Zero is the latest craze. Young, sexy, smart and brilliant, a 24-7 #genius and multi-hyphenated (singer-songwriter-rapper-producer) next level superstar for the digital generation. According to his publicist at least.
He's also an obnoxious, narcissistic, insecure, hyperactive, coke-snorting, pill-popping, loud-mouthed, oversexed, misogynistic, misanthropic maelstrom of contradictions skating over the thin ice of terminal self-loathing. But that is all part of the attraction.
He has touched down in New York with his sycophantic entourage for the simultaneous launch of a new single/album/movie/tour. It is countdown to Year Zero. But the mixed race Irish-Colombian boy (Pedro Ulysses Noone to what's left of his shattered family) at the centre of the media feeding frenzy is cracking up. Inside the echo chamber of his own skull, he isn't sure he deserves all the attention, doesn't even know if he wants it anymore and is being driven half mad by the mysterious absence of the love of his life. His fiancé, legendary singer and actress Penelope Nazareth, is all over the internet canoodling with a co-star on the set of an Aztec epic shooting in the Amazon jungle.
As the crucial hour of Zero's launch approaches the young star cuts and runs, pursued by paparazzi, news reporters, fans, fortune hunters and his Mephistophelian manager Beasley.
He's about to find out that when you have the most famous face in the world, you can run … but you can't hide.
#Zero marks the fiction debut of Daily Telegraph music critic and TV presenter Neil McCormick, author of Killing Bono, a memoir of his own failed musical career (made into a feature film in 2011, starring Ben Barnes as Neil and Martin McCann as Bono). “The best book about trying to make it in the music business I have ever read” according to Sir Elton John. Write about what you know is generally considered sage advice to the budding novelist. Well, up to a point...
#Zero is the story of a lost boy trying to escape from himself in the full glare of modern media. It’s is a pitch black satire of celebrity, a revealing peak behind the velvet curtains of the contemporary music business and a wild, comical, musical odyssey across America, as our modern day Ulysses sets sail for his Penelope, crossing paths with sirens, succubi and an ancient one eyed bluesman named Clarence Honeyboy Blindside. At its dark heart beats a tender story about family, love, loss and sacrifice; a moving meditation on the black hole of emotional need that powers the 21st Century's obsessional lust for fame. Featuring guest appearances by Sting, Sir Elton John and Bono.
We staged a mass exodus to the Pilgrim hotel for award rehearsals, an MTV crew expanding my entourage. Any normal person of sound mind and limb would walk 50 metres across Times Square but we went twice round the block so that I could be transferred from limo to blacked out people carrier and sneaked in through the rear goods entrance. The zeromaniacs, of course, were way ahead of us, screaming and banging the side of the van as it drove past production trucks into underground parking. I was hustled like a presidential candidate on assassination watch into a staff elevator, almost colliding with Sting as the holistic superstar made an exit after his own rehearsal. “Have you been roped in by the do-gooders to save the orphans?” he enquired, while my people faced off his people, mobiles at the ready.
“I hate charity records,” I muttered.
“We all hate charity records,” the greying Adonis laughed. “It’s the things that test us that make us stronger.”
Then we were on the move again, emerging amidst a cackle of walkie-talkies into an enormous ballroom, the ceiling a sea of chandelier glass blazing in the glare of TV lighting. One wall bore a blow up of the latest Generator cover, featuring yours truly, naked from the waist up, with a Superman logo painted on my chest beneath the headline ‘From Zero To Hero’. I was introduced to camera crews, stage managers and TV directors, tragically hip men the age of my father squeezed into clothes two generations too young. One was even wearing my own brand tailored trackies, which of course I complimented him on, even though they made him look like a lard ass loser. Not the feel my designers were going for, I suspect.
A tall, nervous, middle-aged effete in mod suit and ponytail turned out to be Generator’s editor. “Hope you enjoyed the cover feature,” he murmured. “Brian Spitzer is America’s finest contemporary music writer and I really think he’s done you proud.”
“I never read my own press,” I said. It’s not true, of course, but why give them the satisfaction? But I had to wink and show him I was just joking. I am so weak.
In the George Michael documentary Freedom, recently broadcast by Channel 4, the late superstar discusses a particular aspect of 1980s pop where “this handful of massive celebrities were constantly battling in the charts.” The musicians he had in mind were Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince and, ultimately, George Michael himself, who went “full gusto” into creating a “new character” to stand alongside…
I love bookshops. New and secondhand, specialist and generalised. Walking into a bookshop is like walking into church for me, the sacred space where literature in all its forms is revered. Yet they can also be overwhelming and spiritually enervating. The initial euphoria I experience upon entering these cathedrals of the written word can turn to a kind of cultural vertigo, a dizzying sense of…
I did an interview with the @u2 podcast about the genesis of my book, the toxicity of fame, the perils of crowdfunding, the state of publishing & why I keep a death mask on my bookshelf. You can listen here: https://goodstuff.fm/atu2/68
I did an interview with Harry Kantas at U2songs.com about the writing of #Zero. Read on to find the unlikely connection between Homer's Odyssey, James Joyce's Ulysses and my fictional character; what made Ellie Goulding scream in my face and how to add ten million dollars to a film budget with the stroke of a pen.
This was a doodle I did for a possible cover for my book. Let me tell the story of how it came to be called #Zero.
I’ve been dreaming this book up for a long time, pretty much since I finished Killing Bono. As you may know, it was originally published as I Was Bono’s Doppelganger, which had a cheesy B-movie drama that I liked. But after Bono read the manuscript, he pointed out that it was…
These people are helping to fund #Zero.