True Blue to U2
Band pays gospel-like homage to itself in biographical tome
December 19, 2006
Throughout the encyclopedic U2 by U2, members of the band sigh a lot and lament their deification. "I meet people out on the street who approach me like I'm Mahatma Ghandi," Bono complains. Drummer Larry Mullen Jr. bemoans how the band is often "described in some mythic sense." By the end of this story -- though it's only the present, not the end -- Bono is on stage telling a new creation myth, about guitarist the Edge coming down to Dublin in a spaceship: "And Adam said, 'Where are you from?' And Edge said, 'I'm from the future.' And Larry said, 'What's it like?' And Edge said, 'It's better.' "
For a band allegedly chafing from the burdens of fame and nearly religious glorification, U2 by U2 sure feels a lot like gospel.
An oral history of the band based on more than 150 hours of exclusive interviews with members Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton and Mullen Jr., as well as manager Paul McGuinness, U2 by U2 chronicles the life of the quartet that inadvertently became the megastars of a generation and described by fans with sometimes disturbing seriousness as "rock gods."
• We have the near-virgin birth: Mullen's now-legendary flier, which read simply, "Drummer seeks musicians to form band."
• We have a sermon on a mount, the Red Rocks concert captured on Under a Blood Red Sky (and an interesting admission from the Edge: "You might notice if you watch the Red Rocks video, there are very few crowd shots. The reason for that is the place was only a third full").
• We have saved souls: Bono humbly confesses to turning Bob Dylan's life around when the icon joined the band on stage for "Knocking on Heaven's Door." "He sang beautifully and the crowd went ballistic," Bono says. "I think that night reminded him just what a feeling there was for his music."
There's the requisite fall from grace (Zoo TV through the unfortunate Pop record) and redemption (All That You Can't Leave Behind). And all of it is told in God knows how many hundreds of thousands of words crammed into densely leaded pages of small text, often printed over a graphic background, making it even harder to read.
The book coincides with a new greatest hits package, U218, which lends the whole thing an air of copying the Beatles' Anthology. That package also featured a book, in the same oral history-and-photographs style, whose only marked difference is that it weighed approximately one pound more than U2 by U2 (which is nearly 6 pounds). If this is a coffee-table book, you or the object of your gift giving had better have one sturdy coffee table -- and as strong a faith in the band as they clearly have in themselves.
© Sun-Times News Group, 2006.