Ten Momentous Occurrences in U2's Unforgettably Long Career

The Edge and Bono: It's a beautiful day.
John Shearer

According to the Emerald Isle's Central Statistics Office, the average Irish male can expect to prowl around planet Earth for about 76 years, 9 months, and 18 days.

Do you know what that means? It means that U2, as a band, is totally middle-aged. (Formed in 1976, the bombastic arena-rock quartet turned 35 this year.) Bono's already 51! Ditto Adam "Bass Boy" Clayton! Drummer Larry Mullen Jr. hits the big five-oh next Halloween! And the Edge isn't so edgy at 49!

Obviously, though, U2 ain't dead yet. And if we do a few rough calculations, it wouldn't be wacko to expect Bono and crew to put out another couple of decades, six more albums, and an equal number of never-ending, galaxy-spanning, multimillion-dollar megatours.

So yes, it's too early for a postmortem. But why not get started just for fun? Here are ten glorious, strange, and shameful moments in the very long career of U2.

Becoming Bono. On May 10, 1960, a little baby boy named Paul David Hewson was born in Dublin. His mother was an Anglican. His father was a Catholic. And later, as a teenager, little Paulie joined a surrealist street gang. Who joins a fucking surrealist street gang? Well, apparently, the same kind who give themselves cutesy Latin nicknames. Hence, Bono Vox (translation: Good Voice), which he eventually shortened to just Bono.

A Band Is Born. These days, a band begins with a Facebook message. But three and a half decades ago, you had to handwrite a note, tack it to a corkboard, and wait a few days for somebody to respond via telephone or actual face-to-face conversation. That's how 14-year-old Larry Mullen Jr. put together the best-selling rock outfit in human history. They called themselves the Larry Mullen Band and then Feedback, the Hype, and finally U2.

"Sunday Bloody Sunday." Following the lukewarm success of the band's debut, 1980's Boy, and a weird sophomore detour into pseudo-Christian rock 'n' roll on the next year's October, U2 finally got its shtick together with War. It was a big, ambitious, politicized pop-rock album. It was a direct response to violent conflict in places like Northern Ireland and Poland. And it was a stiff middle finger to sucky new-wave fluff.

Bad Hair Decade. Undoubtedly, the 1980s was a pretty good decade for U2's musical output. But man, those were some shameful years for Bono's hair. He generally rocked a 'do known as the grandma mullet — fuzzy on top, longish in back, ugly all over. Thankfully, though, as a new decade dawned, Bono started sporting the sleek, slicked-back look. Unfortunately, that was also the moment when he became fond of wearing cowboy hats, trading the bad hair '80s for the bad headwear '90s.

Rich and Bored. After totally killing it with 1987's Joshua Tree, making a kazillion bucks, circumnavigating the globe, scoring the cover of Time, and basically cementing a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, U2 got bored with itself. So the band had an identity crisis, got deep into so-called alternative rock, and came up with 1991's Achtung Baby. Meanwhile, Bono became obsessed with a pair of oversized, wrap-around sunglasses and adopted a ridiculous alter ego named "The Fly." The result: Totally killing it, making a kazillion bucks, circumnavigating the globe, etc.

"Beautiful Day." After 1997's Pop album, U2 almost quit the rock-star grind. But then, the band dreamed up a little ditty called "Beautiful Day." It hit the top of the Billboard charts. It won three Grammys. And it helped 2000's All That You Can't Leave Behind move major weight. It's an epic example of U2 on autopilot. And "It's a beautiful day/Don't let it get away" will be soundtracking crappy wedding-video montages for the rest of our natural lives.

Rock Stars Who Give a Shit. Between compulsively polishing gold-plated gramophone statuettes, playing the Super Bowl XXXVI Halftime Show, and getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame within minutes of becoming eligible, U2 spent a good chunk of the mid-2000s doing good deeds. One example: Extending the band's decadeslong legacy of activism and political engagement, Bono powwowed with Kennedy cousin Bobby Shriver, Bill and Melinda Gates, billionaire George Soros, and tech mogul Edward W. Scott to launch DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa), a multinational activist organization that's now part of the One campaign.

The point: Not all rock stars have to be a bunch of apathetic, drug-addicted assholes like the Rolling Stones. It's cool to care, people.

Don't Do Downloading. OK, so we're perfectly willing to sit through Bono's speeches on legitimate global issues such as poverty, hunger, human rights, political oppression, and the AIDS epidemic. But when he and the rest of the gang sic their manager, Paul McGuinness, on us with an urgent editorial (see GQ's August 2010 U.K. edition) about the evils of illegal downloading, all we've gotta say is, "Can we borrow a couple of bucks? We still haven't paid off our Zoo TV tickets."

The Spiderman Incident. When it was announced that Bono and the Edge were composing the music and lyrics for a Broadway adaptation of the Spiderman story, our first reaction was, "Wow, we never really thought about it. But yeah, isn't campy light opera exactly what U2 has been heading toward for the past decade?" And our second reaction was, "Umm, still a bad idea."

Sure enough, the musical's been a total mess. There have been bad reviews, budget problems, and actors falling out of the sky at an alarming rate. But here's the part that makes us queasy: In one scene, the Green Goblin struggles to get Daily Bugle Editor J. Jonah Jameson to answer his freaking phone, only to be left on hold, listening to "Beautiful Day" on repeat.

Old Dudes Rule. Recently, U2's had plenty of bad luck: (1) the aforementioned Spiderman mess, (2) months' worth of tour delays caused by Bono's busted back, and now (3) the announcement that the band's completed "clubbing record" (produced in part by David Guetta and is so cringe-inducingly that even the band can't bear to see it released.

And yet this 35-year-old Irish juggernaut cannot be stopped! The 360° Tour has just hit the $717 million mark, utterly destroying the Rolling Stones' $554 million record for the highest-grossing music tour in the history of arena entertainment. So it's official... Bono and crew might be a bunch of old guys with bad sunglasses and a burning hatred for intellectual-property theft. But according to the stats, they still rule.

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