“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.