"He would always turn on the humor, mock you a little and then mock himself. Mostly himself," Bono said.
And if he wanted the rock star to undertake a cause, he would convince him in an unconventional way — with a little reverse psychology.
"He'd say 'You shouldn't do this; it's a complete waste of your time,'" Bono recalled, rendering a spot-on impression of the South African icon's mellifluous, halting speech pattern. "'A man like you, with such responsibilities? Why would you want to be at a concert to celebrate an old man like me?'" Bono laughed. "And suddenly you were putty in his hands."
Added Edge: "That's his philosophy of dealing with the world."
It's a similar approach for the band these days. A natural extrovert, Bono in person comes off as much as a comic presence as an activist. "If you have any sense as a band that you could be not just a sop but a salve, you have a moral duty to respond," he said, when asked if the group's activist reputation ever grew burdensome. "And that," he added, with a poker face, "can make you a total pain in the" butt.
He also quipped to Edge: "The whole thing about being in a band is like being on an oil rig. Just a lot of men. We really need to change that."
Edge, in his trademark knit hat and biker-esque facial hair, volleyed back, "I told you we should have had a girl drummer."
Dressed in a green military cap, black jeans and several layers to ward off the New York chill, Bono was standing in a soundproof room filled with engineers. Every once in a while someone handed him a microphone. Bono reaches for a microphone the way a baby reaches for a lollipop, with the easy sense he knows exactly what to do with it. Barely pausing his conversation with a reporter, he began singing, rocking slowly back and forth as his facial muscles clenched. Then in a musician equivalent of a no-look pass, he handed back the mike to an engineer as he continued bantering with a reporter.
"Not to sound pretentious—not that it’s ever stopped us before,” he said as he described the new record.
Oh yes, about that record. From the few tracks heard that night, it has traces of the Clash and Sex Pistols and Kraftwerk — "stuff we were really listening to when we were younger," said Bono. But it also comes laden with soul and old-school R&B, genres the singer said he and friends were listening to in the 1970s, only "once punk came along, no one admitted it." It, too, walks the line between the political and the personal, with one song title connoting a difficult period but really referring to a personal trauma.
Thematically, the album will center on the collision between hard-earned wisdom and youthful hunger. For present-day U2 — sometimes branching out in new directions even as it so often returns to its roots, and still vital even as it stands just a few years shy of its 40th anniversary — that tension couldn't be more fitting.
The band has reportedly been entertaining corporate suitors for a Super Bowl ad to introduce the new record. But Bono waved aside a question about those plans. There's still work to be done, an album to fine tune, all-night sessions that mean dinners eaten directly off sound boards.
So engineers continued to tinker with Bono's vocal chord-straining falsetto, the sound that has defined him and U2 as far back as albums like "War" and "The Unforgettable Fire." "There's just something about a bloke who sings like a chick," Bono cracked to a reporter. And then practically in the same motion, he turned, took the mike and unleashed another one of those vocals.