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