Rock music is about escapism. Get away from the 'real world'. There's the appeal. That there were people (parents, preachers, politicians and even straight 'A' students) who didn't have much use for it, made it the new religion. Of course, Rock n' Roll is just entertainment. Right? If somebody actually tried to do live the Rock N' Roll lifestyle they would either die young, spend serious time in jail or suffer a complete mental breakdown. That's exactly what happened to countless Rock stars who believed the myth.
During its first two decades Rock musicians had little political involvement other than being pointed to by members of the establishment as one of a handful of evil forces trying to corrupt America's youth. In the late-60s hit Rock was a unifying force against the Vietnam War but that was largely a street movement: anti-establishment. The Beatles' John Lennon first spoke out against the war in '66. His subsequent peace efforts, including the infamous Bed-In For Peace with his wife Yoko Ono, raised the anti-war profile but in the short term only managed to land Lennon on President Richard Nixon's 'Enemies List' and motivate the government to try to deport him as an "undesirable" (they failed). Jim Morrison wanted people to think of his band, the Doors, as "erotic politicians" but that and the anti-war song "Unknown Soldier" was about as far as they got.
Musicians rarely got within arms-length of the levers of power. In fact, the first time a Rock musician met with a sitting president was the stilted, improvised Elvis Presley/Nixon encounter at the White House in the early '70s. There was an uncomfortable Nixon talking to a stoned Presley (those big sunglasses came in handy) about, ironically, the youth culture's rampant drug use. A few years later, Jimmy Carter invited Rock musicians to the White House but these were strictly social events.
It was about this time that U2, fronted by Paul Hewson, who had changed his name to Bono Vox, and then simply, Bono, made their debut. The Irish band played a kind-of-Punk. They weren't as rough-cut as other Punks but they could actually play their instruments. Even in those early years, it was evident from songs like "New Year's Day" and "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" that U2 was a band with a political bent and a message. They weren't terribly interested in prom night romances or a 'last kiss'. There were larger issues to deal with. Bono was fond of making political pronouncements from the stage that could be chalked up to youthful exuberance. Even so, U2 was called a band with a "social conscious."
In 1985, Live Aid was created to bring awareness of and help to millions starving in Africa. U2 participated in this effort and Bono contributed vocals to the hit charity single, "We Are The World." At the time, there were performers with much higher profiles; organizer Bob Geldof (Boomtown Rats), Bruce Springsteen and Michael Jackson, talking extensively about the dire situation in Africa. Bono was clearly on the second tier.
The relief effort eventually ran its course and everyone went about their business, except Bono. First, he advocated the cancellation of third-world debt: that the industrialized nations forgive what is owed so underdeveloped nations could use the funds to build or rebuild their infrastructure and economy. Soon Bono was meeting with heads of state. Early, politicians probably thought these where little more than grip-and-greet moments where they could get their picture taken with a popular Rock star. Just nifty. Funny thing, Bono came prepared. He knew his stuff. There was no shunting him off.
Then there was aid to Africa and getting the industrialized nations to commit funds to underdeveloped countries so they could build or rebuild their infrastructure and economy. Same message different tact. At times it seemed Bono was meeting with more government officials than a president.
U2 concerts would regularly stop as Bono preached about the urgent need for action in Africa. Sometimes this would greatly dismay his fellow band members. No doubt some audience members felt the same. On top of that, hardly a week went by when some organization wasn't honoring Bono for his humanitarian efforts. The notoriety earned him the derisive title "St. Bono."
His persistence, knowledge and passion began to gain traction. World leaders were listening. Not only that, they were responding. Sometimes positively, sometimes negatively, but the issues regarding Africa were being moved toward center stage. Bono met with President George Bush and German Chancellor Angela Merkel prior to the start of the '07 G8 Summit (a meeting of the world's richest and most industrialized nations) in Heiligendamm, Germany, to discuss the G8's commitment to helping Africa. He was not shy about his requests and even got into a 'row' with Merkel over the level of Germany's aid. In Bono, Africa has a friend and a proponent. He's not going to save the world. But his work will probably improve a big chunk of it.
The St. Bono image got turned on its head in '09. In Sacha Baron Cohen's comedy Bruno the celebrity-wannabe title character lamented that all the great social causes had been taken. "Sting has the Amazon and Bono's got AIDS," said Bruno, totally unaware of how it came out.
Taking time off from recording, touring and saving the world Bono showed up later in the film. He, Slash, Sting, Elton John and "Bruno" performed the film ending sarcastic take on "inspirational/make the world a better place" songs - with an "age" joke at Bono's expense. Only the fearless Cohen could get away with something like that.
While that joke was intentional, the next was a bit rougher.
Every performer with a long-term career has a disaster - and usually it is in an area beyond that person's core expertise. Elvis Presley made a series of bad movies - some were good but most were awful. The Beatles embarrassing moments were confined to the Magical Mystery Tour "experimental" film and the full-length Let It Be. The Rolling Stones generally spared themselves a film embarrassment though it's wise to divert your eyes when Mick Jagger's acting career comes up. But the Stones issued some dreadful albums - think "Goat's Head Soup."
Even Guns N' Roses, a major '80s band, imploded, reconstructed and imploded again on the way to wasting a decade and a half recording "Chinese Democracy," an album greeted with unrealistic expectations that did little to improve the band's fortunes or democracy in China.
Throughout their three decade career, Bono and The Edge guided U2 avoiding a major misstep. So they were probably overdue to take a hit. The Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, featuring music by the pair, was it. The show, with its aerial acrobatics became, at $65 million, the most expensive production in Broadway history.
It was marred by accidents (actors flying around is not always safe), cast changes (some due to injuries), massive script re-writes and financial woes.
Meanwhile, Green Day had a Broadway run with American Idiot, featuring songs from the album of the same name. With a lower budget and already known/popular songs the show was a success.
When Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark had preview performances at Broadway's Foxwoods Theatre the reviews were not good. The score was deemed "joyless" and neither "melodic or memorable." Ouch! So the show was pulled for yet another retooling. The director, Julie Taymor, who had made Lion King a Broadway smash, got the boot. Bono and The Edge took a greater role in the production and composed new songs.
As a result, Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark broke the record for the highest gross in its debut week, earning almost $3 million. The previous record holder was the Wizard Of Oz spin off, Wicked. Even so, the show was still a long way from breaking even.
Following the '12 elections, Bono spent three-days in Washington D.C. to encourage Congress and the Obama administration to keep funding relief efforts in poverty stricken countries. Speaking on behalf of his own ONE Campaign, Bono urged the U.S. government to spare funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs as well as nutrition and emergency food projects across the world. Bono also gave the keynote address at the Global Social Enterprise Initiative at Georgetown University. "Cuts can cost the lives of the poorest of the poor. It shouldn't be a hard case to make, but it is right now. But I put it to you: we must not let this economic recession become a moral recession. That would become a double cruelty."
Many were paying attention, but it took the French, of all people, to provide due recognition. Bono received the Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters, France's highest cultural honor, for his contribution to music and commitment to humanitarian causes. Stating that the '13 award belonged to the entire group, Bono added, "I've got the biggest mouth and the loudest voice but the music we make comes from each other."
Please see U2.