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The Unforgettable Friendship  
Talk about odd couples: Have you seen what’s going on between Sen. Jesse Helms and U2’s Bono?  

    July 2 —  Is there no adult in Washington, D.C. who can put an end to this “friendship” between Sen. Jesse Helms and U2 leader Bono?  

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  I MEAN, this little relationship is as out of control as a test rocket in the missile defense shield. It all started last fall, when Bono journeyed to Capitol Hill to lobby the Foreign Affairs committee—then led by Republicans—to absolve African nations of hundreds of billions of dollars of debt to the West.
        Apparently, writing a song about African debt relief wasn’t good enough for Bono (although “African debt relief” does rhyme perfectly with “giving Helms grief”).

        At the time, I was willing to tolerate Bono’s shameless brown-nosing of Helms. After all, Helms was running the committee and, by all reports, Bono had done his homework on the subject, speaking both eloquently and intelligently about the issue (and I even forgave him that he didn’t take off his wrap-around sunglasses, didn’t bother to shave and didn’t even tuck in his shirt).
        See, Bono is “spiritual” (which is how people in show business refer to anyone whose self-indulgence can be backed up with Biblical references). Bono believes that forgiving the massive African debt is actually rooted in the Bible—”It’s very punk rock for God, but I think it’s in Leviticus,” he told Helms, who actually believed him—and Helms told Bono that he’d quit the Senate altogether “if I can find some way that the Lord would show me how to really help these people.”
        The Lord could not be reached for comment, so Helms remains the loyal servant of the people of North Carolina.
        Now, before you start writing me letters, I don’t automatically object to such December-May friendships as Bono and Jesse’s. Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus? I couldn’t be happier for them. Tony Randall and that twentysomething chippy he married a few years ago? Who am I to cast aspersions? I didn’t even have a problem when Sen. Hillary Clinton joined a prayer group run by right-wing Bible thumpers (although...c’mon!).
        And I was even pleased that Helms is so out of touch with the inanities of pop culture that he didn’t bow down to the cult of celebrity that, in essence, brought Bono to the committee in the first place. He even admitted that he’d “never heard of” Bono before His Grubbiness showed up at the committee.
        Sometimes it’s refreshing that our elected officials are wholly out of touch with the society they’re supposed to be representing.
        And I was happy that Bono didn’t overstate his cordial relationship with the right-wing senator, admitting that the “friendship” was merely a political issue making bedfellows out of two men who wouldn’t even acknowledge each other if they ran into each other on line to pick up their Viagra prescriptions.
        “I couldn’t disagree more with Senator Helms on some issues,” Bono said. “But I know he’s a tough guy on a lot of things, and I don’t need softies for friends on this one.” (By that definition, Bono would probably be friends with Hitler on the issue of accurate train schedules.)
        So if everyone was clear-eyed about this “friendship” at the start, what happened? In short, all heck has broken loose.
        A couple of weeks ago, the 79-year-old Sen. Helms—whose only contact with rock and roll came a few years back when he sought to abolish it—actually attended a U2 show in Washington, his first rock concert (something one typically does 65 years earlier in life, but, hey, better late than never).
        And afterwards, Bono sent Helms a note that said: “Hope you had fun at the concert. We are really confusing the cynics with our friendship and our action in Africa. You are blessed [and] I am to know you. Love, Bono.”
        Love, Bono?! Hey, call me a confused cynic, but next thing you know, the artist once known as Paul Hewson will be dedicating “With or Without You” to Helms during the European tour. The Edge hasn’t been this jealous since Bono grew his hair conspicuously long.
        For his part, Helms gave Bono’s performance his highest praise: “I turned my hearing aids all the way down and kept my hands over my ears much of the time. It was so loud, I couldn’t really understand what he was saying.”
        And there’s some indication that he was truly moved by Bono’s raw sexuality.
        “He had that crowd going wild,” Helms panted. “When Bono shook his hips, that crowd shook their [sic] hips. I don’t see how he lasts physically. He runs and skips and just goes and goes.” (It’s a good thing Helms didn’t go to a Stones concert; Mick Jagger would’ve induced cardiac arrest.)
        Lest you think Bono is hopelessly devoted to Helms, the North Carolina Senator is not the first Republican lawmaker for whom Bono has fallen head over heels. Bono first took a shine to Sen. Orrin Hatch, who once told a group of school kids that he’d rather be beaten to death by a group of Islamic militants burning an American flag than listen to rock and roll (OK, that’s a slight exaggeration...or is it?).
        Last November, when Bono made his first lobbying trip to Washington on the debt relief issue, he taught Hatch about African debt and Hatch taught him a thing or two about music (or is that Mu-ZAK?).
        “He turned up the stereo in his office to 11 and played these kind of R&B and pop and gospel tunes,” Bono said at the time. “I almost fell over.” (Permit me one aside: Why is Bono spending all this time with wrinkly old Republican men when Olympia Snowe is sitting by the phone?)
        A meeting with Orrin Hatch is fine, I suppose, but when Jesse Helms starts going to U2 shows—a place that’s supposed to be reserved for 45-year-old guys in Dockers and threadbare “U2 War” T-shirts from 1980—I have to object.
        Then again, did I have enough information to disapprove of this affair between consenting adults? Face it, I don’t have sources in Washington, D.C. who could give me the inside dope (although I do know a great place for pizza). So I called up some people who did—and they were as befuddled as I was.
        John Wagner, a Washington correspondent for the Raleigh News & Observer, told me that Helms might not have looked past Bono’s unshaven face or his untucked puffy shirt had then-Congressman (and Baby Boomer) John Kasich not made the introduction.

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        “Kasich gave Bono credibility in Helms’s eyes,” Wagner said (ignoring the obvious question: How in God’s name does showing up at a meeting with John Kasich give anyone credibility—unless, of course, Kasich is ushering you around a meeting of people with very bad hair?).
        Wagner said that Helms told him that he didn’t “enjoy” the concert so much as he was “fascinated” by it.
        To me, that sounds like mere code words for what Helms really wants: For Bono to find another issue already, preferably one that’s dealt with by someone else’s committee.
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Gersh Kuntzman is also a columnist for The New York Post and the author of “HAIR! Mankind’s Historic Quest to End Baldness” (Random House). Visit him at http://www.gersh.tv/

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