Deconstructing Larry: the creative tension behind U2
Irish Independent, January 14, 2009
On first glance it looked like the multi-million U2 bubble was finally about to burst. U.K. music magazine Q conducted four separate interviews with Bono, Larry Mullen, Adam Clayton and The Edge for their new issue.
So far so good -- except that when finally given a chance to air his world views at length, drummer Larry unleashed what seemed like a broadside on Bono, his politics and his seemingly non-stop humanitarian campaign work.
Larry is best known as a backroom boy, even though it was he who formed the band all those years ago in Mount Temple School on Dublin's Malahide Road. To begin with, it was his band and they all deferred to him. In fact, they apparently still do, to a certain extent.
Larry is the no-nonsense sticksman who prefers to keep his private life out of the spotlight, is extremely protective of his family and is usually the one to cry halt to the other three when things are getting a little bit out of hand.
Larry rarely gives interviews, with himself and bassist Adam Clayton seemingly happy to leave all that extra work to the loquacious frontman Bono and stoic guitar ace The Edge.
Therefore, it was all the more surprising to read Larry declaring that he believes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair should be tried as a war criminal over the Iraq invasion.
"Then I see him and Bono as pals, and I don't like that," he said. But according to Larry, Bono is well aware of the drummer's political views, which seem to be at the opposite end of the spectrum to his own.
And Larry went on to state how Bono is using his weight as a celebrity at great cost to himself and his family, to help other people.
"I don't think there's much of an upside to it for him, I don't think he chooses where he goes and who he meets. But as an outsider looking in, I cringe."
While the above statement could possibly be interpreted as an implication that Bono is neglecting his family and even the band, according to a close friend of the quartet, who are all now rapidly approaching 50, Larry's words were actually spoken in a tone of admiration for the singer.
Since they first came together over three decades ago, the four members of U2 have always enjoyed robust debates and discussions. They have been known to argue vehemently over music, tours, attitude and direction. Despite the high profile of Bono, they have somehow remained a democracy -- of some kind. And when somebody doesn't like something, they are quick to speak out, without caring about the consequences.
At the time of recording their last album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, in their Dublin studios on Hanover Quay, Larry exclaimed in an interview that Bono's constantly having to take off somewhere on his charity work was slowing down their progress in the studio. The only solution for them at the time was to continue to keep on working with the producers until he returned. Which he always did.
The friend said: "The relationship between the four of them is really like a marriage. Sometimes we've expected to see blood and guts on the floor when an argument kicks off at a meeting or in the recording studio.
"But I think that is what keeps them going. They're pulling in four directions all the time and it somehow seems to fuel their creativity, their purpose and their mission."
In the early days of U2, Bono and Larry were actually the closest in the band and used to bunk in together back in the days when sparse finances necessitated cheap twin rooms on the road instead of suites. And insiders believe that in some strange way they possibly still are the closest.
But they hardly ever socialise together now when they're not working. While Bono regularly hits the town with old childhood pals Guggi and Gavin Friday, and occasionally The Edge, Larry prefers to spend time in his retreat in Howth with his family.
While Bono, his wife Ali and pals are photographed every summer with supermodels and Hollywood superstars in the south of France, Larry and his family are never pictured with them. But then neither is Adam Clayton, who reportedly spends a lot of his time abroad with his current girlfriend whenever U2 take a break.
But the ever-so-slightly serious Larry revealed: "When I'm finished on a Friday, I'm straight home to see my family. That's my choice. So we spend less time together on a social level. We're still friends, but it's a lot more difficult now.
"It's not the four guys fighting the world. That doesn't exist anymore. The opportunity to just sit around the pub and have a pint and talk about nothing doesn't happen as often as it should."
And in a way Larry probably does miss the old days when they could pop around to the famous Dockers pub beside the old Windmill Lane studios for a pint, one of their famous sausage sandwiches and a quiet chat, with only the occasional foreign fan dropping in to distract them for an autograph.
"I liked it (back then) because it created a bond that was unshakeable. Because the studio can be a difficult environment to work in, when people get het up and passionate. And when people become passionate they become difficult. So the further away you go from confirming your friendship, the harder it is."
Larry has stubbornly remained the only group member to stay based on their native northside. His house looks out on the beach and he has also quietly bought up nearby properties to safeguard his privacy.
The enigmatic Clayton, who has been teetotal for many years now, lives in the Daneswood mansion in Rathfarnham, while Bono lives in Killiney and The Edge lives in Dalkey.
It sounds like the forthcoming album No Line On the Horizon is the result of much hard work and blood, sweat and tears in the numerous recording studios where it was made.
The first single off the album, "Get On Your Boots," will be performed live by the band at the Brit Awards in Earl's Court, London, on February 18. U.S. rock bible Rolling Stone described it as "a blazing fuzzed-out rocker which picks up where 'Vertigo' left off."
The album was initially to be produced by the legendary American knob-twiddler Rick Rubin, the man who turned the late Johnny Cash's career around for the last 10 years of his life.
But the sessions didn't work out quite as expected, and they subsequently called in Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, who have worked with them since The Unforgettable Fire in 1984. And they are quick not to blame Rubin, who apparently just has a different method of working in the studio than the Dublin supergroup.
Former Roxy Music member Eno and New Orleans legend Lanois were also involved in some of the writing process, and sessions took place in the south of France, Morocco, London and, to a small extent, Dublin. It was initially supposed to be released last November but was put back until the end of February as all concerned felt that they could do better.
But Larry isn't the only one to sometimes get concerned by Bono's extra-curricular activities. Bono revealed: "Edge always says to me, 'You're an artist, remember that. You're not a politician.'
"But if you've looked into the face of a mother whose daughter or son has died for no good reason, they don't know or care who is president of America. It's something that once you're a witness to, you can't get it out of your head and so you don't take s**t on their behalf."
And when asked why the now veteran band don't just go out and play all the old hits, Bono is adamant in his response.
He said: "Chemistry is a very peculiar thing. As you get older, males want to be lords of their own domain.
"They rid the room of argument and miss out on the friction that caused the spark of their genius. The really sad and pathetic thing is me and Edge have two sons around the same age whose names rhyme -- Eli and Levi. God forbid they should ever form a band, Eli and Levi. It's like a bad joke."
But Larry's comments seem to have caused little worry to Bono, who was out partying last Saturday night with his coterie of close friends. They hit Lillie's Bordello, their favourite late night haunt, and according to onlookers, Bono was in sparkling form and enjoying a few beers, as well as strutting his stuff on the dancefloor for a few numbers.
Larry was probably tucked up in bed at home by then, dreaming bad dreams about Tony Blair and George W. Bush, and how to keep the band on the straight and narrow, without any detours and compromises. Good on him!
© Irish Independent, 2009.