Many of us fantasize about having our name up in lights, the jet-set lifestyle, fame and fortune beyond wildest dreams, blah blah blah. The great majority of the population never reaches that pinnacle, yet survives and finds something better to do in the interim between daydreams. But for someone with an overdose of talent, drive and determination, just missing the big time can be spirit crushing. This, I would imagine, becomes even more frustrating when you're life-long friends with one of the most famous men in the world.
Neil McCormick, who in musical terms has had more unlucky breaks that I've had hot dinners, has coped with not achieving the star existence he envisioned for himself while watching his friend Bono become one of the biggest stars of the past quarter century. This wasn't an easy road for McCormick, he's struggled with his own jealousy as his career stalled and U2's endlessly ascended. All of this, and much more, is spelled out in 'I Was Bono's Doppelganger', which was published as 'Killing Bono' in the US.
The book isn't a biography of Bono: it's McCormick's own memoir. Bono, and the other members of U2, are major characters, but the story is entirely McCormick's, starting from his earliest childhood fixations on celebrity and ending up with him once again being faced with the possibility of "making it."
McCormick, now a columnist for the Daily Telegraph, originally saw himself becoming a famous actor. Those dreams were quickly dashed when, at a high school talent contest, his dramatic presentation was preceded by the debut of a new young band, a band that would become U2. The skit was cancelled and McCormick instead found a new path to superstardom, rock 'n' roll.
The story traces McCormick's 20 year attempt to make it in the music industry, failing depressingly and frustratingly. He shows how exhilarating and frustrating it can be - in fact, it seems like everyone gets famous but him.
Interspersed are plenty of anecdotes about the members of U2 (who McCormick met when they were all students at Mount Temple school). Their paths continually cross; McCormick's younger brother Ivan was at the first band meeting in Larry Mullen's kitchen, his older sister sang back-up with the band early on and his younger sister eventually worked with U2 in the studio. McCormick himself lost a girl to young Dave Evans (The Edge), was introduced to his first drummer by Larry Mullen, bought his first bass guitar from Adam Clayton and debated faith and religion with Bono - a discussion that continues to this day.
McCormick has been somewhat unkindly known as ''Ireland's most famous groupie''. He is now a known and accomplished journalist, and since giving up his pop star aspirations, is a fantastic writer and storyteller. Like so many of U2's associates, he is intelligent and witty, qualities that helped him create a book that is nearly impossible to put down. His one-liners, funny anecdotes and constant self-deprecating humour prevent this book from becoming one long, jealous rant. McCormick maintains his friendship with Bono throughout all his misery, and his sniping at the U2 singer as well as their constant conversations on fame, faith, and music form the spine run through the narrative. He depicts Bono is as a genuinely good hearted guy, as opposed to the (arguably well-earned) over-zealous preacher image that is frequently bandied about.
The only disadvantage I found here is that my sympathy with McCormick became stretched - I found myself wanting to shake the author occasionally, as he fails again and again to get where he wants to be. It is certainly brave to air your life's grievances in public, but this constant barrage of depression starts to grate, despite the humour. When questioned about this in an interview, the man himself says:
Thinking about myself as a young man was quite a painful experience. You are confronted with a thinner version of yourself - your naivety, shallowness, childish obsessions. Most of us tend to mythologize our past, but in order to write this book I had to peer objectively through that mythologizing and look for the truth; and it was a bit shocking at times! A lot of the book is about striving for but not achieving fame, but to write it I had to look at why I was so obsessed with fame. As a journalist I have had a lot of fun at the expense of Pop Idol and the hapless auditioning, and then writing the book I had this horrible moment when I realised I would probably have been at the top of the queue, waiting to be abused by Simon Cowell.
You don't need to be a U2 fan to enjoy this book. McCormick's themes of friendship, ambition, jealousy, acceptance and growing up are universal. That all this is explored using characters we know and admire just makes it all the more inviting, while the book's ending fits perfectly, being amusing and painful at the same time. If you want to learn about exactly how messed up the music business can be, and you're not an aspiring musician waiting to conquer the world after swallowing a good dose of realism, you should enjoy this one. Highly recommended. (Ignore the text below this review saying 'recommend: no' - for some reason, it won't change when I edit it.)
This hilarious read about living in someone else's shadow will have you in hysterics.