Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Killing Bono

I’ve been reading Killing Bono by Neil McCormick, something I picked up on Sunday at a Barnes and Noble where I was trying to escape the heat for a few minutes. It’s an interesting little book that most people will see as a sort of first-person biography of the band U2. McCormick, now a music critic, grew up in Ireland with Bono and crew as his classmates, and he is still good pals with the quartet. But that’s not what attracted me to the book. Because what this guy did was told the tale of how he was so close to fame – in fact, he even jammed with the band a few times back when they were trying to figure out who played what, and eventually went off to leave the group, then called Feedback and playing shitty Beatles covers through Sears amplifiers or whatever. And it’s interesting to see not only that this guy had so many close brushes with what later became fame in his youth, but that he didn’t become madly famous for being the fifth U2er or whatever. When he didn’t gig with those guys, he got his own JcPenny bass and started his own shitty Beatles cover band, and although they played some second-rate gigs sixty miles out of town opening for a polka act or whatever, he never got the deal from Island or anything else. Instead, he worked a job at a crappy music weekly paper, pasting down headlines while crammed into a tiny office with a half-dozen other people. I really like the never-got-famous biographies, not of the bands who we now see on the cover of Billboard holding up gold albums, but the ones who really tried to get it going, and partied hard and slept on floors and didn’t do shit, and ended up selling insurance 20 years later. For some reason, that really gets me going, and makes me wish I had tried a little harder at getting a crap band going in high school so I could at least fake writing about it.

I have a pretty mixed opinion on U2, though. I first saw them back on MTV when that live video of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was played almost constantly, because they only had like 12 videos back then. I never got into the band that much, but got Joshua Tree when it came out, and was drawn to it, if anything, because the bass lines were incredibly easy to figure out. It wasn’t a great revelation or a best-ever sort of thing, just an album I liked, listened to for a few weeks, then filed back in with the rest of the CDs. The other main exposure I had to U2 before I got to college (where like everybody listened to them, as some kind of bridge to what was then called “alternative” rock) was that when I dated my first girlfriend, right before I left for school, we spent a lot of time parked in her car, for obvious reasons. And while I had all of this heavy metal shit in my tape deck, and she had all of this more punk-oriented stuff, I think two of the tapes we compromised on were Depeche Mode’s 101 and U2’s Rattle and Hum – both live albums. So I spent many an hour parked in dark areas of Elkhart listening to Bono sing “All Along the Watchtower” while I tried to figure out how to undo a bra strap.

Fast-forward about four years, and we get to one of the reasons I couldn’t stand U2 for years. This is simple: for whatever reason, there are highly impressionable girls who tend to lock onto U2 and make it their main infatuation in life, only listening to their songs and being in giggles about how dreamy The Edge or Bono were or whateverthefuck. And in 1993, I ended up dating one of them. And while we dated, it was not horrible – I mean, she wasn’t carving lyrics from October into her arm or anything, and she hadn’t planned any pilgrimages to Windmill Studios in Dublin, but it was still one of those minor things that tick you off.

And when she dumped me later, I really, REALLY hated U2, and became a real dick about it. You’d think Adam Clayton personally poured sugar in my car’s gas tank or something. This was further reinforced by the fact that after the relationship, I became heavily involved in the spoken word of Henry Rollins, who has a bit about how much he hates U2. So for years, I completely despised anything with The Edge’s jangly guitar and Bono’s vapid vocals.

For whatever reason, though, I ended up buying a copy of Achtung Baby after I moved away from college, maybe 4 or 5 years after it came out. Part of it was that the girl that I based a character on in Summer Rain was totally in love with that album when we were friends, and so maybe it was research. Also, the ex-girlfriend had once sent me a mix tape, and in some sort of horrible nostalgia, I was trying to track down all of the songs on it, one of which was “Acrobat”. And yeah, I ended up adding that album to my list of guilty pleasures, because it’s so enjoyable. It’s almost as simple as their earlier things, but they built out such a thick sound with so many things in the background. It sounds more natural than synthetic, but song to song varies so much, and the little buzzes and beats make it seem so much more filling. And one of the reasons I like the album so much is that it’s got such a happy sound to it, just this total, poppy, it’s-a-wonderful-world sound to it. But then you really drill down into each song, and some of them are so insanely personal, rather than the usual blanket political/spiritual messages, that it’s so god damned depressing, and that totally hits the spot sometime.

Of course, the story ends here, with no great revelation about how I’m now a lifetime U2 fan. Honestly, I haven’t picked up a single album of theirs other than those two, and I don’t feel a need to. I think the moral of that story is that I have so many of these damn guilty pleasures, but it doesn’t mean I need to rush out and buy someone’s complete discography plus singles and bootlegs and SACDs just because one of the CDs has a certain meaning from a certain time.

It’s still hot, by the way, which is why I keep writing these driveling musical commentaries. It’s easier than trying to work on short stories, and far more interesting than a thousand words on what kind of bottled water I drank today. Or is it?