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Playing with Paul McCartney. Having that opportunity, something that for me personally, I just. . . . It's like unimaginable. It's like goosebumps. -- Larry, at Live 8, 2005

Book Review: Bill Flanagan's 'U2 At The End Of The World'

Why U2 are still fun guys: Una Brankin gets close-up reading a new biography
The Sunday Press
"Ah, he was exasperating, he really was, but there was nothing bad in him. He was living in his own world."

Bono's proud father Bobby Hewson disproves of his son's swearing on stage, smoking, suggestive fans mounting him on stage, the name change from Paul to Bono, Gavin Friday's teenage cross-dressing, and showbiz razzmatazz.

But he, along with fans all over the world, still loves the band that secured Ireland's place on the world rock map. And U.S. rock writer Bill Flanagan's entertaining biography, U2 at the End of the World -- the fourth and possibly best book about U2 -- explains why.

U2 are going to be happy with this book. For while Flanagan has an obvious affection for these "courageous," "really funny" guys, he does not reach fawning point in his book. And he digs out new information by asking awkward questions about the money: e.g., he discovers unease over the twenty percent Paul McGuinness still receives when he does not have to sweat it out "making sausages" in the studio.

(The much admired manager, while rejecting the status of fifth member, feels he contributes as much as the rest; it was McGuinness who brokered the upcoming Zoo TV for MTV deal, and who made sure the wildly expensive two year Zoo TV tour broke even via 30 million in T-shirt sales.)

Flanagan establishes that Bono, Edge and Larry are the irreducible core of the band, with McGuinness and Adam moving "in and out of the core depending on what else is going on in their lives." And that Larry has spent the last year trying to become the best drummer in the world, while Adam has been taking singing lessons and making inspirational tapes of the hottest new club music in New York to send to Bono.

This book does a good PR job on Adam after the booze and hooker scandals. He comes across as a much more sensitive and loyal character than the carefree party animal of legend. The disgrace of his no-show on the Sydney concert because of an almighty hangover chastened him big time. He admits his drink problem to Flanagan on the road, and his fear of losing U2 has kept him dry and industrious ever since.

Flanagan gives the distinct impression that Adam is much better off without the head-wrecking Naomi Campbell. "That'll straighten her out," was Adam's wry response to the huffing Naomi's head-on crash into a glass hotel door after a screaming battle with a chef who refused to let her cook in his kitchen at two o'clock in the morning.

The association with supermodels heightened international media attention on the band, much to the angst of Larry Mullen, who feels the press in Dublin is watching him all the time. Disciplined, organised, heath conscious (vegetarian) and punctual, the drummer emerges in the book as the most anti-bullshit member of the band. He has held onto the charismatic Christian beliefs embraced by himself, Bono and Edge in the eighties: "I've always felt that I'm a musician in a band and I've been given a gift. And I believe that gift is from God. I don't believe it's from anywhere else."

Despite his chiding of Larry for "never changing" anything (including his girlfriend of 11 years, Ann Acheson), Bono speaks of his awe of Larry's centredness, of how he knows exactly who he is.

Bono's own restlessness has been a bone of contention with his wife Ali and Bono admits they have had problems, yet he panicked when she told him that she, like him, was finding it hard to adjust to domesticity after her expedition to Chernobyl to make a documentary. "He'd be lost without her," concludes the author.

Rumours of an affair with the supermodel Christy Turlington are trounced here: Bono says Ali encouraged their friendship, and anyway, all the beautiful women he meets lose interest in him when they meet his wife.

As for all his bombast, Flanagan finds sincerity behind Bono's big mouth. He worries as much about Sarajevo as looking fat in photographs (he sneaks desserts when Ali isn't watching). He even worried about Michael Jackson committing suicide.

While Bono feeds what Salman Rushdie calls his hungry mind with non-band projects -- Wim Wenders is going to direct his ambitious film script, The Million Dollar Hotel -- the self-contained, independent and scientifically-minded Edge sticks to the music "constantly running through his head" and devours poetry. He gets sentimental about his close friendship with the other three, who held him together during his marriage break-up to wife Aislinn Evans, and runs away from glamourous women after him for his fame.

He can wield a sort of paternal authority over Bono when he gets excitable in crowds -- "stop waving at innocent bystanders, Bono," is one of the more memorable chastisements, while his current girlfriend, the choreographer and U2 belly dancer Morleigh can lighten his mood in the most tense of tour situations.

Navel-gazing philosophising aside, by the end of Flanagan's colourful well-written 481-page tome you feel you've had a good taste of the tensions and the fun on the road, and only the sourest begrudger could deny that these guys are likeable. It's as near to a fly-on-the-wall account as you'll ever get with a band who exert such tight control over media access, without following them into the toilet.

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