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Killing Bono – by Neil McCormick

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“A true story,” says the subtitle. Well, Killing Bono already has one of the catchiest titles ever, so the true story bit and the banner – even above the title – about “Forward by Bono” makes this book an easy sell, if you are any kind of fan of U2 – heck, even if you hate them.

Neil McCormick had the misfortune (from the sound of it) of going to school (Dublin’s now-infamous Mount Temple Comprehensive) with the future members of U2. In fact, most histories of the band wrongly state that McCormick turned down the chance to be in U2, when in fact, it was his brother, Ivan. Their lives intersected, McCormick formed a band with his brother, and for a while, were just another fledging rock band coming out of Mount Temple. But U2 made it, and McCormick continued to struggle, for years, and years, and years and years.

If you want a book about the early days of U2, this isn’t what you want or need. Bono is in the book – the idea about “killing Bono” came from the man himself; McCormick frankly sees Bono as his doppelganger, getting every opportunity that he wanted and desired, while McCormick seems to meet with every bad break under the sun. Repeatedly. If you’re like me, you will probably put the book down at least once (if not more) because you are in disbelief that someone could possibly catch so many bad breaks.

At first, one feels nothing but sympathy for McCormick. He has the desire and a reasonable amount of talent, and simply seems to have no luck whatsoever. However, as the book goes on (and on, and on — and on), the sympathy fades into annoyance. It’s supposed to be a funny book – and at parts it is amusing – but after a while, the humor feels more like desperation.

Writing criticism of memoir is tricky, because it’s talking about someone’s life. It takes a fair amount of bravery to display one’s life openly for the world to ridicule. It is difficult to even try to say that something is a literary device – for example, the continual parade of failure absolutely wears the reader out. Of course, this is a true story, so it was very likely more than wearing on the subject of the book. However, the problem is the loss of sympathy that’s developed; it just stopped being interesting after a while. It wasn’t even sad any longer. If you want to learn about exactly how messed up the music business can be, by all means, this is one of the best stories ever; but if you’re a musician, don’t go near it; it will not be inspirational or cautionary, but rather, defeating.

And then there’s Bono. Of course, the book would really stop being interesting if he didn’t make enough appearances. It was hard to feel sorry for McCormick going to Wembley Stadium to see U2 – on the list, of course – and being allowed backstage. But then, he has to make sure to point out that he wasn’t allowed in back to see the band – except that we don’t know that he wouldn’t have been allowed in eventually, or if he had made arrangements in advance, or if he had just waited a moment or two longer, because – when he wasn’t allowed back with a gaggle of celebrities – he stormed out in a huff. It was difficult to feel any sympathy for McCormick there, or when he complained what a chore it was to raise Bono on the phone, or any of what – by his own admission, although he never tagged it as such – was simply jealousy on his part.

At the end of the day, Neil McCormick has had – and has – a life that many people would envy. It’s hard to feel any sympathy for him, and maybe that’s not what he was looking for. However, his purpose in writing this book is difficult to ascertain, and the reader will likely walk away feeling confused and unsettled, as he doesn’t end the book with any moral, message, or feeling of closure whatsoever.

But, of course, he’s still friends with Bono. Even though he makes him miserable.

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About Caryn Rose

  • I read the first handful of pages off Slate (I think that is where it was) and it looked really good. Though it was probably just the first chapter, I liked the voice of the writer. He writes almost as a victim of cruel chance, which is a neat and thoughtful perspective. To me, it isn’t about whether to root for the writer… but about how jealous you to would feel if your childhood pal was Bono and you were just a dude writing about him.

  • Just finished reading this, and enjoyed it very much. I like U2’s music, but I’m not a huge fan. Don’t own one of their albums, but after reading “Killing Bono,” I might buy a couple. (Neil is lending Bono more fame; the doppelganger effect continues!)

    I found the book engaging and amusing throughout. It’s easy to say “what is he complaining about?” but anyone who has the requisite super-sized ego to go for superstardom will not be happy if he doesn’t reach it. I think McCormick made this point.

    In my opinion, Neil went wrong by consciously writing pop songs for maximum appeal, then injecting serious lyrics so that they are considered art. I mean, a dance tune about child abuse? Art is what comes from your gut, and Neil seems to be getting in touch with that at the end of the book.

    This is a great tale of what goes wrong in the music business, with enough music figure gossip to keep the pages turning. I recommend it.

  • I enjoyed Neil’s book thoroughly and did feel there to be some resolution.

    However, the author does seem to continue to miss an important point: that he himself lacks Bono’s generosity of spirit which, it may be agreed, is a large part of how U2 became so productive, important and such a durable partnership. One wonders throughout whether McCormick’s bands failed because he was such an obnoxious (albeit self-acknowledged) git. Personal likeability IS important–and that’s something Bono has and no other member of U2 quite lacks.

    In the end, if the book were not basically readable and entertaining for its humor and some honest self-reflection (and some pretty scary music-biz anecdotes from post-Punk London), it would be not much more than an ‘I-knew-Bono’ piece worthy of a Murdock tabloid…which it stays decently above.

    An enjoyable read, all in.

  • brian

    I beg to differ on your “musicians stay away” statement in refference to “Killing Bono”. 99% of all pop musicians are less than what they would consider successful and might appreciate some comradery in they’re experiences of trying that hard but getting nowhere @ the hand of what has to either be simple bad luck or bad business practice.

    thanks for listening.


  • Arul Baliah

    My ex-girl friend gave me “Killing Bono” as her first gift, and she wrote on it the immortal words “I hope your dreams come true”. She bought it for me because she knew about my struggles with trying to be both a Christian and a rock musician (and my failures at both). She knew that U2 was a big inspiration to me. In reading the book there were many moments of tears and embarrassed laughter.

  • Brekhunov

    A good book. But I visited the links in the addendum to hear the author’s music, and it’s just not very good. I was reminded of a businessman’s comment in a book about how he promoted his mail order business by appearing on TV talk shows, and how he would be back stage with famous performers and up-and-comers. He said the biggest stars were often the most nervous before going on to sing or do a stand-up routine, and after they’d performed brilliantly, they’d return back stage and say they wished they’d done better. He said the ASPIRING performers would often show no nerves before they performed, and after they’d given a mediocre performance, they’d return back stage and say, “I did great!” And he never saw them become stars. McCormack reminds me of a mediocrity who nonetheless thinks he’s great…and that is perhaps one reason why he is a mediocrity. He has no self-criticsm capacity.

  • Sounds like the writing would have to be exceptionally strong, or the personal story compelling, for me to want to read this. I can’t help but think it’s an easy way to try and cash in: you know someone famous from back in the day, so why not write a book about it? Perhaps that’s too submissive… nice job on the review nonetheless!

  • Heather

    I found the book amusing. As a HUGE U2 fan I also found it very interesting – I loved reading about them when they were starting out. Thanks for sharing Neil!

  • Ken Bagwell

    Overall, a great book. McCormick is a very talented and funny author. However I can see the blogcritics points, but only in the first half of the book. This is a tale of the author’s personal maturity. His teen years (like all of us) were full of pain and awkwardness, but during his twenties, him and his brother started to figure things out. His story got more interesting at this point, with his tortured psyche, and the whole point of the book becoming much more clear. I started the book because of U2 and ended the book because of the author.