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Brian Draper


You don't get to the top without an unhealthy dose of ego, as well as talent. And ego can get in the way. It'll take you places, but then overplay its hand - dress you up in a Stetson and a self-righteous pose in front of millions, if you're not careful. Which is why plenty loathe as well as love the character known as Bono.

And if you can't see past that ego, which (in the end) he held up to the light through his characterisation of 'the Fly' - the leather-bound, sunglass-wraparound persona of U2's Zoo TV years - then what is there to love? Hackles rise when another ego fills the room and threatens to overshadow our own, after all; or when it reminds us of our failings, writ large and loud. Hypocrite! He thinks he can save the world? Crucify him…

Maybe he got there first. 'Every day I die again, and again I'm reborn,' Bono sings on 'Breathe', from the most recent album, No Line on the Horizon. And to his credit, he sings as if he means it (a rare quality in a karaoke culture); as if he's learned something few of us seem to, about nailing the persona, the projection, the pose; or at least, about being nailed. Which is surely one reason why fans are, deep down, drawn to the light of this star more than most.

Perhaps, as the front man, Bono gives voice to the battle within us all, between that which must die and that which may yet live. And for those with ears to hear, such as Bruce Springsteen, there is something Christlike about him that transcends his Messiah complex. Springsteen observed, when inducting U2 into the rock and roll hall of fame, that 'every good … front man knows that before James Brown there was Jesus'. And Bono, as the Boss suggests, seems to know this better than most.

Jesus always provoked a response, and engaged his followers evocatively. He asked hard questions of them, told stories, demonstrated muscular, earthy, unreligious spirituality. The crowds flocked, and reached for the hem of his garment.

And to this day, we're stretching to touch something of the divine for ourselves. Perhaps those at the front of a U2 gig sense they are tantalisingly close to rare presence, and reach out for the hem of the jacket or the hand of the hero; at the back, phones are held up to steal graven, grainy images. Meanwhile, from the Labour conference to the Tories', from Presidents Bush to Obama, the powerful, too, sense that being with Bono may bring their cause to life.

But all the while, he's stretching, too. 'When I wake in the morning, I put out my hand - spiritually - and I reach for what you might call God', he confides in Bono on Bono. 'Sometimes, I don't feel God, and I feel lonely… I ask, "Where have you gone?" God usually replies… "I haven't gone anywhere. Where have you gone?"'

To all of those who want something from him, he's got it, whatever 'it' is. But they - we - can't simply have what is his. Ultimately, it's not about what you can take for yourself from that outstretched hand. And again, Bono seems to have got there first, walking into the mystical sunlit street of 'Breathe', arms open wide, as he declares: 'There's nothing you have that I need…'

That's not the voice of the ego-driven man-who-has-everything declaring independence from the world; but instead the soaring, faltering melody of one who knows what it's like for people to want a piece of him, and to say: it's not me you're looking for. You - we - still haven't found it - the something, the someone, the somewhere that 'has to be believed to be seen', as he sings on 'Walk On'.

We come closer to glimpsing the now-but-not-yet landscape he invites us, through his songs, to contemplate - where the streets have no name, and the colours bleed into one - when we learn with the eyes of faith to see not just past the stadium-sized ego of a rock star; but through the man, and through each other, and through ourselves. If an icon is a window onto heaven, then Bono deserves, at least, to be in the frame.