One of the more endearing things about Jann Wenner is that he still writes for Rolling Stone nearly 40 years after founding it. His pieces are memorable: a lengthy Q&A with John Lennon shortly before Lennon’s murder, a gang interview with presidential candidate Bill Clinton at Doe’s Eat Place and off a one-page editorial endorsing Al Gore. Whenever Wenner contributes again to the pages of his flagship, you can be sure he’ll bring passion to it.
Who can blame Wenner for claiming some of the best assignments for himself? His cover story for the Nov. 3 Rolling Stone, based on roughly 10 hours of interviewing Bono, is one such assignment, and this time he’s sharing some of the audio in a podcast series.
The first podcast, and an excerpt of the cover story, give Bono another chance to discuss his faith. It’s one of the lengthier and more relaxed conversations Bono has engaged in about religion. (The book Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas offers more.)
One of the most fascinating segments concerns Bono’s understanding of, to turn a phrase of tmatt’s, sex, salvation and rock & roll:
Here’s the strange bit: Most of the people that you grew up with in black music had a similar baptism of the spirit, right? The difference is that most of these performers felt they could not express their sexuality before God. They had to turn away. So rock & roll became backsliders’ music. They were running away from God. But I never believed that. I never saw it as being a choice, an either/or thing.
You never saw rock & roll — the so-called devil’s music — as incompatible with religion?
Look at the people who have formed my imagination. Bob Dylan. Nineteen seventy-six — he’s going through similar stuff. You buy Patti Smith: Horses — “Jesus died for somebody’s sins/But not mine . . .” And she turns Van Morrison’s “Gloria” into liturgy. She’s wrestling with these demons — Catholicism in her case. Right the way through to Wave, where she’s talking to the pope.
The music that really turns me on is either running toward God or away from God. Both recognize the pivot, that God is at the center of the jaunt. So the blues, on one hand — running away; gospel, the Mighty Clouds of Joy — running towards. And later you came to analyze it and figure it out.
The blues are like the Psalms of David. Here was this character, living in a cave, whose outbursts were as much criticism as praise. There’s David singing, “Oh, God — where are you when I need you?/You call yourself God?” And you go, this is the blues.
I’ve sometimes expressed dismay about Bono’s sense of the ribald. This interview helps me understand it better. Thanks to Wenner for sharing his celebrity access with the rest of us, and for engaging Bono on a topic that’s always sure to satisfy those of us who love both U2 and God.