Bono: 'I Want to Change the World'

The rock star and activist guest edits the July Africa issue of Vanity Fair.

June 5, 2007 — -- Inside the headquarters of Vanity Fair magazine, it's an amazing thing to watch Bono, the rock star and philanthropist, interact with the magazine's editor, Graydon Carter.

It is a romance of sorts -- the editor and the rock star, both at the top of their games. The editor is as highly regarded in his field as the rock star is in his, and they're working together to produce the July issue of the venerated magazine. (Click here to visit the Vanity Fair Web site for much more on this special issue.)

Carter, the legendary control freak, has handed the reins of his magazine to the rock star … well, sort of.

For the first time in Vanity Fair's history, Carter has decided to let a guest editor work alongside him. Both men say the arrangement is authentic, not a mere publicity stunt. Bono assigned many of the stories, and the rock star has also rolled up his shirt sleeves and edited them as well.

"It was my idea," said Bono. "I think if I wasn't a singer in a band, I probably would have been a journalist."

The star said he has always been a storyteller, and in this instance, the story he wants to tell, and the story he has been telling around the world, is about Africa.

For the past decade, Bono has worked tirelessly to get the world's attention focused on the problems plaguing the continent of Africa. This means getting the world's major economic powers to cancel much of Africa's debt.

Africa: An Adventure

Bono, who has also raised hundreds of millions of dollars for the needy, said to really help transform Africa he knows he needs to open minds. Hence, the job at Vanity Fair.

"I said I want to do an issue about Africa where the sense is Africa: an opportunity, Africa: an adventure," he said. "Not just a burden, which is the way people normally see it."

"Africans themselves wince, understandably, when they see pictures of their brothers and sisters with flies buzzing around their face," he continued. "They're very noble people, very proud people, very entrepreneurial people."

Spreading the Word

So, is the pen more powerful than the stage? Bono believes we need both , but has used his rock concerts to spread the word about the dire conditions facing Africa today.

"I think, strangely, the one that irritates me the most is that there are 3,000 Africans, mostly children, going to die today of a mosquito bite. Malaria is the No. 1 killer in Africa. Do you know what it would take to fix that? A net. A bed net. It costs hardly anything," he said.

"Why aren't we doing this?" he asked? "How much are we spending on defending people, defending ourselves against people who hate us? There's so much we can do to stop people hating us and start them admiring us. A continent behaving like an island is a very dangerous thing."

That specific issue will not be dealt with in the magazine, but AIDS will be. Bono has been a leading advocate for the global fight against AIDS.

Casting the (20) Covers

There are incredible pictures on the cover of this issue of Vanity Fair -- 20 covers, to be precise -- all shot by legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz. The covers feature Barack Obama, Oprah, Queen Rania, Jay-Z, Bishop Tutu, Madonna, to name a few.Even President Bush, of whom Graydon Carter has been frequently critical, appears on a cover with Condi Rice. That was Bono's idea.

"I think he [Bush] will enjoy it," said Carter. "[Bono] talked me into it. I said, 'Fine, I agree with you then.' It wasn't my natural first choice, but if it works for him, it works for me."

Bono defends his decision. "People don't know that Condoleezza Rice and George Bush really fought for Africans on antiretroviral drugs," he said. "And even though I fight with them about everything else, you've just got to give up for that."

This March, Bono was quoted in The New York Times as saying, "Hey, I'd meet with Lucifer if I thought it would do any good." Many people felt he was talking about President Bush. "I wasn't," said Bono.

"I couldn't disagree more with a lot of the things [that] have happened in the last few years, post-9/11," he said. "President Bush knows that. I was against the war in Iraq. But I wouldn't want that to obfuscate his leadership."

Bono said the president was very responsive when the two met. He said the president provided real leadership in providing 1.5 million Africans with antiretroviral drugs, when there were none three years ago.

"What I said to President Bush was, 'Look, these drugs were an amazing advertisement for America,'" said Bono. "I think he genuinely felt it offended him that people were dying for the stupidest of reasons, a lack of two pills a day."

Bono's Deepest Desire

Bono admitted that money alone won't solve Africa's problems. "When you're a kid, when I was even in my 20s, I thought that the poverty in Africa could be solved by a deep pocket," he said. "But then I'm older and I meet somebody like Bill Gates. And you realize that as deep as his pockets are, charity won't solve this problem. He knows that. There's a structural aspect of poverty."

Bono has worked on the Africa issue of Vanity Fair for more than three months, his goals as lofty as his highest notes.

"Deep down, what is my deepest desire on all this stuff? I really believe that we can be the generation that ends extreme poverty. I really believe that," he said.

"The greatness of America lies with ordinary people, regular folks, who say, 'That isn't right. Three thousand kids dying of malaria every day for lack of a bed net. We can fix that.' I've learned that."

Despite the acclaim Bono has received for his humanitarian work, he's not looking to give up his day job.

"I think my work here as an activist and as a lobbyist has taken a lot of time, but it just means when I do get into a studio and I do get to meet my band mates I feel like I can really be myself," he said.

The March New York Times article said that Bono has "a touch of the messiah complex," which he said is a fair assessment.

"Give me a rock star who doesn't open his arms," he said. "I'll tell you what my messianic complex is -- I want to have fun, and I want to change the world. That's it."