You were expecting perhaps a dissection of the impact of mosquito netting on the incidence of malaria in Sub-Saharan Africa? A thoughtful rumination on the long-term impact of the global financial crisis on debt-relief schedules in the emerging world, perhaps?
Or a diary on boozy New Year’s Eve revelry from the lead singer of a rock band? If you picked “C,” then clearly you knew how high to aim for the Sunday debut of guest New York Times op-ed columnist Bono. The Irish bar(d) is, of course, a world-renowned philanthropist, a compassionate provoker of stubborn politicians and a deep, poetic thinker when it comes to delivering everything from Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction speeches to impassioned exhortations to world-governing bodies on the importance of bootstrapping the developing world.
But c’mon, the dude’s also been one of the biggest rock stars on the planet for nearly 30 years. So when Bono’s column began with the phrase “Once upon a couple of weeks ago” and continued with the scene-setting furniture, “I’m in a crush in a Dublin pub around New Year’s. Glasses clinking clicking, clashing crashing in Gaelic revelry: swinging doors, sweethearts falling in and out of the season’s blessings, family feuds subsumed or resumed. Malt joy and ginger despair are all in the queue to be served on this, the quarter-of-a-millennium mark since Arthur Guinness first put velvety blackness in a pint glass,” I knew what I was in for.
The deconstruction of bleary-eyed New Year’s fears, hopes, regrets and recriminations touches on the music playing in the pub as the Celtic Tiger (Ireland’s once high-flying, now shattered economy) tucks its tail between its legs: Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” of course.
“I am struck by the one quality his voice lacks: sentimentality,” Bono writes. “Is this knotted fist of a voice a clue to the next year? In the mist of uncertainty in your business life, your love life, your life life, why is Sinatra’s voice such a foghorn — such confidence in nervous times allowing you romance but knocking your rose-tinted glasses off your nose, if you get too carried away.
“A call to believability.
“A voice that says, ‘Don’t lie to me now.’
“That says, ‘Baby, if there’s someone else, tell me now.’
“Fabulous, not fabulist. Honesty to hang your hat on.”
This is the Bono we know and love. Populist, prickly poet and barstool philosopher.
Not a few paragraphs later, he’s back in his Dublin spread (which he claims has a “hole-in-the-wall” cellar I suspect is bigger and nicer than my parents’ house), drinking again (this time red wine), steeling himself for the messy late-night conversations among well-lubricated family and friends. He brags a bit about a painting Sinatra sent him back in 1993, a Chairman original he describes as a “mad yellow canvas of violent concentric circles gyrating across a desert plain” that looks like jazz sounds. Or something.
Why is he telling us this? Who knows? Maybe as a setup to boast about hanging out with Sinatra at the singer’s Palm Springs, California, pad and rapping about Miles of jazz and Sinatra’s quip that he “doesn’t usually hang with men who wear earrings.”
He ponders what Sinatra would have thought of the months, sometimes years, U2 take to record an album, instead of, like jazz, seizing “the moment you’re in.” I suspect the earring quote applies here, too.
Bono riffs on about singers depending on what they know to succeed, how two different versions of Sinatra’s signature “My Way” show how the accumulated ravages of time can pile up on the same words and render them different.
Cut back to the pub and the rousing chorus of “My Way” coming back around. And the question, “This is our moment. What do we hear? … Hubris and humility, blue eyes and red.”
Nah, me? Even with the economy in tatters and the world on the brink, I just hear Bono being Bono. And that’s something you can always bank on.
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