Saturday, February 12, 2005

Killing Bono (by Neil McCormick)

Shout out to BethD for sharing her book with me.

When I was 4' 7" tall and fourteen years old (that is not a typo—I really was cruelly short), I used to stand on the top of my dad's stereo console (it was one of those monstrous pieces of furniture that housed speakers and record player and a small illegal alien family). I stood on the hinged lid that covered the turntable underneath. Opposite the stereo was a massive mirror, ornately framed in gold, above our fireplace. Standing on the stereo gave me a perfect full length view of myself, a view I loved to behold.

But, you ask, why on earth would I want to see a full length view of myself while testing the strength of the lid hinges? Destiny: I wanted to sing like Barbra Streisand or rock out like Elton John or belt out musicals like Shirley Jones. I sang and swooned and "shook what my mama gave me" to an audience of one—the hairbrush and I never looked so good.

I always thought I'd be famous. I imagined being a great actress or pop star or both! By fourteen, my dreams were in trouble. When rehearsing as Dorothy for the "Wizard of Oz," I discovered that although I had a "nice voice" it was not a strong voice. California's desert like conditions attacked my vocal chords for the next twenty-five years. I lost my voice so regularly that by the time I hit my late thirties, I couldn't sing. I would mouth the words to songs, but if I sang, it was three octaves lower than the four tenors. When we moved to Ohio, my voice returned within two months and I've not lost it since. Blessed be the gods of humidity! Sweat never meant more to me.

Perhaps if Hollywood had been in Cincinnati, I might have fulfilled that destiny, would have skipped missionary work and gone straight for stardom. But it wasn't and I didn't and I'm not.

Which leads me to Bono.

My fascination with Bono is in part that he is an Irish male alter ego (what I sometimes wish I could have been, right down to the bitchin' sunglasses and world philanthropy in Africa, of all places that I LOVE!)

Neil McCormick in his novel about being Bono's Doppelganger (or alter ego) explores the pain of watching his friend soar to superstardom while he goes nowhere yet believes he is more deserving. Neil does a great job of showing how his dreams crashed and burned while Bono's child-like faith in God, his band and himself led to the top of the world status of both the band and the man. If you have any interest in the music industry (that you missed out on), this book will cure you of ever feeling badly about not getting into it!

I wanted to share a few quotes.

On early use of multi-media in U2 concerts (1979)
There was a white screen set up at the side of the stage with lights projecting on it from behind. During "Stories for Boys," a snappy song about male-fanstasy role models, Bono dragged Alison on stage and they disappeared behind the screen, where their silhouettes groped and snogged one another (97).

On the hard work of being good
"I saw Bono at a bus stop in town sometime afterward. There was another mental adjustment to be made. I thought that record deals were synonymous with limousines, the beginning of the easy life. "You know, you spend all this time and energy trying to get a record deal," said Bono. "Then you get to the end of this whole struggle and find out it's only the beginning. The real work starts now." (110)

On dreaming big (Neil and his brother Ivan)
Ivan and I were born in the sixties, children of a class revolution, the spawn of TV and pop culture. We were part of what was probably the first generation to take fame for granted. Everybody is at it now, of course. Something previously represented as available only to the highest achievers in mankind is now seen as a career option. We wanted to be famous. Therefore we would be. It was obvious, wasn't it? (115)

Bono's songwriting skills
I listened to War with admiration, not envy. I was honestly amazed that they were progressing in such creative leaps and bounds, producing songs of the transcendent quality of "Sunday Bloody Sunday." "You don't write songs," I had once admonished Bono. "You make these fantastic records but if you took away all the layers of sound what's underneath? There's nothing you could just sing in the shower."

"I don't have a shower," he jokingly replied. "I have a bath. Maybe that's the problem!"


Bilbo said...

Thanks for the latest update on U-2. Doesn't their tour start in my neck of the woods sometime later this month?.....Really wanted to see them this go around but just can't get passed all the hassle of trying to get tickets, going to L.A., traffic, parking, etc., etc. Guess I have been living in the Shire too long.....

Dave said...

So Julie, is McCormack a true friend of Bono writing his memoir or is this a fictional work? Not that it makes all that big a difference to me. But it would be interesting to hear the story of Bono and U2 from someone who saw it develop from the early days until now. To think what that would be like, to have one of my ol' buddies blow up into becoming such a famous, iconic personality... I am seriously trying to not add any more books to my pile for awhile, since I have such a backlog, but this sounds like an engaging tale.

Speaking of concerts, I just heard that Oasis and Jet are coming to Detroit in June, so my twin sons and I are thinking about checking that show out. Like Bilbo, I have most likely resigned to not seeing U2 unless the clouds part miraculously and I get a reasonably open shot at buying tix without having to structure my life around the mere attempt to do so.

julieunplugged said...

U2's tour start in CA in San diego on 3/28 and moves north through California from there. I have a hunch it will be easier to see them in the third leg of the tour when they play 30 dates.

Dave, yes, Neil is a genuine real life friend of Bono's. They form bands at the same time at Mt. Temple High school (U2's origins) and play similar gigs (sometimes the same venue!).

Neil goes on to write for Hot Press (Irish rock rag) and is a terrific writer. With your love of the music world, I think you'd get a kick out of this yarn. It's easy to read and moves quickly. And Neil has that Irish wit that leaves me laughing out loud. :)