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Trace the history of U2

An epic, shoot-for-the-moon band like U2 — with a lead singer who actually believes that rock ’n’ roll can, if not save the world, then at least change it for the better — deserves a book as dense with detail and insight as Matt McGee’s.

Author Matt McGee reveals how he compiled the book in this interview and shares some of his findings from “U2 — A Diary.”

You assembled much of the material for this book through your blog, with fans helping out with research and information and photos. When you established the blog, did you envision a book would come out of it?

Matt McGee: Well, the book actually came before the blog. I had been chatting with the publisher, Omnibus Press, for a while about doing “U2 — A Diary.” As soon as it became pretty obvious that we were going to go ahead with the book, I registered the domain and started planning how I wanted to use the blog to support the book — the researching, writing, promotion and everything related to it. And now that the book is published, I can also use it to invite readers to send in any extra information they have about what’s in the book, or events and facts that I may have overlooked.

What were some things you learned from their input that you didn’t know about the band before beginning this project?

MM: The fans were really great about helping out. Whenever I’d put out a call for help, I always had replies from fans — sometimes within an hour or two, sometimes a day or two. And they were helping with some very detailed questions. For example, I knew that [U2 drummer] Larry [Mullen] had marched in an anti-war rally in Dublin in 2003 but had no idea when. As soon as I asked, a couple fans dug up the exact date for me. Another example would be the date of the video shoot that Bono did with Frank Sinatra for “I’ve Got You (Under My Skin).” I had one source saying that happened in October 1993, but after asking on the blog, fans pointed me toward more reliable info with the exact date: Nov. 5, 1993. They also helped iron out a lot of inconsistencies with early concert dates and things like that.

There are some key stories in the band’s history that you tackle in this book. Let’s take on a couple of them. What happened during Bono’s visit to Central America in 1986 that helped shape The Joshua Tree?

MM: Two songs specifically came from that trip: “Bullet the Blue Sky” and “Mothers of the Disappeared.”

But, to me, what’s really interesting about it is the timing. I didn’t know that Bono and [his wife] Ali arrived in Central America immediately after spending several days in New Zealand at the funeral of Greg Carroll, Bono’s personal assistant, who had died in a motorcycle accident in Dublin. His death had devastated the whole U2 organization, but especially Bono and Ali — they were very close to Carroll. So, with that in mind, you get a better sense of the mental and emotional state they were in when they arrived in Central America and spent almost two weeks there.

What did you find was the major reason for the difficulty U2 had in recording the Pop album?

MM: I think they pretty much lost their sense of identity, and their sense of direction. There’s a quote in the book where Bono says the band “went out a lot” while they were trying to record Pop, that they spent a lot of time out on the town — “living it large” is the phrase Bono uses. They’ve always been a band that absorbs the things around them, but I think in this case they went overboard. And then, making it worse, Universal/Polygram was desperate for the record to come out in time to save their 1996 financials. It was very tense. In the book, Marc Marot, an Island Records guy since the 1980s who was part of Universal/Polygram, says he was “under enormous pressure from above to get the record out.” But, he couldn’t force U2 to