Features and Columns · Movies

Aural Fixation: ‘Killing Bono’ and Other Tales of Musical Obsession

By  · Published on November 10th, 2011

From Kate Hudson coining the term “Band-Aids” in Almost Famous to Mark Wahlberg realizing his dream of becoming the lead singer of Steel Dragon in Rock Star, the obsession with and adoration of various famous bands and musicians has been chronicled through many different films. Nick Hamm’s Killing Bono joins their ranks, telling the story of Neil McCormick (Ben Barnes) and his obsession with not just becoming a huge rock star, but doing so on his own terms without the help of his fellow schoolmates who also formed their own band…which happened to then go on and become U2.

Neil is a dreamer so fixated on the idea of stardom and all the spoils that come with it that he does not seem to quite grasp what it takes to make that dream a reality. Dressing like David Bowie does not make you him and acting like you already are a rock star does not make you one. It is clear from the start that, although Neil has the passion, it is his brother Ivan (Robert Shehan) who has the talent. Neil launches his first in a series of decisions that sabotage not only his brother, but also himself, by telling Paul (Martin McCann), the lead singer of rival band The Hype, that despite his interest, Ivan would be staying with the family and performing in Neil’s band. This would normally boil down to nothing more than two garage bands fighting for top billing around local clubs in Dublin, but Paul and his band decide to change their names and suddenly Neil’s school chums stop being Paul and The Hype and became Bono and U2.

The thing with entertainment is that, sometimes, it really does just come down to luck. U2 were lucky to have won the talent show that led to their first record deal and Wahlberg’s Chris Cole was in the right place at the right time to prove his singing talent when Bobby Beers (Jason Flemyng) put that microphone in his face. We look up to and admire these artists because we are not them, and while there are certainly those who could probably sing and play instruments just as well (American Idol would not still be on the air if there weren’t), it is that simple flip of that coin that can sometimes separate the famous from the not. And it is watching which side of the coin everyone ends up falling on that keeps us watching.

In a society where such a high value is placed on fame and celebrity, it is easy to identify with characters aspiring to be or get close to this world. With music as the root of the love that drives Hudson’s Penny Lane, Chris Cole, and even Neil (who does seem happiest when on stage) to want to become or be near these bands, it is no surprise that these films are also filled to the brim with amazing music.

With U2 constantly at the center of Neil’s world and the narrative itself, the film naturally features songs from the band, including a track from their early days as The Hype (“Street Mission”) as performed by the actors who played them in the film. However, the majority of the film’s music was created by Irish singer/songwriter (and now composer) Joe Echo and performed by the film’s two leads, Barnes and Sheehan. Although never reaching the same heights as Bono, the catchy tracks capture the sound of the time and make the success Neil does have believable. (Just try to keep the hook from “Where We Want To Be” from getting stuck in your head.)

While films like Almost Famous and Rock Star revolve around fictional bands, they too have soundtracks filled with actual bands that would have influenced and shaped the sound of their fictional counterparts with The Who and Led Zeppelin on the soundtrack for Almost Famous and Mötley Crüe and KISS populating the track listing for Rock Star. Even the tracks from those film’s fictional bands (Stillwater and Steel Dragon, respectively) fit in with the lot, helping give these films their unique texture, sound and (most importantly) credibility.

As Neil’s own band starts to generate their own success, the fact that it never equals height of U2’s success only illustrates how Neil will never truly be happy. Chris eventually tires of the life of being a Steel Dragon front man and even Penny Lane eventually moves on to the next adventure. The world surrounding the music may be a tumultuous one, but it is that struggle and strife that gives us the songs we love. And reminds us that maybe being on the other side of that coin isn’t always such a bad fate.

Films like these not only provide us with great music, they help give a little behind-the-scenes look at the world of music, touring, and recording. Parts of it are everything you could imagine, while others are nothing you might expect. Either way, they are told through rocking soundtracks that help remind you why you might leave home, your girl, or your life and chase down that ever-elusive dream of becoming (or at least being near) that enticing world of rock and roll.

The soundtrack for Killing Bono is available through Sony Music Entertainment UK Limited.

  1. “Where We Want To Be” – Ben Barnes & Robert Sheehan with Joe Echo
  2. “The Great Beyond” – Ed Kowalczyk
  3. “The Beginning” – Stephen Warbeck
  4. “Kicking Off Again” – Ben Barnes & Robert Sheehan with Joe Echo
  5. “Love Never Dies” – Joe Echo
  6. “Street Mission” – ‘The Killing Bono Hype’ & Martin McCann
  7. “Some Kind of Loving” – Ben Barnes & Robert Sheehan with Joe Echo
  8. “Do Anything You Wanna Do” – Ben Barnes & Robert Sheehan with Joe Echo
  9. “Play Dead” – Ben Barnes & Robert Sheehan with Joe Echo
  10. “Dublin” – Stephen Warbeck
  11. “On My Own” – Ben Barnes & Robert Sheehan with Joe Echo
  12. “The Great Beyond” – Robert Sheehan
  13. “Better Way” – Ben Barnes & Robert Sheehan with Joe Echo
  14. “Sleepwalking” – Ben Barnes & Robert Sheehan with Joe Echo
  15. “Where We Want To Be (Acoustic Version)” – Joe Echo & Ben Barnes
  16. “Stop The World” – Shook Up!
  17. “Some Kind of Loving” – Sally Singleton
  18. “Play Dead (Acoustic Version)” – Joe Echo

Killing Bono will be playing in limited release in Los Angeles starting this Friday and is currently playing New York. Throw on the T-shirt of your favorite band and go check it out. (And if you are not in NY or LA, you can still throw on that shirt and check out the soundtrack.)

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