Neil McCormick: U2 Academic Conference

The following is a recap/overview of Neil McCormick’s presentation at The Hype and The Feedback, the first-ever academic conference about U2. It doesn’t reflect all of his presentation and many parts are paraphrased.

Neil McCormick on stageNeil begins with a photo gallery of his life with Bono and U2. Some very funny stuff, especially all the photos where his face was cropped out before publication!

U2 is the greatest band of our time, the most ambitious in how they attempt to move their sound forward and how they use their music for the greater good.

The two questions I get asked the most: What is U2 really like?, and Have they changed? Well yes, we’ve all changed. Actually, there’s a third question – Can you give this to Bono? And I say yes, but there’s a lot of stuff sitting on my shelf, packages I’ve never opened.

Bono, in his private life, is really very humble. But as soon as he has a new idea, he thinks it’s already done.

Larry is an interesting character. Bono says Larry’s the brakes in U2, and it’s good to have brakes when the rocket is veering off course. Bono is out front charging ahead, but Larry is in the back holding things back.

Larry is a very complex character masquerading as a simple one.

Adam is the wild card in U2. He’s a social lubricant, very polite and easy to be around. He’s into conflict resolution, which is good when you’re in a band like U2. He’s “the most untrained musician in a band of untrained musicians.”

The biggest dangers in rock and roll are what it does for your ego, but if you’re a conduit for a greater force, you can say, “It’s God’s ego,” and that’s a healthy thing.

Ireland in the 70s – there was a kind of void in the country. In the UK, Ireland was looked down upon as the dumb ones. Our films were censored; they would cut out sex scenes and cut out characters that were gonna have sex scenes.

And then there were the Troubles, and how they impacted our lives in Dublin … and the answer is, not at all. U2 were criticized when they wrote “Sunday Bloody Sunday” with the idea of, What would you southerners know about it?

Mt. Temple was a progressive oasis in Dublin. The only non-denominational school in Dublin, so it was free of the influences of the churches. You can’t overstate the importance of that school in U2’s development.

Donald Moxham and Albert Bradshaw were very important teachers at Mt. Temple. Sophie Shirley, too. Jack Heaslip was another very important teacher in our school. He saw Bono through his mini-breakdown when his mother died. Jack was a big part of helping him through that.

Sophie Shirley was the school’s religious teacher, but she was not dogmatic. At Mt. Temple there was a born again movement. Outside of the school, this would’ve been frowned upon. It was very loose and more expressive version of faith that was possible to access at Mt. Temple. Bono and Edge joined that, and Larry for a time, too.

You can’t understate the importance of their faith: First, it bound them together. The triumvirate found something in common. The second thing is how steady it kept them when they went out in the world. Rock and roll is all about temptation. A lot of bands go out on their first tour and come back absolutely shattered.

Ivan’s diary entry for 9/25/76: Joined band. Watched some TV. Did my homework. [Ed. note: Ivan is Neil’s brother, who was at the first band meeting in Larry’s kitchen.]

U2’s first gig at Mt. Temple — “I know they must’ve been crap, but my memory is that it was as good as last night’s show (in Raleigh).”

I saw Dik Evans last night – the 5th member when the band was Feedback and The Hype. He was very arty, never fit in.

Larry and Bono – their friendship is the underlying engine of U2. I think it was the deaths of their mothers that brought them together.

“For a band that is fantastically rich and famous, they keep working insanely hard.”

They have an Irish character, but there’s a very British side – more reserved but very practical. Adam is the most Anglo of the lot.

In Dublin in the ’70s, it was all about the past. U2 reacted to this by wanting to be all about the future. Talking about Lypton Village and Bono’s friends: “Gavin Friday and Guggi were two of the scariest boys I ever met.”

Neil watching U2

Neil starts to show some early U2/Bono lyrics and analyze (and poke fun) at them. “Street Missions,” “The Fool,” “Concentration Cramp” and others. Also shows a couple very early U2 videos from Irish TV (available on YouTube). Much laughter from the crowd!

Paul McGuinness’ vision was to break U2 in America instead of England, because U2’s passion would work better in the USA.

U2 are the same “tight unit” today that they’ve been for 30 years together. That’s unheard of in life, much less rock and roll.

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