Photo: Shannon Finney/Getty Images
The night after Bono and his U2 bandmates became Kennedy Center honorees, the frontman and New York Times best-selling author came to Washington National Cathedral and spoke about the beauty of “Highway to Hell”.
The second-largest cathedral in the United States was the scene Monday night for a conversation between Bono and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Jon Meacham, who currently serves as the Cathedral’s canonical historian. They were there to discuss Bono’s memoir Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story during a wide-ranging conversation that unsurprisingly touched on politics and faith. Perhaps most surprisingly, that conversation turned to the subject of Australian hard rock band AC/DC, a subject that I have to assume doesn’t come up often at Washington National Cathedral.
After speaking about his admiration for atheists: “It’s very brave to say: ‘No, I don’t believe in this. It is fabulism. It’s there to comfort you, but I’m too intellectually rigorous to run with this shit.’” — Bono, a devout Christian, said: “I just became a huge AC/DC fan. His song ‘Highway to Hell’ blows me away. It’s truly one of the best songs ever written.”
At that point, he asked Meacham if he could use his phone to look up the lyrics to “Highway to Hell.” “Wouldn’t you like to hear AC/DC’s lyrics?” he asked the large crowd seated in the neo-Gothic church. There were cheers in response. Of course, we wanted to hear the AC/DC lyrics, read by Bono in the same hallowed space where multiple presidential funerals have been held and where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his last Sunday sermon.
After advising Meacham on which Google search terms to use: “AC/DC, ‘Highway to Hell,’ lyrics,” Bono admitted that he recently discovered the power of this heavy metal classic while attending a birthday party where someone recited his words. Bono thought the reader was sharing a poem she had written, but her wife, Ali, explained to her husband, her husband, a true rock star, that what she had actually heard was the lyrics of the 1979 hit.
“Live easy,” Bono began, reading with priestly solemnity from the iPhone Meacham handed him. “Love for free. A season ticket on a one-way trip. without asking anything Let me be. Taking everything easy. I don’t need reason. It doesn’t need rhyme. There’s nothing I’d rather do. Going down. Party time. My friends are going to be there too.”
“That’s a powerful lyric,” Bono said. “That’s a summon: my friends are going to be there too.”
Then he continued, just as solemnly: “I am on the road to hell. Highway to Hell. Highway to Hell.”
“I just want to say that’s the Jesus I believe in,” he said. “Because Jesus would also want to be there, with his friends, and he will always go the distance, he will always find you where you are. That’s why he was such a fan of Johnny Cash. Johnny Cash could sing that song and it would be amazing.”
Bono then sang some lyrics from “Highway to Hell” in a remarkably accurate Johnny Cash voice, adding, “It’s the feeling of, if you feel rejected, if you feel like you’re going nowhere, I’m with you.”
Bono was not asked if U2 plans to tour in 2023 in light of recent news, mentioned in a Washington Post article, that drummer Larry Mullen Jr. needs surgery and likely won’t be able to perform at all for the next year. However, whenever U2 hit the road again, it seems prudent to expect them to cover at least one track from AC/DC’s sixth studio album.