U2: Stories Behind the Songs
I liked this book after finishing it. But it was different than I imaged. I imaged Stokes sitting down with Bono and The Edge: reviewing every word on every song. Obviously that could never happen. Instead, Stokes reviewed the substantial press and interviews for each album and interviewed members of the extended ‘U2 Family’, that includes: band members, friends, family, and support staff to get their take. What I came away with is the songs are either slapped together at the last second, especially the lyrics, or stew for years as different ideas are tried. The band also relies heavily on Steve Lilywhite, Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois, and a host of other ‘producers’ to help arrange the songs. The big three: Steve, Brian, and Daniel have the patience to stick with the process. Other producers have not been. Even these three don’t work on a single song. On a typical song The Edge (occasionally another band member) will come up with something. Brian will take it and work it over with some ‘treatment‘ often re-writing it. Daniel adds his parts while working with the band. Steve often comes last, remixing it back toward something more commercial. It’s a long painful process. I’m surprised they’ve lasted this long. They must really like each other and give each other a lot of space.
I’m reminded of a ZZ Top interview where Billy Gibbons jokingly said, “Our lyrics about cars are actually about sex, and the lyrics about sex are actually about cars.” Bono lyrics can be abstract, but once you read about the ‘back story‘ they make sense. I was a little surprised how many lyrics directly or indirectly deal with Ali, Bono’s wife. It took me a long time to read this book, because I got the idea to listen to each album as I was reading the book. So I would block out an hour, play the album, read along, and then if I had any questions I would look it up on U2.com or wikipedia.com.
Four Irish boys searching high and low. For the lyrics. Gone. Three years to write “Boy”. Now, 12 months’ worth of hard labour stolen- with only 12 weeks left to write the follow-up. Nervous breakdown time. Things were fraught. Bono, Larry, The Edge heavily into Shalom Christianity. Adam, Isolated. Touring taking its toll. The band almost falling apart. -page 22
A Sort Of Homecoming
A lot of rock ‘n’ roll is banal ideas well executed, Bono reflects. Whereas I think a lot of what we do is really very interesting ideas, badly executed. ‘A Sort of Homecoming’ involved a lot of very interesting ideas well executed. It was a powerful opening to the album. -page 49
Rattle And Hum
The movie “Rattle And Hum” was Paul McGuinnes’ idea. Whatever he had in mind, the band would inevitably screw it around. Conceptualize it. Complicate it. Make it as difficult as possible. And then make it more difficult again. So they did. Business as usual. -page 74
During the run up to Achtung Baby, U2 had been listening to KMFDM, Sonic Youth, Young Gods, My Bloody Valentine.. They’d also developed an interest in Roy Orbison, Scott Walker, and Jacques Brel – in torch songs. -page 104 [I always wondered where the antecedents to “Achtung Baby” came from.]
It’s a beautiful day! Edge reached for the Explorer- the Gibson guitar he’d used during U2’s formative years- and the sound was complete. -page 135
And Aung Sang Suu Kyi’s journey becomes a point of departure in itself, a springboard towards the realization that in the end we’re all going to have to leave the baggage that we create or accumulate behind, as we undertake the final journey to whatever home awaits us in the beyond. -page 139
At 21, Nolan produced a powerful autobiographical novel, “Under The Eye Of The Clock”, that won the Whitbread Prize. Hard to believe! Such an unprecedented outpouring of intelligence and emotion from someone who hadn’t been able to speak or walk or even more independently. Ys, there was a song in it, alright. -page 152
No Line On The Horizon
It began with Larry. This time his drums served as the notice board, the rhythm he was toying with his statement of intent. It was a kind of Bo Diddley groove and he was nailing it down good. Eno, who was positioned in the station beside him in the studio, sampled it. Now they had a bedrock. The Edge began to improvise over that. It was coming together, but what did it sound like? Space age rock ‘n’ roll, Lanois said. Edge, who had become acquainted with Benjamin Curtis, ex- of Secret Machines and now with School Of Seven Bells – the man who got him into Death By Audio’s latest fuzz pedal – knew exactly what Danny meant and went for it. When he heard the track later, Curtis couldn’t believe what the U2 guitarist had done with the pedal on ‘No Line…’ churning out a grinding rhythm guitar part that Edge himself conceptualized as 21st Century distortion. Eno, in his element, added Germanic Krautrock touches. The vocal happened early: Bono had lyrics sketched out that seemed to suit. “In my head it happens over 24 hours,” he told Q magazine. when he gets up at six in the morning to work in his Killiney home, Bono looks out the window across Dublin Bay, over the Irish sea. It’s a privileged view and an inspiring one. At times the sea and the sky blend in an otherworldly way that seems to erase the horizon, leaving a vision of infinity, a sense of the immense possibilities of life. But its Zen like qualities notwithstanding, more than anything else ‘No Line On The Horizon’ is a love song to Ali, for whom the sea becomes a metaphor. “One day she s still, the next she swells/ You can hear the universe in her sea shells.” oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh-o… -page 165 [An average song review. Some are slightly shorter and some are longer.. up to three pages.]
I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight
“Baby, baby, Baby/ I know I’m not alone” -confirms, it is essentially a Bono and Ali love song boasting at title that makes you think: it’s so right that it’s hard to believe that no one ever wrote it before… -page 169 [Except Prince did in 1983: “Lets Go Crazy”]