I love U2. I remember sitting in grade 8 art class, painting some watercolour of a potted plant and the teacher was cool enough to put on The Joshua Tree as we painted. I baked donuts in the early 1990s and listened to Achtung Baby and Zooropa in the kitchen. Great memories! Nothing in a book would every destroy those.
Wrong! Well okay, maybe not. But John Jobling, the author of U2: The Definitive Biography sets out to do a "real" book, not some pablum spewed out by the big scary corporate U2 machine. And what a machine it is—they have been around for almost 40 years, have 13 studio albums, and have won more Grammy Awards than any other band. Even the Beatles only one 8—those tossers! Or maybe it's geezers. I'm still not sure if tosser or geezer is a good thing or a bad thing. Anyway, Jobling makes the claim that U2 is a huge money-making corporation they steamroll anyone who gets in the way.
Like most biographies, it starts out a little slow—the boys are born in Dublin, or wherever, and they learn to play guitar or drums while working as chimney sweeps and textile mills. Or something along those lines. Things get really good when the boys all meet up in school. Bono is raw and unrefined, with more attitude than ability; Larry Mullen is not the world-class drummer that he is now. They are human (they argue and get petty and egotistical, like normal people) and success is definitely not guaranteed!
Once Live Aid happens in the mid-1980s, U2 broke out into the world in a huge way, and the album The Joshua Tree also catapulted them to huge fame. One of the things about a chronological biography like this is that you can listen to the albums as the author writes about them—it is quite cool to read about Rattle And Hum and have Desire playing in the background.
What I really enjoyed about this book was the business side of the business—more time is spent discussing record deals and backroom boardroom deals than the writing and playing of the music. This is a great treat for someone (like me) who wonders about how much money these artists actually make, and the legal battles that they sometimes get into. It's not exactly The Dirt with Motley Crue (no one is taking their top off in the front row at the concert) but there are some very interesting business-related stories that I found very entertaining.
My only complaint with the book is that there is little if any mention of the latest album Songs Of Innocence and the disastrous launch through iTunes. Because these guys aren't dead and are in fact still making music, this book needs to get updated if it wants to be known as a definitive biography. I for one will be looking forward to an update—overall a very good read!