For what was supposed to be a valentine to Bono (“Bahn-o”), there sure were a lot of references to Bono (“Bone-o”) Thursday night. First, on the red carpet leading into the new Kodak Theatre, Evan and Jaron joked that they thought the inaugural “Love Rocks” concert was honoring the late Sonny Bono. Then, R.E.M. carried on the joke by bringing out Cher during their four-song set to duet with singer Michael Stipe on “I Got You Babe,” after which Cher said, “I’ve never done that song without my Bono, so that was for you, Bono.”
Finally, when accepting his Heart of Entertainment Award from the Entertainment Industry Foundation, U2 singer Bono told a story about his encounter with “a short little silent man,” who after getting off an elevator with the Irishman, turned around and said, “It’s pronounced ‘Bone-o.’ ”
Still, it was clear who the “Love Rocks” gala, which also served as an awards ceremony and a fund-raiser for cardiovascular research, was all about. During the early part of the two-hour concert, No Doubt contributed a funky performance of “Sweetest Thing” that reminded everyone in attendance why U2 are the biggest rock band in the world – “their perfect three-minute pop songs,” as Tom Cruise, who presented Bono his award, later put it.
But Bono’s songwriting craft was not why he was being honored. The EIF awarded Bono for his humanitarian work promoting debt relief and AIDS awareness in the Third World, and for his work with Amnesty International, Greenpeace International and other organizations.
The evening’s presenters and performers, including Kevin Spacey, Ray Romano and Kevin Nealon, took turns praising Bono’s efforts, though none of their kind words matched those by comedian Drew Carey on the red carpet: “I’m so glad that God sent Bono down to save us from our sins,” he joked. “Do you want to see my wristband? It says, ‘What would Bono do?’ He’s like Christ, I’m telling you. He’s like Christ and Bob Dylan rolled into one.”
Former President Bill Clinton and Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger came close to Carey’s flattery with their comments in congratulatory videos, the latter noting, “I remember when you started your thing up for the third-world debt, a lot of people said, ‘Why don’t you just leave this job to the professionals and you get on with your own life?’ But I suppose you’ve got to remember that it was the professionals that built the Titanic and the amateurs that built the ark.”
When he finally took the stage to receive the Heart of Entertainment Award, Bono laughed off the praise, saying, “Right down the hall from beatification comes crucifixion, so I’d better enjoy this.”
Bono also joked about being a “pain in the arse” to U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill and President George W. Bush’s administration because of his efforts to convince U.S. lawmakers drop the debt owed by the world’s poorest countries.
The U2 singer used the podium to preach his causes as well, noting that 28 million HIV-positive people in sub-Saharan Africa would leave behind 100 million AIDS orphans by the end of the decade. “This is probably the greatest threat to humanity that the world has seen really since the bubonic plague took out about a third of Europe in the Middle Ages,” he said.
The United States, especially the creative minds in Hollywood who have sold the concept of the American Dream to the world, can make a difference Bono said.
“Eight million people die every year for the price of going out with your friends to the movies and buying an ice cream,” he said. “Literally for about $30 a head per year, you could save 8 million lives. Isn’t that extraordinary? Preventable disease – not calamity, not famine, nothing like that – preventable disease, just for the lack of medicines. That is a bargain.”
“Love Rocks” ended with an encore performance of the U2 anthem “One” by R.E.M. with Stipe and Bono sharing vocals. Near the end of the number, which appeared to be unrehearsed, the vocalists turned the microphone toward the capacity crowd to sing the song’s chorus: “One life/ But we’re not the same/ We get to carry each other/ Carry each other.”
No Doubt’s three-song set earlier in the evening included their current hit, “Hey Baby,” and “Simple Kind of Life.” R.E.M. also played their recent “Imitation of Life” and the classic “Losing My Religion,” which earned enormous applause, particularly during guitarist Peter Buck’s mandolin solos.
Newcomer Reese opened the show, and R&B singer Lauryn Hill also performed, singing and playing acoustic guitar on two new tracks, including one Tracy Chapman-like tune called “Social Drugs.” Hill missed a few chords and apologized, but the crowd cheered her honesty.
Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst, Bon Jovi’s Richie Sambora, Evan and Jaron, Jane’s Addiction’s Dave Navarro, Carmen Electra, Quincy Jones, Sean Penn, Robin Wright Penn, Heather Graham and Shannon Elizabeth were among the stars in attendance.
“Love Rocks” also served as the launch of the 60-year-old EIF’s National Cardiovascular Research Initiative, which will donate $3 million to battling cardiovascular disease.