Category: atu2 (Page 1 of 3)

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.

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.


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, 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), 2018.

U2 Through the Lens of Friendship: An Interview with Julian Lennon

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.

‘Someone To Look Up To’ Photo (c) Julian Lennon, Used with Permission

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.

A Trip Through The Joshua Tree Exhibit with Morleigh Steinberg

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.

Frally Hynes, The Edge and Morleigh Steinberg at the exhibit premiere.
Photo courtesy of ARCANE Space.

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 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 McPhersonAtiba 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.


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.

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. 

Rising Up

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.

In the age-old philosophical battle of “Art Imitates Life” vs. “Life Imitates Art,” it could be argued that “Exit,” perhaps tragically, fulfills both.

(c) @U2/Kokkoris, 2017.


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.

The year was 1788. Artist William Blake was still grieving the loss of his beloved brother Robert, who had passed away several months prior. He was searching for an inventive way to share his personal poetry that was less laborious than the method he employed for his day job as an engraver for various London publishers.

One night, his late brother visited him in a dream, offering precise instructions on how to create a new way of presenting the work via copperplate. The coloring of the pages was to be done by hand and no two copies of the work in progress were to be identical. Even the order in which the poems were presented was supposed to alternate.

Blake followed this ghostly guidance to the letter and published 19 poems the following year, which made up the Songs of Innocence collection. Five years later, he added 26 more and called that group Songs of Experience. Presenting them together as a pair, they became: Songs of Innocence and Experience: Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul.

The works were reissued by Blake several times throughout his career; the timeless essence of the subject matter never expiring.

So, what does that have to do with U2?

In obvious terms, the band took the name for their current (and presumably next) album from these poetry books. In a broad sense, the themes Blake explores in his texts (childhood innocence, social injustice, poverty, conflicting aspects of religion) are identical to those of U2.

Bono is quoted as saying the Songs Of Innocence album is all about “first journeys” and “falling in love.” We can only assume that the second volume will reflect an older perspective.

The fact that Blake released these works of art in a new and inventive way for his time is also a parallel, as (love it or hate it) U2 released their album via iTunes in a way no other band had ever before.

The Presence of Nature

An undeniable infusion of nature is repeated throughout William Blake’s collection. Whether he’s “weeping in the evening dew” or has “smil’d among the winters snow,” he’s embracing the natural world. In The School Boy, the young narrator finds joy in his earthly surroundings:

I love to rise in a summer morn
When the birds sing on every tree;
The distant huntsman winds his horn,
And the sky-lark sings with me.
O! What sweet company.

Similarly, U2 lyrics on Songs Of Innocence are rich with landscapes and environmental descriptions. When Bono sings about U2’s first visit to the Golden State in “California (There Is No End To Love),” he can’t help but remember the color of the sky:

California, blood orange sunset
Brings you to your knees
I’ve seen for myself
There’s no end to grief

Nature is also used to describe a memorable childhood place. In Blake’s The Ecchoing Green, it’s a location where kids played in their youth:

The birds of the bush,
Sing louder around
To the bells’ cheerful sound,
While our sports shall be seen
On the ecchoing green.

For Bono, the beauty found in his best friend’s yard brings comfort to “Cedarwood Road:”

And that cherry blossom tree
Was a gateway to the sun
And friendship, once it’s won
It’s won, it’s one

There are countless other references to nature in both works that mention the ocean, the sky, stars and seasons. A relatable and universal way for each artist to convey a mood — even if over 200 years apart in delivery.

Religious Overtones

Though neither Blake’s poems nor U2’s album could be considered strictly religious, they’re both laced with references to Christianity. God and the church are both celebrated and condemned in each collection.

In Blake’s poem The Divine Image, he urges non-judgment and shows that God is compassionate:

And all must love the human form,
In heathen, turk or jew;
Where Mercy, Love & Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.

In “Lucifer’s Hands,” U2’s singer delights in God “saving” him through music:

The spirit’s moving through a seaside town
I’m born again to the latest sound
New wave airwaves swirling around my heart

You no longer got a hold on me
I’m out of Lucifer’s hands

Alternately, Blake takes God to task for the suffering of the poor in Holy Thursday:

Is this a holy thing to see,
In a rich and fruitful land,
Babes reducd to misery,
Fed with cold and usurous hand?

And in U2’s “Sleep Like a Baby Tonight,” shades of priestly abuse are evident:

Hope is where the door is
When the church is where the war is
Where no one can feel no one else’s pain

You’re gonna sleep like a baby tonight
In your dreams everything is alright

In Blake’s time, he was considered radical for his vocal opposition to the Church of England. While Bono, The Edge, Larry and Adam are probably known more for their political voice, all but Adam have previously identified as religious, so it’s a slight about-face to see them so blatantly criticize the church.

The Poetry of the Innocence + Experience Tour

Conceptually, the tour aligns quite well with William Blake’s books. U2 begin each show with “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone),” which details their collective loss of musical innocence seeing Joey Ramone live for the first time as teens. They typically follow that tune with songs from their earliest albums (except “Vertigo”) before going into “Iris,” which is about Bono’s mother. William Blake’s poem The Chimney Sweeper is about a child who lost his mother when he was young.

Next in the show, U2 explore Bono’s childhood and life in general as a young man in 1970s Ireland. Blake’s Songs Of Innocence shows children both “lost” and “found” as they navigate childhood among life’s joys and challenges in 1700s London.

As the show progresses, the band members grow metaphorically older, referencing events that happened as they aged. Following intermission, they launch into the “experience” portion of the concert, with songs that reflect their later years as men who have fallen in love, raised families, found fame, suffered loss. Though the setlist changes from night to night, they clearly move to the “other side of the barricade” in this second half of the show.

Even the way the songs are presented — heavy on the visuals, with books and pages falling from the stage and sky, respectively, each night — mimics the spirit of Blake’s ancient copperplates; conveying images in a way that had never before been seen. No other lead singers have leapt into a cage mid-show that displayed their childhood street as they sang along to the description of it. Nor have concertgoers clamored to collect ripped pages of books they were (most likely) forced to read in young adulthood, searching for the symbolism as they Google paragraphs of old text on their smartphones.

Only Part of the Story

Though I’m guessing the inspiration didn’t go much deeper than the general concept of Blake’s poems for U2, the similarities in theme are evident. Plus, the band’s history with this collection of poems goes all the way back to the late ’80s, when they recorded the song “Beautiful Ghost/Introduction to Songs of Experience,” taking the lyrics directly from Blake’s Introduction to Songs of Experience. Perhaps they were intentionally prophetic, giving us a taste of things to come. The fun in searching for clues to the method of U2’s madness stems from the theoretical puzzle pieces the band so generously doses out. However, because the album Songs Of Experience has not yet been completed, it’s hard to draw a comprehensive comparison between the works.

Of course, if U2 really wanted to pay homage to the legendary poet (and please the marketing department at their record label), they could pull a different kind of stunt when the next album is released. Instead of issuing vinyls and CDs with a fixed playlist, they could mix up the tracks and offer several different versions with the songs in no particular order, just like Blake issued his copperplate pages.

This would not only put a smile on the faces of William Blake fans everywhere and potentially sell more albums (since completist fans would want at least a few variations in sequence), but it would also force them to make songs so brilliant and versatile that they’d shine regardless of the order in which they were played.

Not that they wouldn’t shine anyway.

(c) @U2/Kokkoris, 2015.

Please note: the spellings and punctuation used in referencing William Blake’s poetry is authentic to the way he wrote the works in the 1700s.

U2 Lists: Top 10 U2 Songs of Comfort in Times of Grief

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.

Having recently experienced a sudden death in the family, I became overwhelmed with emotions that I didn’t even know I had. I’ve described it as a profound sadness coupled with pain that hurt deep in my chest. In an instant, things that would normally take precedence in my everyday life became insignificant; colors that brightened my world went dull.

Within hours of the loss, I was bombarded with calls, flowers and social media messages. I had to turn my phone to vibrate because the sound of the texts constantly going off made me crazy. Later the buzzing made me nuts as well, so I buried the phone under pillows for several hours. Though everyone sending those messages had only the best of intentions, what I needed more than anything was peace and quiet.

As the days dragged on, I lost track of space and time. I thought weekends were weekdays and nighttime was morning. The thick fog of Oregon matched the haze of my brain, which was out of focus and fuzzy with despair. When I was ready to accept what had happened, and felt obligated to respond to those who had checked in, I began scrolling all of the beautiful messages that had been left for me on Facebook, and reading the kind texts and emails that were sent. Perhaps predictably, some of the ones that brought me the most comfort were those that somehow referenced U2.

I smiled one of my first genuine smiles following the passing when I opened a card from my friend and she’d tucked in a drawing her 5-year-old daughter completed of the band. Tears came to my eyes when another friend simply wrote “Kite” in the comments field of my announcement of the loss. Several folks also sent lyrics in lieu of messages, and I loved that.

Of course, that prompted me to make a playlist for the drive back to Seattle. A reflective list consisting only of U2’s music. Weeks later, I’m still listening to it, still drawing comfort from the mix. If you find yourself in a time of grief, I invite you to do the same. In case you need help with the list, here are my Top 10:

10. MLK
This song is so hymn-like that it always has a calming effect on me. After friends and family convinced me it was okay to “return” to my life, I began to seek out the dark safety of movie theaters. I wanted to see stories and characters that matched my sadness, perhaps to encourage my body to release the pain. One of the first films I saw was the brilliant Selma, about the legendary civil rights march led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This simple lullaby in his honor is as relevant today as it was when the band wrote it, if not more so. It helped me, and also reminded me of the personal tragedies suffered by those close to public figures.

9. Iris
Bono speaks of how he filled the absence of his mother with music, and what better way to pay tribute to her life than with this beautiful tune. The heavenly intro reminds me of the presence of angels and the lyrics speak to the truth in our longevity. I believe that sharing the physical world is only the beginning of our souls’ journey, and the light of love shines on.

8. Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own
Losing a loved one is always hard; losing a loved one with whom you had a difficult relationship can be harder. Bono seemed to discover the essence of his father toward the end of his life, and following his passing. The result was this raw meditation on all of the things they both got right and wrong along the way. An honest, gorgeous tribute to remind us all to do the best we can for as long as we have together.

7. Heartland
Though this song is about a place rather than a person, I found it incredibly cathartic on my drive back home from bereavement leave. Each day I wake, I’m a little further from the shock, a little more distant from the grief. Dawn does, indeed, change everything.

6. If God Will Send His Angels
In times of such deep despair it can certainly seem like a higher power is taking a vacation (if your beliefs include a higher power, of course). Like we’re all out on our own islands, making our way without any guidance or relief. It can be therapeutic to get mad, and this criticism of God’s silence, masked under a quiet cloak of melody, sure helped my anger seem justified when I needed it most.

5. One
In the aftermath of my loss, I immediately started putting thoughts down on paper. As I began to trace my experience, I realized that nearly everyone is flying blind in the wake of sudden grief. So, I wrote what I was feeling at each step of the way, and decided to publish it in hopes that people who will eventually endure the same thing will be more prepared than I was for the pain. I also wanted to stress that no one should apologize for the myriad of emotions they will confront that are completely out of their control. The response was overwhelming and one dear friend wrote me a note in appreciation of the piece, mentioning how we really do “carry each other” in times of need. We most certainly do, which is why this song remains in heavy rotation. The words are so simple, so pure, so true.

4. Kite
None of us know “where the wind will blow” and all we can do in the meantime is give this life of ours our best. Like the one-word title left for me by a friend, the simple poetry of this song soothes me. Just like watching the beautiful colors of a kite fly by — even if it’s “blowing out of control on a breeze,” the universe has still given it a purpose, profound in its own journey.

3. In a Little While
This is my go-to song for recovering from just about anything. I detailed why in an essay I wrote back in 2008, so I won’t go into it here, but I’m pleased to say it possesses the same healing powers it had when I first needed it over a decade ago. It holds up.

2. One Tree Hill
One of the most common lines that friends sent to me after the unthinkable happened, was the glorious, “I’ll see you again when the stars fall from the sky” from this tragically beautiful song. What could I say? I was a sobbing mess every time I saw or heard it, but I loved getting it. It’s so touching, so sweet and says so much by saying so little. One of the greatest gifts U2 has ever given us, made personal by those I love.

1. Window in the Skies
This song may be an afterthought for many fans; casual listeners may not even realize that it’s U2, but I found it a great help the farther I got from my grief. “Oh can’t you see what love has done?” I most certainly can.

(c) @U2/Kokkoris, 2015

Column: Off the Record …, Vol. 14-636

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.

Wow. What a week, right?

For those off the grid since Tuesday, let me catch you up …

If you live in one of the 119 countries that has iTunes available, and you possess an account, congratulations! You’re now the proud owner of a new, free U2 album. It’s called Songs Of Innocence and it’s waiting there for you in your purchased items list. No, really, it’s there. Honestly, the only way Apple could’ve made the delivery any more magical is if they’d programmed Bono’s voice to say, “Am I buggin’ you? I don’t mean to bug ya,” upon log in.

Some of us would have laughed, but I get why many did not when they received the album. Though I was elated to watch our favorite frontman on stage at the iPhone 6 launch perform a little “E.T.” move and suddenly see all of the songs appear on my phone, I do understand the frustration of those folks who aren’t fans and didn’t ask for new music. I wouldn’t like it if an album by a band I disliked showed up without my prompting.

What I don’t understand are the scores of account owners who don’t know the band. Aside from various infants and toddlers, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t know who Bono is, and in my brain, if you know who Bono is, you know of the band U2 — even if you’re not a fan.

As if the whining anti-U2 chorus wasn’t loud enough, the band’s stunt with Apple also sparked a backlash of criticism from members of their own fan base, claiming the launch was too big and corporate. That it’s no longer about the music if big business plays a part.

Friends, I beg to differ.

U2 have always aimed to reach the masses. Bono’s repeated claims of wanting the title of “Best Band in the World” have never really slowed, nor does the band seem to create music that begs to be heard in a coffeehouse. Your goals for them (if you want them to keep it small) aren’t their goals.

There is no crime in smart marketing. U2 didn’t get to where they are today by hiding behind their fame; they’ve capitalized on it, as is their right to do. In fact, if they weren’t good at promoting themselves, none of us would even be having this conversation. Why punish them for a partnership that makes perfect sense? Since Tuesday, their back catalog has reappeared on the iTunes charts, securing some of the top spots. As late as Friday night, The Joshua Tree was at No. 7, cuddled right between the Guardians Of The Galaxy soundtrack and Sam Smith’s In The Lonely Hour. Not bad for a collection of songs that debuted in 1987.

They learned their lesson. No Line On The Horizon didn’t do as well as previous albums not because the music was bad, but because they marketed primarily to us: their tried-and-true fans who always wait for the Dave Fanning interview and the chat with Jo Whiley. We don’t expect to see them much on social media, but we buy their music anyway. With this new approach, they’re getting in front of millions who may never before have heard them (hard as that is to believe).

Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Remember: Apple bought this album for our catalogs. We didn’t. Sure, we’ll have the option to get more songs if we buy a physical copy or order them digitally a la carte, but right now, the only paycheck they’ve received for Songs Of Innocence came from the tech giant. And like Bono said in his letter to us, it hurts smaller bands when anyone gives away music for free, so it was good that someone paid for it.

Our modern society needs corporations. In a perfect world we’d all buy bread from the baker down the street and get our shoes from the cobbler on the corner, but that’s not reality. I go to farmer’s markets and buy gifts on Etsy, but I also drink a lot of Coca-Cola and enjoy my DirecTV immensely. To put things in perspective: I’m sure that Larry’s first drum set was made by a corporation, as was the notepad Bono scribbled his lyrics upon in the ‘80s. Every vinyl album you ever bought was pressed in a factory of some sort; each cassette spooled in a manner of mass production. See where I’m going with this? The truth is, if you’re reading this right now, on a computer or a mobile device, via the Internet, you’re supporting big business. Make peace with it.

The artistic integrity of the music is in no way compromised by the way it’s distributed. It seems kind of silly to me that there are fans who think the Apple partnership in some way diminishes the creativity of the finished product. I don’t think this could be further from the truth, since we may have in fact got a better album from our band because the demanding launch deadline didn’t allow them to second-guess themselves and Phil Spector-ize their own masterpiece.

So, let’s talk about that masterpiece.

As I was listening to the new album, I couldn’t help but remember my first @U2 writing assignment 10 years ago. Only a contributor back then, I pitched an article to Matt about the similarities between my two favorite bands: U2 and The Beatles. He graciously accepted it and I happily scripted it. I feel like now I should update it.

If The Joshua Tree was U2’s Revolver and Achtung Baby was Sgt. Pepper, this is undoubtedly their first installment of The White Album. Hell, the album cover is even white, and I doubt that’s an accident.

I realize that the title Songs Of Innocence is a nod to British poet William Blake, but there are far more recognizable Beatles parallels for me.

“Iris” is like Lennon’s “Julia” both paying tribute to their mothers; “Cedarwood Lane” is akin to “Glass Onion” in that it reflects upon their personal childhood places. The backing vocals on The Beatles’ “Back In The U.S.S.R.” were intentionally sung like The Beach Boys; U2 pays tribute to that band in “California”.

Who knows what will match on Songs Of Experience?

I’m enjoying learning and feeling the tracks on ‘part 1’ in the meantime. I’ve been listening to all the songs in order, just like we used to in the old days, so they become a collective memory. And let me tell you, this is a raw, stunning album. There are no tortoises or cockatoos killing the buzz here.

I’m going on record saying this is the best thing they’ve done since Achtung Baby. There, I said it.

Here’s my list, ranked weakest to strongest, in my humble opinion:

11. California (There Is No End To Love) Though the nod to The Beach Boys is sweet, and I like California-the-state as much as the next girl, the song doesn’t put me there the way that “New York” catapults me to summer in the Big Apple or “Miss Sarajevo” throws me into a Bosnian war zone. It’s okay, is all.

10. Every Breaking Wave It’s not the song’s fault that I’d already heard it, but I just can’t muster genuine excitement for a track that I discovered on the last tour and thought, “Well, that’s nice.” It is nice, but it’s the most “recent U2” sounding song of the bunch, and I’m into the classics.

9. Song For Someone The guitar intro to this one is so quietly beautiful, and Bono’s voice so clear with Edge’s melodies to complement. The longing in the chorus I can feel in my bones, and I so appreciate that.

8. Iris (Hold Me Close) Bono’s gorgeous tribute to his late mother has all the hallmarks of classic U2, right from the first riff of Edge’s guitar to the honest emotion in Bono’s voice as he describes how the “ache in his heart” where she used to be has shaped him. Heartbreaking and satisfying.

7. This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now The soldier imagery combined with Larry’s old-school military drumming in this one is sublime. They threw a little Rockwell over the top and made it a late ‘70s dance track. A song that could be backed by a marching band or played at a disco. Such geniuses.

6. Cedarwood Road Ladies and gentlemen, The Edge is officially on fire. With lyrics like, “That cherry blossom tree was a gateway to the sun/And friendship, once it’s won, it’s won” over the top of that insane rock ’n’ roll guitar riff, we can see their childhood spring to life in full bloom.

5. The Troubles The haunting sound of Lykke Li’s voice layered over Bono’s, along with the strings, makes this one stand out like none of the others on the album. If this came on the radio, most people wouldn’t immediately recognize it as a U2 song because it’s such a departure for them. It’s fresh, oddly submissive and powerful.

4. The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone) I feel about them the way they feel about The Ramones. They awaken a very deep part of my soul, and that awakening has guided me for years. The African-inspired howls coupled with the beats throughout give the tune a tribal sensation that perfectly communicates the energy I feel when I’m amongst you fellow fans at one of their shows. We become part of the same vibration both physically and spiritually. And that will feel all the more amazing during this song with the Edge refrain radiating beneath us as the ground shakes.

3. Raised By Wolves This one could have been an extra track on Boy, and I mean that in the best way possible. It’s angry and passionate and stripped-back and basic and visceral. I’d like more of these types of songs, please.

2. Sleep Like a Baby Tonight Bono channels John Lennon’s painful “Cold Turkey” voice for this menacing lullaby and hits falsettos we haven’t heard since Macphisto took the stage. The dreadful subject matter here likely allows those high-pitched demons to rise and that makes it all the more devastating. It’s the darkest track on the album, but also one of the most flawless.

1. Volcano This song allows Adam to shine with blinding brightness. When I listened to this for the first time, I could have sworn the bass rhythms traveled through my headphones, down my throat and into my chest, making my heart burst in time with every note. It was as if the music was buried in my cells, awaiting the cue from U2 to ignite. Each section of the song brings a different dimension to an already interesting arrangement. It’s complex in that you never know where it’s about to go, but each destination is better than the last. An absolute triumph.

Speaking of how “Volcano” felt like it was already inside me the first time I listened reminds me of a documentary I saw a few weeks back, for which I am now obsessed. It’s called Alive Inside and tells the story of a man who began bringing music to patients in nursing homes to restore memory and awaken a part of them that has been dormant for years.

I was so fascinated and moved by the film, I donated one of my old iPods to the organization and made my own if-I’m-ever-in-a-coma or when-I’m-too-old-to-remember-you list of songs for my friends and family to be aware of in case I ever need them.

Of course, U2 made the cut.

(c) @U2, 2014.

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