The book instantly became U2’s final authority on all things regarding touring history. On tour, I carry a copy in my work box and there’s always one on the band’s aeroplane, largely for solving arguments over important issues like exactly when we first played in Detroit, or the name of that club in Burton-on-Trent where Bono first went body surfing. It would also make us laugh too, like a family photo album, with its occasional painfully frank reports about certain events or performances.”
–Willie Williams in the foreword of U2 Live: A Concert Documentary
The third edition of U2 Live: A Concert Documentary, the definitive U2 reference book, is now available from Omnibus Press. The book includes information, anecdotes, and facts from virtually every single U2 show, from 1976 to 2003, including spontaneous performances with local bands, impromptu sessions with fans and friends, and acoustic jams during radio and television interviews. Filled with more than 500 photographs and insightful commentary, the book has been produced by U2 fans and is specifically designed to revive memories for anyone who has ever experienced a U2 performance.
The author of the new edition, Caroline van Oosten de Boer, talks with U2log.com’s Cindy Trickel about the book.
[ct] Describe what U2 Live: A Concert Documentary is.
[vonb]: U2 Live: A Concert Documentary is a book documenting U2 in concert, providing set lists and extensive concert details.
How does this edition of the book differ from the last edition?
The first two editions were researched and written by Pimm Jal de la Parra. I researched and wrote this new edition. The first revised edition of the book went up to the first five PopMart concerts. The new revision includes all of PopMart and all of the Elevation tour.
The design of the book is the same as it was for the previous two editions. We left out the “stats” appendix for various reasons — one was space. We added errata to the original text.
The third edition has a different cover. The one and only critique PJ ever received from the band came from Bono. He wasn’t happy with the fact that the cover was a picture of himself and not the rest of the band. I spent a lot of time trying to find a picture of all of the band playing live, but failed. Principle Management did the same and in the end very kindly offered us the use of the picture that was used on the Elevation Boston DVD, which has Bono, the Edge, and the audience in it.
How did you get involved in the revision of the book?
When PJ died [in 2002], I thought I should finish the book for him. I felt it had to be done. And I thought if he had had to hand it over to someone, he would have chosen me. PJ’s family thought the same; they asked me before I could offer.
Is this your first book project?
No, I wrote and self-published a book on Gavin Friday, called The Light and Dark in 1991.
Describe your history with Pimm Jal de la Parra and Collectormania, a U2 fan magazine.
I met PJ through our interest in U2 live recordings in 1986. He mentioned he wanted to set up a magazine, and I liked his way of thinking so I offered to help. But I believe we became friends before the magazine was ever published and the friendship quickly progressed beyond U2 fandom. I like to think we “grew up” together. Although we were both past childhood, I was in college and he had finished secondary school, we spent formative years together.
What materials did you inherit from PJ? Had he been gathering and organizing material for a revision?
Not much more than one box of cuttings, printouts from web pages, and a few scribbled notes. He hadn’t gotten around to starting on the book for real.
You enlisted fans to help you with the revision. How did you rally their support?
In what ways did fans contribute to the revision?
By sending in their memories of concerts, mistakes they found in the previous editions, and photographs, clippings, etc. And by listening to concerts and transcribing them. I still had to listen to most of the concerts myself to double-check their findings, but their work was a great starting point.
Did you enlist help from anyone in the U2 organization and/or professional music sources? If yes, who and how did they help you?
Candida Bottaci [of Principle Management] helped out with the cover photo. Willie Williams [U2’s tour lighting designer] was always available to double-check stuff with, and he provided extra information and corrections for the existing section of the book. Journalist Neil McCormick sent in some additional material on the very early years. Gavin Friday helped out with a few odd ends.
How did you begin the revision process?
By sitting around twiddling my thumbs for a very long time. I quit collecting U2 live material many years ago and had sold my collection, so the first thing to do was to get my hands on recordings of all the PopMart and Elevation concerts. Unfortunately, the original deal we had with a collector fell through.
The publisher had given the go-ahead late September and I had a little less than 6 months to hand in the manuscript. By December I still didn’t have the recordings, so I applied for access to U2bloodredsky.com, an FTP site for U2 concerts, archived in MP3 format. (Now sadly closed down.) Then the site’s owner, Mark Freedman, very kindly offered to burn everything, both PopMart and Elevation, on 10 DVDs. He shipped them over to me. He basically saved my ass. I received the DVDs, I think, on New Year’s Eve.
By then I had asked various people to listen to recordings and transcribe them. These transcriptions started coming in, and then I basically sat down, starting with PopMart, and worked my way through all the gigs, listening and jotting down notes and collecting material.
What resources did you use to research the shows?
How has the internet been helpful in the book’s revision?
I couldn’t have done this without the internet. When PJ did the first two editions, he had a network of fans who corresponded via ordinary mail. It would takes days, weeks, months to get your hands on recordings and cuttings and front-row information. I used to be part of the network. I would write to fans and fanzine editors worldwide. But these days everything is online. I don’t even know if there’s an offline network of fans anymore. Do people still write letters?
To write the book the way I did it, in about 3 to 5 months, you have to multi-task. I would listen to concerts, write, search for reviews online, and fire off questions to fans who had been at that concert all at the same time.
Has the internet been a hindrance to the revision in any way?
It’s very easy to get distracted when you are writing and you’re online all day.
How long did it take to complete the revision?
3 to 5 months. All done in my spare time — after work, weekends, and two weeks of holiday.
What was the most difficult aspect of the revision?
First of all, starting on it. I always have a hard time starting on a job. Once I get started, I can’t stop. But it was the photo research that was the most difficult. I had specifically asked the publisher to let me do my own photo research, like PJ always did. I found it distracted me from writing and required energy I didn’t seem to have. It became a burden.
What was the most enjoyable aspect of the revision?
Writing. Not the physical aspect of writing, but the process in my brain. Walking down the street or sitting on the train going into work forming sentences in my head, finding ways to say things, finding a rhythm in language.
What was your most surprising find while working on the book?
I think in writing a book the most surprising thing is the minute you realise you are done. I’ve done two books now and both times it was a feeling of coming full circle, of having achieved a start and an end to a story and connecting the two.
I was also surprised with how many different interpretations people can have of one single event and how memory plays tricks on people. When people quote what they heard at a concert off the top of their heads, they sometimes get things very wrong. If I were a performer, I would try to be careful with making speeches from the stage. Because there are going to be 50,000 different interpretations of what you say.
Is there any content that will cause debate among fans?
There’s one particular quote by Bono that I may have gotten wrong but very stubbornly went ahead and published the way I heard it (which is different from other fans’ interpretation). I tried to verify it with various people in the organisation, but nobody could give me the answer. I still published my interpretation because when I go with my gut feeling, I’m usually right. If I’m wrong this time and get ridiculed, well, so be it.
What do you believe fans will find most interesting in the book? Does that differ from what you find most interesting?
I think fans buy this book for various reasons. Concert collectors buy it to verify the source of their recordings. Others may buy it to remember the gigs they went to. Others buy it for the pictures. What I find most interesting about the part that I wrote is the band’s journey from PopMart to Elevation and how the first influenced the second.
How many photo submissions did you receive? How many did you actually use?
Oh, god, I can’t say how many. Loads. I don’t know how many were used as I don’t have the book yet and wasn’t involved in the final decisions.
What criteria did you use to decide which photos to include in the book?
(1) Do they illustrate what was written about the concert; (2) Are they “different” from the usual shots seen in the press?; and (3) Do they emphasise the “live” aspect?
Those were my criteria. I have not seen the book and was not involved in choosing the final images, but I did make the pre-selection.
Were the majority of photos of the entire band or one particular member of the band?
Fortunately, fans take pictures of all and everything, so there were plenty of shots that didn’t include Bono.
How many personal stories did you receive from fans? How many did you actually use? Was there a prevalent theme to the stories?
Not all that many. I used most of them, I think. Although at this point in time, I have a hard time remembering what I wrote! Prevalent theme: getting up on stage playing guitar with the band.
Was it difficult evaluating the personal stories? How did you go about verifying the stories?
The people who sent in stories almost all had photo or video material that verified their story. It wasn’t difficult evaluating the stories. One or two weren’t interesting enough to publish. What’s amazing to the individual is not always interesting enough for others to read.
What was the most unique personal story you received?
It’s a well known story, but I love Scott Peretta forcing the band to play “A Sort of Homecoming” [on November 16, 2001, in Oakland, California].
Was there any material that you wanted to publish but could not? What was the reason for not publishing the material?
Yes, there were one or two observations that I did not publish. The reason for not publishing was almost always the person who told me the story asking me not to.
Have you shared proofs or the final book with anyone in the U2 organization? If yes, what kind of feedback did you receive?
Martin Wroe [editor of U2.com] just got his copy, and he congratulated me on a job well done.
Who were the most helpful individuals to you during development, editing, and production?
Mike Middleton, who transcribed concerts for me, in terms of sheer volume. Clare Kneeshaw in terms of detail and insight. Reno van Dael researched and wrote his transcripts so well I could basically publish them verbatim. To write a book like this, you need the observations and insights that only the traveling fans (people who see more than 10 concerts per tour) have. I must say that the community has been very supportive.
Are you satisfied with the end result? Do you feel your work lives up to PJ’s example?
PJ and I were very different animals and though I continued in the spirit he set out with, I think I put different weight on different aspects of the work. I like to think the book has the same kind of objectivity it always had, and more or less the same accuracy.
I’m happy with the text I wrote. I worry whether I got the setlists right, or mostly right. I did not have the same control over the book’s production as PJ used to have, which was a compromise I had to make for sanity’s sake. The control freak in me has a hard time dealing with that.
If the book suffered a little on the collectors and statistics side, I think it may have gained in atmosphere and capturing the actual vibe of the two tours I described.
Are you going to continue accepting corrections and submissions?
Yes, I plan to set up an errata page at U2book.com. I have already set up a comment page.
Has the publisher expressed interest in producing future revisions?
Nothing definite, but they have said this is a book they can keep on selling and revising for years to come.
After all the time and effort you spent on the book, would you be willing to do another revision of the book?
You have another U2 book project in the works. Describe what the project is.
I’m writing the update of the late Irish journalist Bill Graham’s book The Complete Guide to the Music of U2. It’s a small CD-size booklet that describes U2’s official releases song by song.
U2 Live: A Concert Documentary is available in bookstores worldwide and may be ordered from:
Special thanks to Roars for the book photographs.