Shortly after the stock market crash, the Irish band U2 gave a free performance in San Francisco’s financial district and jokingly dedicated it to the latest endangered species. “Seeing that the business sector has been having such big problems, we decided to do a Save the Yuppie concert,” lead singer Bono announced. “That’s why I’m wearing this hat. We’ll be passing it around later. We’ve already got one man who donated a three-piece suit and a briefcase.” U2 played, the crowd boogied enthusiastically and at the end of the show Bono climbed the nearby Vaillancourt Fountain—600 tons of sculpted concrete that a critic once likened to the leavings of “a very large dog with square intestines”—and spray-painted the words, “Stop the Traffic, Rock and Roll.”
Wrong move, Bono. The next day, indignant San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein issued a statement that read, “I am very disappointed that a rock star who is supposed to be a role model for young people chose to vandalize the work of another artist. The unfortunate incident marred an otherwise wonderful rock concert enjoyed by 20,000 people.” Added the Mayor: “Defacing public property is malicious mischief under Section 594 of the state penal code, a misdemeanor punishable by a fine or jail or both.”
Poor U2. Poor Bono. Here’s a guy—passionate, articulate, a social activist—who’s struggling with sainthood. Mostly he’s trying to avoid it. Sure he sings about love, war, death, God, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and the troubles in Ireland. And yes, critics are enthralled by his brooding persona (the word epiphany comes up a lot in reviews). And yes, U2 did perform at Band Aid, Live Aid and the Amnesty International concerts and includes, in its fan club newsletter, addresses to write to in order to help free political prisoners.
But jeez. After wearing a halo for years, can’t a guy take a breather? “I feel very uncomfortable with the idea of being a sort of hero, Bono, 26, has said. “I don’t feel very qualified for the job.” After all, despite its thoughtful, even Christian, lyrics, at its heart U2 is a rock ‘n’ roll band, a hard-driving quartet whose smash LP The Joshua Tree sold more than three million copies and sent two singles, “With or Without You” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” to No. 1. “I would hate to think that everybody was into U2 for ‘deep’ and ‘meaningful’ reasons,” Bono has said. “If we all got onstage, and instead of going, ‘Yeow!’ the audience all went, ‘Ummmm,’ or started saying the rosary, it would be awful.”
And on a sunny afternoon in San Francisco even Bono the Bueno might turn into Peck’s Bad Boy, grab a can of spray paint, scale a 30-foot sculpture and…
PS: U2 paid to have the graffiti removed.
PPS to Mayor Feinstein: Yeeeoooww! Dianne! Lighten up!