(10-19-2006) 'Everyone in the World Passed on U2 ...' -- U2.com* - U2 Feedback

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Old 10-19-2006, 02:27 PM   #1
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(10-19-2006) 'Everyone in the World Passed on U2 ...' -- U2.com*

"Everyone in the World Passed on U2 ..."

‘I was amazed at the quality and talent and ambition of these four musicians and yet we couldn’t get a record deal.’ Recalls Paul McGuinness, still slightly baffled all these years on. ‘Everyone in the world passed on U2 before we finally found a home at Island Records.’ The publication of ‘U2 by U2’ is a good moment for one of our occasional conversations with Paul, the one person outside the band who really does know the inside story. We met up with him while he was staying in London and kicked off by asking him about U2 books in general.

Read an extract from U2byU2 here.

There have been dozens of U2 books down the years but among the first to make an impact was ‘Unforgettable Fire’ by Eamonn Dunphy.

Paul McGuinness: I knew Eamonn as a journalist from his sportswriting and I remember suggesting he might write about my band. I first got him to cover the U2 show in Milton Keynes in 1985 and as we knew there were going to be U2 books whether we co-operated or not we decided to co-operate with him on his. There was some criticism of it - but it was not authorised, not controlled editorially by us and he was his own man. At the time that was much better than something that might have been regarded as hagiography, something that looked like an inside job.

In the nineties came one of the best U2 books, ‘At the End of the World’, by Bill Flanagan.

Paul McGuinness : It caught the band at a really interesting time with ZOO TV and the two albums, Achtung Baby and Zooropa. Again it wasn’t an inside job, he took his own view and expressed it. He got under their skin – and mine actually! There are a lot of appalling showbiz biographies where you want to slap the subject because you learn nothing that you don’t know already and it is all clearly directed by the subject but Bill’s book was excellent.

Is there a book about the band you turn to again and again?

Paul McGuinness: The book I really like is the one I use as a reference all the time, the ‘U2 Live’ volume originated by the Dutch writer Pimm Jal de la Parra, someone who did an enormous service in collecting that archive. It’s something we carry on the road and when we play a city that we first played 25 years ago it’s extremely useful to check up what venue we played in at the time… in Milwaukee or Berlin or wherever and what songs were in the set.

A more recent publication was ‘U2Show.

Paul McGuinness: Diana Scrimgeour produced a very fine book on the evolution of U2 as a live performance act. Her background was in touring trade journalism and she was well known to our production people. She was able to show how the shows are conceived, put together and themed with the current record. I like her book because it underlines how U2 have always had parallel careers as recording artists and as performers.

Are there particular rock’n’roll books that stand out for you?

I really enjoyed the Beatles Anthology and I probably read everything I can about them - when you look back at what they achieved in less than ten years it seems unbelievable. And for us working in Abbey Road recently it was impossible to forget that some of the best known songs were made in that room. Another great rock’n’roll book - perhaps one of the best - was called ‘STP: A Journey Through America With the Rolling Stones’ by Robert Greenfield which really describes what it was like on the road at the time with this band.

Presumably, with ‘U2 by U2’, the obvious question after so many other U2 books is whether you thought there was still a story to tell.

Paul McGuinness: Oh yes, there was no doubt about that… just reading the band’s accounts of the early days I find there is so much that I had forgotten and so much I didn’t even know. And this is the right time for this book because while these things are rarely too late they are often too early. In the course of a career as long as theirs myths become facts and in the course of a book like this you discover that things didn’t happen as you thought – stories get embellished and now the facts have been uncovered and so the book is a very truthful thing.

Did it bring particular things back to you?

Paul McGuinness: To take just one example, people forget – and I’m glad I have forgotten – just how difficult it was for us to get a record deal. I was amazed at the quality and talent and ambition of these four musicians and yet we couldn’t get a record deal. Everyone in the world passed on U2 before we finally found a home at Island Records.

And it was a very weak negotiating position to be in when we came to strike the deal – only one company in play! Through a combination of Island’s own culture and their lack of resources - they were really quite small - we had to become self-sufficient at a very early stage. We thought it was absolutely normal for a record company to get out of the way and let us do that but later I discovered this was quite unusual in the business, that record companies were much more prone to interfere and veto and generally get involved in things that we regard as our business and not theirs. What some would regard as inadequate support from Island allied to our own instinct for self-reliance made the early years the way they were – and I think if we had been with EMI or another major it would perhaps have been quite different. It also reminds me just how close to the bone we were financially, very close to the edge in the early years. Even in the early eighties we led a very hand to mouth existence as we were not immediately successful as a record selling act. ‘Boy’, for example, now regarded as a masterpiece, sold very poorly and the sales for ‘October’ were also very weak. Another label might have dropped us. Today a label would have dropped us.

You are in ‘U2 by U2’ throughout, albeit to a lesser extent?

Paul McGuinness: We were all very lucky to meet each other, I have no idea what I would have done had I not met them. No one could manage a poor band with no ambition into success but similarly there have been ambitious and talented groups that have failed to make a mark through band management. You need both and we have always recognised that in each other.

The book suggests that decision making can be a tortuous process because everyone has a view.

Paul McGuinness: It has always been long and arduous with us, that goes for the music, for what we do in business and the projects we undertake – with us there is no way through except by achieving consensus. This takes time when you have five strong-minded people and a band who, like me, know how the industry works and have always been determined not to be ripped off.

Funnily enough these days decision making in the studio is actually slowed down by the pace of technology - there is no need to make creative decisions when you can keep twenty seven or thirty seven mixes of a track. But then how can you choose between them? I’m not a musician so it’s probably not fair of me to criticize the process but I sometimes think that people in a recording studio after a few months can’t see the wood for the trees.

Looking back, does it seem strange that so few other acts have stayed the course?

Paul McGuinness: I remember we opened for Talking Heads at the Electric Ballroom and they were among a generation of groups like The Pretenders and The Police and The Clash, that we met and thought that they would be our competitors. Amazingly most became solo artists like Sting or David Byrne or Chrissie Hynde and that is a great pity because there is nothing as exciting as a rock band. There is something quite different about the look in the eye of a musician who is being employed by a boss - you look different on stage to someone who is performing his own group, you have a different way of standing, of being.

Can a band tell the truth about themselves in the way an independent author can?

Reading the book from end to end it is a very clear and accurate account of the way things have developed… all four members of the band have been incredibly frank about each other. We are all good friends but we are as good at staying out of each others way as we are at being together. I wouldn’t say it is the definitive account – it is their account and lots of people will write as they always have about U2 and interpret them in their own way, that comes with the job.

More on U2byU2 here.


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Old 10-19-2006, 06:48 PM   #2
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It's a great book. I'm surprised how fast I read it, and how frank they are about some of their experiences. Not a lot of surprises, but a great read nonetheless.
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