Review: U2 by U2, Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen, Jr.

Review: U2 by U2, Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen, Jr.U2 by U2 by U2, U2
Published by It Books ISBN: 006190385X
on December 1, 2009
Genres: Nonfiction
Pages: 460
Format: Paperback
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five-stars

U2 by U2 is the only definitive, official history of one of the most famous bands in the world, by the members of the band themselves. Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen offer a unique, insightful account of everything fans want to know, from U2's birth 25 years ago and its evolution to become the biggest band in the world to their personal dramas and successes to the politics and emotions that drive them and their music. As cool, elegant, and exciting as the band itself, U2 by U2 is a must-have for any music fan's collection.

It’s pretty cool right now, at least from what I can tell online, to dislike U2. Anytime I read comments on any articles about them, it seems like people really can’t stand them—Bono, in particular, is referred to quite often by the sobriquet “wanker.” I can’t figure out why, nor does it square with my experience of going to two U2 concerts, both sold out. Everyone seemed to be having a great time, and they were excellent performances. As far as I can tell, there are several reasons why people seem sour on U2: 1) they’re successful and have been for a really long time, 2) they are politically involved (though, to be fair, they always have been, so to be mad about it now seems disingenuous), and 3) they gave their album Songs of Innocence away for free to all iTunes users (I mean really, you don’t want it, just delete it). Maybe I’m missing some reasons, but these seem to be either the entire text or the subtext of all of the negative comments I have read.

I remember seeing their video for “Sunday Bloody Sunday” when it was on heavy rotation on MTV, soon after the single came out. I was intrigued because I knew this band was playing at Red Rocks, which is a natural amphitheater near Denver. I lived near Denver at the time and had been to Red Rocks, albeit not for a concert. It’s a really cool place, and as I lived in a “flyover” state (or that’s how it seemed to me at the time) and didn’t see my home reflected in media, this band playing at a venue I knew, a place I had been, intrigued me. It was a way of saying that my home existed apart from New York or California, which seemed to be all I ever heard about.

So I started paying attention.

And I noticed that I liked them, but this was before I was really buying my own music. When The Joshua Tree came out, I was fascinated. I loved their videos for that album. MTV was always on because I was in high school by then, and I loved that album. But I still didn’t own it yet because I was sort of running with the heavy metal kids, and I was sure it wouldn’t be considered cool. I know now how stupid that was, obviously, and I wish I could say I was the sort of person who never cared what people thought, but a judicious rejection of what others think is a relatively late development for me.

My French teacher used to play U2 music for us over the language lab headphones. I remember her saying “I don’t care if it’s your taste, it’s mine.” I loved those days. I probably never told her I appreciated it.

And then they released Achtung Baby, which was great, but they were acting kind of weird after that, and I wasn’t sure what had happened. As the 90’s rolled on, and a lot of what I heard them releasing didn’t appeal to me, I admit I didn’t pay as much attention, but my tape of The Joshua Tree was on heavy rotation during commutes in the late 1990’s. I was glad they sort of outgrew that “techno” phase and decided to play more to their strengths. To this day, I own all their entire albums except for Zooropa and Pop. Every once in a while, I will look on iTunes and see if I want the rest, and nope, still don’t. That’s not to say I don’t go back and give some songs a second chance. I have done that and discovered I actually like them. There are some gems on those albums, but there are also a lot of forgettable and plain, well, bad songs on them, too. I can appreciate they were trying to experiment, but I personally think they forgot what people liked about them.

The reason for this long introduction is to explain why I read this book. I was curious as to what made this band tick, how they came up with some of their ideas, how they managed to stay together so long (an apparently still seemed to like each other), and what exactly happened to them in the 90’s. The book is really written by music journalist Neil McCormick, whose interviewed the band and collected snippets from the band members’ own voices, starting at the very beginning and ending around 2006. If you’re thinking of reading, be prepared for the fact that there are a good twelve years not covered (to date), including three albums and the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree tour as well as the tribute album Ahk-toong Bay-bi Covered, which features the entire Achtung Baby album covered by artists like Jack White, Nine Inch Nails, Patti Smith, Depeche Mode, and Garbage. (I would have liked to have heard what the band thought of that tribute album.) In addition, their longtime manager, Paul McGuinness, has since passed away, and his voice contributes much of the story in this book. Their reflections on his passing, therefore, are also missing.

One big thing I learned is that the band should listen to Larry Mullen, Jr. more. He seems to have the most solid instincts about what will work, and it seems pretty clear to me that they didn’t listen to him as much as they should have in the 90’s.

If you’re a fan, you will learn pretty much whatever you’d like to know from this book. If you’re not a fan, I wouldn’t recommend this book. It won’t necessarily convert you if you’re among the group of people I mentioned at the beginning of my review. However, if you do love the band as much as I do, you will enjoy reading about how their albums came to be, and their reflections and recollections will make for an enjoyable excursion, especially if you were with them part of most of the way on their journey.

five-stars

I Went to a U2 Concert

U2 Cell Phone Lights

Last Sunday, I realized a dream I’ve had for a long time and went to a U2 concert with my family. They are touring in honor of the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree, which is a really important album for me. I can well remember watching MTV when that album had been released and seeing the now iconic video for “With or Without You.”

But even further back, I can recall being wowed by their video for “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” as it was shot at Red Rocks. Growing up in the Denver area, I had been to Red Rocks, though not for a concert, and it impressed me to see a music video shot in a place I had actually been.

In the late 1990’s, when I was finishing up my bachelor’s degree after taking three years off when my then husband was in the Coast Guard, I listened to The Joshua Tree on repeat in the car. I think it was at that time that “Red Hill Mining Town,” a song U2 never played live until this tour, became my favorite. I have a deep affection for that song, still, even if I recognize on a more objective level that it’s not even what I would consider their best song. It just means something to me.

U2 Concert

I thought hearing “Red Hill Mining Town” would be the moment that did me in during the concert, but it wasn’t. It was actually when U2 played “Beautiful Day,” another favorite of mine, and the Edge brought out that old Gibson Explorer of his. He has had that guitar a very long time. He describes the moment when he bought it in New York in the late 1970’s in the movie It Might Get Loud.

Knowing how long he has had it and what it means and thinking of the history of that guitar just reduced me to to tears when he started playing the opening notes of “Beautiful Day.” Such an amazing song and instrument, too. I have never cried at a concert before.

Speaking of It Might Get Loud, it was that movie that turned me into a Jack White fan. I admit to not having listened to his music much until that film, and I was already a big fan of both Jimmy Page and the Edge. It bothers me that a lot of people argue Edge doesn’t deserve a place in that film. If you ask me, it’s his presence in the film that makes it because he is so different from the other two. He doesn’t bother with the affectations that Jack White puts on (the fake child version of himself that he coaches along). He brings a lot of humility and self-deprecation to the storytelling in that film that the other two don’t necessarily bring. There is an honesty to the story he tells that is certainly missing from Jack White’s story, and is obscured under so many layers in Jimmy Page’s story—Jimmy Page always seems to keep at a distance when he’s being interviewed. The only time he really seems more or less open is when he is talking with the Edge and Jack White. The film is one of my favorites, actually.

Of course, U2 is a political band, and they always have been. People complaining about their politics obviously haven’t been listening to them or it wouldn’t still be a contentious issue. They’ve been openly political since at least War—you could even argue since Boy—so I’m not sure where these people have been. What I really loved about the concert I attended is that the band didn’t shy away from being political, but they were respectful and positive in the way they presented their views. It was clear to me that the band has a great deal of love and respect for America, and I’ll go on the record as saying they get too much crap for their earnestness and their politics. I suppose some people think it’s insincere, and others think they shouldn’t hold political opinions. I disagree on both counts, but even if they are not sincere, they’ve still done a lot of good in the world.

Another thing that struck me was just how good they are. Bono’s voice is great, and it’s clear he takes good care of it. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say he avoids smoking, drinking, and bad vocal habits. The Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen, Jr. are all still playing excellent music as well. We saw them at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, which is where the New England Patriots play, and it’s a huge stadium, if you’ve never seen it. We weren’t at the very top, but we were fairly far away. The sound was good, even though everyone in the stadium was singing along. It was a little hard to hear what Bono said sometimes, which other people who were at the concert also complained about. I think the sound system probably wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough.

It was really special to hear one of my favorite albums played in its entirety. Of course they didn’t play every song I wanted to hear. If they had, we might still be at the concert. I have a lot of favorites. But they played “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “New Year’s Day,” “Bad,” (which is always awesome in concert—I actually own two live versions of that song already), “Pride (In the Name of Love),” “Miss Sarajevo” (interesting choice, but it made a lot sense in the context of the show), “Elevation,” “Vertigo,” “Ultra Violet (Light My Way)” (with a moving tribute to women), “One,” and a new one, “The Little Things that Give You Away,” which will be on Songs of Experience when it’s released, in addition to the entire Joshua Tree album and “Beautiful Day,” which I had previously mentioned. Not a bad setlist at all. I gather that they are doing “A Sort of Homecoming” at some of the shows on this tour.

I mentioned owning two live versions of “Bad.” The one from the Wide Awake in America EP is transcendent. I actually have quite a lot (comparatively speaking) of live U2 music, and I also frequently watch their live performances on YouTube. They are a rare band in that so much of their music sounds as good if not better live than on a recording. Frankly, a lot of great musicians are studio musicians, and there is nothing wrong with that, but their live performances disappoint. Eric Clapton, for instance, is kind of boring live (at least he was when I saw him). On the other hand, Tom Petty is awesome, and so are Counting Crows. Both of those groups surprised me with how good they were live. I would say this concert was the best one I attended, though I haven’t gone to nearly as many as I would have liked to have gone to. I hope I will be able to see them perform live again. It was an incredible experience, and all the more so because my family enjoyed it so much, too.

Several of the concert-goers put the show up on YouTube. It’s nice to have this reminder of the concert I attended. I don’t think U2 are terribly fussy about people putting their shows up. There are some really old live clips online that have been on YouTube for years. I made a playlist of some of the video others took at the concert. I only had my iPhone with me, and I wanted to concentrate on enjoying the concert instead of capturing it. Sound and video quality varies, and I put several videos of the same song(s) in the playlist in an attempt to capture the show from multiple points of view.

 

Sunday Post #41: Books and Tea

Sunday Post

I haven’t finished any books this week, but I’ve been making progress on several. After I finished reading Between the World and Me last weekend, I started Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. So far, I like it but I don’t love it. I like Oskar, but I’m still reserving judgment. I don’t really like the sort of postmodern opposition to making sense. It’s like the book is trying and failing to be charming (or worse, deep). But I don’t hate it, and I’ve read a bit too far to quit. Now I want to find out what happens. As Oskar would say, “Anyway.”

I am also progressing slowly through Simon Schama’s Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution. That one is just going to take me a long time. In addition to being extremely long, the pages are big and the print is small. It’s one of those books that would probably be much easier and satisfying to read on Kindle. I don’t think it’s available on Kindle.

One of the things I started in my classes before winter break at school is independent reading. Students can read whatever they like. They figure out how many pages they can read in two hours, and their goal is to read two hours a week, which is a pretty doable proposition for high school students. It’s going very well so far. I give students ten minutes at the beginning of class to read, and I read at the same time. It’s been a nice way to begin class, and I think the students are enjoying it. It’s interesting to see the variety of choices they make. Without my suggestion, some have even picked up rather difficult classics. I only have one student who is chronically forgetting his book.

I found a short article (I think—it may have been an ad) in my last issue of Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine for Jane Austen Tea sold by Simpson & Vail as part of their Literary Teas line. They have so many delicious-looking teas that it was hard to choose, but rather than dear old Aunt Jane’s blend, I opted for their Brontë Sisters Black Tea Blend and their Charles Dickens Black Tea Blend. I had a chance to sample both this weekend, and let me tell you, they were excellent. I will definitely be trying more. I know all you book lovers (and tea lovers) will want to check them out. I want to try the Jane Austen Black Tea Blend for sure, but also the Fyodor Dostoyevsky Black Tea Blend. Perhaps some of the others as well. It’s tough for me to resist teas named after my favorite authors, and Simpson & Vail seems to have picked a lot of them, but I’m not at all sure I’d like a floral-tasting tea. Black tea is pretty much a known quantity. I’m not a big green tea or herbal tea fan, either.

This weekend I also watched It Might Get Loud again. Love watching that film. In all honesty, Jimmy Page, the Edge, and Jack White actually are my three favorite guitarists. There is a really transcendent moment near the end of that film when all three of them play “In My Time of Dying” that I can’t watch without a huge grin on my face.

Right now I’m trying to learn to play guitar again, and as I mentioned a few weeks ago, I realized a dream I’ve had since I was about 16 of owning my very own electric guitar after getting one for Christmas. I have been taking Introduction to Guitar, offered by Berklee College of Music through Coursera. It is mostly a refresher so far, but I have learned a few things. I took a guitar class in high school where I learned most of the basics, and then I took classical guitar in college (one course). I didn’t keep up with it very well for a variety of reasons, but I have a passion for music.

I was also able to catch up a bit on work this weekend as I proctored the SAT for students at school yesterday. My grades and comments for first semester are all done, and I can start grading some of the early assignments I’ve collected for second semester. I have a few things I need to finish up before bed (and Downton Abbey to watch in between). I had the best weekend listening to music, making a batch of soap, and doing logic puzzles. I hope you had a good weekend, too.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme. Image adapted from Patrick on Flickr.

Sunday Post #17: Happy Mother’s Day!

Sunday PostHappy Mother’s Day to all the moms! I didn’t get breakfast in bed, but I did make pancakes with my new griddle. I have to say that it was much easier. I have always hated making pancakes because you have to make them one or two at a time with a frying pan, but with a griddle, I was able to make them for the whole family in nothing flat.

I’m not sure if I have any other plans, aside from perhaps making some soap and also doing some reading. Speaking of soap, I’m giving away a bar of the Dead Sea Mud Spa Soap I just made. Head over to my soaping blog to check it out if you’re interested. What are your Mother’s Day plans?

It seems appropriate to start with a list of my favorite literary moms.

  1. Best mom in my book is Molly Weasley. She not only keeps all the unruly Weasleys in line but also adopts Harry, too. And when Bellatrix Lestrange tries to attack Ginny, she famously intervenes, yelling, “Not my daughter, you bitch!” before destroying perhaps the most deranged and evil of Voldemort’s Death Eaters. She’s nurturing and bad-ass.
  2. Hester Prynne devotes herself to Pearl and becomes a model mother even as her entire community is castigating her for having Pearl out of wedlock.
  3. Scarlett O’Hara is devoted to her mother Ellen in Gone With the Wind, but let’s get real—her mother is actually Mammy, and Mammy was the best mother for a headstrong, stubborn person like Scarlett.
  4. Mrs. Quimby from Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books. I think it’s in Ramona and Her Mother when Ramona squeezes an entire tube of toothpaste into the sink, and her mother makes Ramona scoop it into a baggie. Ramona has to use that toothpaste until it’s gone, while the rest of the family gets to use a brand new tube. Serves her right!
  5. Marmee from Little Women whose reputation precedes her, as I still need to read this book. I know, right? How did that happen? I’m not sure. I promise to fix it soon. But the authorities say that Marmee is about as perfect as it’s possible to be.

Bookish Updates for the week: I finished listening to Conversion by Katherine Howe and started listening to The End of the Affair by Graham Greene (read by THE Colin Firth). I have also started reading an annotated Walden by Henry David Thoreau, but truthfully, I might have started that last week rather than this week. Memory’s fuzzy. I definitely started
Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving this week, however.

I added the following books to my TBR pile:

And finally, U2 busking in the subway:

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

It Might Get Loud

It Might Get LoudI know I usually limit my discussion on this blog to books, but I watched It Might Get Loud yesterday and absolutely loved it. Of course, it’s not a new film, and if you’re a fan of any of the guitarists featured, you’ve probably already seen it. If you haven’t seen it, though, it’s a documentary by David Guggenheim about the guitar, and it features three virtuoso guitarists from different generations: Jimmy Page, the Edge, and Jack White. All three are on Rolling Stone‘s list of the greatest guitarists of all time, although I’m not sure I necessarily agree with their placements on the list. Both Jimmy Page and the Edge should be higher up, in my opinion.

I love the way film opens as Jack White makes a guitar out of not much more than a few pieces of wood, nails, and a Coke bottle. It was interesting to learn about the Edge’s use of effects. Jimmy Page’s reflections on recording Led Zeppelin IV at Headley Grange were not necessarily new to me, but were still interesting to watch. I have been a fan of Jimmy Page’s for about 23 years when I discovered Led Zeppelin shortly before my sixteenth birthday. My Bon Jovi posters pretty much came down and were replaced with Led Zeppelin ones. Of course, that was also right about the time that Rattle & Hum was out, and I really enjoyed The Joshua Tree. As I’ve aged, my appreciation for both Led Zeppelin and U2 has only deepened. The guy I was not as familiar with was Jack White, and I have to say I really enjoyed learning about him and came away with a notion of buying some more of his music. I just sounded really old right there. Once there was a time when I knew what was going on in music, but that pretty much stopped about 10 years ago. I never would have believed you when I was a teenager if you had told me that day would come. New music just about needs to be put right in my face for me to notice it now.

My favorite part of the whole documentary came near the end when the three guitarists played “In My Time of Dying,” during which I picked out strains of “With or Without You,” and if Jack White contributed something original, I am afraid I wasn’t knowledgeable enough to recognize it. It was a great documentary, though, and it reminded me again why I love music.