Why did Bono get so much flak?
Opinion: Maybe it’s time to give the U2 frontman some credit
‘Bono really did seem to believe he had brought some less-comfortable truths to the gathering, and his words support that belief.’ Above, Bono delivers his speech during the European People’s Party congress in Dublin. Photograph: Photograph: Alan Betson
Speaking last week to the European People’s Party (EPP) conference in Dublin, Bono had the windows of his soul thinly filtered by stylish rose-tinted shades. The drooping shape of each lens, like a lopsided, growing teardrop, gave his face the air of an ancient Tragedy mask.
Watching the 20-minute speech on YouTube, I was struck by the unshakably sad mien that the glasses accentuated. His laboured jokes and impassioned exhortations couldn’t dispel a sense that Bono knew he was on a hiding to nothing.
And so it proved, at least in most Irish media, social and otherwise. Even before Twitter and Facebook exploded in rage, the Irish journalists assembled at the Dublin conference centre were locked in an eye-rolling competition, captured and epitomised by Miriam Lord. With a few exceptions, a sardonic reaction to his speech was the best Bono could hope for in his home country.
Bono’s anticipation of what awaited him was evident when he ad-libbed about why he didn’t pull a euro coin out of his pocket to illustrate his thoughts on the currency: “That would be a really bad photograph for me.”
These events don’t usually go badly for him elsewhere in the world. Indeed the crowds of foreign politicians who pushed forward to take photos of Bono, sans euro, probably can’t fathom why he got such a rough ride here. Motivational talks to the rich and influential are his stock in trade: “to speak comfort to power”, as Gene Kerrigan put it. Except that this time Bono really did seem to believe he had brought some less-comfortable truths to the gathering, and his words support that belief.
As this week goes from bad to worse for him and his Paul-McGuinnessless band – with Billboard and Rolling Stone in a baffling battle of duelling sources over whether there will be a new album from U2 this year – maybe it’s time to give the frontman some credit. Or at least put his shortcomings in context.
First, what he said about Ireland and the troika wasn’t perfectly phrased, politely leaving bondholders out of the picture, but its fundamental intention, and truth, was unquestionable: the wrong people have paid for the crisis.
Secondly, his prescriptions for the wider world weren’t limited to a generic rejection of “extreme nationalism” in its anti-Semitic, anti-Roma and anti-African manifestations – itself close to the bone for some of the EPP – but also included a call, albeit a muted one, for a financial transaction tax.