5 Questions with Matt McGee

It's not just because I'm looking forward to the book, but also because, yeah, I wouldn't mind winning a $50 iTunes gift certificate, that I bring you this interview with Matt McGee, author of U2: A Diary which is being officially released Oct 1. If you have a blog, you can also email Matt with 5 questions and get in on the contest. (And if you don't, there seems to be another contest coming later.) By the way, if you're coming to the U2 academic conference, U2: The Hype and The Feedback in NYC next May, Matt McGee will be one of the featured speakers.


U2 Sermons: I know from some conversations we've had that U2: A Diary is going to draw on recent sources to offer a presentation of U2's early involvement with charismatic Christianity in Ireland which is more nuanced than the mainstream media, "VH-1 Legends" type script many of us were used to. Do you have hopes about how your research will affect people's assessment of this era in their career?

McGee: I think my main hope is that readers will notice and appreciate the nuance in how this part of their development is described! I've always been fascinated by this aspect of their early years, but I don't know how many other fans are. For a long time, I bought into the stock description of their involvement and eventual separation from Shalom, the timing of those events, and the impact on the band. But, as I learned during the research, it's more complicated than what we thought we knew all along. There are so many different versions of what happened and when, so combining all those accounts was a painstaking process.

I spent a lot of time researching this, and was very careful in writing about it -- not only to make sure I have the timing correct (or, as correct as it can be), but also to make sure I chose words very carefully and didn't misrepresent the nature of what was going on. And, in the name of full disclosure, I owe you (and a couple other fans/friends) a big THANKS for your help in both aspects -- the research and the writing.

U2 Sermons: Lots of the material here on U2 Sermons ends up alluding in some way to U2's commitment to social justice and the transformation of culture. Could you tell us the first event documented in U2: A Diary where we'll see that commitment showing up?

McGee: I suppose the answer depends on what you consider a display of that commitment. Early on, I use the somewhat well-known quote from Bono where he talks about being four years old and seeing a kid in school bite the ear of another kid, and Bono reacts by banging the biter's head against a metal railing. Is that a commitment to social justice? :-) Beyond that, you might count an August, 1978, charity gig in Dublin for the Contraception Action Campaign as the band's first encounter with social justice ... or you could argue that was four teenage boys acting selfishly for the cause!

U2 Sermons: Your name is on the book as author, but through your blog you actually created a whole community of folks who contributed. What's the best story of a way that community benefited the finished product?

McGee: There were so many fans -- hundreds, to be sure -- that contributed in some way, and every contribution has made the book better. But I doubt anyone went to the lengths that Donal Murphy did in Ireland. He made several trips to his local library in Cork to look up old Irish newspaper articles on microfiche. Amazing! I wrote about him on U2diary.com.

U2 Sermons: What is the shortest entry in your book and why?

McGee: There are a lot of entries that just have the date, a venue name, and a city. I don't go into detail on all of the concerts, because U2 Live - A Concert Documentary already does a terrific job of that. So you'll see entries that just say "November 13 - Limit Club, Sheffield" in my book.

[Editor's note: Thank God it's not "Bono wept."]

U2 Sermons: Since this blog began with a book of homiletics that drew on U2's work, here's my effort to make the interview on topic: Any mention of preaching or sermons in U2: A Diary?

McGee: How about this... The first mention of a sermon is about the fact that Shalom leader Chris Rowe gave the sermon at Bono's and Ali's wedding in 1982, despite the fact that U2 had -- according to conventional wisdom -- already left Shalom by then. In truth, it shows that the situation was a bit more complex than that, and that the relationships and connections still existed, even after U2 had survived its spiritual crisis and committed to staying together as a band.