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We'd certainly never had a rock star to the house before. -- Melinda Gates, on Bono's visit to her and Bill Gates' home, 2005

We Should All Neil Down*

Book review: Neil McCormick's Killing Bono: I Was Bono's Doppelganger
Let's cut to the chase: this poignant, honest, conversational book is a must read for anyone, and especially U2 fans. It's a book that you won't be able to put down. It's also a book that you'll want to re-read, like Bill Flanagan's U2 At the End of the World, in order to understand the full history of the music scene in Ireland and London that McCormick experienced. McCormick describes his personal triumphs and disappointments with his bands, his career with Hot Press, and living the rock-and-roll lifestyle (drugs, sex and all), and tells how having a supportive family isn't very "punk." Killing Bono: I Was Bono's Doppelganger may be a harsh title for U.S. readers (it's simply titled I Was Bono's Doppelganger elsewhere in the world), but it was Bono who suggested that McCormick was his doppelganger, and that in order to get out of his shadow, McCormick might just need to kill him.

McCormick documents his life from childhood through the age of 40, suggesting at the start of the book that he's "the yang to Bono's yin. The dark counterbalance to his life of success and good fortune, absorbing all the bad luck and mischance that never seemed to go his way." Throughout the book, McCormick reflects on his jealousy of Bono's success and how he would not have handled it with such grace as his world-famous schoolmate.

McCormick has an advantage over many other authors because he or his family members were personally present from the beginning of U2's career, and for U2 fans, this book sets the record straight about many inaccuracies previously reported. Killing Bono retells some of the stories McCormick wrote in Hot Press, bringing readers directly to Larry's kitchen on that September 1976 day with an accurate account of the band tryouts. He writes that it was really Neil's younger brother Ivan who tried out for the band, correcting Eamon Dunphy's 1987 U2 biography The Unforgettable Fire. U2 fans will also learn that Adam's need to let the "fifth member" hang loose started before the band was even called U2. You'll learn about the tragic end of Adam's first bass, and that Edge was a sloppy kisser. Does this mean that this is a "kiss and tell" memoir? I don't think so -- Edge never kissed Neil. Bono did in Rome, however, and there is a photo documenting it. But, I digress.

Something U2 fans will find interesting is McCormick's initial realization of just how big U2 were becoming. Many fans imagine what it's like to have backstage access, or to be able to just pick up a phone and call Bono and invite him for tea. While McCormick had the good fortune of being in Bono's inner circle from the very beginning, he writes about how difficult it became to see him as guest lists grew longer, security stricter, and levels of "VIPness" higher. McCormick shares his worries about not being able to see his old schoolmates because his particular backstage pass would not grant him access, and how it would be luck that a band member would walk by and let him into the band's dressing room/party area. He also reveals his fears that one day he wouldn't be remembered at all.

It's important to point out that this book is not really about U2. U2 plays a critical role in the development of McCormick's ever-increasing desire to have his own band, be famous and live the rock-and-roll lifestyle. But the core stories this book offers are in Neil and Ivan's journey in the music business and the author's quest to find God. McCormick documents the frustrations, rejections, and false hopes that bands experience as empty promises are handed generously by those with power to sign acts. He also describes in great detail his spiritual uncertainty, and how Bono's faith was a thorn in his side. He includes in the book many conversations he has had with Bono regarding God. McCormick also delves into his love life, his sometimes too-supportive parents, and his brushes with greatness. He also brings the reader with him into the offices of Hot Press as it was first starting out. There are many stories he shares, surprising readers with the depth and honesty of his storytelling.

As McCormick wrote in his first article about U2 published in Hot Press on December 17, 1980, "U2 are a very, very special group, and maybe I am too caught up in them to cast an outsider's glance at what they do, but I've got something an outsider hasn't found yet." Twenty-four years later, we are very fortunate that McCormick has allowed us to get caught up in them through his eyes and as an insider.

The book will be released in the U.K. under the title I Was Bono's Doppelganger on August 26. The book will be released in the U.S. on October 1.

*Article title comes from a bad pun given to Neil from his brother Ivan as his punk name

© @U2/Lawrence, 2004.