On a chilly fall night on Oct. 21, my world, that of Bono and a fan whom we shall refer to as Backpack Lady, all collided on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania.
In order to avoid burying the lead, I will state up front: Bono stood right in front of me. Close enough so that I could look at his adorable stubble on that pronounced chin. “I love you, but not in a creepy way,” I said. He put his right hand on my shoulder and squeezed as he chuckled. So we had our moment. Yippee! I waited 23 years for that! It was worth it.
But back to the beginning.
Bono was the guest speaker at the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia on Oct. 21 to discuss his non-profit, DATA, which is devoted to ending global poverty and the spread of AIDS, especially in Africa. He was also awarded with the International Statesman Award.
In the early1990s, I worked at WAC as a program assistant and Claudia was one of my bosses. On Friday, she got to accompany Bono throughout the evening. Even better, she got to introduce him.
“I’ve been following U2 for a long time, but I never thought I’d be opening for Bono,” Claudia quipped to the crowd.
The speech was at the impressive Irvine Auditorium on the campus of the Penn, where Bono was awarded a doctorate in law in 2004 during Commencement.
“Lawlessness, is more like it,” Bono said. His favorite part of the 2004 visit to Penn’s campus was draping a statue of Ben Franklin in leather.
“I though the Fly shades looked really good,” he joked.
There were about 1,200 people at the Irvine Auditorium, including 100 Penn students who won their tickets in a lottery. Tickets ranged from $75 to $495. While I did not attend the expensive dinner, let’s just say I dropped a chunk of change on this event But it is okay, since the money was going to DATA, which stands for Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa.
I sat in the 15th row on the right hand side, with Bono at the podium on the right. My friend Phyllis, a fellow fan, sat in the balcony and we could wave back and forth. But not during Bono’s speech. Some things are sacred.
When Bono came out on stage, my first thought was: “Hey, he IS short.” And then I thought, “Hey! He is HOT.”
Bono was wearing black jeans, those clunky, four-inch thick leather shoes that are his favorites, a black jacket that looked designer, black shirt, rose-tinted shades and a silk mustard-colored tie that looked like he had tied it himself. It was rather askew. I don’t think he wears ties all that often and clearly his wife was not there to fix it for him.
He actually seemed a bit nervous at first, even with the standing ovation he received from the crowd.
“It’s not supposed to be a rock and roll show,” he told the crowd as he urged them to sit down.”
He apologized for being nervous.
“I’m not used to speaking to crowds of less than 20,000,” he said.
Bono joked that the speech would be “Bono unplugged, or worse, unstringed, or unhinged.”
“I’m hallucinating. Bruce Springsteen on stage again,” he said, making reference to the Boss’ appearance at the U2 concert on Oct. 17 at the Wachovia Center.
Bono shuffled a sheaf of papers and searched for some water on the podium. My heart stopped. When I worked at WAC, it was my job to put water on the podium. I know someone had put it there, but for a brief moment, I felt responsible and wanted to rush up with my bottle of water. But he found it. Whew.
Eighteen months ago, DATA launched the One Campaign to fight against “stupid poverty.”
Soon more than five million Americans will be members of Te One Campaign, “which makes us bigger than the NRA,” Bono said to applause.
“We don’t carry guns but we do mean business,” he said.
He referenced Live Aid in 1985 and Live 8 in 2005, both in Philadelphia. On July 2 of this year, we watched musicians like Jay-Z, Will Smith and Kanye West dance and sing on television. But what they were really doing, Bono said, was “pushing, cajoling, intimidating elected leaders.”
The purpose of Live 8 was to raise awareness of the July G-8 summit, held at a swanky golf course in Scotland. World leaders like George W. Bush, Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac met to discuss world trade. They were, Bono said. “the guys with the bling.”
But he chided the leaders for the choice of location for the summit.
“To discuss the world’s poor, let’s meet in a golf course in Scotland. Brilliant.”
Bono, who was quite soft-spoken during his remarks, praised the leaders for agreeing to write off a large portion of the debt of some of the world’s poorer nations. People who are HIV positive in many poor countries are now getting anti-retroviral drugs to combat the disease, he said. But it will take much more effort to help all the people in need.
He praised two divergent groups: ACT-Up and Sen. Rick Santorum. The two could not be farther apart in politics, viewpoint and approach. But if those two can work together, he said, so can we.
Bono told the crowd – a portion of which were business people – that the notion of a rock star “prattling on about politics” may seem off.
But songs have always been a protest medium, he said. Especially the blues, which he called a direct complaint line to God. Many musicians mean well, but are guilty of “youthful indiscretions,” Bono told the crowd to much laughter.
Growing up in Dublin in the 1970s, Bono listened to the Clash and other punk groups. To him, the music was “an alarm” and it woke him up. The music, he said, sounded like revolution.(CONTINUED BELOW)