"[I]n the early '80s . . . there was this rather ridiculous idea . . . that if it was big, it was bad. Which of course rules out Elvis."
Adam Clayton Biographyby Jennifer Tomooka
Born in Chinnor, Oxfordshire, England, Adam Clayton is the eldest son of Brian and Jo Clayton. The young Clayton family moved from England to Nairobi (due to Brian Clayton's profession as a pilot) before finally settling in Malahide, Ireland, when Adam was five years old. As luck would have it, the Claytons befriended the Evans family, and young Adam would occasionally play with Dave, his brother Dick and sister Gillian; however, the real bonding between two future members of U2 would not occur until after Larry Mullen posted his now famous advertisement at Mount Temple Comprehensive School.
Adam was sent to Castle Park, a British-styled boarding school in Dalkey, when he was eight years old. Not much of a sportsman, and discouraged from listening to pop music or watching television at school, Adam was miserable in his new surroundings and found solace in the Gramophone Society, which met twice a week to listen to classical music. This exposure to classical music encouraged him to try piano lessons, but that was soon abandoned because of lack of coordination and ambition, and a growing interest in the guitar.
Entering his teens, Adam moved to St. Columba's College, an Irish public boarding school in Whitechurch, where he befriended John Leslie, who could play guitar and had a cache of musical cassettes he happily shared. After realizing that Eric Clapton hadn't started playing guitar until he was 15 or so, Adam bought his first guitar, a second-hand acoustic, for £5, started learning songs, and took a few classical guitar lessons. Adam switched to the bass after deciding to start a group with John. After promising not to give up on the investment, his parents bought him his first bass – a dark brown Ibanez copy. The following year, Adam was kicked out of St. Columba's because of poor grades and sent to Mount Temple in north Dublin. Within a month of attending his first term, Adam was auditioning in Larry Mullen's kitchen.
Showing up in an afghan coat and sunglasses, Adam's entrance into the band had more to do with his sense of style and ownership of a bass guitar than anything else. The newly formed band, now called Feedback, practiced at school on Wednesday afternoons and landed their first gig at a talent show in the school gymnasium. Adam briefly took over the management of the band, making phone calls for gigs and sending fan messages to The Hype in the New Music Express, until Paul McGuinness was hired to manage the band full-time.
The lack of formal training did not hamper Adam's ability to make his instrument work for him and make his sonic presence known. Before the memorable bass lines in "Gloria" on October and "New Year's Day" on War helped launch U2 into the rock and roll stratosphere, Adam's contributions on the "11 O'Clock Tick Tock," single and "Twilight," "Out of Control" and "Stories for Boys" on Boy demonstrated he could not only set the rhythm and tone in a song, but he could do it with an unmistakable flair. The impressive display of range and emotion on "Where the Streets Have No Name," "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," "With or Without You," and "Bullet the Blue Sky" on The Joshua Tree demonstrate his ability to expand beyond the traditional roll of rhythmic bass into something more melodic and at the forefront of the song, oftentimes creating riffs that rival The Edge's guitar.
In August 1989, Adam made headlines after two undercover cops busted him for possession of a small amount of marijuana in Dublin. To avoid conviction, the judge allowed Adam to make a "donation" of £25,000 to the Dublin Women's Aid Refugee Center. In U2 by U2, Adam described his conviction as a "minor offense that some individuals tried to blow up into something quite serious." At the time, Ireland was dealing with an expanding drug culture and the arrest was meant to send a message; however the story never got the traction authorities were looking for. Adam has since expressed regret over being caught breaking the law, but did not mind making a donation to the refugee center. Sadly, this was not to be the last time that he had to deal with substance abuse.
It was in the Zoo TV years that Adam seemed to finally gain a public persona along with the others. The "ultimate rock star" phase that the band explored was entirely suited to his playboy lifestyle, and Adam soaked it all up. He was frequently seen wearing loose, brightly colored clothes, sporting peroxide-blonde hair, constantly smoking cigarettes and wearing shades, and enjoying the company of supermodels. Most importantly, he had the talent to back it up – on songs like "Zoo Station," "Until the End of the World," "Mysterious Ways," "Tryin' to Throw Your Arms Around the World," "Babyface," "Lemon," and "Some Days Are Better Than Others," never had Adam shined so brightly.
However, toward the end of the tour, the unthinkable happened: Adam missed a gig. For the first time, U2 went on stage without one of its own. After staying away from alcohol during the final leg of the tour, Adam went on a wine binge and could not pull himself together in time for the concert. Emotions were already running high, as the first Sydney show was a test run to a live show that was going to air around the world. Canceling the show was not an option, and the decision was made to have Adam's guitar tech, Stuart Morgan, fill in for him. After the missed show, Adam admitted he had a problem and went sober then and there.
After the behemoth that was Zoo TV finally closed, Adam headed to New York City with Larry. He undertook bass lessons in an effort to expand his knowledge of the instrument. Pausing for various soundtrack-related projects -- including a UK Top 10 hit with "Theme From 'Mission: Impossible'" (a collaboration with Larry) -- Adam underwent something of a renaissance, and he emerged for the Pop sessions fresh and ready. His progressive contributions to the songs speak for themselves -- "MoFo," "Gone," "Miami" and "Please" feature the riffs of his career, inventive, complex and original.
The work Adam has produced in the years since Pop has demonstrated the comfort he has with his playing, and the comfort he feels in his own skin. His playing on "Elevation," "Beautiful Day" and "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of" on All That You Can't Leave Behind and "Vertigo," "Miracle Drug" and "Love and Peace or Else" on How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb demonstrate his ability to give the song the support, strength, melody and rhythm it needs, but without overpowering it.
Adam has stated that he didn't feel destined for greatness before U2, and joining U2 was the "best decision" he ever made. It remains to be seen just how long the four lads from Dublin will continue to dominate the rock and roll landscape, but Adam is optimistic that as long as "people are able to make that commitment, then it's worth doing."
March 25, 2013 - Hot Press - Hot Press meets U2's Adam Clayton