Fareed Zakaria’s GPS is one of my favorite podcasts. It is an in-depth thoughtful program with guests who know something of what they speak, often with opposing points of view which helps drive the discussion deeper. Google: Fareed Zakaria Interviews with Bono and Musk for his interviews with Bono (lead singer of U2) and Elon Musk (developing SpaceX) on what fuels their creativity.
I noticed a clear contrast between the two. Bono sees life from a more ‘taoist’ point of view. His comments on how emptiness pulls the strings in life parallel chapter 40…
Bono is a dozen years older than Musk, which may explain part of their difference. I mean, every 10 years can mark a major leap in ‘depth’, especially if the nothingness of emptiness is pulling the strings. To put it in correlations terms …
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Finding any meaning in this terse correlation requires ‘fuzzy thinking’. See what your intuition can conjure up, and then consider the following excerpts.
This is the GPS transcript from the Bono segment .
BONO, LEAD SINGER U2: I can only speak from my own experience, but observing the species up close as I have over the years. I think it’s often emptiness, the void and the attempt to fill the void is art and the artist is the person who is making up for absence. If you were completely of sound mind, you would not need 70,000 people screaming I love you a night to feel normal. It’s the god shaped hole, I think, somebody called it once.
ZAKARIA: How do you – How does the song come to you?
BONO: Well, performing for me comes on like a twitch, really. I have no choice. The song writing piece is different. It comes out in two ways. Despair and attempt to put things right that have been wrong or joy, just ebullience, you know, it’s just overflowing — my cup overflowed. When things are going very well in my life or in our family, the things are good, I write naturally. I just can’t stop writing. And – but also when I’m in a hole, I’m in a corner, I try to write myself out of it.
ZAKARIA: You told me once that sometimes you just get up with a tune in your head and you don’t know where it came from.
BONO: Yeah. The arrogance of artists is to be really despised because it is a gift. You wake up with a melody in your head or whatever and in that sense it’s like inherited wealth or being born with a beautiful face. You should not be made arrogant by something you didn’t create yourself. So the talent is latent. I guess my father was a tenor. Really, a fine singer. And he was also – he loved to paint. He loved Shakespeare. He loved to act. So I got all of that in me. So, it’s just – it’s very easy for me to write. Unfortunately, it’s not easy for me to be great at it. That seems – that’s the most maddening part of creativity is that I can’t seem to figure it out how it works. Like with U2 for many years, even in the studio, it was like, if you saw us, you would laugh. I mean it was just this dysfunctional musicians making horrible noise and then eventually it comes together at some sort of top line melody appears in a harmony and rhythm – we get to something pretty special. But it was easy to tell the special from the crap.
ZAKARIA: A lot of the songwriting or the music that we associate with those days and through you is often political. Nowadays it seems less so. Why do you think that is? Or maybe it is, maybe …
BONO: Yeah, it’s very hard. I mean politics as Bob Dylan calls them topical songs, I mean they can often be very, very boring. And we’ve written some good ones. They have to come from the place. If you set yourself a task to write a song, I don’t know however great the song will be. The great songs kind of write you. Often, I might be sitting here with you and I might say this is really on my mind. I’m very concerned about what’s going on in this geography. You would think I would write a song about it. It’s not like that. There’s a whole other thing going on in my personal life, there’s a whole other thing going on in my unconscious and it is what is going to come out. Now, sometimes they will connect those two things. We’ll write a song. I, for example, wrote a song for Aung San Suu Kyui called “Walk On.” We wrote a song from U2.
But those are songs about her, it’s not literally about her, it’s also about you’re always writing songs to yourself, you know, to try and get yourself through something. So …
ZAKARIA: So it’s more about looking inside of you rather than looking at the world.
BONO: Yea. I mean it’s sort of – it’s a funny thing. And it’s the same with singing. You know, sometimes you’re on stage, you’d be singing and you know, you’ll be thinking as Mick Jagger says about the dry cleaning although I find it hard to imagine Mick Jagger thinking about the dry cleaning, but other times the song is – it’s you. You’re one and the same. As an Irish poet William Butler Yeats said, you know, the dancer and the dance they become the same thing. So, it’s slightly magic. And I know you probably don’t want to believe in that because it can be such a hocus pocus and a lot of nonsense. A lot of hate and, you know, the way artists talk. I just caught myself here, even now it just sounds like such malarkey. But you see people on the Grammys and they are saying, you know, I just want to thank God for that song. Don’t thank – don’t blame God on that song.
BONO: That’s your song. And so, but there is some magic, something unknowable about art.
ZAKARIA: You have – you are deeply steeped in poetry, opera, art. Do you think those – is that a prerequisite to really do great things?
BONO: I don’t know. I’ve seen it come out of people on the street. I’ve been in corners of Africa and you see just – just somebody doing amazing work. I don’t know where it comes from. It helps, though. Irish people love language. Our revenge on the mother tongue, you know, English language was to sort of make it our own. You know, in the case of, say, Beckett was to chop it up and make it minimal. In the case of Joyce it was like a chewing gum. You know, stretch it and pull it. And with Oscar Wilde it was like (inaudible) than English that ever have been spoken and more ornate. Our relationship with the English language is a testy one, but it’s, I think, it’s done well for poetry and playwrights and hopefully for song writers.
ZAKARIA: Do you think you get more creative over time or as you age or less?
BONO: Well, look, I’m looking at gravity right now and as a rock ‘n’ roll band. I mean there’s no one has done their best work who has been around, no band for 30 years. So, with this, I don’t know. We’re going to see. But you know what, that’s not true of a filmmaker, it’s not true of a novelist, it’s not true of a poet. So, why should it be true of a rock ‘n’ roll band? And I’m humbled that in our little post-punk combo from Dublin to think that maybe our best work might be to come even if the odds are against it.
ZAKARIA: Let’s hope that your best work is to come. Bono, thank you. Pleasure to have you on.
BONO: Thank you.
In addition, if you haven’t already, listen to John Cleese’s charming talk on creativity. There is a subtle side of this talk that ‘tests’ the listener’s mind. In particular, how you feel about his ‘light bulb jokes’. It may be that the less creative you are while listening to these ‘jokes’, the less you will intuitively understand. Although, granted, I’m just guessing.