Arguably the greatest rock band on the planet, U2 now offers the definitive version of how it got there. U2byU2
(HarperCollins, $39.95) has 1,500-plus images and a rich band autobiography culled from 150 hours of interviews with singer Bono, guitarist The Edge, bassist Adam Clayton, drummer Larry Mullen Jr. and manager Paul McGuinness.
"We felt it was important to get the story on record, but that's not to say we're not going to go on a good many more years," he says. "This is the story thus far."
In this exclusive excerpt, the band has decamped to Berlin to record Achtung Baby
. They arrive Oct. 3, 1990, the official day of Germany's reunification, but soon realize their vision and brotherhood is anything but unified. Edge:
We went to Berlin with a lot of ideas but most of them were very skeletal and undeveloped. They were directions and hints that we hoped would become fully-fledged songs when we kicked them around in rehearsal but unfortunately, since a lot of them started out from unusual origins, sometimes drum machines, sometimes just strange sounds, they didn't sound very good when the band tried to play them. There was an awkward phase where things weren't working out and there were two ways to analyze it. Adam and Larry were convinced the song ideas were crap and Bono and I thought the fault lay with the band. Larry:
I thought this might be the end. We had been through tough circumstances before and found our way out, but it was always outside influences that we were fighting against. For the first time ever it felt like the cracks were within. And that was a much more difficult situation to negotiate. Bono:
What we thought were just hairline cracks that could be easily fixed turned out to be more serious, the walls needed underpinning, we had to put down new foundations or the house would fall down. In fact it was falling down all around us. We were running up hotel bills and we had professional people, the U2 crew, staring at our averageness and scratching their heads and wondering if maybe they'd have been better off working for Bruce Springsteen. We came face to face with our limitations as a group on a lot of levels, playing and songwriting. When you're at sea the smartest thing to do is to find some dry land as quick as possible. So I think Larry and Adam were just anxious: "Stop messing around with all this electronica, let's get back to doing what we do. Because all this experimental stuff isn't working very well, is it? And, by the way, Clockwork Orange
was (expletive)." There was a bit of that going on. "Did somebody say we were a rock band?" As you were walking down the corridor, you'd overhear that kind of remark. Larry:
In the past, when we were writing music, we would be in a room playing and the discussion was always along the lines of: "I don't like that particular part, try something else." There seemed to be consensus. We were starting on a blank page to a large degree, perhaps with just a guitar or melody or a riff or a vocal idea. So we started at the same place and ended at the same place. This time around, it wasn't a blank page. The parameters were already set, by drum machines, loops and synth pads. And it's kind of hard to embrace new rules when you don't understand them. Adam:
We weren't getting anywhere until One
fell into our laps and suddenly we hit a groove. Bono:
Maybe "great" is what happens when "very good" gets tired. We kind of out-stared the average, it blinked first and One
I was trying to take one of our half finished ideas and give it some inspiration. I went off into another room and developed a couple of different chord progressions, neither of which actually worked where they were supposed to. (Producer) Danny Lanois said, "What happens if you play both of them, one into the next?" I was playing acoustic guitar and Bono got on the microphone and started improvising melodies and within a few minutes we had the bones of the song, melodically, structurally and even lyrically. Bono:
The words just fell out of the sky, a gift. We had a request from the Dalai Lama to participate in a festival called Oneness. I love and respect the Dalai Lama but there was something a little bit "let's hold hands" hippie to me about this particular event. I am in awe of the Tibetan position on non-violence but this event didn't strike a chord. I sent him back a note saying, "One — but not the same." Edge:
At the instant we were recording it, I got a very strong sense of its power. We were all playing together in the big recording room, a huge, eerie ballroom full of ghosts of the war, and everything fell into place. It was a reassuring moment, when everyone finally went, "Oh, great, this album has started." It's the reason you're in a band — when the spirit descends upon you and you create something truly affecting
is an incredibly moving piece. It hits straight into the heart. Larry:
It was similar to the way we had recorded in the past. In some ways it was a sign that the blank page approach was still valid. Everything was not broken.