On The Road With U2

This is a review of the book On The Road With U2 by Deena Dietrich.

Deena Dietrich is what you would call a super-fan, one of those people who obsess over something. Oftentimes obsession is a word that is used negatively, but I don’t mean it that way in this case. I feel like I have had a U2 obsession this year, writing every single day, listening or watching the band for hours each day this year. I’ve traveled and taken my family to a different city to see them, all because I love the band. I still can’t remember how many times I’ve seen them live, I think Chicago 4 was my 19th, but I lose count just tracking that many. Need to write it down. But if I’ve been obsessed with the band this year, Deena has been obsessed with them (especially Larry) for a couple of decades. I am most impressed with someone who can count to a hundred shows or more, or who writes a book about them. That’s Deena, who is arguably one of the most visible fans of the band.

I’ve known Deena online for less than a year, but somehow I feel I know her pretty well, having followed her tweets and read her book. I said hi to her from a distance at one of the Chicago shows, she said hi back, and that was the total of our in-person conversation. But following her on Twitter, I’ve seen the good side of things and the bad side of things. The good is all the things she’s done, communicated, people I have followed because she has retweeted them, jus the news and the experience of being that super fan. It is much like the book, except in real time.

The bad is the (few) people who have attacked her online for various reasons. It is hard for me to fathom those kinds of people, they are the kind that has to knock someone else to feel good about themselves. The implication of some of those people is that Deena is stealing from other fans, by getting in front and going to all the shows. This is obviously not true, anyone could do exactly what Deena does, spend their money and time to follow the band, go to the shows, hang out and wait and get to the places she does. So it frustrates me to see those people when they say mean things, they could be doing those things themselves instead of whining about them.

I have found myself in many ways living vicariously through Deena this year, following her travels like I said. That’s the good thing about the book, it ends up being a diary of her past trips to see the band. It is a travelogue, it is advice for being on the road with the band, it is the sheer fun of wishing you were in her place when she was doing all those things. One day I’ll have the time to do it all, I don’t know when (maybe next year, when they tour the US again?). It doesn’t have the inside scoop with the band that I like to see in a book, but it is perhaps the best fan perspective I’ve seen. So if you can’t make it to tour with U2 yourself, reading Deena’s book is a great way to imagine being in those places.

My rating for On The Road With U2 (book): 7 / 10

From The Ground Up (book)

This is a review of From The Ground Up, the official photobook of the 360 tour.

There are things I like and things I don’t like about photobooks, as I’ve said before. One is that my computer keeps trying to correct it to two words, which is a little irritating when I am typing it several times. Something else is that they can be well done or badly done, depending on how they are put together. I have read a few this year, and their content has varied, from generic well-seen photos of the band (I assume the people selling photos of the early band are cashing in any way they can), to stuff that is behind the scenes, rarely or never seen pictures. The other thing is how good the writing - if any - is, whether again it is generic, or written from an inside point of view.

The From The Ground Up book, being the book from the tour and thus from the band, is very much an inside look and therefore contains pics never before seen. From the standard shots of the band, to behind the scenes and even before the scenes were built. And the inside cover of the book shows pictures from the stage, looking out at the crowd and up into the claw, these pics alone add value to the book. The first chapter is about the design of the stage, and there are drawings on paper, pictures of the designers sitting in around a model, CAD drawings and so on, all things I haven’t seen before, and it’s all interesting the way they come about.

One of the most interesting parts is in that first chapter, describing how they came about the stage design, with Bono saying it’s all about trying to get closer to the audience. Now, you can imagine that with something this big, it’s not getting closer, it’s getting further away, but there is some kind of method to his madness. What’s more, that quote resonates with the current tour, he has repeated that exact same thing about trying to get close to the audience now, and that’s interesting in the different ways it has come about.

The other part of the book experience is the writing, and it is good in this book, describing things in a very personal way about how everything went about. The author - a guy called Dylan Jones, who doesn’t get credit anywhere except a small line on the title page - has had access to the band, talking to them, traveling with them, being involved with them in a very close way, and it shows. Their descriptions of things that were going on, some of it has been new to me, and made me think a little bit more about the band experience. This is one of the things I have enjoyed about reading the detail, getting to know the ongoing lives of being in a band and touring, switching between the slog of being on the road and the joy of being in a show. Great stuff, exactly the kind of material I like in a good book about the band.

The final word may go to Adam, who is quoted near the end as saying that the next tour is going to be an indoor one, but stripped down and “more about the music and less about the production.” I can’t say Innocence + Experience is truly stripped down, although I guess it is compared to the 360 stage, but I think it is definitely more about the music, but also more about the production. 

My rating for From The Ground Up (book): 9 / 10

U2 by U2 (book)

This is a review of the book U2 by U2, by U2.

It is a bit of a misnomer, this book title, because it is not really by U2. It is by Neil McCormick, who a while back was thinking about Killing Bono, and apparently changed his mind and decided to write about him instead. But it is more than that, because it is Neil interviewing each of the band members in depth and getting their specific takes on the things that have happened to the band, and the history of the band. In that sense, it really is by the band, and given that all the words in the book are the band’s words, it is by U2. Neil has merely taken those words and formed them into appropriate chapters, or conversations between the band members, and made it theirs. So we can say it really is by U2.

I have talked about the quality of a book being directly related to the closeness of the author being to the band. The closer they are, the more involved they are, the better the book. In this case you obviously cannot get any closer than in using the words of the band themselves (including Paul McGuinness), with no interpretation between them and the page. That by default would make this the best book on the band, but it is the best book not just because of that. It is the best book you could get on U2 because it goes into depth and brings their perspective to things, their words and their ideas. There is the thought that they may be too close to themselves, so they might not have the best perspective, but really that’s not true. It’s kind of like asking an author what their book is about, they are going to tell you what they were thinking when they wrote it, regardless of whether others have given it different meanings over the years.

Reading through the book, there are many bits and pieces that I have read before here and there, the same stories you’ve heard from other places. But there are so many that are different, that are the truly inside pieces, the things that only these five guys could actually tell you. The stuff from Bono about his potential throat cancer, and the risk of surgery, I have heard the overview before but reading this in Bono’s own words gives a different feeling to the whole thing. You get that feeling throughout the book, a different perspective, a little detail, adds to the immediacy of the book.

As I skimmed back through the book today to write this piece, one section struck me. It was about the moments after 9/11, which of course resonated deeply today after the events in France last night, especially with the U2 connection once again. I was thinking about what they would be saying about Paris in a few years, will those words be the same. They have made a few comments today, and we’ve seen pictures of them in Paris at one of the attack sites. But the line that really resonated with me was from Paul McGuinness, who said that America “went through a convulsion then that the rest of the world may be paying the price of for the rest of time.” It is this idea, that the reaction of the US after 9/11 has and will lead to ongoing strife. It makes me think of Paris, and what the reaction to that will be, and how we can possibly react in an appropriate way. As Bono said somewhere else, their prayer was that we do not become a monster in order to defeat a monster.

My rating for U2 by U2: 9 / 10

U2 Experience (book)

This is a review of the box set U2 Experience by Brian Boyd.

I am on record many times as saying there are a simple set of rules for my liking a book about U2. The simplest rule is that it must be written by someone who knows the band, not someone who decided to write a book and cover their history. If you are writing that way, because you want to write a book about them, it had better have a really good reason to exist. If you’re writing such that you’re essentially summarizing all the other books written about the band, and all your inside stories were written by someone else, then that book doesn’t have much of a reason to exist. So what is your catch, your in, your thing that should drag in the buyers and make it worthwhile?

In the case of the book/box set U2 Experience, by Brian Boyd, the hook is that it contains memorabilia from the band’s history. Now, I’m not naive enough to have ever thought that any of the items included in the book are real. If they were, the book would cost quite a bit more than what it does. But of course the items - posters, ticket stubs, photos, etc - are all reprints from things that the band had many years ago. A few of them say “reproduction” in tiny letters somewhere, but some of them don’t. Worse, the cover of the book will tell you that it contains “rare removable rock memorabilia” which suggests to some that they are real. They’re not, and that is potentially fraudulent of them to print that on the back (I am not a lawyer, this is my opinion etc etc). At the very least I bet they get some sales at Christmas from the aunt who wants to give her U2 loving niece or nephew a neat present.

I have also complained about the histories of the band that ended ten years ago - because they were written then - because time moves on and a subject like U2 is not yet finished. This book was released this year (2015) and is about as up-to-date as a printed U2 history can be. It doesn’t cover the I+E tour, but it does talk about Songs Of Innocence, and it even has a chapter called Songs Of Experience (chapter is a stretch, in this case each “chapter” is just a two page spread, so you get two pages (with photos) about each album, about each band member, and a couple of other items). That chapter is really just a summary of I+E, but written before I+E began, with a sprinkle of rumors about the next album. Nothing you haven’t heard is in there, and I think that page was just added to try and make it look even more up to date.

Okay, this is a little harsh (maybe a lot harsh). This book really is a pretty good overview of the history of the band, and more recent than most. If you have a vague knowledge of the band’s history, or you know someone like that and want them to learn about it, it could be a good item to have and read. But if you’re already a U2 fan, save your money, use it on some real memorabilia. It won’t go very far, but it will have more value to you in the end.

My rating for U2 Experience (book): 2 / 10

Killing Bono

This is a review of the book Killing Bono by Neil McCormick.

Did you ever imagine that you had grown up with Bono and the rest of the band? Of course you did, if you’re a fan. I have imagined it, wondering if I could have been one of them, could have gone to Larry’s kitchen that day, maybe played guitar with them, maybe gotten in the band and been one of them (I usually imagine myself replacing Edge, because he’s the cool one). I mean, that totally could have happened, right? Everything else would have worked out exactly the same, I would have played exactly the same music as Edge and we would totally have become the same band with the same fame. Yup.

So Neil McCormick did, growing up in the same place and being at the same school as U2 were. He wasn’t at the famous kitchen meeting, even though the world thinks he was, but that was actually his brother. He is moderately famous - he has this book, for starters, but also has been a writer or columnist in numerous music publications - but he has spent his life wishing he was Bono, or thinking that he should have been Bono. As he put it somewhere in the book, in any other place he’d be the most famous person to come out of his school, but he had the misfortune to go to school with Bono.

One of my criteria for a good book about U2 (and I must say that this book is not about U2, but about Bono, the others are quite peripheral throughout the book) is that it comes from an insider’s perspective, not from someone reading about or interviewing people about the band. McCormick obviously grew up with the band, musically that is, and spent a lot of time as a teenager with them. For this reason there are stories about them in the very early days that haven’t been printed elsewhere, or if they have they used this book as the source material. That probably makes the book worth it alone, let alone all the extra material he provides about them and his own life. Very amusing story about Paul McCartney calling, and saying he usually has to spend half an hour convincing people that it’s really him.

Neil is somewhat of a sad character in the end, despite the success he has clearly had. He is very self-deprecating, but while that’s often a good thing when done in a funny way, in this case there is an endless parade of what could have beens coming from him. It does get a little old at times, but he does eventually turn to interesting or funny stuff after it, so it is worth wading through those moments to get to the good stuff.

But the book is worth it for all of the reasons above. Not my favorite U2 book, but it has many moments of great interest and a number of bits of insight into Bono (and quotes from Bono). Another favorite is Ali’s comment on “take everything he says with a pinch of salt,” meaning Neil, but both Neil and Bono thinks she means Bono. It’s these little bits that give it enough to hold your interest.

My rating for Killing Bono: 8 / 10

Bono In Conversation (book)

This is a review of the book Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas.

Like it or not the band is all about Bono. When you see the band in the news, 90 percent of the stories are about Bono. When they talk to people, it’s Bono they talk to. The better interviewers talk to the guys individually without Bono present, so they can get their perspectives. Or you get the Rattle And Hum movie, which pointedly had bits showing the other guys talking. I think Bono recognizes this, but there’s not much he can do about it. And so when we look at books about U2, half of them are about the whole band and the other half, like this one, are about him individually. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does feel like he is everything when the band is talking.

The thing about any book about the band - and I’ve said this several times before - is that it depends on the perspective it takes. There is the perspective of the writer who is outside the band, and has little connection with them, and is telling us stories that we’ve heard a thousand times, or showing us photos we’ve seen before. Those kinds of books are worthless, or, if not worthless, close to it. I think I have rated many if not most of those books pretty low.

Then there’s the other kind, the insider look. It’s the photos from Anton Corbijn, who has traveled extensively with the band, or someone else who has been with them forever, or been on the inside, or somehow or other had that access which gives them that perspective. These are the ones that are worthwhile. This book is conversations between Bono and a writer friend of his, Michka Assayas, and it’s clearly an inside look. As the title says, Bono in conversation, and it is his own words, his own answers to questions, and not just the generic questions you’ll get from 60 Minutes, but detailed questions and answers about minutiae in the band’s history. And it’s great.

The book has many little notes from Bono’s perspective, his take on things that you may have heard the story elsewhere, the outside view, but he gives the interesting details that you wouldn’t know from those other stories. The bits and pieces you don’t imagine. The shortest chapter is fun, the story of him being honored by the president of France. And the story about Adam missing a show, and being replaced by his guitar tech, and having many people not even notice. That was a blow to Adam, of course. I have said myself a few times that Adam and Larry seem like they could be replaceable, but it is definitely the view from Bono that they couldn’t. His comment that even though some people couldn’t tell the difference, he definitely could tell, that tells you pretty much all you need to know about that theory.

A very enjoyable book. I don’t know how re-readable it is, I’ve read it a couple of times and although I picked up on a few things the second time through, I’m not sure how much I will get the next time. Maybe if I wait a few years before reading it again. But certainly worth the price of admission for that first read alone.

My rating for Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assaya: 8 / 10

U2 The Early Days (book)

This is a review of U2 The Early Days (book) by Bill Graham.

Somehow I thought I had already reviewed a book by Bill Graham, but I hadn’t. I guess I was thinking of Bill Flanagan, who I have reviewed. Or maybe I was thinking of the several books that have talked either about him or contained articles written by him. Graham is one of those guys who were there since the early days, covering the band and in some ways promoting the band. He introduced them to Paul McGuinness, for example. So this is one of those cases where the guy has been around, and so you trust what he writes. It’s not like a writer nowadays, choosing to write a book about the band and relying on others to tell them the story. Yes, they can get the story, the publicly presented story, but they didn’t live it or know anything from the inside.

I’ve talked about some of the books that cover U2 in the early days, things like the Hot Press stuff which are reprints of the articles written about the band back then. Then there are other books which go back and show more detail about what was happening with the band. And then there is this book, which is titled The Early Days and really is about the early days of the band. It is written a decade later, but it is a detailed essay (and yes, I mean essay, this is a single long piece) about the band prior to them signing their first album deal. The first half of the book is this essay, with scattered pictures, and the second half is all pictures from those days.

I’ll start with the pictures: I seem to keep saying this when I review books, but in this case it’s more true than most, that there are many pictures of the band in the early days that I have never seen before. This is an intimate look at the band, close up pictures of them both on and off the stage. Larry in his cherubic best, looking like a little kid like he would look for many more years (and perhaps still now), in one shot wearing a tie while drumming. Many of these pictures make the book well worth the price (and I don’t even remember what I paid for it on Amazon, not that much).

And as for the essay, it is fantastic. It is a seriously detailed look at the band’s early days, one long article with great detail about the band, everything and everyone around them, and how they were moving themselves forward. Each step is well covered, as they were moving up the rungs on the steps to becoming superstars. The first step is getting a record deal, and much is made of that, in fact you might say the entire structure of the article is all the steps on the way to signing that first deal with Island Records. So it is shown in great detail, and honestly the only thing wrong is that it stops so early (although obviously that is the point of the book). I would love to see this same thing done for the rest of the band’s career, essentially a forty page story on a year or so in the band’s life. If it was written like this book it would be perhaps the best book ever on the band.

My rating for U2 The Early Days (book): 8 /10

U2 Show (book)

This is a review of the book U2 Show by Diana Scrimgeour.

I have a fairly large collection of U2 books, a couple of dozen or so. I have reviewed many of them here this year (over on the right you’ll see a link to Books), and more to come. But I’m going to tell you something right now: of all the U2 books I have, this one is the best, and if I were to recommend a single book about U2 it would be this. But there’s a caveat to that, because this is in many ways only for the U2 fan, rather than the casual fan. If you wanted just an overview of the band, this might not be it. On the other hand, if you wanted a pictorial history, this would be it, but it is so much more.

The funny thing is there are picture books about the band (maybe photo books is a better term, picture books sound like they’re for kids), and they’re okay, with the exception of the Anton Corbijn book which is really good. Then there are detail books about the band, and often they’ll go too shallow because they don’t have anything but the public stories. But this book combines the best of both, a large section (the first two hundred pages or so) of photos, and a smaller section (a hundred pages or so) of interviews and talk about the band and touring. It is really well done.

The first two thirds of the book are the photos, of tours from the beginning through Elevation (yes, like every other book my complaint is that it is quickly out of date, I wish they had could update it to the latest tour). Each tour has a small intro, maybe a couple of pages about it, then the rest is just photos with a very rare blurb or quote between them. There is not much within the intro that isn’t know, it’s essentially a recap of the tour with somewhat interesting snippets. But the photos are the stars in this section, and there are a lot, and I am happy to say that I hadn’t seen many of these photos before this book. Also happy they identify the show the pics were from, and that there were some from one of the shows I was at. Brings it just that little bit closer.

The last third of the book is the interviews, and this I think is the true gold of the book. This is where you get into the heads of the people running the tours, or creating them, or being tangentially involved with them but enough that they are interesting. There’s also a set of bios in the back of people involved with the band, which puts a little more detail on the names that you’ve heard for so long. But these interviews, this detail, this info about the backstage or offstage stuff, this is what I’m interested in. You don’t get this from the public persona of the band, you see the front, but never the back part of it. But here you get the setup in the studio, how they like things laid out, or stuff on how they decide on things that become very important (the description of the stage creation, with Bono adding a little bit then Adam taking out the center is great). I still go back and dip into the book every now and then, rereading certain parts and getting a little different info each time.

So, if you want detail, get it. If you want pics, get it. If you want the best of both, get it. It’s not like being at a show, but it’s certainly a peek backstage.

My rating for U2 Show (book): 9 / 10

Where The Streets Have 2 Names (book)

This is a review of the book Where The Streets Have 2 Names by Patrick Brocklebank.

It is always interesting to look back at the early days of the band, the not-so-mysterious times in the late 1970s and early 1980s when they came together, created, did interesting things and formed themselves as a band that would go on to rule the world. The story out of that time is that there were a number of bands in Dublin in those days, and little reason why U2 would go on to superstardom while the rest would fall by the wayside. Now, you and I know that it was talent that got them where they are, something the rest didn’t, and it’s always funny to hear the revisionists talk, saying that there were other bands that were better than U2. Baloney. If they were they would have succeeded. Maybe they were better players for a time, but they weren’t better at having the drive that U2 had.

The title of the book, Where The Streets Have 2 Names, refers according to the author to the practice in Dublin of having the street signs in both English and Irish. This make perfect sense, and it also helps to make the pun from the name of the U2 song. I don’t blame him for this, it is kind of creative, and certainly makes the point more clearly about the name than anything you’ve heard about the song making the point. Yeah, that’s not very clear, is it? I mean that the song title has so many interpretations that it’s nice that this book has just one.

The subtitle for this book is ‘U2 and the Dublin music scene 1978-1981.” The author was a photographer at the time and pulled out a bunch of photos from his archive to create the book. Let me be clear in saying that the only reason this book exists is the U2 connection, there is little or no reason for it otherwise. Since he took photos of some of the first U2 gigs, that is enough to make a book apparently. And I also should be clear, there is not that much U2 content in the book. I went in expecting much more, and I have not counted but I would guess there’s something like a quarter of the pages talk about U2. Sure, there are some photos of the band that I have never seen before, and that might make it worth it to you, but overall not necessarily. If you’re interested in a bunch of other bands from that time, then it might be worth it. Imagine anyone you’ve heard of from Dublin in those days, they are likely to be in here. Imagine a lot of others that never did anything, they’re in here too.

There is an afterword which is a couple of pages of the whole history of the band, but it is essentially worthless, no new information in it, and in fact it is largely out of tone to the rest of the book, because it talks about U2 up to the present day (2013, when the book was published) and I think it is only in there to add a little more for the U2 fans buying the book.

My rating for Where The Streets Have 2 Names: 3 / 10

One Step Closer (book)

This is a review of the book One Step Closer: Why U2 matters to those seeking God by Christian Scharen.

Yet another in the long line of religious books about U2. At some point you have to ask yourself if there is a point in you writing a book about U2 and their religion. But if you go down that road, then you have to ask yourself why you’re writing a daily blog about U2, and we don’t want anyone asking that.

But the point is that if you do write something, you have to write it with a hook. There really needs to be something to distinguish your book from all the others, to make people pick it off the shelf in the bookstore rather than any of those others. And of course when I say bookshelf I mean the screen looking at amazon.com, because there are no bookstores anymore, sadly enough. Hmm, seems like today is a day for digressing.

In previous reviews I’ve even made the point that a book needs to stand out, that if it doesn’t then it’s going to go nowhere. And that’s what I think about One Step Closer, that it follows the same patterns as the other books, picks out many of the same themes (hey, did you know that 40 comes straight from Psalm 40?), and frankly is as interchangeable as many of the others. Now I’m sure the author of this book, and all the others like it, write from the heart, write what they think, and write what they know about U2 and religion. But for the core fan of the band, it’s nothing we haven’t heard before. And if I want to hear something over and over, I’m not going to read these books, I’m going to put on some U2 and put it on repeat.

I really don’t want to be this harsh with the author of this book, or any of the others. I just don’t see the point of someone writing the same as so many others (not looking in a mirror here). If I could find that book that has a unique hook, I’d love it, just for being different. I got that most with the Walk On book, which focused on U2 and surrounded them with religion, compared to the other books that focus on the religion and tack on U2. But reading what I just wrote, maybe that’s the whole point: I’m interested in U2, the religion part is a sidelight. The books I don’t like are interested in religion, U2 is the sidelight. Have you ever noticed how every single one of these books is written by a pastor or some other sort of religious figure. I suppose that makes sense, because they’re writing about religion.

By the way a month ago I reviewed the song of the same name and gave it a 2 out of 10. I don’t think it’s much of a coincidence to see the score on this one.

My rating for One Step Closer (book) : 2 / 10

U2 At The End Of The World

This is a review of the book U2 At The End Of The World by Bill Flanagan.

Is there another U2 book as good as this one? Actually yes, if you believe my ratings, I have this book as equal best, alongside Anton Corbijn’s U2 & I. The significant difference between these two books and almost every other one out there is that they are both from an inside point of view, and both are eminently re-readable. They contain things that other books don’t know (or if they do, they know it because they have read it in these), and they have stories that you want to read more than once.

I do have to say off the top that this book was published in 1995, and I have complained about that before. The idea that you can have a definitive book about U2 is an impossibility, as they are still an active band. For example, every single book about them that is currently out has nothing on the Innocence + Experience tour, and probably nothing about Songs Of Innocence (the very latest books might have a couple of lines mentioning that it was released). So the books that call themselves the history of U2, or the complete anything, well, they’re not. They’re outdated as soon as they’re published. But this book doesn’t pretend that, it quite clearly finishes when it was published in 1995, so it is a history up until that point.

So Bill Flanagan had what I think is unprecedented access to the band, to their families and friends, to acquaintances and others. This is what I mean by an inside point of view. It’s something you simply do not get by interviewing people who used to work with them, and who in some cases now have a grudge to hold. This is what it was like to travel with them, to stay in hotels with them, to drink with them. When he is writing about staying up all night with the guys drinking, then getting on a plane to New York with Edge because they have to be at some event, you know this is the story that no-one else has.

It’s simply impossible to mention all the stories in the book, you have to read them. Flanagan wasn’t at all of the events, of course, but his writing gives them an immediacy that makes you feel like you were there. And he certainly was at enough of them to give an in-person story that really does make it seem like you are present.

Since I already mentioned U2 & I by Anton Corbijn, I have to tell you that these two books go together very well. Anton’s photos combined with Bill’s words tell a really complete story of the band from the early days through the mid 90s. If I were to give a recommendation for the year so far, it would be to get both these books and read them together.

My best recommendation for this book is simply that I wish he wrote a new one, covering the years since 1995. It is that good.

My rating for U2 At The End Of The World: 8 / 10

Walk On: The Spiritual Journey Of U2

This is a review of the book Walk On: The Spiritual Journey Of U2, by Steve Stockman.

There have been a number of books written about U2 and religion, I have reviewed a few of them here. It is difficult to separate them, as most use similar methods and come up with similar results. They use the title of a U2 song as the title of the book, or as chapter titles. They often have a little blurb about band history, for the people reading the book who don’t know the band (and really, how many of those people are there?). They treat each song as though it is a bible verse, quoting Bono like they would quote scripture (which in some ways Bono would really enjoy, and some ways he would hate). And usually they conclude that for a rock and roll band these guys are really kind of religious, so they can’t be all bad.

Walk On: The Spiritual Journey Of U2 follows many of these tropes, and ends up with many of the same conclusions. But it feels different to the others in one important respect, which is the focus of the book. In most of these kinds of books, religion is to the forefront and the author is trying to prove their biblical knowledge by mixing in some street cred with U2. Those books often feel like you could substitute U2 for any other band that has religious overtones, or just as easily remove the musical link completely and just talk about religion. This book feels much more like it is about U2, with religion being added on, or perhaps just lightly brushing up against the religious aspects without trying to shove it down your throat on every page.

The author is a minister, and he appears to be experienced enough to introduce religion in a subtle way, telling you quite long and interesting stories about the band (surprisingly enough, there were a number that I had not heard before, or had forgotten long ago), and then bringing in the religious aspect in a way that makes you go “oh yeah, that’s absolutely right.” He’ll tell a band story for two or three pages, or more, then bring in a reference to religion that seems perfectly apt. An example is the Everything You Know Is Wrong chapter, twelve pages long and pretty much only covers religion in reference to The Screwtape Letters. I say that slightly with tongue in cheek, because much of the chapter is about religion, but the first time I read it I actually went back through and had to read it again to understand how he brought the religion in.

So, is that sneaky or underhanded? No, of course not. The author gets his intent across in a most interesting way. Just as Jesus would do allegories about people, to get them to try and think about things, so does Mr. Stockman. I’m not very religious, but I found myself inspired several times throughout the book based on the tales and the way he wrote them. Very effective in a show, don’t tell kind of way.

For the reasons above, I think this is one of the better books I’ve read this year on U2, and the rating reflects that. Not the best book overall, but certainly the best one about U2 and religion.

My rating for Walk On: The Spiritual Journey Of U2 (book): 6 / 10

U2: Faraway So Close (book)

This is a review of the book U2: Faraway So Close by BP Fallon.

BP Fallon is one of those names that you recognize if you’re a U2 fan, like many of those names who are people who seem to have been around the band forever, someone hanging on the edges to try and get a little fame. There are a lot of people who have over the years tried to insert themselves into the band’s story, either popping up from the early days or just getting their name out there. Some of them are legitimate, folks like Neil McCormick who knew the band in the very early days, went on to their own successful careers, then somehow circled back into the band’s orbit. Those folks are okay. Then there are folks who pop up a book about the band based on a few interviews with disgruntled people, or who have a collection of photos, or an axe to grind. Not so good. And I should specify that I’m not talking about anything fan produced, whether endorsed or not by the band, those kinds of projects are true fandom and should be celebrated for what they are.

Now you’re probably thinking that I just slammed BP Fallon, but that’s not at all my intention, so let me expand on it a little. BP Fallon is one of those edge of the band guys, but not for the fame, someone who is there legitimately. Kind of like Bill Graham. The kinds of people that you actually want to hear things from, the folks who really were on the edge, but on the inside edge rather than the outside edge. And not the falling off the stage kind either. I’m still not sure I’ve explained it well enough. I guess I could say that if you had a 20 year career before even meeting U2, you’re legit. And if you were invited by the band to tour with them throughout Zoo TV, then you’re legit.

Now I’ve gotta say that I’m over halfway through this and I haven’t even talked about the book yet. So let’s talk about it. It’s a memoir of sorts of BP Fallon’s time with the band, hanging around everywhere and doing everything with them. It’s a lot of inside stories that you probably won’t hear elsewhere, and in some cases that’s probably a good thing (the opening story, for example, rats in boxes). But it also has a lot of photos I haven’t seen elsewhere, and along with the stories that makes it quite compelling.

I have just one criticism, which is the voice that he chose to write it in, referring to himself in the second person throughout. Example: Bono “… asked would you like to put together the tour programme … You said yes, you’d love to do it.” It’s like that all the way through the book, there are one or two places where he says I and by that point it’s a little jarring to read it that way, but much more often than not it’s just really irritating to read. At times it’s hard to interpret what he was meaning, trying to sort out all the different you’s he’s talking about. You get lost at times. Couple points off for it.

My rating for U2: Faraway So Close (book): 4 / 10

Get Up Off Your Knees (book)

This is a review of the book Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching The U2 Catalog, by Raewynne Whiteley and Beth Maynard (eds).

I have spoken many times in the last five months about U2 and their relationship with religion, and how many of their songs can be read either in part, in whole, or as an allusion to religion and God. I’ve said that when Bono sings the word “love” he is many times using that word as a proxy for the word “God.” Everyone who knows much about U2 knows that they are deeply religious, and that bleeds over into their rock star lives, and that there was a time many years ago when their religious beliefs almost broke up the band. I was reminded of all this just this week, when there were reports that the band had brought in religious leader Rick Warren to pray with them after the death of their tour manager, Dennis Sheehan. I personally oppose Warren as a megachurch leader (I believe megachurches are the antithesis of the message of Jesus Christ), but they of course have the right to talk to whoever they want.

It is not a surprise that a small cottage industry has popped up around the band, relating their religion to the ability to sell things. There are a number of books that deal with U2 and religion, both directly and tangentially. This book, Get Up Off Your Knees, is clearly on the direct side, given that the subtitle is Preaching The U2 Catalog. I have heard of things like this before, people creating “U2 churches,” or to be more accurate churches that will use stories about U2 and their songs to try and be hip and bring in younger people. Whether it works or not I don’t know.

The book presents a number of sermons from different preachers, each picking a U2 related theme or song and talking about it. It appears that these were all sermons that were delivered in a church, although I didn’t find anything to confirm that, other than a date and place at the end of each one, which suggests when and where it was delivered. Many of them go a lot deeper into the bible than I have any clue about, and tend toward references about things that just lose me. Actually that reminds me of many times when I’ve been in a church listening to a sermon, and feeling totally lost in the message the priest is trying to pass on. But there are places in the book where I have felt some kind of revelation (with a small r), and actually found a message that I want to think more about. So I guess this book has impacted me in some way. I think I will probably end up reading it again, maybe more than once, to try and see what further inspiration I can get out of it. I guess that means the book succeeds in the mission it had.

The idea of U2 as prophets seems to come out fairly regularly throughout the book. I’m not surprised at that, I suppose, although the direct comparison of them to some of the prophets in the bible is a little on the nose. I guess I have at times thought that if Jesus were to come back these days he’d have a great deal of trouble trying to get attention, and that becoming someone like Bono would probably help him get his message out. Not that I think Bono is Jesus, no.

Personally I have had many more religious experiences at a U2 concert than I have in a church, but that’s just me. Your religion may vary, in many ways, to mine. I guess I would be more interested in going to a church that was at least willing to talk about modern culture like this, than one stuck in a set of rules and traditions from a thousand years ago.

My rating for Get Up Off Your Knees: 5 / 10

U2 The Complete Encyclopedia

This is a review of the book U2 The Complete Encyclopedia by Mark Chatterton.

The thing about an encyclopedia is that it is out of date the moment it is printed. This wasn’t a bad thing in the old days, when you would buy the set of family encyclopedias for your first child, and they would last twenty years until your last child got out of college. The facts in those days didn’t seem to change as quickly as they do today (not that I was around in those days). People would put their set of encyclopedias on their shelves in their living room, and they would be a source of pride that your family was educated.

Nowadays we carry an encyclopedia in our pockets, and have them sitting on our desks at home and at work. And they’re up to date, literally to the minute in many cases. Next time there’s a major event happening somewhere, try looking it up on Wikipedia, you’ll often see the latest happenings being updated as you read. Just now I checked U2 on Wikipedia, the page is updated to say that the tour started on May 14, which is not such a recent thing (two weeks ago), but they have an Innocence + Experience Tour page, and frankly I was surprised to see that the table of tour dates hasn’t been updated - the attendance column hasn’t been filled in for the first few shows yet. Normally you get something like that right away, especially for sports teams. As an example of that, my favorite soccer team, Arsenal, on their page their game on Sunday was updated that day on Wikipedia.

All that just so I can talk about this book, U2 The Complete Encyclopedia. You can imagine the first thing I’m going to say, right? That it’s out of date. In fact the book was published in 2001, so you can tell that it’s missing the last fourteen years of the band’s history, or roughly a third of their careers. It’s not the book’s fault of course, it’s just the nature of things. If you want to write a book that doesn’t go out of date, write about something a hundred years old, not something current.

But I shouldn’t complain that much. What I should really look at is the quality of the information, and ignoring any of it that might have become outdated. I did that with some of the previous books I reviewed, and noted that they were great point in time books, reviews of specific sets of years in the band’s history. This is the same, although not so much of the detail that those books had, by nature of being an encyclopedia. It doesn’t cover stories in twelve pages, it covers them in twelve items per page.

So looking at the book that way, I have some issues with it. Typos for one, I’m the kind of person who spots them from a mile off (he says, having barely checked his own blog the last five months), and without being too picky, I think I can spot one every few pages, which is disruptive to me. Or topics, there’s an entry about The Joshua Trio, a U2 cover band. Not sure that’s necessary. Or how about all the variations of songs? Ten entries for Staring At The Sun, as an example, because they break them out to all the different editions and bits and pieces. Could or should have been done in one entry, I think, which could have noted the differences.

So having said all that, I do agree that it is a good book about U2 up until 2001. I have also used it somewhat regularly this year, looking for notes about different things. It’s not something I have sat down and read cover to cover, but I have flipped through now and again. As always, good for the completist, but also good if you just want to find a random fact now and then.

My rating for U2 The Complete Encyclopedia: 5 / 10

U2: The Rolling Stone Files (book)

This is a review of the book U2: The Rolling Stone Files.

I’m not a big fan of Rolling Stone magazine. By that I don’t mean that I don’t like it, but rather that I just don’t read it. I don’t remember the last time I read it, although I do remember the few that I’ve read have generally had some interesting articles in them. Actually the articles I tend to prefer in Rolling Stone are the non-music articles, I think they’ve done some good stuff over the years in the political arena.

This book is a compendium of articles printed in the magazine about U2 over the years. They released it in 1994, just after Zooropa came out, and shortly after the time when there were a whole bunch of books about U2 released, things like the Hot Press books and so on. I guess they were jumping on the bandwagon. The fact that they called it the Rolling Stone “Files” should be a clue, after all Hot Press had already released the U2 File, containing their own stories about the band.

The telling difference between this book and the other similar types I have reviewed, Three Chords And The Truth and North Side Story, is that both of those contained a number of longform articles, whereas The Rolling Stone Files is a large number of bite-sized stories. There are a few full-length articles in there which are good, but much of it is very short, and in many ways dissatisfying because of that. What really does irritate is the number of filler articles, things like their lists of top 100 albums of the year, where they list the 100 and highlight the U2 album or albums. A moment from history, sure, but it would have been a lot more relevant to just list the U2 stuff. It really did feel like they were filling in extra pages in the book. Another example would be the numerous Random Notes plastered throughout, little tidbits but really an interruption of the good stuff.

So was there anything good in it? Yes, there was, and again it is the long stuff that attracts my attention. There’s an interview with Bono from 1987, the height of The Joshua Tree of course. I think that’s the longest and most interesting piece in the book. Another interview with Edge, which for some reason is half the length of Bono’s (the gift of the gab). Doing a very rough count, the longest nine articles were 99 pages, and the remaining 73 articles were 120 pages. That ought to tell you what’s worth reading.

Of course having read so much about U2 over the years, I can’t say there was that much that surprised me in the book. Whereas I thought that Three Chords And The Truth was filling in gaps or little details about the band, this is more the surface picture. Pieces of history, sure, but the stuff that if you were reading the magazine you would have often passed by. I don’t know if I have ever read an album review in a magazine, those are the kinds of things I tend to skip over, knowing that I’ll likely never listen to that band, or as often as not they’ll never be heard of again. So it is interesting to read the half page they wrote about Boy, or the full page on October (remember these are pages in the book, not the magazine, that half page in the book was likely a quarter page or less in the magazine).

I could also complain about the lack of pictures, the others in this style had plenty of those, but that’s not what this book is about so I’ll excuse that. Apart from that I think this book is okay, an interesting historical piece but not much more than that.

My rating for The Rolling Stone Files: 3 / 10

Three Chords And The Truth (book)

This is a review of the book Three Chords And The Truth by Niall Stokes.

Niall Stokes has been covering U2 since they were young lads taking their first steps onto a stage. I already looked at North Side Story, a book that was released for the fan club, and I looked at Stokes’ book The Stories Behind Every U2 Song, which has been a pretty major resource for this project. Now I look at another book that Stokes was involved with, Three Chords And The Truth. Each of these comes from the Hot Press magazine, the Irish music newspaper, which Stokes was the founder of, I think. Putting together all these books is giving a comprehensive look at the history of the band. And there’s the U2 File, which I mentioned in the North Side Story review, and I don’t own. This book is a followup to that one, where the U2 File was Hot Press stories up to 1985, and this book is Hot Press stories from 1985-1990. I don’t know if there are any more of these books, I will have to find out, because they are seriously good.

Now the first thing that strikes me is that the title of the song isn’t even a U2 lyric, it’s just a throwaway line that Bono added to someone else’s song (All Along The Watchtower by Dylan in this case). So using it is a little of a jarring note, even though the line has become famous since then. Maybe I’m being a little picky to complain about this, but I have to complain about something, right?

What also strikes me is how good this book really is. This is a bunch of long-form stories about the band, and they get really deep in some parts of it. Of course, being a long-time fan I know much of the story already, but this does add detail that I either forgot or never knew, which means that every so often while reading I get a little “huh” now and then. The photos aren’t much, I didn’t see a single one that I hadn’t seen before.

The great thing about this book is that it shows the travels through the peak of the band’s existence, the time of The Joshua Tree and Rattle And Hum, when so many interesting things were happening. Not to say there haven’t been any interesting things since then, but really this is a whole step past the creation myth of the band (covered in the earlier books), through their puberty of The Unforgettable Fire days and showing their growth into full-bloom. It really is a trip down memory lane to read so many of these stories again, stories that I “know” in deep detail but still don’t have it all. Where I may have read the highlights from some newspaper article or website once, reading this is really digging down, and it’s fantastic to do so.

Although in the back there’s a few pages that are completely wasted, essentially some made-up junk. Maybe they didn’t have a story that would fit the space? I couldn’t read most of it - not just the part in Gaelic - it was generally just nonsense and I don’t know why it is there.

My rating for Three Chords And The Truth: 6 / 10

U2 & i (book)

This is a review of the book U2 & i by Anton Corbijn.

Anton Corbijn is one of those guys that you can’t help hearing about if you read about U2. He seems to have been with the band forever, and he has, or at least since 1982. Kind of the official photographer of the band, his iconic images are ones you’ve definitely seen, like the cover of The Joshua Tree, and many others. This book, U2 & i, shows many of his pictures of U2, mostly black and white but some color, covering 1982-2004.

As always, a book like this can be both revealing and boring. I already reviewed one picture book of U2 history, and didn’t like it much because the vast majority of pictures were well-known, with only a few that I hadn’t seen before. This book though has both the unprecedented access that Corbijn had, and a large archive of pictures that have not been generally available. This means that not only was I seeing a lot of stuff that I hadn’t seen before, but I was also reading Corbijn’s notes about each picture, which again provided an intimate view of the band. I would guess I have seen maybe a third of the pictures in the book, and that may be a generous estimate since some of them I thought I’d seen but realized I may have seen different shots from that shoot.

Many of the photos are Bono and his family, it seems that he allowed more access than the rest of the band did. That’s not to say they didn’t, because there are many private photos of them too, but when Corbijn’s going on vacation with Bono and his family, he’s going to get pics of them that he’s not of the others.

Was surprised to see so many pictures of Bono smoking, that’s something not generally published, at least not recently. Old images of the band have shown each of them smoking at times, even Adam on stage playing with a cigarette in his mouth. I guess you don’t see that kind of picture these days, because the anti-smoking lobby would be up in arms, but it does tell you just how relaxed and open the band was around this particular photographer.

I must admit to disliking Corbijn’s handwriting, which is used for all the captions in the book. While it makes for yet another point of intimacy, as he is writing directly to the reader, there were quite a few times where I had to stop and try and interpret just what words he had written.

Several essays at the front, and an interview between Bono and Corbijn, only add to the quality of the book. This is a really outstanding book. I’ve reviewed maybe three or four U2 books so far, and I probably have another ten to do. I haven’t rated any of those yet, but I can say that I doubt that any of them will rate as highly as this one. It doesn’t have the detail that some of the books have, but then again they say a picture says a thousand words, and that’s really true here. If I were to recommend one U2 book to buy, I don’t think you could go much wrong with choosing this one.

My rating for U2 & i: 8 / 10

On The Move (book)

This is a review of the book On The Move by Bono.

Technically this is not a book by Bono, it is a book of the speech Bono made to the National Prayer Breakfast in 2006, reprinted and packaged to raise money for the One campaign. So if you want to know what he says, you can google the speech and read the text. If there were a reason to buy the book it would be to support the campaign, and to see some of the photos. There are several in there that were taken by Bono when he was in Ethiopia in 1986, and I have not seen some of those photos anywhere else.

I saw Bono speak at the World Affairs Council in Dallas in 2006, a speech which was essentially the same as this one although much funnier. You can read a review of that speech at atU2. I made some notes at the time but I don’t know where they are now, guess I ought to dig them out. Reading this book, the speech from which was made a few months earlier, and the atU2 review, brought back a number of memories of the speech. Bono was funny and self-deprecating, joking that the rest of the band wasn’t there and a few other comments about U2. Mostly though he stuck to the topic and stuck to it well. The speech in the book was a subset of the one I saw live really, since because of the occasion he was able to expand his thoughts and humor.

If you haven’t read the book and you’re not aware of the speech, all I need tell you is Africa and AIDS and you will probably be able to guess about ninety percent of the content. It is something very familiar to U2 fans from the shows and from Bono’s advocacy of global aid to the poor. You’d come up with some of the lines from U2 songs (“where you live should not decide”), and some of the stuff about so-called religious leaders (“God’s second-hand car salesmen on the cable TV channels”, particularly amusing today as we read the story about one of those tv preachers wanting to raise money to buy himself a private jet).

Bringing us full circle to the religion aspect of U2 is that the speech was to the National Prayer Breakfast. A gathering of politicians and religious leaders, you’d think they’d be aware of the constitution but apparently this one is okay, since they have representatives from several religions. I doubt they have many atheists there though. Bono took care to mention quotes from several religions, and although I don’t know what the reaction was in 2006, I can tell you that now in 2015 the Islamophobes would be screaming their heads off that someone would be allowed to say something positive about Islam.

In terms of production values, the book is short (and small), a total of about 60 pages, half of which are photos with just a line of text on them. The speech is broken into short sections on each page, but then repeated in total at the end of the book. Not sure why, except to pad the page count, or presumably to make the speech slightly easier to read, rather than being broken up by page. Of course if they wanted to make it easier to read they wouldn’t have made it white and red text on a black background.

My rating for On The Move (book): 2 / 10

The Stories Behind Every U2 Song (book)

The Stories Behind Every U2 Song is a book by Niall Stokes, and a followup to at least one previous edition. The one I have contains songs up to No Line On The Horizon, not sure if there is going to be a newer one. I read somewhere that this edition removed some of the material from the old edition, presumably to fit in the new stuff. Not sure if that’s cool or not. I think not. It means that you’ve lost something, even though you gained something else. I promise to never remove anything from my old blog posts. Since I may never read them again, probably no point.

This book is kind of in my sweet spot for this blog, since it is doing similar things to what I am. Talking about each song, a little bit of information that may or may not be useful. In my case it’s more personal, my impression of things, while Stokes is trying to give - as the title says - a little background into the songs from the point of view of the band. He is far more qualified to do that than I am, of course. Doesn’t make him better (be quiet), just different.

I certainly like the idea, but I’m not so sure about the execution. I have set myself a minimum of 500 words each day, and although sometimes I struggle to stay on point, I have always made it, even on the weakest of songs. On many of the songs Stokes fills a single page, which is probably around the same 500 words, but he ends up with a bunch of b sides (still don’t know if I should capitalize that) shoved into a couple of pages at the back, with a paragraph on each. I can't say that spells out the stories behind those songs. So, I win that one, although some of my posts may have about that much relevant material in them.

One of the biggest problems I have with the book is that for me there is little new in it. I mean, I’ve read and heard all the stories about U2, it’s hard to find something new or different. Especially from the old days, when not so many people knew them and had a different perspective. I’ve touched on this idea before in a couple of places, that all their early stories are now too well known. Even though Stokes has been around all that time, and has dug through archives of material, the die-hard U2 fan will probably end up like me, either knowing the stories or at least being reminded of them. There were several occasions while reading that I remembered an old story, but hadn’t thought of it in many years. So that’s a little bonus that you could get out of it.

I do tend to use this book as a little bit of reference material. I also look at things like Wikipedia, and as often as not I’ll find this book used as the source for much of their information. It’s clearly useful, and enjoyable, to the U2 fan. When I’m trying to write this blog though, I don’t want to just repeat what he says, if that were the case then I could just tell you to buy the book. So I try to take in something from different places, and bring it back out with my own twist or perspective on things. Not always easy.

My rating for The Stories Behind Every U2 Song: 6 / 10