The U2 Reader

U2 Reader: Four Decades of Commentary

Hank Bordowitz (Popup LinkPhoto) beschreibt U2s Geschichte von den Anfängen bis hin zum Superbowl-Auftritt 2002 anhand von sowohl positiven als auch kritischen Zeitungsartikeln und Reviews aus bedeutenden Presseorganen wie dem "SPIN"-Magazin, der "The New York Times" u.a. Daneben enthält das Buch auch eine Gastbeiträge von prominenten Zeitgenossen wie Billy Corgan, Salman Rushdie, Moby und anderen. Das Buch bietet somit eine gute U2-Chronologie auf Grundlage von Zeitungsartikeln abseits des "Rolling Stone" oder "NME", welche bewusst ausgelassen wurden.

Hank Bordowitz
U2 Reader: Four Decades Of Commentary
Erscheinungsdatum: 7. Juni 2003
Ca. 420 Seiten, Paperback
ISBN: 063403832X

Online-Bestellung (ca. 17 Euro): Amazon.de, Amazon.com

U2tour.de Interview mit Hank Bordowitz

U2tour.de hatte die Möglichkeit, mit Hank Bordowitz ein exklusives Interview zum Release seines Buches zu führen, welches wir Euch nun stolz präsentieren können. Natürlich haben wir auch Fragen zu Themen abseits des Buches gestellt, die jeden U2-Fan interessieren werden.

Link: Interview in deutscher Sprache

For a start a question concerning the release date of the book. At the moment it is rather quiet around U2, and their next album is not expected until spring next year. Why is the book released now, rather than wait until and exploit the hype that will surround the release of the next album?
Well, while we do hope to sell lots of books, it will be nice to sell them on their own merit, as opposed to piggybacking them on a U2 project. But in truth it was just the way things shook out. The contract for the book was signed, the book was done, it was on the release schedule, so it came out. I'm going to keep an eye out and see if there's a spike in sales when the next U2 project comes out. If, as the rumors and rumblings I'm hearing are true, and it comes out during the next Christmas season, this book would just about be building up a head of steam.
How long did it take to write the book, and how many articles did you have to read to prepare it?
It took about a month on and off just to sort through articles for the proposal. Then I worked on the book for about six months for the first manuscript, did a couple of revisions and went through the proofs. Perhaps nine months (part time) all told.
What were the criteria for selecting the articles you chose?
Great question.
  1. I tried to avoid using any one writer more than twice.
  2. Since Rolling Stone, Hot Press and NME have all put out U2 books, I avoided anything that came from those magazines.
  3. I had to be able to get permission to use the piece.
  4. The articles had to be the best (fitting those criteria) that articulated the particular place in the book they occupied; the Ethlie Anne Vare piece beautifully captures the early days of U2 as pin-ups, for example.
Some of them were no-brainers. I was ecstatic to find the piece announcing the battle of the band winners that opens the Reader. I was overjoyed when Salman Rushdie, Billie Corgan, Moby and my old buddy Bruce Hornsby gave me permission to use their work in the book.
In your book also Moby, Billy Corgan and Bruce Hornsby, amongst others, have their say about U2. Do you think that musicians are good or rather bad critics of other musicians?
As a former recording artist, I'd say musicians are best equipped to comment on other artists, particularly if they have the artistic integrity of Moby, Billy Corgan and Bruce Hornsby. We (not that I put myself in any of their leagues) know about the creative process of making music, of working on a recording, of writing songs. We know when another musician is being lazy and when they are showing sparks of genius. The Billy Corgan piece is an excellent example, a couple of peers talking about the creative process. It's one of the pieces I'm happiest to have in the book and one of the first I selected when I was working on the proposal. The whole "Among Peers" idea was built around that piece.
While writing the book, did you try to contact U2 about it? Are they aware of your project and the book?
As a matter of fact, very shortly after signing the contract I met with Bono and U2's manager Paul McGuinness at a music industry function. I told Bono, but he was very preoccupied at the time. I spoke for a time with Paul and agreed to get him a copy when it was done. As soon as we had a PDF file of the book, I brought it to the Principle Management offices in New York. On the one hand, I haven't heard back. On the other, I haven't heard from their attorneys.
Would you call yourself a U2 fan? If so, how many of their shows did you attend, and can you tell us what was your personal highlight with, or involving the band?
As much as I'm a fan of any band, I'm a fan of U2. As a professional critic, I need to retain a certain level of objectivity, but any band that can maintain the level of excellence and creativity that U2 have for as long as they have, earns my admiration.
They won me over early. I saw their second New York performance, at the end of their first US tour, which started and ended in New York. The buzz was phenomenal. They opened the tour at the 1500 capacity Ritz and ended it at the 3500 capacity Palladium. Both venues were sold out. Next tour, they were playing Radio City. The Palladium show blew me a way. It felt like people seeing The Who must have felt when after seeing them at the Hammersmith in 1965, like they'd seen something brand new, life altering.
You are certainly not an unknown in the music business, and have already published books on Bruce Springsteen and CCR. It is probably difficult to compare the writing of these books, but was there maybe something that made your work on the 'U2 Reader' special in comparison to your earlier books?
Well, the Springsteen book doesn't come out until next spring, but it is done. I have, however, written about music for the last 25 years or so, so I guess I have some reputation. The first, and most obvious difference is the U2 book is a reader, where I compiled other people's work and shaped it into a (hopefully) sensible and revealing package. The CCR book and the U2 Book are special in their own ways. The CCR book was the first serious book length look at the band and the aftermath.

The Reader is something different. First of all, there are many books about U2 (and nearly as many just about Bono). I wanted to be comprehensive with other people's work, let both the writers (many of whom are friends and acquaintances) shine as well as the subject. It offered me an opportunity to work with John Swenson, again. John is one of the first people to pay me to write on a national level. I called him to see if he wanted to write the forward to the book and he said, "Yes! U2 is actually a rock band I have something to say about." So that was unspeakably cool.

Further, it allowed me to show a much bigger picture a small piece at a time. The book can be read piecemeal, but if you read the first half of the book in order, it offers a chronology of the band that one voice probably couldn't present. Then the chapters dealing with particular aspects of the band, like their spirituality, their (mostly Bono's) politics, how their peers see them and how they do business offer very specific, detailed glimpses of that. And there are reviews of every album and tour from different perspectives. I think it offers a pretty well rounded picture of the group when taken as a whole.
What was it that made you decide to write a book about U2?
My publisher asked me to put together a proposal for a compilation book. They planning a series of "readers," and wanted mine first. When I thought about what band would lend itself well to this treatment (they had to have history and colorful press coverage) and be interesting enough to sustain me for the months that it takes to put a book together, U2 topped the list. So, I did the initial research, which only served to confirm this when I collected pieces like the Billy Corgan interview among others. So, I wrote the proposal, my publisher liked it and asked me to do the book. That, contrary to more romantic notions, is how books (especially non-fiction books) get done.
Looking at U2's career, when - according to your opinion - did it reach its peak(s), and when its low(s), where there was a real danger of the band splitting up?
Actually two separate questions: I don't think of U2 in terms of real peaks, more like waves. Boy was a high point just because of its energy and the revolutionary newness of the sound. The Joshua Tree represented a real maturation of their playing, writing and use of the studio. Achtung Baby reenergized the band and found them taking the kind of chances a band that sold ten million copies of a previous album often would avoid. All That You Can't Leave Behind feels like a band finding it's level, taking a position for the long haul. Of course, I could be totally wrong about the last one. Who would have anticipated Achtung Baby after all?

The only time the band was publicly in danger of breaking up (that I know of) was just before October. At that time Bono's briefcase full of lyrics had disappeared, the religious fellowship that Bono, the Edge and Larry Mullen belonged to wondered if you could be a secular recording artist and still retain your religious convictions. When the fellowship decided no, the band had to decide whether they wanted to continue with the larger fellowship or stick with the smaller one that was U2. That is the only time they cop to ever contemplating breaking up.
Thinking of all the U2 songs you know, which one still seems puzzling or mysterious to you, and why?
I guess I'm still trying to get to the bottom of "The Fly" and "Lemon". They both seem so pointlessly intriguing - so unlike most of the band's songs which tend toward more complicated and symbolic imagery. I'm also still trying to figure out how Edge managed to do such amazing things with echo at 18 years old.
Bono is currently very politically active, which of course slows down work on U2's next album. Some fans already critically remark that sometimes Bono is more of a politician than a rock musician, and should work in the studio rather than on talk shows. What is your take on this situation? Do you think that, in the long run, Bono will enter politics?
I actually find Bono's causes admirable and his anything-it-takes approach - reading bible with Jesse Helms, hob-nobbing with economists, trading his shades for rosary beads with the Pope -- parallels the band in interesting ways. When U2 got started, Bono frequently stated that they wanted to become the biggest band of all time. And to his credit, they did a pretty good job of it on any number of levels. He seems to undertake his political causes with the same kind of vigor. In that sense he's already entered politics, but in a much more influential way than any elected official could. He's become a very high visibility activist. How many people would be as aware of Jubilee 2000 if it weren't for him?
The next album is expected to go in the stylistic direction of 'All that you can't leave behind', but decisively heavier, more rocking. What else can we expect from U2 in the coming years? How long, do you think, will U2 be around?
I think U2 will be around as long as they have something to say and people to listen to it. I hope they have the good grace to bag it before they get boring. I suspect they will, as they seem to have a low tolerance for boredom. To that end, the one thing I have learned to expect from U2 is the unexpected, the element of surprise and discovery that informs their best work.
Comparing U2 with other bands, what is it that makes U2 so unique, and what is the recipe for their success, after 20 years with the same band members?
The people are the same but the personalities have continued to evolve. What makes them so outstanding is the absolutely fearless way they take chances. Sometimes they don't work - Rattle and Hum, as I see it, exemplifies that - but even in those cases they grow, expand and innovate off of those experiences. Certainly the Edge is a far better musician than he was 23 years ago, but more important, he never turned into a self-satisfied musician. U2 seem driven to push the envelope as far as their listeners will allow them and then just a little further. To paraphrase one of their biggest hits, in almost every way - musically, lyrically, in terms of performance - they still haven't found what they're looking for.
What projects have you got planned for the future?
I'm currently working on four books:
  1. I just got the first edits on The Bruce Springsteen Scrapbook, which I'll be correcting and fixing up over the next week or so.
  2. Turning Points of Rock and Roll traces the major transitions in rock from the invention of the stereo through the invention of the electric guitar, Woodstock and MP3s.
  3. Noise of the World presents non-western indigenous artists and some of their western avatars in their own words, an effort to debunk the myth of the field recording. Most contemporary non-western recording artists are every bit as sophisticated as their western contemporaries, some even more as they try to balance tradition and technology, modern needs with historic sounds.
  4. Finally, I just agreed to do another reader, this one on Bob Marley (who Bono inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, by the way).
I also have proposals for five other books that my agent - a man who has been responsible for more great rock and roll literature than any one person on this planet - is working on currently. You'll be hearing more from me soon.
You used to work for the 'Playboy'. What exactly was your job there?
I've been a contributor to Playboy for the last seven or eight years. Never actually worked there - I freelance for them as I do for many other places, like Launch/Yahoo Music, several guitar oriented magazines, a couple of other US "men's" magazines and Grammy.com. I also program a radio station for Music Choice and teach about the music business and journalism at Baruch College in New York.
Which band, if any, will achieve the same status and reputation that U2 hold now?
I tend to agree with what John Swenson says in the forward: The way the music business is going and they way rock is going, U2 may be the last great rock band. I see the trend in rock becoming smaller, but in many ways more interesting. Certainly, it does not get the kind of corporate support that it took to grow a band like U2. In these days, a band that sold as few records as U2 did with Boy and October initially would not get the chance to make their War. It takes a while to develop artists, and as things stand now, sadly few are given that opportunity.
Is there something you would like to say to the many U2 fans who visit our site daily, and will buy your book?
First of all, thank you. I really hope you enjoy the book and find it interesting, revealing and useful in furthering your understanding of this very complex band. I'd be really curious to hear for anyone who read the book or has questions about. Please e-mail me (hank@bordowitz.com). I promise to get back to you eventually, though I often get backed up in my mail. I do read and keep every letter readers send me. You can also check out my website, www.bordowitz.com and subscribe to my monthly newsletter, Dancing about Architecture. I love to hear from you, so don't be shy! Only, please write me in English. Miene Deutsch nicht ist gut.
U2tour.de bedankt sich bei Hank Bordowitz für das Interview und seine freundliche Unterstützung, was Informationen über das Buch anbelangt. Interview: Hans-Jürgen Becker, U2tour.de
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