Mojo

Will Bono Haunt Me To The Grave?



We've nevermet, that's true, but nevertheless Bono and I go back a long way. To 1980, infact. My first band, the Walking Floors, were about to play our debut London gig at Imperial College. Waitingnervously for the call, we heard a noise from the stage. Some guys were playingwith our gear. Our "manager"--actually one of our older mates--rushed on and askedthem what they were doing. "We're U2, just over from Dublin," one answered. "I don'tcare who you are," said our "manager." "Just piss off."

When we went on they heckled us, and then left noisilyafter one number. Months later we went to see Talking Heads. The support bandwas U2. What, them? During one song,while The Edge played an elongated guitar solo, Bono preened around for a bit,then gestured for someone to throw him a cigarette. Someone duly did and hedropped it.

After scrabbling about on the floor, he picked it upand put it in his mouth. Then realising he hadn't a light, he signaled forsomeone to throw him some matches. As The Edge continued noodling away, Bonoattempted to light the cigarette. He struck the match so hard the end flew off--twice.Finally he got it lit. We cheered ironically, and shook our heads. I mean, ifyou're that uncool, it's best not to even bother. Surely that would be the lastwe'd see of him.

Not quite. Soon afterwards, U2's debut single "I WillFollow" was all over Radio 1. And to add considerable insult to injury, itsguitar line was similar to a recently demoed Walking Floors track, "LastTelegram."

Still, we had time to catch up, we thought. But while the Walking Floors continued to plough an ever-deepening rut of obscurity, U2grew massively--obscenely--popular.

In the late 1990s, while researching my biography ofCaptain Beefheart, I was amused by accounts of when Bono tried to lure theCaptain out of retirement in the early '80s. With typical dismissivenessBeefheart would disingenuously ask friends: "Man, who is this Bongo?"

Beefheart had become ill and a complete recluse, andmy requests to speak to him were all declined. Hence my horror, in 2002, when Isaw the cover of MOJO's April issueproclaim: "Beefheart Speaks... To Bono." Bongo's part in the phone conversationfelt contrived, over-verbose, as if he was trying to match Beefheart's ownverbal facility. But even that offered scant comfort.

In 2008, the Walking Floors' "Last Telegram" wasfinally released on the UKpost-punk compilation, Messthetics:London II. At the time of writing, on Last FM, the Walking Floors hadachieved 543 plays to U2's 44,606,871. Ok Bono, let's just call it a draw andmove on.

Just before Barack Obama's inauguration I read that U2were to play some shindig in Washington."It could have been us," I thought. With typical breathlessness BBC Radio 5Live asked on the day, "Where will yoube when Obama becomes president?" Me, I watched proceedings on Sky News in thegym, hoping that Bono wouldn't suddenly pop up on screen, asking for a light.

Mike Barnes's excellent Beefheart book isnow quite rare...

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