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U2 by U2: Candid, Informative, and Fun

@U2, November 27, 2006
By: Matt McGee

 

Every criticism you've read about U2 by U2 is true. The band does some revisionist history? Check. It reads like a hagiography? At times, sure. It glosses over some important episodes? You bet. Some pages are difficult to read? Oh, yeah.

And you'll still love it.

U2 by U2 is the book we all would've loved to write. Imagine yourself sitting down with each band member (and Paul McGuinness), asking questions about anything and everything from Day One to the present, then putting it all down on paper in their own words. It's a fantasy I've harbored for years, something I'd actually given real thought to: How would I do it? What would I ask? What would the book look like?

Having practically developed my own plan for a book like this, I might be a tougher critic than others. I had three requirements for this book when I bought it: It had to be candid; I wanted the whole story, no pulling punches. It had to be informative; I wanted to learn things about the band I've followed for more than 20 years. And it had to be entertaining; I needed to enjoy it if I was going to get through 350 pages.

U2 by U2 delivers on all three counts.

Candid? You'll probably never hear Bono speak more openly about his mother's death and how he responded -- the lengthy talks with Mt. Temple counselor Jack Heaslip (who now serves as the band's chaplain) and visits to a Dublin psychologist. You'll hear, for the first time, all of U2 talk about the illness of Edge's daughter, Sian -- how it nearly derailed the Vertigo Tour in early 2005, and how the band rallied around Edge and his family. And you might be surprised, as I was, by how readily Adam was willing to admit to drug use in the '70s and '80s. Scandalous? Hardly. But it would've been easy to sweep that part of the story under the rug.

Informative? I had no idea Bono managed to survive a car-into-telephone-pole accident during the recording of War. I'd never heard the full story of what happened to U2's security chief Jerry Mele in Mexico City in 1997, including U2's visit to President Ernesto Zedillo's office a day after the tragic incident -- when the president's sons had the audacity to expect autographs. And it was news to me that Bono had a throat biopsy in 1998 because his doctor suspected cancer; and that Bono did the biopsy in secret, without telling Ali, the band, anyone.

Entertaining? I'm still laughing at Edge's story of growing up looking like Alfred E. Neuman (of Mad magazine fame) and the photographic evidence that accompanies it. Priceless! And Larry comes across as the comedian of the band, with a few laugh-out-loud comments, like his description of how the band has had to trick Edge into playing rock and roll: "...the only way to get Edge to rock out was to annoy him with Bono's appalling guitar playing."

U2 by U2 isn't just a great read; it's pure eye candy. There are photos you've never seen before, and I don't just mean concert shots or publicity photos. No, you'll be touched by some incredibly personal photos -- of families, weddings, and children. Perhaps most memorable are the pictures of Edge and Morleigh with baby Sian.

The book isn't perfect. I still want to hear more about the band's Shalom period, which lasted about five years and played an integral role in U2's early development; lyrics like "The battle's just begun/To claim the victory Jesus won" came directly out of U2's spiritual mindset in the early '80s. I would've loved to hear the band talk just a bit about the Negativland incident in 1991. Also missing is any mention of their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.

But I'll get over it, and you will, too. You'll read it, and you'll realize that the criticisms don't hold up under the weight of this candid and enjoyable recap of U2's 30 years together. Casual U2 fans might be bored with all the detail, and might not appreciate the candor in this book. Get them a copy of U2 18 Singles, instead. U2 by U2? This one's for the rest of us.



© @U2, 2006.



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