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.
This work was commissioned for the site atu2, which was online from 1995 – 2020 and it still protected under a shared copyright.
Throughout the years, U2 has collaborated with many fellow artists, from legends they admire to fresh talents emerging on the scene. One such artist is their contemporary — acclaimed musician/photographer/humanitarian Julian Lennon. In addition to photographing the band over the years, Lennon is a backing vocalist on the track “Red Flag Day” from Songs Of Experience. In the following interview, conducted via email, Lennon shares details of their history together as artists and friends, his contribution to their current album, and the thousands of photos he still has of the band, which have yet to be released.
TK: When did you first meet/become friends with U2?
JL: To be honest, I couldn’t tell you the first time … it could have been at the Formosa Cafe in L.A. about 30 years ago. We kept bumping into each other until eventually they asked me if I’d like to come to one of their shows, and I think the first time I went was because we had a security guard in common, Jerry Mele, who used to work for me, but was now working for them. I recall Oasis were their opening act, it was in the U.S. many, many moons ago … but I have a terrible memory, so can’t be sure. 😉
[Editor’s note: Oasis only opened for U2 twice, so the show Lennon references must have been in Oakland in 1997.]
TK: In an interview a few years back, you mentioned a treasure trove of U2 photos you took that weren’t released because they were being saved for possible use on an upcoming U2 album. Since they don’t appear on Songs Of Experience, will they be held for a future album or released in a different way?
JL: Well, I have about 8000+ pictures, not all good by any means, as I was just starting to get into photography then, so a lot of blurry shots! But sometimes that can work too as a medium, as a more artistic slant to the conversation, so to speak. There are a few plans in the works with some of the images, for potential one-offs and limited edition images, but I really do need a month to go through all of them again, as I’ve had so many other projects to deal with in between. I’ll get around to them sooner than later …
TK: If/when they’re released, is there any chance of an exhibit of U2 works, exclusively? Is there any way to purchase any of your U2 prints that have already been displayed?
JL: I’ve already had exclusive U2 exhibitions, one as part of my first-ever exhibition, at the Morrison Hotel Gallery in NYC. I’ve had many since with them in Europe too, in Paris, when they were also performing there. The “Timeless” Collection (U2 inclusive) has been available for sale and to view on my photography website since 2010.
TK: I had the pleasure of interviewing artist Morleigh Steinberg in December, who co-owns the Arcane Space in Venice, California. She spoke of wanting to display a diverse array of artists/photographers. Any chance of exhibiting there (U2 content or not)?
JL: I had the pleasure of dining with The Boys a few nights ago, and Edge mentioned this too … it’s always a possibility.
TK: Fans were delighted to hear your backing vocals on “Red Flag Day.” How did the band approach you to work on that track?
JL: I went to visit U2 whilst they were working on the track, whilst they were still playing with the vocal arrangements, and B just said, “Jules, try this melody, it’s more suited to your tonal range” and that was it, I just sang along. Sometimes with Bono and Edge, sometimes solo, and my voice was blended into their background vocal tracks. I can’t really hear myself in there, but hey … happy to be part of it, regardless … 😉
TK: Throughout your musical career, you’ve collaborated with several of your contemporaries. What’s it like working with U2 compared to others with whom you’ve recorded?
JL: Well, I’d hardly say I was working with them, as such, it was more like a little bit of fun for 5 minutes … The Boys are pretty low key when recording, and don’t often like having people around, so it’s always a pleasure to get the odd invite, if we’re in the same city, to hang out, talk about the World, and music, etc. etc.
TK: Any chance of you joining U2 on stage when they (presumably) sing “Red Flag Day” on their upcoming tour?
JL: Ha … Doubtful … If it was a “Proper” Duet as such, maybe there would be, or even an old classic like “Stand By Me,” which Bono and I have sung together now on quite a few occasions, but I think that decision is always last minute with Bono. He, and the rest of the guys, have to be feeling it, so to speak … I think it’s a show-by-show experience and decision.
TK: Would you ever want U2 to contribute to any of your future songs?
JL: I play them the odd song, here and there, listen to what they have to say … I think we’re both quite particular in our approach to songwriting, but never say never … who knows?
TK: As a fan, do you have any favorite U2 songs or albums?
JL: Of course … too many to mention … “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “One,” “Vertigo,” “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” … the list goes on. It’s more a case of which few I don’t like … that would be easier! 😉
TK: In addition to musical gifts, you also share a common spirit with U2 in the humanitarian sense. Your White Feather Foundation does everything from bringing clean water to African communities to preserving indigenous people’s territories in Australia. Tell us more about your foundation and how our readers can help if they’d like to get involved.
JL: In all honesty, the easiest way to know what we do, and to learn the story behind The White Feather Foundation is to go to our website, and read up on our projects … otherwise I’d be writing a few pages out for an answer.
TK: Your new children’s book, Heal The Earth, was just released. Tell us about it.
JL: Well, it’s part of a trilogy to help children understand, in story form, the problems we face as a society, on a humanitarian and environmental level, and what we can do about those problems … but it’s more about starting a conversation with the next generation, at an early age, so they understand what’s happening to the world that they are going to inherit, and that there are possibilities for change, for the betterment of all life.
TK: Heal The Earth is the second in a trilogy. When can we expect the third book to arrive?
JL: Same time around, in the 3rd year … 😉
TK: At one point it was mentioned you may be writing an autobiography … is that in the works? You seem to always have a lot on your plate.
JL: I’m never not busy, one way or another. If I don’t have a project, or 2, or 3 on the go, at any given point in time, I start to worry that I’m not doing enough, for Myself, for My art, for the World. The autobiography is still a consideration, but I’ve just [got] too much going on to consider that as an option right now.
TK: Fans of your Instagram feed (myself included) have really enjoyed your stunning photos from Cuba. Will those also become an exhibit?
JL: Most of the Instagram shots that were seen were shot with an iPhone, so not really the quality that’s needed to put a show together, but I did take along a new camera that I recently purchased, the Sony AR7 III. Though the pictures won’t be identical to the iPhone pics, there are many that are very similar, so yes, there’s every chance they may become an exhibition at some point, but I’ve just finished editing all of my Cuba/Havana images, which will become a “Collection” on my photography website very soon …
TK: What’s the one question that journalists never ask you that you wish they’d ask?
JL: Am I happy? 🙂
(c) @U2/Kokkoris, 2018.
Lennon’s new book, “Heal The Earth,” will be released on April 3 and is available now for pre-order on Amazon. The third book in the trilogy will be released on or around Earth Day, 2019. A direct link to his U2 photography is here.
I travel a lot—both for business and leisure—and though I always pack plenty of reading material, I’ve noticed that doesn’t stop me from seeking out great bookstores wherever I land.
There have been times when the task wasn’t so easy. Once I was in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina with hours to spare before my flight home and I’d already finished every book I’d brought along on the trip. Not wanting to pay premium prices at the airport, I walked up and down the main streets looking for a bookstore, but had no luck. I ducked into a visitor information center and the host told me they unfortunately didn’t have any more bookstores in the area. She recommended I go to a drugstore for a magazine. I thanked her and kept walking. Soon, I found the public library. I entered and asked the librarian if it was indeed true there were no shops in the immediate vicinity. She regretfully confirmed there wasn’t, but when I told her of my predicament, directed me to their used library book sale where I scored two 50 cent paperbacks for my journey. Still, I was rattled that a major metropolitan area doesn’t have the demand to keep a bookshop in business.
Coming from Seattle, where independent bookstores like Elliot Bay Book Company and Third Place Books thrive, I’m spoiled with many places to explore. The following are five of my favorite U.S. bookshops outside of my own city.
City Lights (San Francisco)
I first discovered this gem during a girls’ night (seriously) with a few local friends back in 2011. The plan was for us to have cocktails at the nearby Tosca, but we needed to kill some time while we waited for a table. Ascending the stairs to a small nook on the upper level, I thought my friend was right behind me and asked her if she’d read a book that I was pointing to. When I turned around, she wasn’t there, but I had chills up and down my spine. A few minutes later when she made her way up, I joked that the place must be haunted and a local interjected that indeed there are rumors it is. Regardless of the spirits present (or not), the selection is eclectic and vast, just as you’d expect in this city known for its progressive slant.
Left Bank Books (St. Louis)
As a college student in Columbia, Missouri in the ’90s, I frequently made trips to St. Louis for Ted Drewes frozen custard. On one of those journeys, I took a friend along who was a St. Louis native, and she introduced me to this treasure trove. With a focus on community and a knowledgeable staff that encourages you to linger, I find it hard to leave whenever I visit.
Compass Books SFO (San Francisco)
I know, I know. San Fran is already on the list—I just can’t help it if they have an embarrassment of literary riches. And this one is in an airport. Yes, you heard me. The “West’s Oldest Independent Bookseller” is my first stop every time I land in Terminal 2 at SFO. In addition to the usual bestsellers, they have fantastic bargain shelves and unique gifts/greeting cards you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.
Tattered Cover (Denver)
Following the U2 tour in May of 2011, my boss and I went out to breakfast at a place we’d seen featured on the Food Network. Full from a delicious meal and with hours to spare before the next concert, we decided it would be best to walk off our pancakes and explore the area. By chance, we landed in this mammoth-yet-somehow-amazingly-cozy independent bookstore. It’s the sort of place where the smell of coffee wafts from the café as you browse and lively conversations among bookworms are abundant. I wanted to move in immediately.
Powells City of Books (Portland)
I’m proud to say that my hometown boasts what I think is the greatest indie bookstore in America (and is actually the world’s largest). This iconic shop where I spent hours scouring used racks as a teenager, looking for (and finding) my next Beatles fix, has the vibe of a classic record store and a selection that could never disappoint. I’ve never once left without making a purchase.
Other stores I planned to include until I learned they recently closed were: Granada Books in Santa Barbara and 2nd Edition in Raleigh. May they rest in peace.
This work was commissioned for the site atu2, which was online from 1995 – 2020 and it still protected under a shared copyright.
As I entered ARCANE Space in Venice, California, barefoot to preserve the pristine white floor, I was immediately drawn in by its simplicity. Instead of a busy display with title cards and distracting noise, I was invited to experience the art on my terms, bearing witness to the works in basic frames; the artist’s statement the sole narrative.
Exploring the room, I imagined I was a hitchhiker on this journey, taking a trip through the America many never see. Grainy images of desert sands and empty roads suddenly felt as if they were in motion. I could almost hear the wind howling as I traveled deeper into the imagery. These landscapes were no longer places from the past, but vibrant signs of life — a bus arriving at its destination; clouds moving rapidly across the sky; a Joshua tree, standing healthy and proud.
This current exhibit, The Joshua Tree: Photographs by The Edge, focuses primarily on the countryside the guitarist captured while on the original tour in the ’80s, and the scenery feels just as timeless as the music. U2 fans will delight in a special section toward the back of the installation, which features single images of each band member.
The curator of the exhibit, who also happens to be the co-owner of ARCANE Space — and the wife of the artist — Morleigh Steinberg, was kind enough to walk me through the collection and provide additional insight. Her energy can only be described as infectious; her spirit kind and ethereal. She’s the type of artist who is so excited about the art, she makes you want to go home and pick up a paintbrush, even if you’re not a painter.
That passion, coupled with the complementary creativity of her co-owner, singer Frally Hynes (who joined us mid-interview), makes it easy to realize why the positive atmosphere in ARCANE is so palpable.
TK: Most U2 fans know you primarily as a choreographer and dancer. What inspired you to open ARCANE Space?
MS: I wanted to have a manageable place to present more visual types of work; not just theatrical. To not have to wait on other people to display the work; to give artists a chance to present in a space that’s not a gallery.
TK: The debut exhibit was a series of photos you personally took; this one is also photography — are you open to other exploring other mediums in the space?
MS: Of course! I’ve thought about doing a sound installation where people could experience that. There’s a graffiti artist I’d like to show — I’d also love to do something interactive, something digital with iPads and be able to bring in a more broad mix of work.
TK: Who’s idea was it to display The Edge’s photographs?
MS: It was his idea to do the book [that’s featured in The Joshua Tree 7LP Super Deluxe Box Set] and I asked him if we could display the images, since they were his photos.
TK: And fast!
MS: Yes! It wouldn’t have made sense to wait — we had to do this at the end of the [Joshua Tree 2017] tour for the connection to still be there.
TK: Going back to the time of the original Joshua Tree tour, there are various articles that say you knew U2 back then, but some say you didn’t. We know you were in the “With Or Without You” video, so was that the first encounter? What’s the true timeline of your history with them?
MS: We didn’t shoot the video together. I filmed with Matt Mahurin separately from the band; they filmed with Meiert Avis. But I did meet them at that time, so I knew them back then.
TK: But you didn’t choreograph for them until Zoo TV?
MS: Right — that was the first time I worked with them directly.
TK: Do you have a favorite photograph in this exhibit?
MS: [Points to one of the darker photos] Maybe this one? It changes every day. [Walks across room and points to nighttime image] I also love this one.
TK: So, you like the moody stuff? [Laughing]
MS: [Smiling] I guess. Really, I like it all!
TK: A few years back, your husband had a Twitter account, @360FromTheEdge, where he tweeted photos very regularly from the 360 tour. Is there any chance of him resurrecting that?
MS: The band does still post to Twitter and Instagram.
TK: But that’s sporadic and it’s all of them. Edge was really consistent when he was doing his own. You could feel his sense of humor coming through. I was hoping he’d maybe return to that at some point.
MS: He’s just so busy. I’m sure that’s why he doesn’t post more.
TK: Remembering that Twitter account, with the exception of brief captions, it was 100% photography. And now I’m standing in an exhibit of his works. Is The Edge really just a frustrated photographer who’s made a life as a musician?
MS: He’s just good at everything! He can do anything. He’s come to dance class with me and he’s a great dancer. He’s got the Tom Jones Welsh moves!
Frally and I laugh at this point with raised eyebrows.
MS: [Also laughing] Seriously, he can dance! But he does have a great eye for photography and he enjoys it.
TK: This exhibit is only on display for another week; what happens to the prints afterward?
MS: Well, some of them have sold, so they’ll go to their new owners, but I have considered touring the collection — perhaps New York and London?
TK: You mentioned this is just a selection of photos you curated, so we can assume there are more?
MS: Yes, there are several more and I’ve thought about that as well. Making a new exhibit from a different group of the images. Also, these [points to installation] are digital prints made from the original 35mm negatives. I have wondered about showing the actual photos, but they’re so old and delicate.
TK: For those who may not be able to visit the space or afford an actual print, is there another way they can experience the Joshua Tree art?
MS: Well, there’s the book that’s being sold on U2.com as part of the deluxe set and we’ll also produce an 8×8 book specifically of images from this exhibit. That will be available here in the space and online on Dec. 14.
TK: It should be noted the prints aren’t being sold for profit. How did you select the charity that receives the proceeds?
MS: When we decided to do this, Edge said, “I want the money to go to a local charity. To help children.” We knew of the GO campaign here in L.A. because he’d previously worked with them, so we decided on that.
TK: So, what’s next for ARCANE Space?
MS: After this exhibit we’ll have a pop-up shop where we’ll sell prints for the holidays, so a few of the images here will still be up. We’re also looking to do shows with Andrew McPherson, Atiba Jefferson and others.
TK: Do you have a dream artist you’d like to feature?
MS: They’re all dream artists! All of them.
TK: Would you consider featuring anything political in the space?
MS: Of course!
TK: Will there be any other exhibitors that U2 fans would get excited about?
MS: I’d love to get Gavin [Friday] in here.
TK: We’d love that too! What about Bono?
MS: Bono’s drawings are fantastic. His Peter and the Wolf illustrations were great. He’d be wonderful too. We have so many possibilities, I’m just excited for all of them.
TK: I so appreciate you making time for me today. It’s been a pleasure talking with you. On a closing note — who inspires you?
MS: Creative, like-minded people. And productive people. People with their eyes open.
(c) @U2/Kokkoris, 2017.
The Joshua Tree: Photographs by The Edge runs through December 17 at ARCANE Space, which is located at 324 Sunset Avenue in Venice, California. Admission is free. You can follow the space on Instagram as well.
Author’s note: A representative from the GO Campaign was in the space while I visited; she shared stories about the Recycled Orchestra, which The Edge has worked with — check them out. The way they build their own instruments reminded me of the first electric guitar The Edge’s brother Dik built when they were becoming musicians.
My friend Lew is a connector. She’s worked in public service all of her adult life and her approach to her career and to life are one and the same: live and love. Do both with joy and justice.
When she invited me to be part of a girls’ trip to Vegas with a handful of her dearest friends from across the country, I didn’t hesitate to accept. I knew I’d have a great time.
It was early spring when we planned this trip—we secured plane tickets, reserved accommodations at the same resort property and most importantly, bought advance tickets to Magic Mike Live.
For months we all exchanged Facebook messages and texts, excited about the getaway. Along the way good and bad things happened to all of us. A week prior to the trip, I was laid off for the first time in my life. I was grateful I’d pre-paid for every aspect of the journey so I could still go and not feel guilty about spending money.
Then, three days before the first members of our party were to arrive in the desert, a white, cowardly American man opened fire onto the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival from his hotel room at Mandalay Bay on the Las Vegas Strip. He killed 59 people including himself and injured over 500 more.
A domestic terrorist attack right across town from where our weekend was to happen.
Before you send me mail about how I categorized this attack, let me remind you of the definition of terrorism, “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.”
Note: it doesn’t say “only” or “exclusively” for political purposes. So even if this coward’s motive wasn’t political, it’s still terrorism.
Anyway, we were all horrified and exchanged messages that we wouldn’t let this terrible tragedy dampen our spirits. I expressed that I’d like to leave flowers for the victims at some point during the trip and the girls agreed it was a good idea.
Aside from a few hiccups (our hostess, who is allergic, got stung by a bee; Channing Tatum came to the Magic Mike performance immediately after ours so we didn’t see him), the trip was a blast. We shared meals, lounged by the pool and waved fake money at brilliant dancers. We concluded the weekend with a lavish French-themed brunch at the Aria hotel.
But I couldn’t shake the guilt. Every cab or ride share driver we had in the city was clearly traumatized. One girl, who transported victims to the hospital in the thick of the chaos, told us it was the worst day of her life. Another driver was a part-time nurse who was still caring for the injured. Yet another openly wept that he knew he’d dropped off some of the people who lost their lives.
Every storefront, hotel, casino, porn shop, wedding chapel—you name it—had a sign that read “Vegas Strong.”
Here I was, a serial concert-goer, who had just attended my 40th U2 concert a few weeks prior. I’ve been to several outdoor shows and festivals. I’ve been in crowds larger and smaller than the one those country fans were in that night. I wasn’t in Nevada when the tragedy occurred, but I had survivors’ guilt.
Guilt because it could have been me; guilt because there was no disruption to the fun-filled weekend we had in their town; guilt because I hadn’t paid my respects.
So the last afternoon, as our group was wandering and shopping and behaving as girls do as they wind down from a girls’ trip, I couldn’t take it anymore. I was on the brink of tears and filled to the brim with emotion.
I announced that I was going to the memorial and anyone who wanted to tag along was welcome to join me. One girl, who I had never met before this trip, decided to join me.
Our cab driver, another who was impacted that unimaginable night, told us that the spot across from Mandalay Bay wasn’t much to see, but we should go to the Las Vegas sign down the road, where a gentleman from Chicago had planted crosses for the victims. We agreed and arrived to a very grim, but peaceful and beautiful memorial. Candles, notes, posters, flowers, stuffed animals and balloons lined the patch of grass so thick it was difficult to find space to walk. Though we were out in the brilliant sunshine with cars whizzing past and journalists broadcasting live, the mourners were quiet and spoke in hushed tones, with reverence for the dead. Locals were thanking visitors like me for taking a moment to remember. How could we not?
My new friend and I separated to head back to the hotel, as my flight was a few hours earlier. I made the mistake of walking on the sidewalk outside where the massacre happened, glancing over the fence where the stage was still set up; remnants of attendees possessions still strung across the lawn. The negative energy was palpable and pulled me toward it.
The city was in shock and the air was raw with sadness. Consumed by this grief, I said a prayer, shed many tears and composed myself to head to the airport.
I could read at age 2 and 1/2; I could write at age 4. Writing was always my retreat—what I did when I was excited or confused or sad or angry or not wanting to do something less fun.
Cleaning out boxes several months back, I discovered so many of my own writings that gave me pause. Here are just a few of the things I found:
Poems about my stuffed animals, created before I was enrolled in school (so I must have been 4).
Lists of names for my future children (I was dead set on a daughter named Abigail Rhode so I could call her “Abbey Road” for short; and a son named Lincoln Paul, after my favorite president and my Grandfather/favorite rock stars).
Lists of names for the pets I’d have if I wasn’t allergic (the somewhat basic “Champ” for a dog; “Drama” for a llama; “Buttermilk” for a bunny, named for a favorite book). Hilariously, there are no names for cats. I always hated them, even as a kid.
Stories about my Sea Wees having all kinds of oceanic adventures after they “escaped” the bath through the drain (Sea Wees were bath toys—little mermaids that floated on sponge lily pads).
Lists of the fireworks my dad bought for the 4th of July one year, and the order in which I thought he should set them off (not sure he listened, but he was probably glad the writing kept me busy while he barbecued).
Lists of my favorite Beatles songs (divided by lead singer).
Transcriptions of favorite TV shows and film scenes. These came only when we finally got a VCR and I could pause and rewind what I missed—I wasn’t typing; I was hand writing every word.
Fan mail (I kept copies of what I sent, so I could match up replies and see if the celebrities actually read them before responding).
… and the “list” goes on. As you can see from above, it wasn’t all narrative work. Much of what I was doing was putting things in their place. Sorting something mundane or hypothetical, just so I could keep it organized. I’ve always been creative, but I also came out of the womb very “Type A.” I’m a planner. I like to bring order to chaos. I like to fold laundry and organize my closet by color; I get perverse joy from making agendas and researching trips and watching everything fall into place.
So, as often as I wrote stories or essays about my experiences—especially when I was younger—I also made lists. I don’t remember ever doing anything with these lists, other than feeling an immense satisfaction at their completion. And from the dust that’s gathered on them, once I finished them, I must have just tucked them away, or wrote another list a few pages later in the same notebook.
On a cleaning spree when I last moved in 2013, I remember ripping out pages of notebooks that were gibberish or outdated so I could utilize any remaining blank pages. Start fresh.
One of those notebooks I shoved in my hall closet only to be discovered again today. What was inside? The photo you see above. The first week of MTV, catalogued by hand, complete with time stamps.
I have no idea what compelled me to do this nor do I have much practical use for it (I’m sure the VHS that must have contained these gems is long gone by now), but it was a kick to see after all these years.
It’s interesting to look back on my younger self and wonder what she was thinking.
This work was commissioned for the site atu2, which was online from 1995 – 2020 and it still protected under a shared copyright.
In the summer of 1976, Max Jensen was a promising law student at Brigham Young University with a wife and infant daughter. When a construction job fell through, he took the only job he could find to feed his family — working the late shift at the Sinclair gas station in Orem, Utah. The pay was terrible and the job tedious, but he made the best of it.
On July 19, he spent his afternoon happily building shelves in his daughter’s room. Once the project was finished, he scarfed down a meal then kissed his wife Colleen goodbye before heading to work. It was the last time they’d see each other.
Later that night, just before Jensen’s shift was due to end, Gary Gilmore walked in and demanded he empty his pockets. He complied, then Gilmore instructed him to head to the restroom. Once there, he had Jensen lay face down on the floor he’d recently cleaned and shot him twice in the head. He was killed instantly.
The next day, another young family would be destroyed by the same man.
Like Max Jensen, Ben Bushnell was a college student of Mormon faith with a wife and baby. The couple lived in and managed the City Center Motel in Provo. They liked the time the job afforded them to spend together and the work was mostly pleasant.
On the evening of July 20, Ben worked the front desk. His wife Debbie emerged from the apartment and asked him to run to the store for milk. She also wanted candy and ice cream for her cravings (she suspected correctly that she was pregnant). After she returned to their room, she heard a sound like a balloon pop so she went back out hoping to find children in the lobby. Instead she saw the cold stare of Gary Gilmore.
On instinct, Debbie pivoted back into their apartment and waited until he left. She returned to the front desk to find her husband bleeding profusely from a gunshot wound, face down on the floor. A short time later, he died.
For a return of less than $150, Gary Gilmore had taken two innocent lives.
The Mind of a Killer
Hours later, Gilmore was turned over to the police by his own cousin and a media frenzy ensued. What could possibly have driven Gilmore to kill two upstanding young men who had followed his every order? Film producer/screenwriter Larry Schiller was determined to find out. He traveled to Utah to befriend the inmate, who was then on death row demanding to be executed as soon as possible.
In the months that followed, Schiller gained rights to the stories of all the major “characters” in this real-life tragedy. He interviewed everyone from Gilmore himself to the woman Gilmore was in love with to the families of the victims. Armed with those interviews, hours of court transcripts and Gilmore’s personal letters, Schiller commissioned famed author Norman Mailer to craft the “true-life novel” that would become the Pulitzer Prize winner The Executioner’s Song.
This is where U2 first becomes part of the story.
The Executioner’s Song was published in 1979, but it wasn’t until several years later, when the band was writing The Joshua Tree, that Bono read it, along with another American crime story, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. One song that emerged from a jam session was the darker-than-usual “Exit.”
In U2 By U2, Bono explained his intention when crafting the lyrics: “This was my attempt at writing a story in the mind of a killer.” He certainly succeeded. It’s not hard to find the parallels between Mailer’s novel and Bono’s words.
In the first lines of “Exit,” we learn about our killer:
You know he got the cure You know he went astray He used to stay awake To drive the dreams he had away
In fact, Gary Gilmore did sleep very little, plagued by nightmares since childhood. Nightmares about being executed.
Continuing, “Exit” introduces its protagonist’s capacity for love.
He wanted to believe In the hands of love
Nicole Baker Barrett, the woman who romantically loved Gary Gilmore, may have been his only hope for a normal life, but when she rejected him after he became abusive, his world closed in on him.
His head it felt heavy As he cut across the land A dog started crying Like a broken hearted man
When questioned about his state of mind during the murders, according to The Executioner’s Song, Gilmore remembered, “I never felt so terrible as I did the week before I was arrested. I had lost Nicole. It hurt so f***ing bad that it was becoming physical — I mean I couldn’t hardly walk, I couldn’t sleep and I didn’t hardly eat. I couldn’t drown it. Booze didn’t even dull it. A heavy hurt and loss. It got worse every day. I could feel it in my heart … I could feel the ache in my bones. I had to go on automatic to get thru the day.”
He went deeper into black Deeper into white He could see the stars shining Like nails in the night
Also in The Executioner’s Song, Gilmore described his descent into darkness in his own lyrical way:
And it grew into a calm rage. And I opened the gate and let it out. But it wasn’t enough. It would have gone on and on.
When asked about the murder of Bushnell, Gilmore talked about his uncontrolled rage: “Sometimes I would feel an urge to do something and I would try to put it off, and the urge would become stronger until it was irresistible.”
Unfortunately, the rage didn’t end with Gilmore’s execution the following year, or the U2 song released a decade later.
Hollywood’s Worst Nightmare
Robert John Bardo was an unemployed janitor in Tucson, Arizona when he began writing love letters to actress Rebecca Schaeffer, who starred in the TV sitcom My Sister Sam. It wasn’t his first rodeo — he’d also pursued singer Debbie Gibson and peace activist Samantha Smith, though unsuccessfully. Schaeffer, just 21 at the time and relatively new in her career, initially answered his fan mail with a kind personal note. He took this as a sign of encouragement and traveled to California multiple times to meet her. He was denied entry at the Burbank studio where she filmed her TV show, so he attempted to obtain her home address.
On July 17, 1989 he roamed the streets of West Hollywood holding up Schaeffer’s photo, asking if anyone knew where she lived. No one would give her residence up, so he hired a private detective, who made a simple visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles and produced the address. Inspired by John Lennon’s killer, Bardo armed himself with a copy of Catcher In The Rye and a .357 Magnum revolver for the trip to her apartment. Once he arrived, he had a pleasant exchange with the actress, who mentioned a postcard she’d sent him in response to his latest correspondence. She told him to “take care” and sent him on his way.
Just moments later he rang the doorbell again and Schaeffer returned, irritated by the repeat visit. She mentioned something about him wasting her time and he shot her twice in the chest. She screamed so loudly that a neighbor across the street heard her and rushed over. There, after Bardo hurriedly walked away, the neighbor found Schaeffer lying in a pool of blood and called an ambulance. She died less than an hour later at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
Bardo was captured the next day back in Arizona and confessed to the crime, telling his lawyers that lyrics from the U2 song “Exit” gave him the idea for the murder. A clip from Inside Edition two years later shows Bardo’s physical reaction to the song when the defense team plays it during his trial.
No charges were brought against U2 despite his claim and Bardo was convicted of first-degree murder. He’s currently serving a life sentence without parole at Ironwood State Prison in California.
Laid to Rest
In U2 By U2, Bono recalled an injury he sustained on The Joshua Tree tour when caught up in the song’s darkness:
The song was ‘Exit’ and it had taken me to an ugly place. I slipped in the rain and I came down on my left shoulder and severed three ligaments from the clavicle. I was in terrible pain. Of course, they never healed back. My shoulder has come forward now, so I have to train my shoulder to go back. But it was rage that caused it. That was when I realized rage was an expensive thing for your general well-being.
U2 has played the song “Exit” live 112 times. The final performance was during the Lovetown tour in Melbourne, Australia, on Oct. 14, 1989.
Many fans assumed the band would never play “Exit” again. During a 2007 interview for Phantom FM, then-manager Paul McGuinness admitted the song had been “slightly tainted” by the Bardo connection. But The Joshua Tree Tour 2017 will change that. In fact, in a recent Facebook Live video, Larry Mullen said “Exit” was the song he most looked forward to playing.
When I was young I wanted to be many things when I grew up: ice skater, rock star, ballet dancer, wife of Michael J. Fox, etc. but when I got to be a teenager, I really had a feeling I’d end up a writer. Writing always came easy to me, and it was something I couldn’t physically stop doing, no matter what the situation.
Of course, when I was young, we still had those things called newspapers, so I naturally wanted to be a reporter. I found chasing stories and asking people hard questions to be an exciting job.
I would take my fashionable Minolta Disc camera (it was green, silver and awesome) to take important photos of whatever I was supposed to be covering. But of course, I had to wait for the roll of film to be finished, so it always seemed like a lifetime before we got the actual photos back.
This is what a roll of film looked like post-developing:
Thankfully, when I became the editor of the paper in high school (it was called The Verdict, because our school was named for a Supreme Court Justice), I had photographers with real SLR cameras to accompany me on my assignments, and they always took better photos like the one below this paragraph. This was the day we got to ditch class (with the journalism advisor’s permission) and head to downtown Portland to catch a glimpse of Madonna filming Body of Evidence with Willem Dafoe. We didn’t meet her or speak with her, but I wrote a review of the film and Jason snapped this great picture. I wonder whatever happened to Jason.
Also important in a young journalist’s life were the obligatory Steno pads. In the days pre-digital-recorder, and pre-laptop, we had to resort to good, old-fashioned paper and pens, and because I’m painfully nostalgic, I kept my favorite two Steno notebooks: the one I had while working at The Oregonian and the other one I received at journalism camp my junior year.
What was a high school student doing at The Oregonian? Working hard, that’s what! No, really, I was living out a geeky dream. I had been chosen to write for a city-wide student newspaper called Youth Today and our advisor was Judson Randall, a senior editor at the paper back then. We met and worked in the actual Oregonian newsroom, and the summer after I began there, I was chosen to attend a journalism workshop in Washington DC, which led to me meet some lifelong friends and contribute to another student newspaper called Young DC.
Apart from the actual fun of reporting news and crafting stories, those experiences marked my first real moments of independence as a young adult: I took a bus (or drove myself) downtown to work at the newspaper, signed myself in with a security badge and taught myself how to use the prehistoric (but at the time very cool) computer terminals. I would walk down to Powell’s Books and research stories for hours; I took my first solo plane ride to Washington DC at age 16 and have been a frequent flier ever since.
One of my favorite articles back in the old days was a piece I did for the traveling exhibit that featured Anne Frank’s actual diary on display. That had been my favorite book since I first read it in 6th grade and I was obsessed with Anne for many years, identifying with her in many ways (though I wasn’t Jewish). When the show came to town I literally got goosebumps just reading a flyer for it, so I knew that assignment had to be mine. I contacted the American Friends of the Anne Frank Center (they were sponsoring it), and they gave me a guided personal tour so I could enjoy the full scope of the presentation. I was moved to tears and promptly went home to write the article you see below. It made the front page.
Less than a year later, I had applied and been accepted to the famous University of Missouri-Columbia journalism school. I worked briefly a real newspaper before deciding that I couldn’t earn a good enough living doing that and became an advertising writer instead. Hence, my career today.
The money is certainly better, but marketing will never take the place of a well-worn Steno Pad.
Being the baby of the family, I was often talked into things that seemed like a good idea at the time, but later proved to be ridiculous.
One example is the Sunday that my sister spent dressing me up as a “punk rocker” when I was four years old. No, it wasn’t Halloween. No, there was no costume contest to attend or pageant for tiny fake whores, just a barrel of laughs at the expense of the littlest Kokkoris, who was more than game to get gussied up in the fashion of some of her favorite rock stars.
In fact, I distinctly remember liking the getup so much that I begged to dress that way on a permanent basis. Thankfully, my mom vetoed that wish and the next day I went back to being Sweet Little Tassoula.
Maybe that’s why I turned out to be such a groupie?