Bono’s Dublin: ‘A long way from where I live’When U2 struggled with their new album they sought inspiration in 1970s Dublin, a place of hidden violence, home to a new-wave music scene and a group of friends who were not yet U2. ‘A lot of sh*t got dragged up,’ says Bono
Beach sequence: U2 on Sandymount Strand in 1978. Photograph: Sheila Rock/Rex
Dubliners: Bono and the Edge. Photograph: Richard Perry/New York Times
Bono leans in to my face so our noses are almost touching, and he sings, unaccompanied, “Life begins with the first glance, the first kiss at the first dance, all of us are wondering why we’re here, in the Crystal Ballroom underneath the chandelier . . . We are the ghosts of love and we haunt this place, in the ballroom of crystal lights, everyone is here with me tonight, everyone but you.” It is sean-nós in shades.
“I need to tell you something really weird about this song,” he says. “It’s called The Crystal Ballroom, which used to be the name of McGonagles in South Anne Street [now knocked down]. A whole generation of Dubliners would go to the Crystal Ballroom for dances, and many couples first met there. My mother and father used to dance together in the Crystal Ballroom, so that song I just sang you, which hasn’t been released yet, is me imagining I’m on the stage of McGonagles with this new band I’m in called U2 – and we did play a lot of our important early gigs there. And I look out into the audience and I see my mother and father dancing romantically together to U2 on the stage.”
Bono takes a deep breath and, speaking slowly, says, “I have just realised that my mother died 40 years ago yesterday, and here we are today playing our new album about Dublin, which is about my family and what happened to me as a teenager.
“My mother died when she was at her father’s funeral. She had a cerebral aneurysm. I was only 14. And in this song I am singing, “Everyone is here tonight, everyone but you.” And it’s me wanting to see my mother dance again in the Crystal Ballroom and for her to see what happened to her son.”
All about my mother
We are in a windowless room at Apple’s headquarters in Silicon Valley, in the California town of Cupertino. U2 have just helped launch a range of Apple products, and it has been announced that their new album, Songs of Innocence, is being given to iTunes customers.
The Edge is here too. He flicks through his phone, finds The Crystal Ballroom and presses play. There is silence in the room as it plays. After a long pause a clearly upset Bono whispers, “Her spirit was with us today.”
This new U2 album could be read as Bono’s All About My Mother. The song Iris (Hold Me Close) – Iris is his mother’s name – finds him singing about her untimely death. “The ache in my heart is so much a part of who I am . . . Hold me close and don’t let me go . . . I’ve got your life inside of me . . . We’re meeting up again.”
Standing up and walking around the room, he highlights a lyric in the song. “I sing this verse which has ‘Iris standing in the hall, she tells me I can do it all,’ and then there’s a typical mother’s line when she says to me, ‘You’ll be the death of me.’ But it wasn’t me. I wasn’t the death of her. I was not the death of her.”
“The mother is so, so important in rock music. Show me a great singer and I’ll show you someone who lost their mother early on. There’s Paul McCartney, there’s John Lennon. Look at Bob Geldof and what happened to his mother.
“In hip hop, by contrast, it’s all about the father – being abandoned by the father and being brought up by a single mother. But for me it’s all about the mother. I had rage and grief for my mother. I still have rage and grief for my mother. I channelled those emotions in music, and I still do. I have very few memories of my mother, but all of them are in the song Iris.”