And this brings me right back to the reason why I decided to write this series of stories for Music Voices. Reading a review of U2 in Australia, on the final leg of their Joshua Tree 30th anniversary tour, I decided to revisit the album which I hadn’t listened to for some time.
Then I thought maybe it would be a useful exercise to go back to my time as a music journalist and more specifically, what I wrote about U2. Then I should study the music they’ve made since then and try to reassess the band’s impact and current relevance.
It’s been an interesting exercise that has thrown up new angles of that time.
For example, in the course of my research I found a book called The U2 Reader, a compendium of articles from around the world on U2, spanning a period of 25 years. It was compiled and edited by Hank Bordowitz, writer, film maker and academic.
Imagine how surprised I was then to find an article written by me, in side this book.
The article is titled ‘Do You Know this Man?, although the magazine opted for a more provocative title on the cover with an ironic picture of the U2 singer without the ubiquitous wrap around shades he wore then and the question, BONO: Messiah or Bastard?
SELECT had asked me for a follow up U2 cover which they published in June 1993. Since Bono was someone everyone had an opinion about, I thought it might be interesting to trawl through those people, those who worked closely with him, other artists, personal friends, journalists. Many of them were personal friends of mine and some others — like Island Records’ Chris Blackwell, Jimmy Iovine and Brian Eno, among others — were found for me by the good offices and efforts of Principle Management and Regine Moylett. There are 36 contributions in all although Bordowitz has edited out the 36th contributor, myself.
He got the article, listed under ‘Copyrighted Material’, from EMap Metro, the publisher, I assume, since I have no recollection of ever being asked or informed by him or getting a complimentary copy of the book, as is custom. It’s a classic example of what was happening in journalism, in general, around the world at the time. Publishers, like Emap-Metro were asking writers to sign away the digital rights for their work and if they didn’t, their chances of working for those titles again would be curtailed.
It’s a harsh world out there and, to paraphrase The Beastie Boys, we had to fight for our right to party.
So in the absence of my contribution to that article in Mr Bordowitz’s book, I’d like to share it with you here.
“There are memories of a short, thick set youth on a tiny stage in a derelict, water-logged stable, singing his heart out on a Saturday afternoon in Dublin. The performance was all the more compelling for the singer’s total self possession in the face of loud opposition from some of the audience and his own amateur awkwardness and melody, pitch and tune defying style. I hated him.
“That’s what you did back then. A new band in Dublin was ‘fucking brilliant’ or ‘fucking awful.’ U2 were fucking awful, Bono was a ‘fucking eedgit’ and his pals were a bunch of bible bashing bollocks.My own mindless prejudice kept me away from their music after ‘Boy’ (U2’s first album). With that album, I thought, they had said what they could say, now they would disappear. They didn’t.
“In Dublin they are feared and admired. The awesome scale of their operation and its presence in this small city has always drawn fear and love, attraction, curiosity and repulsion. As the band has grown, so has their image. They sell newspapers now — the birth of Bono and Ali’s first child made front page news. Rock stars like them are our royal family.
“Two years ago, one week before the official release of Achtung Baby and shortly after Select’s preview of ‘the New U2’, I met him in the carpark of Mother Records’ Dublin dockland headquarters. We chatted for an hour. He spoke about what his life depended on — U2. He spoke about the need to explain and the fear of explaining.
“Caught in the web, Bono is an A-list star who just wants to be one of the lads. He never learned how and it’s too late to start now.”