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At 1:30 A.M., exactly five hours after his bravura Super Bowl show, Bono is exercising the rock star's fundamental right to be ridiculous. At a celebratory post-game dinner in the French Quarter with his band mates, the U2 management team and actress Ashley Judd (an old friend), he throws back some red wine, tells a few stories about Frank Sinatra, leaves a rambling cell-phone message for Judd's husband gently informing him that his wife has been kidnapped by a rock band, and then sneaks off to the bathroom for a cigarette. (Bono thinks the rest of U2 doesn't know he smokes; they know.) After 15 minutes, guitarist the Edge, who adopts a kind, paternalistic role toward his childhood friend and band mate, glances toward the bathroom and says nervously, "Bono's allergic to red wine." Sure enough, Bono has passed out on the bathroom floor. U2's deputy manager, Sheila Roche, is unconcerned and continues sipping her drink. "He's probably just taking a nap. He's an excellent napper," she says.
A few minutes later, Bono emerges rumpled but renewed. As he exits the restaurant and makes his way through the mob on Bourbon Street, he throws his hands in the air and screams to no one in particular, "No, I will not do the snake dance for you!"
Bono is in full rock-star mode, and he has good reason to savor the moment. U2 nearly called it quits a few years ago. After putting out Pop, the first dud of their 10-album career, in 1997, the band members--all in their 40s, all with relationships, side interests and more money than they could ever spend--had to decide whether there was a compelling reason to continue being a band. "Why are you still around?" asks the Edge rhetorically. "You know, you made some great records. But why are you still making records? Part of what we decided is that we had a sense or belief that we can still make the album of the year."
On All That You Can't Leave Behind, which has received eight Grammy nominations, including one for Album of the Year--U2 dispensed with the drum loops and DJs it had toyed with on Pop and got back to the hard business of writing big, straightforward songs. Lyrically, Bono was struggling with his father's terminal illness (his father Bob Hewson died of cancer last year), but specificity can be the plague of pop. Songs like One, Where the Streets Have No Name, Stay (Faraway, So Close) and Walk On from All That You Can't Leave Behind achieve the impossible--becoming meaningful to millions of people--precisely because they are beautifully vague. "Bono did something recently that he probably shouldn't have done," says drummer Larry Mullen Jr. "He did a book as a favor for a friend of his in Ireland that 'explained' all the lyrics. I think that was a mistake because one of the most valuable things about his lyrics is that you can adapt them to any particular situation."