A Rebuttle (Rattle and Humm) Review of U2: THE DEFINITIVE BIOGRAPHY by John Jobling
by Kevin Stoda, a U-2 Fan for 4 or more decades
Should a biography of anyone really try to call itself definitive? Is even attempting to write a biography on U2 something doable?
Jobling, John (2014), U2: The Definitive Biography, New York: St. Martins Press, pp. 372.
I just finished reading a scathing review of John Jobling's so-called Definitive Work on the band U2 and its members. That review was written by Scott Calhoun, who wrote that Jobling's book was "not definitive" about many things concerning the band and that it did not bring up anything new--i.e. nothing new for him and his usual music-business-oriented audience. Calhoun states that Jobling was "not definitive" in providing resources, not detailed in properly consistently making propoer citations of interviews in its bibliography, not definitive in resonating with all kinds of audiences, not a definitive history period, etc.
While many points of Calhoun's may appear valid at-face--value, Calhoun seems to be missing the main point of any-such-biography: Guys like me don't pick up a 372-page book on any Rock Band to try and really expect to get a definitive work on that group. Fifty-three year olds, like me, pick up such a book to brush up on a long mutual history with the U2 band (and its members) and renew nostalgia for a phenomena that has been echoing through our ears, eyes, and experiences on Earth since we were teens.
Guys like me... we have long since moved on with our lives and appreciate being brought a bit up on what we have missed along the way.
What we expect of such a cursory biography concerning 4 different human beings and a monster of an entity called U2 is that the biography be presented as a balanced story of U2 (and its members' various escapades) over a 4 to 5 decade period in a manner that both flatters and fairly critiques our heroes. We expect to see some worts and enjoy the band's successes and worry about their excesses, but in such a biography we do not really expect a detailed inside story--as Calhoun hoped for in his reading of the title of Jobling's work.
I expect--as a fifty-something fan and critique of U2-- that Jobling should succeed in presenting a coherent narration in his work and expand my personal understanding of a group that I consider to have mad a phenomenal impression on me and many on this planet Earth.
Interestingly, even Calhoun, picks up the main threads where Jobling has succeeded so well in throughout this so-called "definitive" work on U2--namely, Jobling is good at providing a thematic review of the life of U2 as a band and as individuals co-existing in a globe of media, music, hype, wealth, superstar craziness, and you-can-imagine-what-else (from sin to salvation, from inspiration to disappointment, from bad education to great education in a world of scammers and schemers).
Jobling's final chapter, entitled THE WRONG COMPROMISE, is an important piece of his book and this very chapter is, in fact, directly lifted up by Calhoun who writes:
"The last words of the book's last chapter, 'The Wrong Compromise,' are given to [cited as coming from] journalists Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis, who've written critically of the band before. They cement the theme of Jobling's biography and parse what he must want his readers to remember as the definition of U2. Kot says, 'Young bands view U2 with a lot of skepticism. They may admire them for their money and fame, but U2 is no longer the model of how to succeed in a vile business without selling your soul.' DeRogatis adds, 'They've become this giant megacorporation that needs to sustain itself. ... There are elements of the band that genuinely care for their fans, but I'm sorry, you play these enormous stadiums with a company like you're working with, Live Nation, and people get screwed. ... [Musically] had the band ended at Pop, they still would have been perceived as going out on top, because they were at least challenging themselves up to the end. ... It is the end of the U2 story. But we're probably doomed to ten more years of them because of Live Nation. If it didn't matter, it wouldn't be so heartbreaking. But to see bands like U2 become what they once hated and operated in opposition to, it really is heartbreaking.'"
Of the many criticisms of the band shared by Jobling is that like many singers before him, Bono did not take care of his throat and voice as he might have done had he been classically trained. However, it must also be said that Bono from early on also physically abused himself by doing fairly unhealthy or dangerous tricks on and off stage that led to back pains and other unnecessary stress on his own often over-driven system.
Adam too is particularly noted for his excessive lifestyle, and the band often pushed itself too hard early on its desire to gain attention for themselves, their causes, and messages. All this overwork led to the best contract a rock band had ever received from any record label, i.e. Island Records. (Jobling states that not even The Beatles were able to have such a sweetheart deal protecting the band's property rights and their own right to creativity in production. This creative license worked well for the band in the 1990s, but since Pop came out in 1997 we have not heard much experimentation or revision.)