ireland's largest concert hall. They stood against the pretensions of the new wave's ideologues, against the "gop" on U.S. radio, against the elitism of fashion bands like Visage.

They went a long way on Bono's tirelessness, his fervor with a mike in his hand. "When you think, 'Oh, screw it, I'm not gonna climb this mountain,' " says Adam, "he's the type of person who'll hit you in the ass and get you going. It doesn't make you a lot of friends, but it's a great ability to have."
At one point during the endless rounds of touring, Bono thought he had sussed the Edge's guitar style, and attempted to demonstrate as much at a sound check: "I'd been watching. I knew all the settings, I knew his machines, the chord shapes, put my fingers where he puts his, had the volume he has it at, struck it the same way -- and this blluuug came out of the speakers. The road crew just burst out laughing, and the guitar roadie came up and said, 'You know, I've been watching him for the past year and I've tried every day to make it sound like he does. I can't do it."

"We started out as non-musicians," Bono points out. "We learned to play after the group was formed. I mean, we started to write our own material because we couldn't play other people's. Adam couldn't slap in time when he joined, Edge could play sort of bad acoustic, Larry had his military drumming, and I started singing 'cause I couldn't play guitar."

Bono and Ali were married last August, and as we head for Sutton Castle to eat dinner, they tell me about the raucous reception they held there, during which, of course, the band commandeered instruments from the hired help, climbed on a table and assisted local folkie-turned-rocker Paul Brady in playing "Tutti Frutti." Bono was carried about on his brother's shoulders and spent his wedding night in the castle without benefit of electricity (which the band's exertions had snuffed). For U2, it was a celebration of more than ordinary significance -- partly because it was their first work break since their Island signing in 1979, and partly because Bono and Adam sealed an unspoken pact. Since the late summer of 1981, when the band came off the road to slam out the October album, Adam had grown alienated-become, in his own words, "a cynical, sometimes vicious drunk." His problems stemmed from a feeling of being sealed off from Bono, Edge and Larry, as those three grew more and more committed to their heartfelt, but rather private band of Christianity. Bono had been raised in the Church of England, a fairly austere -- Episcopalian -- flock with little resemblance to the near-charismatic worshippers he began to seek out as he entered his twenties. The Edge had similar beliefs, and Larry -- especially after his mother's sudden death in a road accident -- likewise became a committed Bible student. "It is what," says Bono emphatically, "gives me the strength to get up every day and put forth a hundred percent of my energy." October centered on Christian topics. In the depths of this estrangement -- at a time when, as one insider says, "Adam may very well have believed he was about to be kicked out of the band" -- Bono asked Adam to be his best man at the wedding.
It was Adam who stuck around in the control booth during Bono's tortuous October sessions. "I like to see Bono working under pressure, 'cause he's a great improviser, and I think he sings notes, sings words much better when's he's a bit desperate. That's when the soul comes through."

The soul of the twenty-two-year-old Bono Vox is a capacious and contradictory quantity. He'll point out with some reverence that the cover of Van Morrison's Veedon Fleece was shot on the steps of Sutton Castle, but he is a post-punk with little reverence for rock's godfathers. He accepts the praises of Townshend, Springsteen and Jackson Browne with none of the usual, false-modest demurrers. He seems to regard the Clash as politically modish carpetbaggers ("How come the Undertones, from the heart of the trouble spot in Derry, write pop songs about their girlfriends, while the Clash, who come from an art school in London, write about Derry?") and he loathes "the whole elitist vibe" of London's fashion bands. "The whole 1976 'punk rock, man' ethic, what happened to it? The anti-star ethic, the breaking down the barrier between stage and floor, it's all out the window. They're actually saying in London, now, 'Love is in fashion.' That's really wild."

One reason U2 glories in their trips to America is the openness, the non-trendiness, of the crowds. A quick riffle through press clippings from their last Florida sweep reveals Bono tactfully disarming a noisy kid in Tampa ("Florida does not suck. Who says Florida sucks? Are you from Florida, sir? Oh, you're from New York; I see.") and jumping onstage in a Tallahassee club (after being mauled by overzealous girls at that night's show in the county Civic Center) to sing "Wild Thing" with a local band called the Slutboys. Precious Bono isn't. He didn't hesitate to walk up to future Irish Prime Minister Garret Fitzgerald in Heathrow Airport and befriend him (resulting in a Bono endorsement that was a front-page picture story in the Dublin papers). But when we pick up a girl hitchhiking to Bellfield College, from which Bono had once been suspended, he can't bring himself to tell her he never went back because he became a rock star.
Bono says a simple grace before we dine at Sutton Castle, but it's clear the wine does not taste like medicine to him, and before long he is giving his stage-whispered account of the Hewson family in Irish history proceeding backwards through the famine of 1840 and adducing a rather dubious blood tie to the ancient kings. Bono drops Robert Plant's name in the dust as part of an episode in a bar near the Welsh border. Plant was grabbing Adam's coat and ranting about how much he loved U2, while Bono raptly concentrated instead on a document ordering the execution of British monarch Charles I; at its foot, one of the sixteen signatures was the name MacAodha, the original Gaelic of Bono's family name, Hewson.

Bono's wife looks on indulgently as he holds forth; he got his nickname not directly from the Latin for "good voice," but from the brand name of a certain hearing aid sold in the British Isles -- such was the force and frequency of his palavering. The arm-swinging, stutter-stepping onstage Bono is replaced in conversation by archings of his eyebrow and sly grins, but the energy always shows through. His marriage, says one friend, made life easier for everyone close to him: "Here is this horny, emotional guy who also needs to live as a Christian."
Bono wrote Boy's "Out of Control" immediately upon rising from a troubled sleep on his eighteenth birthday: "I said, 'Well, here we are. I'm eighteen, and the two most important things in my life -- being born and dying -- are completely out of my hands. What's the point? At that point in my life I had a lot of anger and discontent when I couldn't find answers. It was violent, but mentally violent." Thus October's "I Threw a Brick Through a Window" is a kind of screed against the singer's inability to find meanings in his own life -- but a brick is never mentioned except in the song's title.

From the perspective of the recently completed War, Bono would seem to now believe that he has been a bit self-indulgent: "On the first record, the lyrics were impressionistic -- and adolescent. On the second record, with a lot of travel behind me and a lot of experience going through the brain, I used more images -- still refusing to tell the story line, but giving more signposts."

War's clear single is "New Year's Day." It went straight into England's Top Ten on release, and was U.S. FM radio's most added song the week it appeared. Edge's guitar skitters through the verses with a special urgency, Larry's drums (recorded, to everyone's gross inconvenience, in the stone central stairway of Windmill Lane Studios) refuse to let up, and Bono gives one of his characteristically driven vocal turns. "I think we've reached the point," says Adam, "where we have the skill to direct the playing on each song right towards the feeling that caused the song to be written. We're trying to strip away everything until we get to that cause."
Much more than on the previous two albums, that cause is to be found in a territory far afield of Bono's internal philosophical struggles -- tumultuous as they may have been. It's clear he wants to strike a few pacifist blows against war's various engines -- but that doesn't mean he's quit doing battle with music he finds dishonest or irrelevant to the times: "War is meant to be a slap in the face," says Bono, "a slap in the glossy, made-up-to-be-pretty face which is the music of most of our contemporaries."

And Rolling Stone:

Bono Vox likes to think of himself as a revolutionary, a man with a mission. And when he gets fired up, which is practically all the time, he just loves to talk. If he's with a group of people, he dominates the conversation. And if it's just one-on-one, the other person is lucky to get a word in edgewise. It's like the boy can't help it; he's got to spread his message.
Right now, as he and the other members of U2 are airborne, flying from a show in London to one in Glasgow, Bono is on a real roll. The matter at hand is why he feels U2 is a special band, and why it is that they've developed such a strong following on both sides of the Atlantic. At a time when pop music is dominated by swishy, style-soaked synthesizer bands whose main concern seems to be their ability to make people dance and forget the problems of the world, U2 stands out as a real exception.

And all those factors, Bono believes, make U2 truly revolutionary. "I think that, ultimately, the group is totally rebellious, because of our stance against what people accept as rebellion," he says. "The whole thing about rock stars driving cars into swimming pools -- that's not rebellion. People would be very pleased if I did that, and our record company would be only too pleased to pay the bill, because we'd get in the news and sell more records. That's not rebellion.

"Revolution starts at home, in your heart, in your refusal to compromise your beliefs and your values. I'm not interested in politics like people fighting back with sticks and stones, but in the politics of love. I think there is nothing more radical than two people's loving each other, because it's so infrequent."

There are two explanations of how Paul Hewson came to be called Bono Vox. One is that it's a somewhat skewed Latin translation of "good voice" -- an appropriate moniker for a lead singer. The other is that it came from the brand name of a British hearing aid -- a device one didn't need if Bono was around.

"I had the loudest mouth," he admits. "When we formed the group, I was the lead guitar player, singer and songwriter. Nobody talked back at first. But then they talked me out of being lead guitar player and into being a rhythm guitar player. And then they talked me out of being the rhythm guitar player and into just being the singer. And then they tried to talk me out of being the singer and into being the manager. But I held on to that. Arrogance may have been the reason."
Even at this early stage, the band began feeling that there was something special about its music. "When people came into our little rehearsals, they were touched by the music," says Bono. "The songs that we wrote really did have that spark."

At first, McGuinness resisted U2's come-ons. They were so persistent, however, that he finally agreed to go see them -- so he could tell them once and for all he wasn't interested. But the unexpected happened. "Edge's playing was quite unique," McGuinness recalls. "And Bono, he just looked the audience in the eyes as if to say, 'I dare you to look back.' And all I had ever seen before were performers who looked out over the audience at some imaginary spot. There was something special about them."

"I feel that we are meant to be one of the great groups," Bono Vox proclaimed when Boy was released in America in early 1981. "There's certain chemistry that was special about the Stones, the Who and the Beatles, and I think it's also special about U2."

Several months after that concert at the Ritz, U2 was onstage in Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland and the scene of much of that country's violence. Partway through the set, Bono took the mike to introduce a new song.

"Listen, this is called 'Sunday Bloody Sunday.' It's not a rebel song. It's a song of hope and a song of disgust," he told the audience, most of whom no doubt identified the title with the day in 1972 when British troops opened fire on a group of unarmed Catholic demonstrators, killing thirteen of them.

Then Bono read some of the song's lyrics -- lines like "Broken bottles under children's feet/Bodies strewn across a dead-end street/But I won't heed the battle call/It puts my back up, my back up against the wall" -- before continuing: "We're gonna play it for you here in Belfast. If you don't like it, you let us know." The band pounded into the song, a fierce, crushing rocker, and when they were done, the audience wildly cheered its approval.

"It was very emotional," Larry Mullen says of that first live performance of "Sunday Bloody Sunday," a track on the War album. "It's a very special song, because it's the first time that we ever really made a statement."
But the band members shy away from discussing their beliefs in public. "It's a personal thing," says Mullen. "If you talk to a person about it, you should be telling him, not the public at large. It shouldn't be an angle."

"People would love to sensationalize our beliefs until they meant nothing," adds Bono. "Three of us are committed Christians. We refute the belief that man is just a higher stage of animal, that he has no spirit. I think that when people start believing that, the real respect for humanity is gone. You are just a cog in a wheel, another collection of molecules. That's half the reason for a lot of the pessimism in the world."

"I believe that more than any other record, War is right for its time," Bono says. "It is a slap in the face against the snap, crackle and pop. Everyone else is getting more and more style-oriented, more and more slick. John Lennon was right about that kind of music; he called it 'wallpaper music.' Very pretty. Very well designed. Music to eat your breakfast to.

A group whose members are still quite young -- Bono and Clayton are twenty-three; the Edge and Mullen are twenty-one -- is bound to be impressionable. So far, they have managed to avoid much of the rock & roll circus by option not to move to London, the center of the British music scene. With the exception of Bono, who lives with his wife in a cottage on a beach in Dublin, the musicians still reside with their families. However, that, too, may change in the near future. "By the end of this year, I finally will be able to tell them that they all have enough money to buy their own houses," says manager McGuinness.

But U2 is not fearful of facing the future. "I think the important thing to retain through life is optimism," says Clayton. "It doesn't have to be something that you necessarily get from Christianity. You just have to feel that way about life."

And they try to project that feeling through their music. "The hope that's in the music comes from the hope that's in the band," says Bono. "I believe it's time to fight back in your spirit -- right down deep inside. There is a great faith in this group."

© 1983 Rolling Stone.

The album together with Boy and October was remasterized in July 2008.

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