INTERVIEW: NEIL MCCORMICK, Bono’s doppelganger

Neil McCormick’s unsuccessful quest for rock and roll fame has been immortalized in the comedy rock scene film Killing Bono. He talks to Roe McDermott about the differences between the film and real life, why Bono told McCormick to kill him and how naked women and goats played a part in his job interview for Hot Press

It almost seems redundant to say that the man who spent his life in Bono’s shadow is finally enjoying his time in the spotlight, but Neil McCormick is definitely enjoying having his life immortalized in the new comedy rock scene movie Killing Bono, which is based on his memoir I Was Bono’s Doppelgänger. Chatty, gregarious and quick to laugh, the former Hot Press writer is quick to tell me that Hot Press wasn’t always the incredibly glamorous machine it is today…Okay, glamorous might be pushing it, but at least we don’t use the office as a farmyard these days.

“I was very young and very cocky and I read Hot Press because I was in a band and it was the only thing that was there. And there was an ad looking for an art assistant and I went, not knowing what to expect. And you know, before you actually work in journalism, you assume from the outside that magazines are all produced in these wonderfully sophisticated, glamorous locations. But it was just a house on Mount Street, but what really threw me was that there was a goat in the hall tethered to a stairs. First and only time I encountered that at a job interview!”

A slightly dodgy house acting as the base for cutting-edge journalists headed by an editor with “the longest, most hippiest hair I’d ever seen” with a penchant for keeping goats handy? McCormick would have been forgiven for thinking that his initiation into Hot Press would involve some kind of ritual sacrifice. But apparently a secretary was merely babysitting the goat for a friend (obviously), and all that was needed to secure a job was a certain amount of bullshi…. chutzpah.

“I’d brought in my art portfolio that had some pictures of naked women and one or two posters, and I was given the job after that interview, even though I couldn’t really do the job. Years later I said to Niall ‘Why on earth did you hire me, I was 17, I knew nothing.’ And he told me that I was so full of bullshit he thought I must have something going on. Also, I was a punk, and he thought they should have a punk on staff, because they were all hippies in there.”

Hot Press’s unique take on affirmative action right there. But McCormick is quick to point out that despite what’s portrayed in Killing Bono, he never had a cutthroat rivalry with any member of the staff.

“No,” he laughs, “that was just a dramatic construct, as so much of the film is. There were no rivalries, it was a fantastic place to be. But I wrote my memoir, sort of a chart of rock and roll failure, and they made it into film, so of course things got changed. When they told me they were going to make it into a film, I said ‘I don’t know how you’re going to do this’, because it’s spread over thirty years and it’s quite an anecdotal story. And now I know, they just conflate and invent and characters get collapsed from two people into one and because of that events are suddenly born! But my story was telling the story of being a loser and hoping that that story would become success, trying to turn your failure into success. Secretly that’s the drive there. And they just ran with the theme of that,” he guffaws good-naturedly, “while showing a complete and utter disregard for the truth! But the director Nick Hamm said to me ‘The problem with your life, darling, is that there’s no third act.’ And I said ‘Nick, that’s because it’s life.’ And he promised he’d give me one. And he did.”

So half-recounting half-mutilating the story of how McCormick grew up with Bono and watched in dismay as his classmate’s hopes for iconic rockstar status were achieved while his remained sadly unfulfilled, Killing Bono has allowed McCormick yet another opportunity to reflect on why he never achieved the success he strived for.

“What did I learn, being in a band…I thought that just because we wanted it and we got quite good at it, that we would have it. And nothing works out like that, and you have to deal with the way life is, and not how you want it to be. That was a big lesson for me. I was arrogant enough to be convinced that I deserved to be successful and so I would be.”

This youthful arrogance led McCormick to make some quite questionable decisions along the road – well, cul-de-sac – to musical glory. “Oh we were convinced that playing on same day the Pope came to Ireland wouldn’t affect our audience at all, so we played a gig, and of course no-one showed up, including our bass player who was acting as an altar boy,” he recounts. “And Billy Gaff, Rod Stewart’s manager wanted us to record a song that he was convinced was going to be an American number one. I told him the song was shit, and it wasn’t as good as our own songs.”

Not the best career move. But thankfully McCormick’s made better choices as a writer, becoming a successful columnist for The Daily Telegraph and ghost-writing the bestselling music book – wait for it – U2 by U2.And after a couple of decade of writing about the band, he thinks he’s got their fame and success figured out.

“People who make it generally think that they were destined for fame, whereas people who aren’t successful – like me! – know that’s not true. No-one was born to be famous, it takes a hell of a lot of confluence and accidents and in the end the public chooses you depending on what it needs at that moment in time. But if you have great talent and persistence and drive, you’ll be ready if the luck goes right. U2 had it all, and we had the persistence and the drive. As for the talent, the jury’s still out.”

Bono wasn’t involved in the making of the film, but he did come up with the title. “It’s so great, seeing as it’s really all about slaying your own dragons. He left a message on my answering machine saying ‘Neil, you have to kill me! A lot of people will wear that t-shirt!’ Because a lot of people just hate him now. As much as his fans love him for the idea of what he is, people hate him for the idea of what he is. But he’s a real person and we were friends in school and he’s a real, complex and really good person and I wanted that to come over in the book and in the film.”

Bono has not only supported the film but has said that he was McCormick’s fan in school. “He was much cooler than me,” Bono has said, “a much better writer and I thought he’d make a much better rock star. I was wrong on one count.” McCormick laughs. “It’s such a double-edged compliment isn’t it, he’s just asserting that really he was the rock star!”

But though he may not have made it as a rock star, McCormick can now boast that he’s forever immortalized in both literature and film.
“Yeah, immortalized as an idiot! Such is life.”

Killing Bono is released on April 1.

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