Tuesday 18 December 2018

This Man's Life: The ghosts of Bono and Gavin on a Friday night in San Francisco


San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Martin Amis used to joke that he had a terrible dose of tennis elbow from opening bottles of wine at home in Manhattan. I have a similar tennis elbow-ish soreness. Not from uncorking fine vino, but from changing nappies. The new baby is an absolute angel. His 'big' sister, who turns three today, loves him like he is the greatest thing ever. And he is.

I was holding my and my beautiful wife's beautiful bundle of joy the other night when a song by U2 came on the radio - don't ask me which as I have pronounced baby-brain - and with it, a memory flashed across that baby-brain. A memory from long, long ago...

October 1992, in a restaurant called Tosca in North Beach, San Francisco, at 7pm: northside poet laureate Bono holds a friend's sleeping baby girl in his arms and admits, like all proud fathers do eventually, that he's had some practice at it. "Don't let me breathe on her," Bono chortles - in between mouthfuls of cheese omelette and red wine - in the direction of the waitress in this famous San Fran diner, "or it might kill her!"

The hangover is manifest on his stubble-spattered face courtesy of a particularly good night after his band's sold-out gig in front of 80,000 people in Oakland Coliseum.

Down the hill a mile or two, the Glide Memorial Church, at the corner of Taylor and Ellis, is the same house of spiritual solicitation to which Bono has been coming for years. He tells me that the inspiration for writing the song Love Rescue Me was the Glide Ensemble: "The land of street angels that we call your choir are proof God is the funky one."

There, earlier the previous morning, genius of all things guitar The Edge laughed his customised bobble-hat off at the Methodist minister's righteous if witty admonishment of "you white folks" for "being afraid to dance in a church with all us black folk".

The white folks at the back of the church (various members of U2 and I) did our best to sing and dance along to his sermon. Alas, the priest was not satisfied. He reprimanded the white folks at the back (Larry, Edge, Bono, Adam and me) for "not singing up!" and for "not dancing!" This was another matter, possibly not unrelated to our Celtic roots. All rhythm betrayed us (us being U2 and I and their small, trusty entourage from Ireland.) Ungainly in build, uncomely in face, we were not exactly to the church dance floor born (James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Sammy Davis Jr, Roberta Flack, Quincy Jones and even Maya Angelou were regulars here back in the day).

Movement embarrasses us. Unlike the preacher who could have helped James Brown get on the good foot, he is so funky.

Bono, who has his moments of funkiness, it has to be said, was equally amused by the preacher's dissertation on how his wife's hot flushes during their lovemaking kept the whole house warm and saved on the heating bills.

Later that night, back in Tosca, the blessed Bono is hurting his ribs laughing.

"Talking about his wife's orgasm in church!" he belly-laughs, the minister's risque sermon still on his mind.

The incomparable Gavin Friday, a lifelong friend of Bono's, joins us at the window booth of the restaurant. "Cultural experiment!" Bono smiles, an idea bubbling up in his unusually creative head. He asks the waitress for one glass of root beer and four straws. The waitress looks rightly confused. Rock stars with an estimated $900m in the bank are supposed to be able to afford their own sodas and not have to share them with friends. We each take a slug nonetheless.

Ugh, I spit. It's like the stuff you get for football injuries at school!

Bono's bloodshot eyeballs light up."Wintergreen! You're exactly right!"

It's late on North Beach on a Friday night. Bono takes me (and his bodyguard, discreetly, in the distance watching everything, everyone) for a walk on the neon-lit strip. Wearing a Miles Davis World Tour 1991 T-shirt, Bono tells of the shock he felt on hearing that Miles Davis asked to have U2's 1994 piece de resistance The Unforgettable Fire played before he died the previous year (September 28, 1991).

Bono says he wants to take me somewhere. He takes me to City Lights. It is the bookshop where he says he got his introduction to American literature and the beat poets of the 1960s. Bono buys me two books by Charles Bukowski, the punk ink-king of America's forgotten misbegotten.

The U2 singer inscribes one of the books: "Humanity, at its best, is a failure - Bono."

Whenever I hold my newly born baby son and his three-year-old big sis in my arms and see them smile, I know Bono (for once) was wrong. Humanity, at its best, is a success.

Sunday Independent

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