Why Brian Johnson is Wrong about Bono

According to AC/DC’s Brian Johnson, Bono should keep his charitable giving to himself.

The raucous rock ‘n’ roller spoke out against U2’s philanthropist front man. Johnson said, “When I was a working man I didn’t want to go to a concert for [someone] to talk down to me that I should be thinking of some kid in Africa.” We’re all familiar with the argument. Seeing a friend throw a plate of food away I once channeled finger-wagging moms everywhere and chided him, “think of the poor, starving orphans.” His response? I’ll never forget. He said, “Name one.”

I couldn’t. I didn’t know any of them personally. The problem was an obscure one. The victims were faceless at best. When a crisis is either so large or so distant, to resolve it seems as likely as attaining world peace. Rarely is world peace talked about seriously by anyone who isn’t vying for a shiny, new tiara. It’s a joke in that respect but only a sick one and not even the cynics laugh.

When I first saw to what degree the world was devastated, it wrecked me. Feeling as if there was nothing I could do, I retreated to apathy. So, when Mr. Johnson expresses the sentiment of just wanting to go to a show and not be bothered I can relate. Mr. Johnson explains that he contributes but doesn’t publicize. He claims, “I do it myself. I don’t tell everybody they should give money — they can’t afford it.” Anyone who attends a U2 concert or is otherwise inundated with the band’s message to the point of annoyance is probably not so broke that they cannot afford to give.

Mr. Johnson adds, “I’m sorry mate, do it yourself, spend some of your own money and get it done. It just makes me angry. I become all tyrannical.” First, Bono does give out of his own money. Second, he “gets it done” better than anyone I know. Third, and most importantly, it’s true he is being somewhat tyrannical. A tyranny is defined as “oppressive power”. He would use the limited power he has as an aging member of a once-commercially successful band to fulfill his desire that singers stick to singing and not attempt to compel their audience to take any sort of action.

Therein lies the problem. Perhaps Mr. Johnson has forgotten that songs too are messages. The overarching vision of AC/DC is one of defiance, sexual escapades and unbridled aggression which exalts rock ‘n’ roll as the greatest good. I enjoy rock music; I defend it, but these guys give rock ‘n’ roll a bad name. Undoubtedly, legions of young men have in decades past embraced these unhealthy Type A attributes and grown into imbecilic, emotionally constipated cavemen. They suffer for it as do their wives and children. What a legacy.

Not everyone is keen on Bono. Some believe that he exploits the world’s poorest to feed his massive ego. How would they know that? Some take issue with the singer’s financial portfolio. Others are critical of his methods. John Selasie (African Aid Action) has suggested that Bono’s work has served only to “increase corruption and dependency.” I’m no expert on that but I can trace a lineage of good which has unfolded out of Bono’s efforts.

Obviously, he wasn’t the first to act but it may be true that he has the biggest microphone. He watched Amnesty’s Secret Policeman’s Ball in the early ’80s of which he has said, “It became a part of me. It sowed a seed.” Soon after, he visited Africa and was apparently so stricken by the experience that he emerged from it an advocate for victims of extreme poverty. Under his influence, activism and advocacy for Jesus’ least of these has become hip. Hip is a relative term but it’s preferable that advocacy be its accepted meaning.

The problems besieging Africa and other third-world countries were once obscure. Bono has helped to bring their crises into focus and make them more personal. Even still, some, such as Mr. Johnson, would suggest that he should just shut up and sing.

But I ask, how can an advocate be silent?

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  • AltRockAddict

    Well done! I’m so glad to hear someone with common sense stand up to Brian Johnson’s selfish, ignorant rant. Thank you for doing so with grace and taste.

  • norma

    It is a shame that others are so quick to judge someone who is trying to use his name and efforts to do something good. I wish there more people like Bono changing the world. In these days the rock stars and others seem to be going down the wrong road and our children look up to them! U2 is the greatest and someone i would love my children to look up to! back off Brian Johnson of the world!

  • Its strange to me that the sort of sentiments that Johnson expresses get free press. In whose mind is it wicked to encourage people to give to those in need? . . . what a crazy world we live in. Do good but don’t tell me what is good. What nonsense!

    Thanks for this thoughtful article Chase, I couldn’t agree with your sentiments more.

  • hey joe

    oh man you are sick! I agree with Brian, he didn’t say that Bono should quit doing what he does. I believe that Bono is doing this also for his own commercial. He could give money without telling people what to do. At least at concerts he shouldn’t be doing this…
    and by the way, U2 are no rock anyway…