With a long-held affection for New Orleans, a city he calls “very unique and very special,” U2 rocker The Edge felt compelled to try to help it recover from Hurricane Katrina. The result: Music Rising, an organization that provides instruments to musicians blasted by the storm.
The city especially took hold of his heart in 2001 after he and the band, while playing there, suffered a tragedy back home. A storage area in Dublin where they kept a lot of instruments was wiped out in a flood.
“Luckily,” he recalls, “my main guitars were with us in New Orleans ... the Gibson Explorer that I’ve had since I was 17-years-old, and the amplifier I’ve used on every album for every show since we got a record deal.”
Four years later, after Katrina blew through New Orleans, the memory of that good fortune led him to create Music Rising, along with Gibson Guitar, the Guitar Center Music Education Foundation and the MusicCares Foundation.
For The Edge, aka David Evans, that relief work topped off a packed year of touring, family trauma and five Grammy nominations for U2’s “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.” The Grammys will be handed out Wednesday.
‘The cultural loss’The normally soft-spoken guitarist, 44, grows passionate when he talks about Katrina’s impact and his efforts to help with Music Rising.
“When I heard about the hurricane, the devastation of the city and the area, I pretty soon started thinking about the musicians, started to think about the cultural loss, not just to New Orleans, not just to America, but really to the world,” he told the Associated Press.
Does that mean he’s planning to follow band-mate Bono’s worldwide activist footsteps?
Not likely, he responds.
“Bono is kind of a one-off character in music. His skills as a communicator are amazing, and his powers of persuasion are equally amazing,” he said, smiling. “I would never think of trying to take on quite that level of commitment.”
True, but New Orleans’ mark on the modest musician — known for his humility as well as his thunderous melodies — runs deep.
In the early ’90s, a visit with Bono to a small New Orleans club had an unexpected impact.
“We walked in and the place was jumping. There was this little funk band, but they were all playing brass instruments, which is something I’d never heard of or seen before,” he recalled.
There, the pair saw a 12-year-old trombone player named Trombone Shorty.
“We were just mesmerized by him,” The Edge said. “I ended up with Bono, after a few tequilas, and we ended up dancing with a bunch of girls on the top of the bar. It was one of those sort of nights.”
The birthplace of jazz, and a major influence on rock and roll, New Orleans captivated his attention, he said.
Seeing destruction changed himHe returned last November and found a different, less fun-loving city — one torn apart by natural disaster and a lack of aid.
“Going through the streets of New Orleans and seeing the homes of musicians I knew and respected, seeing Fats Domino’s home completely destroyed ... It does bring it home in a very personal way,” he said.
At a recent Music Rising event in Hollywood, the native Irishman showed up in his customary beanie, black leather jacket, jeans and sneakers, and chatted easily with some New Orleans transplants.
Affable and humble, he even asked for their e-mail addresses and talked about music “gear” — more a regular Joe than guitarist for one of the biggest bands in the world.
U2, its long history including 11 studio albums and 16 Grammy wins, rocked the music world last year with its “Vertigo 2005” tour, and was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
As for its 2006 Grammy nominations — including Album of the Year and Song of the Year for Bono’s emotional ode, “Sometimes You Can’t Make it on Your Own” — The Edge said he has no expectations.
“Being in the country the whole year, I almost felt like people would have been sick of us by now, that the last band they would want to see is U2.”
“I would be surprised if we won everything we were nominated for,” he said, adding that “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” was “a very strong record, I think maybe our strongest ever in terms of the overall range of the album.”
But the middle-aged musician acknowledged that newer Album of the Year nominees such as Gwen Stefani and Kanye West — whose albums he likes — may have an advantage.
“I think in some ways people will go for something new, that’s just arrived, me included,” he said, a glint in his eye.
The band plans to start working on new songs after returning from an upcoming tour in South America, he said.
And watch out Rolling Stones: U2 won’t stop touring any time soon.
“We grew up on the road ... It’s such an integral part of what we are. I don’t think we could give up touring. I don’t think we could do what the Beatles did, just pack it in.”