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