Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Fair Vanity?

Bono as editor - As a writer, I shudder at the thought.

Given how much squabbling the boys in U2 do over their music to make it, in their eyes, as perfect as it could be, I can't imagine the guy sitting at a computer, watching the blinking cursor at the first line of my story. Even worse if that's a topic he cares about, like, say, Africa.

Well that's exactly what's happening now at the offices of Vanity Fair - where the world's biggest rock star is acting as guest editor for the July issue, a special African issue, of the venerable mag. The Times sat down with the man formerly known as Paul Hewson and Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter - offering up a decent, if surface, behind-the-scenes take the other day.

It's a tough subject, Africa, especially since the most compelling stories out of that continent are the tragedies - of which there are many. Bono suggests he's determined to make Africa sexy - that shouldn't be much of a challenge. But, as someone who does care about what's happening there and who has donated a bit to help the cause, I want to know more than just the sob stories. It's good that Bono seems to know this already. "We are trying to deal with the Sally Struthers thing," he told the Times, a stack of story ideas in front of him.

But it's a difficult nut to crack given the Vanity Fair audience. I'm certainly not your typical VF reader. I was drawn in when my good friend Jonny Tap told me it was a great magazine for people who loved good writing - and he's right. I skip over Dominick Dunne and half the stuff that, as the Times call them, "the idle rich" care about. But very few mags do the kind of indepth feature, news and investigative writing at VF does - as well as VF does. So, speaking for one reader, I say give me that, Bono. Give me the good writing from Africa and I'll come along for the ride. But that isn't necessarily what makes them the big bucks at VF.

I'm intrigued when Bono talks about the emerging markets in Africa - that the bars are dotted with Chinese businessmen who know there is money to be made there. Tell me about life in the cities too, tell me about the middle class of Africa, tell me about the stars of Africa, the pop culture of Africa and tell me about the media of Africa. Those stories will be compelling to me, and even to some of the cocktail party circuit in Hollywood and New York. He won't convince the bosses to change the magazine's name to "Fair Vanity" for one issue, but he'll make a dent.

It's good to see Bono still pushing, though. He's got his work cut out for him and, as he notes, writing songs, holding charity concerts and walking the halls of Washington alone won't do it. Media can help and getting a mag like VF to dedicate an entire issue to the cause is something that could only be done if a rock start/movie star or someone of that ilk will give of himself. That's what Bono is doing, and, as an unabashed fan, I think that's pretty cool.

As he says, "I'd meet with Lucifer if I thought it would do any good." Journalists, politicians and rock stars ... Good thing he's met with the Pope, that might help too.

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