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Fools Rush In

By Bill Carter

Corgi Press, 416 pages, $15

When does a band truly cross the line to the status of rock gods? The ninth drug bust or hotel room destroyed? The 1,000th groupie shagged?

Whatever the answer, most slobbering, panting pop culture hounds would agree that U2 is one of the few true members of this elite, albeit the well-behaved branch, and has been for many years. But is it possible that the group's global status is actually bigger than it has ever been before?

With an influence on pop culture larger than Star Jones Reynold's ego (and, shockingly, waistline), the band continues to branch out into other realms, with Bono achieving continued prominence as a sort of Irish Superman for the underclass, fighting to drop Third World debt, appearing at United Nations' engagements and even having a heart-to-heart with George W.

Now comes a new chapter in the U2 story: "Fools Rush In" by Bill Carter, a book that finds Bono in the role of ally and cool uncle (on a much different scale, think Spike Jonze with the Jackass gang or Quentin Tarantino presenting gems of Asian cinema such as "Chunking Express").

U2's role in this true tale is, well, a small one (Bono had more face time when the "PopMart" tour hit Springfield on "The Simpsons"). But it is a vital one, and holds the key to Carter's story entering the already-clogged cranium of the mainstream. It's a journey into the war-torn Bosnia of the early-'90s, a strange, sometimes hellish abyss. "Dante's Inferno for the MTV generation," says Bono on the front cover, a quote that perfectly encapsulates the insanity of Bosnia -- part war-zone, part international media campsite -- and will hopefully lure at least some of the millions scarfing up U2 tickets and downloading "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" into checking out Carter's book.

If Carter was looking for adventure in Bosnia, he found it. As part of a humanitarian group, his eyes fall upon "bombed-out bridges replaced by temporary UN floating bridges," soldiers clutching machine guns, desperately scared and hungry children, and most disturbingly, "the calculus of ethnic cleansing -- One village would be burned but then the next was full of homes with smoke coming out of the chimneys, chopped wood in the driveway, and two cars parked out front."

Carter settles in Sarajevo, where he and other workers are faced with the unenviable task of making deliveries of baby food and pasta. He also begins documenting the war with his camera, and slowly enmeshes himself in a fractured community of warriors and dreamers. And then, one day, inspiration strikes: Carter sees U2 on MTV discussing "the idea of a united Europe" and thinking to himself, "Whatever happened to Bob Geldof or any of the other outraged artists out there in the world?" he writes an impassioned letter asking U2 for an interview about the situation in Bosnia. He eventually manages to track Bono down prior to a "Zooropa" show in Italy to make his case.

Carter explained to Bono and The Edge who Milosevic was, and what was really happening on the streets of Sarajevo. The author's passion culminated in a live satellite link-up, with Carter speaking to an audience of 50,000 fans, feeling "the whole world was united in blissful song." Did it make a difference? Did Carter's words to the zoo of U2-crazed fanatics open the eyes of the world? Maybe not. But in the words of a 13-year-old girl he meets before leaving Sarajevo, "what you did was good."

Carter's filming eventually added up to an award-winning documentary, "Miss Sarajevo," and in a small way, he succeeded in shining a light on Bosnia.

The story ends with what Bono once promised him: a U2 concert in Sarajevo, which finally took place in September 1997. As 50,000 people rushed into the stadium, Carter sees NATO tanks and troops lined along the roads, an everyday sight of post-war life. But something positive is in the air. "People who hate each other are dancing together," says an American soldier to Carter during the show.

It is a happy end to Carter's anarchic road trip, and a fitting tribute to the spirit of Bosnia.

Alternately entertaining and horrifying, "Fools Rush In" should become required reading for any student looking for a crash course in the underbelly of the 1990s (for a similar, yet sadly ignored film on the conflict, seek out British director Michael Winterbottom's "Welcome to Sarajevo," a tale of weary journalists covering the conflict). The literary world could offer U2 yet another cottage industry, a way for Bono to support the issues dear to his heart and keep the flame of the band's earlier activism alive (Achtung Books, perhaps?).

As seemingly everything U2 touches turns to gold (witness the mega-selling "Vertigo Tour," set to make a stop in Buffalo before the year's end), a thumbs-up from Bono should offer "Fools Rush In" a chance for real impact. For a tale as eye-opening as Bill Carter's, there's nothing wrong with a little name-dropping.
Christopher Schobert is a freelance Buffalo reviewer.