Paul McCartney and Beatles producer George Martin once each tried to give fledgling band U2 pep talks. Bono once fell asleep on Frank Sinatra‘s couch after being out-drunk by the legendary crooner. U2’s producer Steve Lillywhite often prods Bono in the studio by saying: ‘How long is the song Bono? Why do you want to kill yourself? Do your job!’

These are just a few of the nuggets of inside info that came out last night during Elvis Costello‘s interview with Bono and the Edge for the second season of his Sundance channel talk show, ‘Spectacle.’ Costello, once the Angry Young Man of punk rock, is now the Charlie Rose of popular music. Brilliant!

The taping was held at MTV’s 360-seat Masonic Temple here in Toronto, under tight secrecy. For a week, the names of Costello’s guests were kept quiet, although down the street, at a local church, one pastor was preparing a homily called ‘No Line on the Horizon: The Theology of U2.’ The Irish superstar band starts its world tour here this week.

Costello, trimmed down to a size that Kirstie Alley would give cheesecake for, opened the show by playing two U2 songs ‘ ‘Mysterious Ways,’ ‘Please’ and ‘Dirty Day’ ‘ with his own group, the Imposters. By the end of the two and half hours, Bono and Edge did an unplugged version of their song, ‘Stay,’ and joined Costello for a soulful rendition of the host’s ‘Alison’ ‘ a nod to Bono’s wife, Ali ‘ as well as U2’s ‘Stuck in a Moment,’ and a medley of Costello’s ‘Pump it Up’ and U2’s ‘Get on Your Boots.’ Bono also sang a bluesy number he once wrote for Frank Sinatra, called ‘Two Shots.’

‘It was recorded eventually by a Sinatra,’ he said, ‘Nancy.’

The real charm of the ‘Spectacle’ shows ‘ the first season is just out on DVD ‘ is watching and listening to Costello in his bolo hat, black shirt and tie. As Bono said toward the end of last night’s show, ‘He’s good at this!’

Indeed, he is. The choice of guest helps. Last year Bill Clinton, Sting and the Police, Smokey Robinson, and Lou Reed were among those from whom Costello elicited more than just the usual chit-chat and banter. With musical guests from his era of punk rock, Costello is particularly fascinating. He may not know it, but he’s forming an oral history of an era that was never covered well in the American rock press ‘ Rolling Stone just about ignored it.

And so last night we learned, especially from the Edge, about U2’s initial competition with bands like Echo & the Bunnymen, their influence from Manchester groups like Joy Division, and the two concerts that inspired them as they were forming: the Clash and, of course, Elvis Costello and the Attractions.

The guys did talk about how, at the start, they knew nothing. Working at the famed Abbey Road studios in London they received pep talks from both Paul McCartney and George Martin. ‘McCartney slid down the banister,’ Bono recalls. ‘He said there were only good ghosts there.’ The pep talk was mostly about having a lot of structure and being organized, Bono says, which only left U2 depressed. The Beatles, they learned, worked on a regular schedule, with an hour lunch break and finished by five or six pm.

‘We tried it,’ Bono says, ‘and we were in the studio that night ’til 4 am.’

The Edge also tells a story about Oasis’s Liam Gallagher, overcome with emotion at meeting Martin, leaving before their conversation was over.

‘Maybe if he’d listened to him, Oasis would still be together,’ Edge says.

Costello’s next two tapings, back at New York’s Apollo Theater, are respectively, Sheryl Crow and Bruce Springsteen. It looks a like pretty good season.

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