Bono The Bollix

John McDonagh (JM) and Sandy Boyer (SB) interview Harry Browne, (HB) author of The Frontman: Bono (In the Name of Power), via telephone from Dublin about U2's album deal with Apple. 

Radio Free Éireann
WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
New York City
20 September 2014

JM: But the big story of the week is not ISIS, it's not Scotland referendum but it's Apple. Apple gave a hundred million dollars to an aging rock band – and that's right – U2! Now if can you believe that they needed that money – we're going to go over now and speak in Dublin to Harry Browne. He has a book out called The Frontman: Bono (In the Name of Power) and this is on the back cover:
Celebrity philanthropy comes in many guises but no single figure better encapsulates its delusions, pretensions and wrongheadedness than U2's iconic front man, Bono - a fact neither sunglasses nor leather pants can hide. More than a mere philanthropist indeed he is said to lag behind some peers when it comes to parting with his own money. Bono is better described as an advocate, one who has become an unwitting symbol of a complacent wealthy Western elite. The Frontman shows how Bono defended U2's partial move to Amsterdam, avoiding Irish taxes, his paternalistic advocacy of neo-liberal solutions in Africa, his multinational business interests and his hobnobbing with (former President of the World Bank) Paul Wolfowitz and shock-doctrine economist Jeffrey Sachs. Carefully dissecting the rhetoric and actions of Bono, the political operator, The Frontman argues that he's an ambassador for the imperial exploitation. A man who has turned his attention to the world stage of savage injustice, inequality, exploitation and how he made it worse.  
JM: Harry, are you with us?

HB: Yeah, I am. Hi! Howya doing? And Hi! to Rocky Sullivan's – I love that place!

JM: Good. Yes - well, thanks. Now Harry – there's a lot of groups out there – does U2 need a hundred million dollars from Apple?

HB: (laughs).

JM: And what will they be doing with that money? And when he talks about - he wants people to help out the people in Africa and certain countries should donate certain money - explain what he does with his money – Bono.

HB: Well, you know one of the things about Bono's own finances is that we don't know a lot about them. This is somebody who does, as you say, encourage countries to give money to the developing world – he encourages philanthropists to give money to the developing world - but he is pretty quiet about what happens to his money.

But we do know that a number of U2's companies relocated from Ireland to The Netherlands in 2006 when the exemption on artists' income in Ireland was capped – it's a complicated tax story but basically: from the late '60's until just a few years ago it was possible to earn as much money as you wanted as an artist and if it was from a publication or from music or from other artistic endeavours it was tax free. It's still the case that some of that money is tax free but it's now capped – first in 2006 at two hundred thousand euro – now it's capped at a good bit less than that.

So U2 had to get the hell out of Dodge when they discovered that was the case. They'd been enjoying the Irish tax environment for many, many years but they moved some of their crucial companies to The Netherlands in 2006 because the tax rate on that kind of royalty earnings is considerably lower in The Netherlands than it would be otherwise in Ireland.

We know that Bono is an investor - he's in Facebook – he's in Dropbox - we know that he is part of a group that has been very careful about insuring - for many years – not just in these most recent manoeuvers – but for many years that they were minimising their tax liability. And the irony of course of the relationship with Apple is that Apple is famous for minimising its taxes by locating in Ireland and U2 famous for minimising their taxes by moving - some of their business anyway - out of Ireland.

JM: And Harry, this all opens up a lot of doors for him because you see him constantly on the world stage - whether it's with George Bush or Clinton - and he doesn't get involved with the wars that are going along – because I remember him during the '80's – he was a big supporter of the Sandinistas down in Nicaragua ...

HB: ... Sure! Exactly, yeah.

JM: ... and always condemning what was going on in The Six Counties. But these doors that are open - where he probably could do some good - he uses as photo-ops just to enhance his own publicity never putting the pressure on the likes of Bush and them to do something with the wars and what's going on around the world.

HB: Yeah, you're absolutely right and I guess the question is: Who's using whom in these situations? I think that in many ways Bono has allowed himself to be used because people – you know, going back to those 80's and the time when they were kind of a symbol – although as you know they weren't very good on Northern Ireland - but they were a symbol internationally of a kind of right-thinking - fair play - kind of a moralistic - even if somewhat Christian moralistic - band. So Bono brought this kind of reputation for integrity, morality, decency – he brought that from the world of his music into the world of kind of politics and sort of pseudo-activism.

So when Tony Blair and George Bush and Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, to a lesser extent, Jeffrey Sachs, Wolfowitz - when those guys pose with Bono they're getting a little bit of that moral credibility. They're getting the aura of U2's “purity” kind of spilling over onto them.

What Bono gets out of it is an interesting question but I think that the relationship exists because of what those guys get out of it. I think in recent years it's been more questionable what they get out of it.

Apple thought it was getting a lot of good publicity by associating itself with U2 this week but it ended up being not being very positive for them I think for the most part – the reaction to their relationship this week has been quite negative.

And I think that even in Ireland we've seen in recent years politicians putting a little more distance between themselves and Bono and U2 because increasingly people are seeing him as an operator – seeing him as a – and seeing U2 broadly as tax avoiding and you know, sort of millionaires out of touch with the reality of what's been going on in this country for the last six or seven years.

JM: It is interesting the reaction he's getting about the Apple debut of their latest album – a lot of the younger people who have Apple phones are saying: Who is U2? They don't even know who they are! Plus, they're complaining about taking up the data space within their own phone. But they're also getting a push back from the likes of other musicians, particularly Paul Brady from Co. Tyrone, saying that a lot of us have to go out and sell albums. We're not in the position where we can get a hundred million dollars to release an album for free.

HB: Yeah. I thought Paul Brady's line was really interesting and the funny thing is that a few years ago Bono was one of the people who was really out in front saying that music shouldn't be free. And he's still saying that. He's saying this album wasn't released for free - we got paid a lot of money for it. He said: Music is a sacrament. A few years ago he thought it was so holy that anybody who shared music illegally online he thought there should be big prosecutions, big crackdowns, surveillance of the internet to improve the possibility of arresting people who were file sharing. 

Now he's giving away an album for nothing and I thought Paul Brady put it very well in terms of: how it is that you put out the message that music is of value and the musicians need to be paid for their work - if effectively this music is distributed for free? 

With a big corporate bag of money dumped on top of the artist – this actually is to take part in a PR campaign for Apple – because that's really what U2 have done here. They've been part of the launch of various new Apple products - the iPhone 6 and the iWatch - and they've allowed themselves, at a very high price, to be used to supposedly give Apple some more credibility.

And I guess ... It's an interesting point you made about the generational thing – I mean young people are complaining: Who the hell are U2? And What is this thing doing on my phone?

But I guess from Apple's point of view there's still people our age who are going to be pleased at the idea that they get a free U2 album and will – if they haven't got it - will say: How do I get that? Maybe there's a few people around who still have to get sucked into the world of the iPad, the iPhone, the iTunes and maybe this is a good marketing move by Apple. It certainly hasn't looked like that this week because the reaction, as you said, particularly from the kind of “digital natives”, has been very much like: who spammed me with this U2 album?

SB: Bono has taken great pains to cast himself and the band as just: We're just ordinary, working class guys. Like you said: We're working guys from the north side of Dublin – which for people who don't know is the more working class area of Dublin. How much truth is there in that?

HB: Yeah, it's a good question and there's not really a simple answer. I'm standing on the Northside of Dublin at the moment in the leafy gardens of the Rotunda Hospital. There are some very nice areas on the north side of Dublin and Bono himself came from one of those “pretty nice” areas on a road called Cedarwood Road which is memorialised in one of the songs on the new album. The new album actually contains a couple of songs that insist on the kind of gritty reality of Bono's own upbringing in Dublin in the 1960's and '70's.

The fact is that he was from you know a kind of a lower middle class background than the rest of the band - particularly Adam Clayton and The Edge from a posher again background than that - you know – people are from the background they're from – I mean there's no suggestion that there's anything wrong with being born a little better off or being lucky enough to grow up on a “nice” road like Bono did instead of in the flats a couple of miles away in Ballymun like thousands of other people had to do. But I guess there is a reaction in Dublin certainly to the constant evocation of the Northside as being a kind of the point of origin of U2.

Because as far as most Dubliners are concerned they're sort of Northside with an asterisk - they're Northside but on a very nice road - they're Northside but in a very posh school - not Temple School where the band got together in the late 1970's – a very nice school – a kind of multi-denominational high school in the Clontarf area of the Northside itself - a very beautiful, upper middle class area of the Northside.

So yes, they're from the Northside. No, it's not quite the hardscrabble north side that they portray it as and that he's continuing to kind of insist upon. You know, he's saying these streets were a war zone – which is also a way to continue to associate U2 – as they did right back to the early 1980's - to associate themselves with The Troubles – with The Troubles in The North – and you know there's a song on the new album about the Dublin bombing in 1974. This kind of continuous insistence that they really are “war children” - and be it from their class, their local background or be from their background of growing up in Ireland during The Troubles - and to a huge extent that is exaggerated - to say the least.

JM: You're listening to Radio Free Éireann on WBAI here in New York City and we're speaking with Harry Browne who has a book called: The Frontman: Bono (In the Name of Power).

How did this book go down in Dublin? I mean, do you get any flak? Because, let's face it I mean, U2 is idolised around the world and they do sell out stadiums around there. What's the reaction to your book and have you caught any flak personally for saying: why are you going after U2 like this and Bono?

HB: Oh, God! Have I caught some flak? Lemme tell ya, I could fill the rest of your programme with the flak I've caught around here! Yeah. I mean there have been...a headline in the local newspaper, The Evening Herald here, that said: Don't buy this hateful book, says a friend of Bono's. Another article had another friend of Bono's saying that Harry Browne can f- off - I won't use that word that WBAI got in trouble so many years ago for using – but the reaction has been “mixed” here to say the least. I've had in fact a number of people say to me quietly: Oh! I really liked your book but I can't say it in public because you know those guys are very powerful in this town and we can't be going around criticising them too loudly. So that's been the kind of – that's been the go of it. 

And at the same time there's been some very good reaction and we had a great launch here. Eamonn McCann, I know who's often a guest on your programme, launched the book from here in Dublin and it really was a wonderful night and he made a terrific speech.

So I'm not whining about it but it is the case that they have a very strong media presence and they're very well connected among the elite circles in Dublin and if you're in those circles you certainly don't want to say publicly that Harry Browne's book nails it - whatever you might say in private.

JM: Well, Harry, one of their main supporters is on this side of The Atlantic, Niall O'Dowd, as we call him “Lord O'Dowd”.

HB: (laughs).

JM: … who's the editor of The Irish Voice. And I want to apologise to people in Ireland because it seems RTÉ only has one phone number when anything happens in this country because Niall O'Dowd tortures the people on RTÉ almost on a weekly basis giving his analysis of what's going on. But in this week's Irish Central, his website, he said that Bono is the greatest Irishman of this generation and he hopes that he'll be put up for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Now, Bono does travel in those circles where he would have friends such as The Clintons and even The Bushes that could put him up for a Nobel Peace Prize and that's not out of the realm of possibility. I mean, you look at other people who have won, and particularly Henry Kissinger, why couldn't Bono win a Nobel Peace Prize?

HB: Absolutely! You're quite right. Sure eight or nine years ago they were talking about Bono as possible head of the World Bank – it was quite real conversation that George Bush might push for that appointment. It didn't happen at the time.  And I rather think that Bono's moment for the Nobel Peace Prize possibly has passed him by. I think particularly the controversies in recent years about the taxation situation here in Ireland - and of course the kind of flak they've gotten even for this high-priced partnership with Apple this week – not their first high-priced partnership with Apple – they've done it before - I think that that possibly has kind of tarnished his halo and just shoved him slightly askew on the pedestal.

But I wouldn't put it past him at all. I think it possibly is something that will eventually come down the line. There's only so many people the global elite would want to honour in that way – people who ostensibly are serving the interests of the powerless and poor but who in fact end up burnishing the images and improving the standing of the rich and powerful. And Bono has done an extremely good job in that respect. He's no Henry Kissinger – I'll give him that – but he has done quite a job.

JM: But he probably wouldn't mind appearing on stage with Henry Kissinger. I mean he appears on stage with all these other people: the Bushes, the Clintons. I mean it wouldn't be out of reach for him to appear on the stage there. And then he always uses as the excuse: now that I have that door open maybe I can influence the policy of a George Bush - I don't think it worked too good on the invasion of Iraq. But that is his theory all the time: By having this door open and I can meet with these world leaders - I am trying my best – as I'm hiding my money overseas so I won't get taxed – to influence their policy. 

So if he's taking credit for influencing their policy - there's been a lot of death and destruction with the people he's been meeting with!

HB: Yeah, exactly, I mean ... with friends like that ... right? The thing about Bono is that you're right – the way that he justifies it is that he basically says: yeah, I know. I go and meet these guys. They get a little bit of my credibility but you know what? They give lots back. And make sure that there's money for AIDS programmes in Africa and all that.

And that's not entirely untrue. You do have to look at what's happened in terms of, for instance: He really encouraged the American sort of Protestant Evangelical right wing into Africa to help fight AIDS. And now those guys are in Africa and they're fighting homosexuals – they're actually creating a new sort of sexual puritanism in Africa so sometimes you have to watch out for what I think are probably unintended consequences of that kind of friendship.

And he still maintains very close relations with many people on the American Evangelical right. You know he has, to some extent, a Protestant Evangelical background himself; he went through certainly a kind of a “born-again-like” period in the 1970's. But going beyond that as you say – is this kind of the sense of the transaction - the fact is whenever he's had the chance to get in there and influence policy he's always been ready to sort of bow down and tell Tony Blair and tell George Bush that they're doing a great job.

I mean he called Tony Blair and Gordon Brown “the Lennon-McCartney of the global development stage” - and that was at a point in 2004-2005 – when it was clear during the Make Poverty History campaign that the British government was leading a PR stunt pretending to help Africa. And most of the organisations that were involved in developments in Africa were willing to say that – that this was a stunt and that they shouldn't be propped up in this way. Bono wasn't willing to say it. He came out at the famous G8 Summit in 2005 and stood beside Bush and he stood beside Blair and he said: The world spoke and these great leaders listened.

And that was probably his last chance, if you'd like – I think he'll have more chances in the future - but that was a chance to come down and stand beside the people of the world instead of standing beside the masters of the universe. And he chose to stand beside the masters of the universe and say: These guys are doing a great job. Even while the people who knew what was really happening on the ground were saying: This is rubbish. This is a ruse. You shouldn't fall for it.

Bono fell for it. And I think he fell for it knowing what he was doing. He fell for it in order to maintain those relationships even while those relationships were proving themselves to be wholly ineffective in actually bringing any improvements, any significant change, to the lives of the poor.

JM: Alright. Thanks, Harry, for coming on. I'll let you back to find your iPhone and start deleting the album that Apple just put out.

HB: Hey, it's not that bad. (Both laugh).

JM: Alright. We were speaking with Harry Browne who's a lecturer at the School of Creative Arts and Media in Dublin Institute of Technology. Thanks, Harry, for coming on.

HB: Thank you! Thanks!

JM: You're listening to Radio Free Éireann and we're broadcasting live from Rocky Sullivan's in Red Hook in Brooklyn. Normally, we would have Eliza engineering - I'm doing it right now. But Eliza's Superwoman! She actually taking care of her mother in New Jersey before she heads off to Bolivia on Tuesday to fight with the revolution down there. So she is a very busy woman but she will be back in a couple of weeks time. Normally, we would be doing announcements at the top of the show but Harry had to come on earlier because he wanted to leave by one thirty.

It was great to have him on so anybody out there, particularly you “digital heads”, and you see on your iTunes - Delete! Delete! Delete U2! You don't need it. You just heard about how he's evading taxes over in Ireland but yet he wants us here in America or even in Ireland - use your tax money to do this and that. So we, hopefully, we gave you a little insight. And the book - and I recommend go out and get it - it's called The Frontman: Bono (In the Name of Power) by Harry Browne.


  1. This is a brilliant interview. It cuts to the chase. The value of Radio Free Eireann comes though very clearly here. It does great work.

    Frankie, I hope you find it interesting.

  2. That was a great interview. There is loads to talk about. Bono is a bigger hypocrite than the pope..

    A few years ago he thought it was so holy that anybody who shared music illegally online he thought there should be big prosecutions, big crackdowns, surveillance of the internet to improve the possibility of arresting people who were file sharing.

    I see nothing wrong with file sharing music, making copies of Cd's I've bought and copying them for friends. All I know is I can justify it in my head and that's good enough for me. Yes TPQ-ers the link is a free file sharing music site (for windows, Mac and free, spy & ad ware clean, been using it for yrs).. To me sharing music is the same as buying a book reading it and passing it on.. Libraries share books and music. I think David Bowie let's people download his music for free..

    As for his links with the NWO brigade.. He (Bono) makes me sick.. Pisses the 32A's of me. I've never liked Bono or U2. That interview reinforces my belief I was right.

  3. Something else that wasn't touched on in the interview..

    THE U2 ‘VIRUS’

    Firstly, the delivery. There must be something in the lengthy iTunes ‘terms and conditions’ that allows them to access my account to deliver new material, whether it’s initially just in the Cloud or not. Otherwise, how is this even legal? To my knowledge it hasn’t happened before this, but it doesn’t mean I didn’t give them the ‘right.’ HOWEVER, I think it still feels like a violation of privacy. It makes me uncomfortable and I now distrust the platform. Is that a good result?

    It's spooky when Apple can simply access anyone's account and install what they want, when they want without your say so..

  4. Bono is part of the global elite, the very people whose interests are at the heart of third world starvation. Whatever good he does pales into insignificance when compared to the company he keeps and the system he serves. Celebrity philanthropists are by and large manipulated tools who get the odd tax break as a reward. Bono for me is a prick. Where is this radio station based? They do a lot of good work exposing bullshit.

  5. An Excellent interview and very revealing. For years I ‘m always thought Bono was a self-opinionated git and do you know what I have not really changed my mind.


  6. DaithiD,

    it is based in New York. It should maybe be called Radio No Guff!!

    I was never that interested in reading about Bono but I will be getting Harry's book after this. It tells a story that would interest many of us who prefer to read about the ersatz Bono rather than the plastic Bono.

  7. My Mate Bono
    (short 10min youtube video about U2 + Bono)

    The Frontman: Bono (In The Name of Power) by Harry Browne – review

    The Guardian, Wednesday 26 June 2013....Bono the philanthropist is nothing but a crony of bankers and neocons, argues Terry Eagleton

  8. Anthony,
    I am David the bastardized version of Daithi. Anyway thanks for the response. Is there anyway you can listen to this radio station through the internet? I am not really clued up with this stuff, you have no idea how long it takes me to type these replies, if such a thing exists as computer dyslexia, i have it!

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. Thanks for that Anthony, appreciate it.

  11. David, maybe this will work better

  12. Anthony,
    I've been listening away, really appreciate it. Thanks

  13. i dont read books as a rule but because i hate bono so much i read harry brownes book. it was excellent but he doesnt hate bono enuf for my liking.

    i wrote a song cald u2 are not cool,

    u2 are not cool
    edge is a tool
    larry is a fool
    adam is a ghoul
    and bono is a stool

  14. as in a faecal stool