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To some people the church is their ticket to respectability, a certain bourgeois point of view, a safety net for when they go to bed. My idea of Christianity is no safety net, a scathing attack on bourgeois values, and a risk to respectability.-- Bono, 2002

Book Review: U2 Experience


“This is a facsimile reproduction” appears on many of the items of memorabilia included in U2 Experience, just to make it clear, I’m guessing, that you are not really holding an original promotional bumper sticker for the War album, nor an original Japanese phone card promoting The Joshua Tree, nor Bono’s actual Freedom of the City of Dublin certificate, giving him the right to graze his sheep on St. Stephen’s Green. (If you did have the original, you had better get over there quickly because those sheep are really hungry by now.) But we knew that anyway, and we’re happy to play the imitation game of enjoying the copy of the copy of the copy. It’s all good and it’s all fun, even more so when the reproduction bumper sticker is actually a real sticker.

U2 Experience is an oversized book that comes in a slip case and presents a history of U2 with a lot of photographs, seven posters and 13 more items of memorabilia folded, tucked, or otherwise inserted into the pages for you to discover. It is written by Irish Times journalist Brian Boyd, whose claim to U2 authenticity is that he was at the first Dandelion Market gig in 1979, and has covered the band ever since, sometimes with very up-close-and-personal access to history as it was being made. Just a few weeks ago, in fact, Boyd was in Bono’s car listening to tracks from the forthcoming Songs Of Experience.

Boyd’s narrative is brisk and has the right amount of scene setting to capture the energy of the band’s rise to fame and share some perspective on how the band members have worked as friends and artists. Each album (excluding Passengers) gets about two pages of treatment, as does each of the band members’ biographies and some special moments in U2 history along the way, all of which adds up to about 60 pages. With an eye to capturing the future, Boyd wrote a final section for Songs Of Experience, saying it was “due out in 2015” and U2 was working on a new digital music format with Apple.

Carlton Books also publishes Experience books on The Who, ABBA, Freddie Mercury, Led Zeppelin and other music acts, as well as on sports and history topics. The concept for the series, as a project editor described it, is to offer removable memorabilia that can “add a fresh dimension to understanding the subject and create an interactive experience with a certain amount of theater to help bring the subject to life.”

The presentation of the book along with Boyd’s writing is good theater and suggests to me that what U2 Experience is isn’t so much the point as what it does. It is reliable history by and large, but the book attempts a performance designed to give you, naturally, an experience. It works for me. It’s the kind of book that can send you happily tripping down a memory lane that you either paved by yourself or just constructed based on concert DVDs and the stories of other fans. If you regret losing that One Zoo ECU banknote you caught at the show in 1993 -- or wished you had been there to have the chance to catch one -- or if you walked right out of Wembley Stadium on July 13, 1985, and didn’t stop to tear the poster from the fencing as your own private keepsake, no worries. If you can receive relief through reproductions -- and who can’t? – U2 Experience has got you covered.

For younger fans, the book lets you in on the poorly kept secret that U2 has been around for quite a while and has a long history of producing graphically cool stuff to promote its albums and tours and enhance the fun of its concerts. Buying U2 Experience at about $30 gives you a relatively cheap thrill of sneaking into someone else’s hard-earned fandom party. But the spirit of U2 is about inclusion and participation and spreading the joy, right? What’s more, U2 itself seems to want us to crash the party, as it is including its own version of a book of reproduction memorabilia in the VIP ticket packages being sold for much more than $30 on the Innocence + Experience tour. However, U2’s own book doesn’t try to retell its history the way U2 Experience does, album by album. Both Boyd and U2’s design team at AMP Visual told me, by the way, that there was no collaboration on the books and they came about independently of each other.

If you are the kind of fan who gets a lot of satisfaction from knowing you have an original flier from 1980 promoting the single “I Will Follow,” don’t resent U2 Experience. You will always know your memorabilia is more real than what Carlton Books is selling. For me, most of my U2-listening life has been spent with copies of music; I mean, if it’s not being played live right in front of me by U2, then it is a copy. Even U2’s live shows have U2 playing along with its own pre-recorded bits, and it’s great. Where would U2 be, in fact, if it weren’t for echo and reverb? Making a moment happen right here and now by creating an experience to be in is what I’m looking for. As at a live show with a mixture of the real and the reproduced, I am also enjoying U2 Experience for what it is. Buy U2 Experience for yourself and take a trip through the history you already love; then, buy a copy as a gift to bring someone else into the club.

(c) @U2/Calhoun, 2015