Author: Tassoula (Page 2 of 12)

A Mission to Make Bullying Extinct

Andrew Cole performance
Andrew Cole performs during Live@SunsetMarquis benefit show, Aug. 23

With over 40% of the population actively using social media channels, there are unfortunately more avenues for bullies to find and torment their victims. Even more troubling, suicides rates are on the rise and show no signs of slowing.

So how do we prevent bullies from becoming abusers in the first place and comfort those affected by abuse? It starts with awareness, which is what singer/songwriter Andrew Cole hopes to increase with the project he founded, #IAmNoJoke.

The project, which includes both a song and a documentary, brings together icons from music, film and television to address issues they had in their past with bullying—whether they were the victim or the abuser. The movement aims to let victims know they are not alone and inspire change on a global scale.

An event Friday night during the Live@SunsetMarquis Summer Concert Series featured performances by Cole accompanied by George Pajon, Jr. from the Black Eyed Peas and Stu Hamm on bass, along with headliner Rachel Lorin, to officially launch the forthcoming song. In addition, sponsor Creative Visions spoke about the campaign’s importance and a raffle featuring a PRS electric guitar, legendary photographs from the Morrison Hotel Gallery and other amazing prizes, was held to benefit the cause.

I’m proud to volunteer for the project and look forward to sharing its progress along the way.

Together we can change the conversation and prevent the pain of others. Join us to use social media as a positive agent for change to spread awareness and emphasize empathy.

If you’d like to get involved, feel free to donate to the project, take the #WhoCaresIDo challenge, and follow @iamnojokeproject for updates.

How to Breathe in 2019

The world today can be hard to digest. From repeated mass shootings to hateful political rhetoric to the impact of climate change, we’re inundated with negativity each time we turn on a television or read a headline.

That, compounded with the natural stress associated with daily life (health, career, relationships), can be overwhelming—but how can we avoid it?

My solution lately has been to focus more on spirituality, health and wellness. To fill my life with as many positive elements as I can from curating my social content to include more “good news” (I recommend following groups such as the Good News Network and Positive News UK) to listening to soothing music and vibrations as I work.

My greatest coping mechanism? Immersing myself in nature.

There are few things more beneficial to the soul than a walk in the woods or near water (I prefer both, quite frankly).

On my near-daily walks to a nearby lake, I can feel my blood pressure lower the instant I step onto the trail. I’m met with the sounds of birds chirping, children giggling and splashes of water as I start my trek. I don’t time myself or run—I deliberately take my time to … (forgive me) … stop and smell the roses.

I enjoy taking photos of flowers at different stages of bloom; of trees as their leaves appear, change color and disappear; of ducks as they emerge with a new batch of ducklings each spring and the occasional eagle or heron that may fly alongside me.

Though there are always other people on the trail, it somehow remains remarkably serene, all of us in a silent agreement to enjoy Mother Earth’s bounty and beauty without disrupting one another.

At times I’ll sit on one of the benches along the path and reflect on the day or try to strategize ways to solve a problem. The fresh air of nature coupled with the exercise of the walk produces a bouquet of endorphins that helps provide a brighter outlook on everything, so I always leave feeling better than when I arrived.

The great thing about walks in nature is that they can be tailored to both extroverts and introverts.

I’m an extrovert by nature—I like to be social. But I only like to be social if I’ve had an ample amount of “alone time” to prepare. So I’m one of those people who will gladly welcome company on a walk … but would sometimes prefer the solitude of a solo jaunt if I’m headed there to clear my head.

I feel the same way about romantic love—I want a partner that will desire me and shower me with attention and affection … and then go away for a bit and not be offended that I want to be alone sometimes; that I need to be alone sometimes.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve never married? 🙂

But I digress …

Introverts can benefit just as much from these nature breaks, as they’re never required to go with anyone else. And the best thing about nature walks in general is that they’re free.

I realize that I am blessed to live in a part of the world that has no shortage of forests or bodies of water, but even in the middle of large cities there are usually parks to sneak off to if no hiking trails can be found nearby.

The main thing to do is to find someplace to breathe. Practice mindfulness whenever you can and try to reset your personal compass to point it in a direction of love.

Love for yourself, love for others and love for our earth.

Order from Chaos: New Exhibit “Tucked In” Highlights Child’s Creative Coping Mechanism

Photos from the exhibit on display now at Arcane Space

There are few things more devastating than learning a child is seriously ill, but that’s what happened to the Evans family in 2006 when Sian, 7, was diagnosed with T-Cell Leukemia.

As they all navigated the new normal of Sian’s medical orders and treatments, her mother Morleigh began to discover hidden scenes that she would construct to work through her feelings.

Using dolls, stuffed toys, blankets and trinkets, Sian crafted silent stories that helped her process what she was so bravely enduring.

From Barbies taking a group carriage ride to Care Bears methodically lined up for slumber, the scenes are both heartwarming and heartbreaking when considering their context.

In the new exhibit at Arcane Space, “Tucked In” features images that Morleigh took of these creations, all captured in great detail at the time of their discovery.

Donned in soft plush carpet reminiscent of a young girl’s room, the space also features a workshop area with toys that children are invited to use to create their own scenes. When I visited, two kids were deep in concentration, crafting personal masterpieces. As I observed their intense focus, I was reminded of how therapeutic creative exploration can be—both for children and adults.


I lost a grandfather I never met to leukemia and have known countless other friends and family members who have suffered through cancer. Each journey carried unimaginable amounts of agony regardless of the outcome. This exhibit shows art that both respects that type of journey and perhaps makes sense of it in the most pure way.

Thankfully, Sian survived the cancer and is a thriving young woman today. Visitors to the exhibit have the opportunity to purchase prints of her various scenes (prices range from $100 – $800) and/or a book of the images with an introduction from Morleigh ($170). Proceeds benefit Cancer Support Community Los Angeles. Admission to the exhibit is free.

“Tucked In” welcomes visitors to Arcane Space Thursday through Sunday from 11:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. through May 26.

Film Review: Satan & Adam

By Tassoula E. Kokkoris

This work was commissioned for the site atu2, which was online from 1995 – 2020 and it still protected under a shared copyright.

“There’s never been another artist singing one of their songs on a U2 album.” —The Edge

The artist that The Edge is referring to is Sterling “Mister Satan” Magee and the song is “Freedom For My People,” which appeared on Rattle And Hum.

Mister Satan, along with his musical partner Adam Gussow, are the subjects of the new documentary Satan & Adam, directed byV. Scott Balcerek.

The film chronicles the history of the unlikely pair from the time they joined up on the streets of Harlem on the mid-1980s until present day. And what a history they have.

At the time they met, Mister Satan was a street performer (by choice) who had previous experience making music with legends like Marvin Gaye and Etta James. It’s never specified exactly why he left the business, but he played with such exuberance and joy on the sidewalk, no one seems to question it. He performed for a regular following of fans and passersby who tossed money his way in exchange for prime entertainment.

One day, on the heels of a messy breakup, Gussow found himself walking down the street where Mister Satan was performing and asked if he could join in and play. Mister Satan agreed and soon the two became known as an unlikely but endearing duo—a classic black guitarist/singer with an impressive performance resume and an Ivy-League educated white harmonica player who lacked experience. With racial tensions high at the time in New York, their partnership was a refreshing reprieve from the violence that surrounded them.

Mister Satan and Adam wrote blues riffs that are undeniably catchy and soon they got the attention of Bono and The Edge, who were in town filming portions of the U2 documentary, Rattle And Hum. Phil Joanou, who directed that film, appears in Satan & Adam along with The Edge, and recalls how special the music sounded, “It wasn’t just some guy kinda ‘Give me a buck, come on I’m on the corner. I’m just riffin’ some cover tune.’ This was something interesting.”

Joanou put a brief clip of Mister Satan and Adam in his film and U2 added the song to their album, which brought the Harlem duo a heightened level of exposure and several new fans. Soon Adam convinced Magee to record some tracks in a studio and their popularity exploded, leading to a tour of notable clubs and festivals all across the U.S. and Europe. Though they enjoyed great success, circumstances beyond their control disrupted their rise to fame. The performances came to an end and life continued for them both, but in two very different directions.

With a mix of archival footage (including a segment U2 fans will find quite familiar) and interviews with Gussow and those moved by their music, the story that emerges is that of an enduring, real friendship between two very different men that were united for a period of time by music.

If you appreciate the blues or just want to witness a pleasant real-life “buddy” movie, Satan & Adam will be right up your alley.

Satan & Adam opened in the U.S. on April 12.

(c) 2019, atu2/Kokkoris.

The Magic of the Marquis

The fruit basket from my most recent visit to the property.

My house is full of distractions.

There’s a TV, equipped with thousands of channels and a box that streams content from a dozen more.

There’s a picture window, where I can see the squirrels chase birds.

There’s a fireplace that crackles to life and candles that glow on its screen.

There’s a kitchen that helps invent grand meals.

There’s a record player with a stack of vinyls that beg often to be played.

Like many writers, home isn’t the greatest place for me to spill ink.

But it’s not just getting out of my own space that sparks creativity, it’s being in the right space. And that space for me for several months has been the Sunset Marquis.

Every few Fridays, I take a beautiful flight down the coast to my second home right off the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. My ritual is to unpack, eat a piece of fruit from the basket that greets me and fire up the laptop to meet my first self-imposed deadline.

I take my shoes off, slide my feet into a pair of the plush slippers provided by the hotel and begin to write. And I write until I’ve reached my pre-determined page count, for it’s only then I’m allowed to head down to the bar. So I always make my deadline.

Bar 1200 is too classy to be called a watering hole; too intimate to be cold. The bartenders are friendly, the drinks are strong and the playlist is perfect.

It’s small, cozy, dark, safe and full of stories. Have I mentioned that I love stories?

In my visits after midnight, I’ve met aspiring actresses, former bar owners, fellow writers, rock stars, filmmakers, mystics, fashion designers and photographers. None of them shy; all of them warm. A community of creatives who all feel an unspoken kinship.

When I first read Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers, years ago, I was fascinated by a story he told about the Italian people of Roseto, who ate unhealthy foods, smoked and drank, yet had remarkably less heart issues than their American counterparts. The only explanation? They had a strong sense of community.

Writing is a fairly solitary sport unless you’re a member of a boisterous writers’ room or participating in a class or workshop. Since I’m in neither situation, writing alone is my default. Until I discovered the Marquis, I didn’t realize how much I needed a sense of belonging to perfect my craft.

It’s nice that the reservation desk remembers I sometimes need a late check-in (depending on my flight’s arrival); that the bar manager knows without a doubt I’ll start with a lemon drop; that the restaurant seats me under the heaters in the wintertime since I easily get cold.

And it’s not just great service—it’s the overall vibe. The welcoming feeling when I wander into the on-site art gallery to gaze at images of my favorite bands; the chats I have about pop culture with the bell hop I consider a true friend.

The Marquis manages to have the luxuries and clientele of the most prestigious properties but lacks the pretension.

And I may not be a household name like many of the guests, or have scripted the Great American Novel (yet), but I do always feel like I fit in when I’m there.

For that, I’m eternally grateful.

The Great Thaw of 2019

13 Days

That’s how long I was prevented from driving my own car. Nearly two weeks.

It’s the longest I’ve gone without driving since I spent 10 days in Japan for a speaking engagement in 2015. From February 4 – 16 I only left the house to walk to the grocery store once and for work twice (I was picked up at the bottom of my icy hill after walking/falling down it). It was a test of survival skills and mental health. I passed the first with flying colors; the jury is still out on the second.

I’d spent much of December and January on the road—home to Oregon for the holidays; San Francisco and Los Angeles to see friends, attend some events and to work on creative projects. I was working on my tan just three weeks prior to this snow-pocalypse and was somewhat blinded by its duration.

Folks who aren’t familiar with Pacific Northwest weather (other than the false assumption it rains all the time) assume that snow is a normal part of our winters, but really it’s not. We usually get a dusting of a few inches in January or February that lasts for a day or two at best and then we’re back to our usual cold, drizzly atmosphere. It seldom sticks to the ground, let alone a few feet at a time.

One of my Midwestern friends who expressed concern when she saw the national weather reports warning of our demise said she knew I’d be okay because I’m a “planner” and she was right. Though not specifically prepared for snow, I am infinitely prepared for an earthquake (having lived through three in my life; the largest here in Seattle in 2001). So I had plenty of food, water, flashlights, phone chargers and foot warmers. Thank God.

Day 1 of the storm, my power went out from 9:30 p.m. until sometime before 4:00 a.m. Thankfully, I had cranked up the heat in the hours prior, so I was able to put towels under the door to my bedroom and block in much of that warmth as I slept. The next day, my employer closed our office deeming the roads too dangerous to travel, so we all worked from home. NOTE: For those who like to brag “I grew up in the Northeast/Midwest/Montana/Canada, etc.” and think you’d do fine in a Seattle snowstorm, I urge you to read this.

Days 3 – 7 are mostly a blur. It was more of the same; work from home, walk outside in my Muck Boots every few hours with my broomstick to brush the snow off my satellite dish; heat something in the oven for added warmth; run the hot water so the pipes don’t freeze; pack on layers of clothes; rinse, lather, repeat. Mail delivery and pizza delivery stopped in our neighborhood. The Space Needle closed. So did Fred Meyer. It was the end of times.

Day 8 brought my second power outage and damage to my backyard trees (despite the fact I was also taking the broom to brush heavy, wet snow off their branches). I was growing tired of the eerie silence that blanketed my street. All of the familiar sounds had ceased to exist. There were no children playing, birds singing or cars warming up. On top of that, it was dark save for the candles and camping lanterns that illuminated random windows.

Day 9 the power came back on and I slid down my hill (mostly on my feet, but once unfortunately on my back) and caught a rideshare to my office. After work, my boss was kind enough to drive me to the nearby grocery store to get as many non-refrigerated supplies as I was able to carry and I took a rideshare back to the main road and climbed up that horrible hill to get home. Still no mail delivery.

Day 10 and 11 I lost power once more, but only at night so I was able to work from home. On day 11 I also felt confident enough to walk to the grocery store in my neighborhood to replenish my refrigerated staples. It was a treacherous walk and I was sore the entire night and next day from climbing over the accumulated snow.

Day 12 I again returned to my office via rideshare from the bottom of the hill and returned in the same fashion. By the time I got home, our mail delivery had resumed and signs of life were starting to emerge.

Day 13 we had reached 37 degrees and it was raining, so much of the street was clear; the hill was no longer icy and with a little digging out from the lingering snow, I successfully got my car out. I first went to the movies (it’s Oscar season and I’m shamefully far behind), then to Target (oh, how wonderful to aimlessly wander those aisles!) and finally to my PO Box in a different town, where the majority of my mail is delivered. I can’t overstate how much joy I felt being out and about, hearing the din of other humans, looking at a view that wasn’t my own backyard.

I will never again take the freedom to move about for granted.

When Meta Meets Magnificent: Neil McCormick on Chasing Bono

By Tassoula E. Kokkoris

Neil McCormick and Niall McNamee. Photo Courtesy of Neil McCormick.

This work was commissioned for the site atu2, which was online from 1995 – 2020 and it still protected under a shared copyright.

The first time I interviewed journalist/author Neil McCormick, it was the summer of 2011 in Pittsburgh. Our team at @U2 held an event following a public screening of the film Killing Bono at the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center. McCormick’s memoir of the same name had become this film, so at that reception, I hosted a Q&A with him to discuss the process of turning the book into a film and what it as like to see “himself” portrayed on the big screen.

He likened it at the time to his head exploding with conflicted feelings. While he loved the concept of having a film about his life, he hadn’t expected it would be a comedy. He knew that certain elements would need to be fictionalized, but didn’t necessarily want that narrative to be interpreted as his truth. I remember leaving the interview not entirely sure if he was glad the film existed.

Now, seven years later, here we are. The original screenwriters of the film have transformed the story into a London stage production and given it a third title, Chasing Bono. After seeing McCormick’s apparent participation in the pre-production, I was anxious to hear if he was simply a masochist or if the tides have turned where his origin story is concerned. After nearly a month of “Chasing Neil,” I caught up with him via email to get the scoop.

TK: How did you first learn that your book was being made into a play? 

NM: It was all very meta. I was watching Seven Psychopaths on TV, starring Colin Farrell as an expat screenwriter in L.A., when I got a phone call from Dick Clement, an expat screenwriter in L.A., who, weirdly enough, told me he had just had lunch with Colin Farrell. Who, by the way, does a very good impression of Bono. Dick had also just recently met up with Ben Barnes, who played me in Killing Bono. It all stirred up thoughts of the first draft script for the film, which Dick always liked way more than the actual movie. Dick told me he and his writing partner Ian La Frenais were getting more and more involved in the theatre world and asked me if I still had the stage rights to my original book I Was Bono’s Doppelganger, which (thanks to my very good agent Araminta Whitley) it turns out I did. And thus it began.

TK: I’m unfamiliar with British law—did they need to get your permission before turning it into a performance? Did they consult you on any of the aspects of the adaptation?

NM: They did need to get my permission and they have generously consulted me throughout. It has been a lot of fun. Dick and Ian are legendary writers, in the U.K. anyway, so I was a bit nervous about interfering with their genius, but they’ve worked wonders with the themes and characters and dialogue out of my book. And when I nervously sent them notes on the script, including some short passages of new dialogue, I am delighted to say they included them all.

TK: The creators, Clement and La Frenais are an accomplished writing team who have been cranking out hits since the ‘60s. How did you feel about them repurposing your material? Did you know either of them prior to this project?

Dick and Ian are legendary. I grew up watching their brilliant British sitcoms Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads And Porridge, and loved their classic `80s drama Auf Wiedersehen Pet. They did the screenplay for The Commitments too, a classic Dublin comedy about a struggling rock ’n’ roll band, so I was confident they knew the territory. I met them when they did the first draft of the film Killing Bono, and that was a delight. They told me they loved my book and so we have become a mutual admiration society. Then they met Bono and Edge through that and they have all become great pals too. They are a couple of gentlemen and an inspiration to every writer. I doubt there has been a more effective and long-lasting writing team, though Bono and Edge could still catch them up one day. They have a real gift for pulling comedy out of drama with pathos and a philosophical subtext so they were perfect for this. As for the fictional liberties they have taken with my real life, that is weird and can be complicated to deal with. But I understand the writing process and so I have surrendered my ego to it as best I can.

TK: How did they/you land on the title Chasing Bono? Who had the idea to alter it from Killing Bono or I Was Bono’s Doppelganger?

NM: It originally came from a conversation I had with Bono back when I was a struggling wannabe rock star and he was living out every one of my teenage fantasies. He had called me from Miami and he was talking about smoking cigars with Frank Sinatra and I just said, “Stop! I don’t want to hear it. The problem with knowing you is you’ve lived my life.” And he said, “That’s cos I’m your doppelganger and if you want your life back you’ll have to kill me.” Out of that came I Was Bono’s Doppelganger, but when the book was published in the U.S. they didn’t like the word “doppelganger.” Bono actually came up with the title Killing Bono. He said, “I know a few people would wear that T-shirt.” But I was never entirely comfortable with it, it’s a bit too homicidal. I mean, I may have been envious of his success but I am also his biggest fan and he is my friend and I never really wanted to kill him. Maybe just maim him a little. 

Dick and Ian felt the same way and decided early on they wanted to change it. It was Racing Bono for a while but that’s not right either because I lost that race before we were even out of the school gates. I suggested calling it I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For but apparently someone has used that title before on a song back in the `80s (ahem). And anyway it would be hard to fit on the posters. Dick and Ian came up with Chasing Bono. And I don’t know how I feel about it but you’ve got to call it something and I haven’t got a better idea.

TK: Do you know the actor who portrays you? If not, how has he prepared to “become” you? Is it completely surreal to see someone pretending to be you in person (vs. film/tv)?

NM: I have met the actor who portrays me, Niall McNamee. He’s young, handsome and a talented musician, so, perfect casting! It’s all deeply deeply weird. Niall has read my book and he’s been chatting with me and observing me, but I’ve told him to find his own way into the part because I’ve changed a lot since those wild young days. I was there to hear another actor read the part early on and he was very good but he played me completely differently, much darker and more Irish. He was good, and it made me think about how every interpretation lends a different energy to the story. The thing is this character it is not really me, it is an archetype of youthful ambition and creative frustration in some kind of parallel universe version of my life and I am just doing my best to enjoy the absurdity. I am not sure we ever like anybody else holding up a mirror to our vanities. I thought Ben Barnes was actually brilliant in the film Killing Bono, but personally I didn’t think he was much like me, whereas I thought Martin McCann, who played Bono, was just like young Bono. But when I spoke to Bono about it, he had the completely opposite feeling. He was uncomfortable watching the guy playing him but thought Ben Barnes had me nailed down perfectly. Ultimately the actor plays the script, not the person.

TK: Your social media followers have seen reports from read-throughs in preparation for this upcoming play. How involved are you in the day-to-day progression of the project?

NM: I’m quite involved but trying not to get in anybody’s way. So I am available whenever needed and I’ve been in to listen to read-throughs and talk to cast members. It’s been a lot of fun. [My brother] Ivan and I went in and taught our own doppelgangers how to play some of our songs. The weirdest moment was when the actor playing Bono was unavailable for the first big read-through, so they asked me to read Bono’s part opposite the actor playing me. It was a bit of a head fu** but I do a good Bono impression apparently. So there is my new title: I was Bono’s Understudy.

TK: What’s this about band practice with your brother? Are you performing at an event separate from the play? 

NM: Ivan and I were just working out some of the songs mentioned in the play because no one has heard them for over 30 years … including us. It is not a musical, I should stress, it is a play with music. But it was great getting together with Ivan to go through some of these old songs, and amazing that we still remembered them, including the classic “I’m A Punk,” which was the first song we ever performed at the school disco supporting The Hype in 1978. “You can take your razor blades / out on the street / You can cut off your hair / you can cut off your feet / you can nail your granny to the wall / you can eat screws for lunch / but nothing’s gonna make you a punk.” A lost classic, I think you will agree.

TK: Will you be at opening night? Any idea if the members of U2 will attend?

NM: I will be at the opening night for sure. And I’m going to drag every rock star and minor celebrity I know down there. But I wouldn’t expect U2 to venture into this particular hall of mirrors. They tend to be circumspect about such things and rightly so. They have been quietly supportive behind the scenes.

TK: Any hopes of the production traveling to Ireland, the states or elsewhere?

NM: We can hope. It’s got to be a hit in London first and then anything can happen. Or not. I have learnt from hard experience not to get my hopes up too high. I’m just going to enjoy this for the weird experience that it is right now.

TK: Any details that you want to add?

NM: There was one read-through early on, just to see what kind of shape the script was in, when the actor reading Bono’s part was 6 foot 2. I told Bono about it and he heartily approved of the casting. He said, “I’ve always felt 6 foot 2.”

Chasing Bono opens Dec. 6 at the Soho Theatre in London. Tickets are on sale now and start at £11. Visit this page to book. 

© @U2/Kokkoris, 2018.

Like a Song: Heartland

By Tassoula E. Kokkoris

This work was commissioned for the site atu2, which was online from 1995 – 2020 and it still protected under a shared copyright.

I’ve always saved things. Too many things, to be exact. Not to hoarder levels or anything to be concerned about, but I tend to keep far more than I need, not because of any insecurity or fear, but because of sentimentality. I save everything from boarding passes to clothing that no longer fits just because I associate it with a warm memory and treasure the greeting cards I receive sometimes more than the gifts that accompany them.

I get this quality (or character flaw) from my father. He had a tough time throwing anything away that he ever remotely cared about. With the exception of a few cleaning sprees that cleared out clutter, the music, letters from family in Greece and mementos from his time as a sailor stayed with him until his death three years ago.

My mother, alternately, is just the opposite. She has no trouble letting go of things, because to her, that’s all they are — things. When my dad passed away, she cleaned out his half of the closet in the first 48 hours. Afraid she would regret not having the items later, I asked her multiple times if she was sure she didn’t want to keep more of them. “I’m not going to wear any of it,” she responded. Not able to argue with logic, I reluctantly drove her to the donation site and deposited bags of his clothes.

On my four-plus hour drive back to Seattle that week, “Heartland” was one of the songs I played repeatedly to cope with my grief. The intensity of Bono’s voice matched my feelings at the time and singing/crying along with him was therapeutic. In the months that followed, each time I would visit my mom, I’d notice that she’d got rid of more things they’d both acquired in their 50-plus years of marriage. When I asked her about this, she said she didn’t see the point in keeping things around that she doesn’t use or need. That she would feel awful if my sister and I had to go through mountains of stuff when she passes someday.

A selfless, beautiful act.

Continuing the discussion, I told her how much I appreciated that, but begged her not to let go of things that still bring her joy. She promised she wouldn’t on the condition that for every birthday and Mother’s Day going forward I would only buy her “experiences” instead of material items. I agreed to the deal and since then we’ve been to U2 and Billy Joel concerts in Seattle; visited my aunt in Kansas; feasted at The Pioneer Woman’s restaurant in Oklahoma; touched an iceberg in Newfoundland, Canada; and hunted ghosts in San Francisco. Spending that time with her has produced some of the best memories of my life.

This year, just a few weeks ago, our destination for her 78th birthday was Memphis, Tennessee. Though both of us had been to other parts of the state previously, neither of us had been to Memphis and we both had motives for wanting to go. She and my dad loved listening to classic Sun Studio artists such as Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash, and I have been a fan of U2’s Rattle And Hum since it came out 30 years ago. The Rattle And Hum film shows U2 taking a tour of Graceland and recording in Sun Studio, where a few tracks from the album were completed. On our first full day in town, we visited both landmarks.

Freeway like a river cuts through this land
Into the side of love

Though it’s undeniably touristy, Graceland is still a very peaceful property, lush with green grass, trees and horses that roam out back. It’s easy to see why Elvis spent so much time here and his family went to great lengths to preserve it as it was when he was alive. Walking through it is really like being in a time capsule, complete with the sights and sounds of the ‘60s and ‘70s. As we advanced through the rooms my mom pointed out where there were pieces of furniture or accents similar to items she and my dad once had.

The color schemes are what got me the most. Born in 1975, I have vivid memories of the dull brown, green and mustard hues of that era, because our modest house wasn’t updated until well into the ‘80s. Everything was darker back then: the carpeting, the photographs, the mood.

Through the ghost-ranch hills
Death Valley waters
In the towers of steel
Belief goes on and on

Though many of the items are whimsical, I couldn’t help but feel somber as the tour concluded. After exploring several indoor spaces, we were led outside to the Meditation Garden, which is where Elvis and several of his family members are buried. It’s a beautiful space with stained glass, flowers and fountains that surround the tombstones.

The group we were with was very respectful as we approached the graves, and of course all I could think about was Larry Mullen Jr. once standing exactly where I stood, arms folded, head hung in sadness as he reflected on his deceased musical hero. In my mind, “Heartland” was playing on repeat.

I snapped a few photos, then Mom and I walked around the side of the yard to sit down for a moment. There, she told me how much the death of Elvis in 1977 affected my dad. “He really got upset. That was one of the first musicians he truly loved after becoming an American, and he and Elvis were only a few weeks apart in age, so it hit him especially hard.”

I was not yet 2 years old when Elvis passed, so of course I don’t remember the mourning, but I did feel a twinge of guilt for being able to experience Graceland, though my dad never did. It would have meant so much more to him than it did to me.

In this heartland
In this heartland soil

From Graceland, we went straight to Sun Studio where our incredibly kind tour guide found me a pair of drumsticks so I could take a proper photo at Larry’s drum set. After the picture was taken, I sat on his stool, conjuring the ghosts of the space, and imagined all the souls who sang before them. Glancing from a portrait of Bono (in that era) over to one of Elvis with Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis, I was overcome by the magnitude of the American influence. For me, The Beatles are where my love of music began, but of course John Lennon is quoted as saying it was Elvis who inspired him. I finally understood why.

The next day, Mom and I set out for the National Civil Rights Museum, which stands on the property where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. As we turned onto the street of the old Lorraine Motel, “Pride (In The Name Of Love)” came on the iPhone shuffle. How fitting, I thought, as I smiled to myself.

I became dizzy both when we lingered just inside the balcony where King was shot and again when we went across the street and stood where his killer was when he fired the fatal bullets. Overcome with sadness, we silently walked back to the rental car for the trip home. As we exited the parking lot, I realized it was too quiet, so I put my iPhone back through the car stereo. The song that started playing without being prompted? “Heartland.”

U2 have given me goosebumps many times in the past with their greatness, but this was something special. The band had seen something in our country that I hadn’t, something they so eloquently conveyed in “Heartland.” As the song played, I felt an enormous sense of renewed love for my country and everything it represents. It was this country that produced a man as strong as King who was able to reach millions through acts of peace instead of violence. It was this country that allowed my parents, from opposite sides of the ocean — an immigrant and a native-born citizen — to fall in love and build a life together.

It is this country, despite its current and former flaws, where everything is still possible.

In this heartland
Heaven knows this is a heartland
Heartland, heaven knows this is a heartland

(c) @U2/Kokkoris, 2018.

ALCHEMY AT THE APOLLO: REFLECTING ON U2’S HISTORIC NIGHT

By Tassoula E. Kokkoris

This work was commissioned for the site atu2, which was online from 1995 – 2020 and it still protected under a shared copyright.

There are sacred spaces throughout the world—from houses of worship to wonders of nature. Places that change your chemistry as you enter them because of the palpable energy that permeates throughout.

Nestled in the heart of Harlem, The Apollo Theater is a sacred space.

Last night, U2 weaved their magic into a long-standing tapestry of historic performances, both honoring the heroes that came before them and confirming their place among the greats.

Opening its doors in 1914 as Hurtig & Seamon’s New Burlesque Theater, the space officially became the Apollo in 1934. Under its new ownership, the focus shifted from burlesque to variety shows and welcomed African-American performers and patrons for the first time. What resulted was a renaissance of jazz, blues, dance and comedy.

Ella Fitgerald won an “Amateur Night” competition there as a teenager, which kick-started her career. The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Richard Pryor, The Jackson 5 and countless others also began their legendary journeys in the space. James Brown was so important to the Apollo that after he passed away, his body was brought to the theater to receive mourners ahead of his funeral.

When the smiling members of U2 wandered onto the stage last night without any announcement or warning, it was as if those of us in the audience time-traveled back to 1980 when the band first arrived in New York, “on a cold and wet December day.”

The four young boys made their American debut at The Ritz rock club, and three of the songs they played at that first U.S. concert opened the Apollo show last night. Their ages may have shifted, but their energy certainly hasn’t.

Capping off the high-charged trio of “I Will Follow,” “The Electric Co.,” and “Out of Control” was “Red Flag Day,” a rocker from Songs of Experience, which sounds more at home after those classic tracks than it does on its own album.

From there, for seven more songs, they continued at a pace bands half their age would arguably find challenging to sustain, only slowing slightly for “Beautiful Day.”

Furthermore, the usual Bono commentary was quite minimal this evening. Despite several celebrities in attendance, including Jared Leto, Jon Bon Jovi, and Little Steven, Bono only called out to Harry Belafonte, who was in the balcony.

At the end of the main set, Bono briefly let the audience physically support him as he hoisted his megaphone up during “American Soul,” I, for one, breathed a sigh of relief when he safely landed back on the stage.

The band saved the tear-inducing moments for the first encore.

When they re-emerged, Bono said, “Let’s try a song that we played the first time we came here in 80-whatever-it-was …” and the curtain raised to reveal the shimmering instruments and smiling faces of the Sun Ra Arkestra along with the Sex Mob Orchestra, whose horns brought “Angel of Harlem” an incomparable electricity. The only time the band previously played at the Apollo, in 1988, was to film portions of the video for this song.

Next, a rousing “Desire” led into a heavy-on-funk, stripped down arrangement of “When Love Comes to Town” and concluded with a raw “Stuck in a Moment,” which Bono dedicated to Anthony Bourdain and his family after an acknowledgement of the recent celebrity losses and a mention of INXS’s Michael Hutchence, for whom the song was originally written.

The second encore included Bono and The Edge on “Every Breaking Wave” (it only took two takes—whoopsie) and the full band for “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses?” and the finale of “Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way.”

Though the set list was heavy on mainstream hits, nothing about the Apollo show felt basic. U2 is accustomed to playing to tens of thousands of people per night, but here they had just over 1,500, and seemed almost more at home in this setting.

Those in attendance—a mix of contest winners who were subscribers of either Sirius XM or U2.com, or were drawn from a Twitter contest—enjoyed an alchemy that doesn’t happen at every rock concert. It was an exchange of energy between the band, who were exuberant, and their followers, who were euphoric, and the building itself, which holds the secrets, successes and souls of those who have blessed its stage in decades past.

A sacred show in a sacred space.

(c) atu2.com/Kokkoris, 2018.

Transcendent

Springsteen on Broadway Marquee

Marquee outside the Walter Kerr Theatre

Not yet a week ago, my friend Jill and I had a delicious Italian dinner followed by a visit to the Walter Kerr Theatre for Springsteen on Broadway.

I’ve seen Bruce before—twice—but only accompanying my favorite living band (U2). He was phenomenal, but on those occasions he was playing their songs, so I was especially excited to hear him sing his own stuff on this night. Even more excited because I read his exceptional memoir last year.

I thought, because I’d read the book, I knew what I was in for … but I couldn’t have been more wrong. What I expected was a pleasant night of songs with a few anecdotal introductions. What I got was something I keep calling ‘transcendent’ because that’s really the only word I can find that comes close. All of this came free of cell phones blocking views (thanks to the theater’s strict policy) and courtesy of well-behaved guests (you could hear a pin drop).

For two hours (with no intermission), I experienced perpetual goosebumps as The Boss shared his soul by way of beautiful prose, quiet song rendition, theatrical storytelling, stand-up comedy, monologue delivery and rousing acoustic versions of his most famous tunes.

The whole thing was mind-blowing, but if I had to identify highlights, I’d say the joy with which he spoke of his 92-year-old mother (who currently battles Alzheimer’s); the crowd enthusiasm in response to “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”; the first few piano tickles of “Tougher Than The Rest” and the duration of the time his wife, Patti, joined him on stage (two songs, near the middle).

His self-deprecating tone shows a man more humble than necessary, yet eternally endearing. Though he may never have worked in the factories (as he points out early in the show), he’s done his time for America a million times over.

I feel incredibly grateful I got to experience this once-in-a-lifetime event, which still simmers to life in my subconscious this many days later.

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