May I call you Bono? That feels a little familiar, but “Mr. Bono” would be weird, and you don’t seem to use your last name at all anymore. Remember when you were Bono Vox? What happened to that? Is Wikipedia right when it says you named yourself after a hearing aid store? Sorry, I’m already digressing and I haven’t even started yet. Bono, we need to talk about the sunglasses.
I am old enough to remember when you first started with the sunglasses. When you and U2 first came out in the early ’80s, all fresh faced and earnest and waving a giant white flag, you didn’t have the sunglasses. You had an unfortunate ’80s mullet (not judging, because so did I), and you did your best to avoid wearing sleeves, but your band was known for its unique sound and clear-eyed social justice anthems like “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “Pride (In The Name Of Love).” Gradually you scaled to the top of Rock Mountain, reaching the summit in 1987 with the multiplatinum smash The Joshua Tree and the followup performance film Rattle and Hum. Except for developing a strange fascination with large hats toward the end of this period, and of course, you and The Edge’s ridiculous stage names, your band was refreshingly free of affectation in its early career, which helped you to stand out as an alternative to the crappy synth-pop and even worse hair metal that ruled the airwaves at the time.
U2 got so big that there started to be a backlash: people didn’t love Rattle and Hum as much as The Joshua Tree — and everybody loved The fucking Joshua Tree, so rather than hustle out another album to try and keep on top of the charts, you announced you were taking a break so you could go away and “dream it all up again.” It was an unexpected and kind of bold move for one of the two or three biggest bands in the world at the time.
When you came back in 1991 with Achtung Baby, you sounded different, the lyrics were a lot more personal and a lot less political, and you were bigger than ever. I was in my first year of college and Achtung Baby was one of those albums that I never bought because there was no reason to: it was coming out of every passing car, every dorm room window, every bar in every direction. You knew every word to every song whether you wanted to or not.
Back in those days, we depended on MTV to tell us what our rock stars were up to, and as you embarked on the hugely ambitious 1992 ZooTV tour, I remember you explaining to Tabitha Soren or whoever that the whole thing was a satire of the media society we had become (oh, for those days when 50 channels constituted a media-saturated society!), and that your shiny leather jacket and giant wraparound sunglasses were because you were playing a satirical character called The Fly, whose oily, smarmy, cartoonish Vegas egomania would embody everything wrong with late-20th century culture.
As artistic statements go, it was kind of a lame one, but we all took it at face value. You weren’t the kind of asshole who wears sunglasses everywhere you go, you were playing the role of an asshole who wears sunglasses everywhere. Fair enough. And quite frankly, after a decade of such painstaking, straight-faced sincerity, a little humor was welcome.
But that was 22 years ago, and you’re still wearing those dumb sunglasses. If your sunglasses were a baby, they’d be looking at grad schools right now. And they’re not even cool sunglasses.
In our modern, polarized society, there are not a whole lot of things that people can unequivocally agree on across party lines, gender lines, racial llnes, class lines. But we can all agree on this: people who wear sunglasses indoors are assholes. You might even say there are two kinds of people in this world: people who wear sunglasses indoors, and people who think those people are assholes.
I’d like to think you’re not an asshole, Bono. You are probably the greatest philanthropist in the history of show business, and though it’s possible that you could be both things at once, I have to give you the benefit of the doubt.
But come on. You’ve met presidents! A lot of presidents! And even then, you can’t lose the sunglasses? Not even when you’re pleading for funds to help with the AIDS epidemic in Africa, you can’t take off the lavender wraparounds and look a powerful man in the eye?
It’s one thing to wear sunglasses on stage, where the lights are blinding and a little affectation in the name of entertainment is par for the course. But you look ridiculous. Even Howard Stern has quit wearing sunglasses all the time. Read that last sentence again.
Here’s what I think, Bono (still feels weird calling you that), and I would love for you to prove me wrong. I think you know that we are all giving you a pass on your dumb sunglasses because no one who works so tirelessly for the impoverished could be such an obvious tool.
I think you always wanted to be The Fly. I think the whole ZooTV tour was an excuse for you to unlock the cheeseball within, to act out the Rock Star fantasies you always nurtured but for whatever reason were too timid to indulge in your early career.
I think that it’s no coincidence that your philanthropic efforts ramped up sharply around the same time as you started wearing the sunglasses. I think it’s no coincidence that as your humanitarian work got more and more recognition, your glasses got more and more stupid-looking.
I think maybe the whole point of the philanthropy is to give you cover for the sunglasses. I don’t think you care about AIDS in Africa at all! I THINK YOU’RE WORKING BACKWARD FROM THE SUNGLASSES.
Look, Bono. The sunglasses were always pretty douchey, but it hardly moves the douche-needle, relatively speaking, so we’ve all looked the other way for a long time. But let’s face it: you’re not a young rock star anymore. You’re a rock elder. People are looking up to you. You can raise all the money in the world for AIDS and Amnesty International and Third-world debt relief, but now we have a generation of adults that thinks it’s okay to wear sunglasses all the time — Robin Thicke, Michael Kors, Kim-Jong Il — and that is why you will go down as history’s greatest monster.