"[M]usic has lost the personality of human beings and musicians. It's got so shiny that it's as if there's a surface of Formica over it. And it's something that doesn't let you in."
-- Edge, 2003
Book Review: And They Called Him Bono
April 11, 2011
Over the years, U2 has had frequent contact with hundreds of journalists. Some of them became such regular interviewers that their names are well known in the U2 fan community. One of those is Dutch journalist Bert van de Kamp, who has probably interviewed Bono / U2 more often than any other journalist in The Netherlands. In 2010, he collected all of the interviews and bundled them in the book En zij noemden hem Bono [And They Called Him Bono], which is expected to be published in English this year.
The book includes eight interviews done over a period of 28 years, in several locations. The first interview was done in 1982 in The Netherlands, and the most recent one took place in 2010 in Ireland.
The book starts with a short story of Bono's and U2's youth, Lypton Village, and their friendship with The Virgin Prunes. Then the interviews are presented in chronological order, the way they happened, with little to no editing done. In between, van de Kamp writes about what happened to U2 after he spoke to them, as an introduction to the next interview.
Even though he developed a somewhat special bond with the band, especially with Bono, van de Kamp wasn't an immediate fan when he first interviewed U2. In the introduction, he admits he was more interested in darker and more complex forms of pop music. The Virgin Prunes' experimental approach appealed to him a lot more than "the simple tunes of their Dublin colleagues." However, over the years his appreciation for U2's music grew, and he became a regular interviewer.
With a book that spans so many years, it's interesting to see how, in time, some of Bono's and U2's attitudes and opinions have changed, while others stayed the same. In the first interview in 1982, for instance, Edge talks about rock music as a way of drawing attention to certain matters. "We want to communicate who we are. We never write about what happens in Russia, because we have no idea what really happens over there. We're not a political band, but an open-minded group of people who write about their own situation." It's a far cry from U2's activism on stage, and from the themes on War and The Joshua Tree.
Another interesting topic is their attitude that "U2 wouldn't be U2" with extra musicians. Bono said in 1992 that they'd want the audience to know when added musicians or samples are playing during a live show, and to that end they might have words like "conga sample" or "piano" flashing on the screens in the future. In that respect, it's nice to see Bono giving credit to Terry Lawless during some of the songs on the current tour.
Apart from interviews with Bono, the book includes interviews with The Edge, Anton Corbijn and Gavin Friday, who each give their view of Bono and their relationship with him. Of these, I found the conversation with Gavin Friday the most interesting. He's an intriguing person himself, but his take on Bono and U2 is especially worth a read. His role is not to sing Bono's praise, but "to kick his arse." He can be honest with him, and he takes that "duty" seriously.
Even though seasoned U2 fans will know and have read about many of the book's subjects before, like religion, success, America and Ireland, there are also other interesting stories to be found in the book. There's a lot of talk about inspiration and the meaning of the lyrics, while Friday tells a hilarious story of his holiday in Japan with Bono and Guggi, the three of them waking up in the middle of the night, looking for something to eat. Friday's 50th birthday celebration in Carnegie Hall, organized by Bono, was also excellent to read about. In the most recent interview, Bono gives his opinion on No Line On The Horizon almost a year after it was released, and ends up talking about quantum physics.
Bert van de Kamp's writing style is very personal and easy to read, with several quite funny comments and observations. A weak point of the book is that, while it gives a good overview of Bono and the band's development over a wide time span, it's not "complete," if there even is such a thing. Some of the gaps between interviews are quite large (five and nine years), so a lot of interesting times in the '80s and '00s are not in the book. It would have been nice if the author had done more interviews in those decades.
Still, it's an interesting read, with good stories, humor and some typical Bono-speak. All in all, it makes a good addition to the range of books that have been written about Bono and U2.
(c) Meijer/@U2, 2011.