Category: atu2 (Page 2 of 3)

Like a Song: Do They Know It’s Christmas?

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 day was Nov. 25, 1984. A young girl in Portland, Ore. had just opened a lavender bathrobe and a solar-powered calculator for her 9th birthday. All she wanted that year was a Cabbage Patch Kid, but she didn’t figure she’d get one because her family wasn’t rich.

Determined not to make her parents feel bad, she reacted with fake enthusiasm over the other gifts, putting the bathrobe on and beginning to test the calculator under the kitchen lights, not noticing that her mother and sister had left the room.

When they returned, they were carrying a huge box, and she could tell by the distinctive shape that it was holding a Cabbage Patch Kid. Trembling with joy, she opened it, learned it was a “preemie” girl (just what she wanted) and promptly renamed it Marlena, after one of her favorite characters on Days of Our Lives.

That little girl was me, and it was the best birthday ever.

Meanwhile, across the pond in Notting Hill, the majority of my favorite musicians, including Bono and Adam Clayton from U2, were gathered together inside Sarm West Studios to record a song for African famine relief. Organized by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, the group called themselves Band Aid and spent the day laughing, bickering, singing and waiting on Boy George, who had to fly on the Concorde to get there in time from New York City when they discovered he was missing.

The producers had the artists take turns singing the solos and then made notes about which would end up on the track. They reassembled them to sing those respective solos, and clips from those sessions would become part of the song’s video. By 8:00 a.m. the next day “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was finished and sent off to pressing plants to be manufactured (yes kids, we were still rocking the vinyl back then).

By Nov. 29, just four days later, the single hit the stores. Within a week the song was No. 1 on the U.K. charts, and soon after the video was in constant rotation on America’s MTV.

I can’t tell you how exciting it was to hear that song for the first time, and see the video featuring all of those stars. Back then, in addition to U2, I loved Duran Duran, Wham!, and Culture Club. Waiting for each respective lead singer’s part of the song to come up was like opening five more epic birthday presents. I remember debating with my friends over which part was the best. The “pray for the other ones” bit sung by George Michael; Sting’s portion where he sings his own name?

These were great, sure, but for me there was only one line that gave me goosebumps: “Well, tonight thank God it’s them, instead of you,” belted out by Bono. His delivery was so raw, the pain of the guilt in the lyric bleeding from his soul like a deep cut. Even at that young age, I felt it.

In the documentary Do They Know It’s Christmas? The Story of the Official Band Aid Video, you can see him building up to it, shoulders moving as if they’re trying to contain a volcanic eruption. Simon Le Bon, standing to Bono’s left, physically reacts to the moment, turning to watch him, then smiling wide at the conclusion of the line. The musical earthquake of his peer cleary shook him.

What’s even more remarkable is that when this song was recorded, U2 were the underdogs. The Police were well established; Duran Duran owned the video landscape and Wham! was enjoying chart-topping success with their sophomore album, Make It Big. U2 were on the map because of War and The Unforgettable Fire but their world domination wouldn’t happen for another three years. Looking back, it’s almost surprising Bono got to sing the most powerful line.

I probably listened to that record more than a hundred times that Christmas season. Unlike other holiday songs, I never tired of it, and this many years later, I still haven’t. Each year when I pull it off the shelf, it instantly takes me back to that time when a bunch of my heroes got together — without being paid — to feed the hungry. The project that sparked “We Are the World” the following spring and Live Aid a few months after that. And Bono’s line? Yeah, it still gives me goosebumps.

What’s even more remarkable is that it’s a great song. There have been benefit songs since the early days of rock ‘n’ roll, but even if the intent is pure, the creative output can sometimes be disappointing. Artists aren’t given much time to work on such collaborations. Plus, the more cooks that enter the kitchen … well, you get my drift.

“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” for me represents one of those rare moments in time when hope was tangible and the world seemed to be headed in a brighter direction. It reminds me each year that the holidays are about more than material things. I’m so thankful that nearly three decades later it still has the power to illuminate the holiday season.

© @U2/Kokkoris, 2013.

Rattle and Reminisce: Critics Revisit Their Reviews 25 Years Later

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.

When bands reach a certain benchmark of fame, for better or worse it becomes customary to try to bring them down a notch. With the advent of social media, fans have the upper hand on spreading buzz — good or bad — and that trend doesn’t show signs of slowing.

But before we were all drivers on the information superhighway, the voices that were primarily heard were those of journalists. The professional power of the pen is still evident today, but the strength of reporters’ words (the ones who are left, at least) sometimes gets diluted by the noise of the masses.

In 1988, that wasn’t the case.

U2 had been on the cover of Time magazine as “Rock’s Hottest Ticket” and were enjoying the phenomenal success of their album, The Joshua Tree. As they toured that album, they enlisted young director Phil Joanou to accompany them on the road and create a documentary of their experience. Fans were understandably excited, preparing themselves for something along the lines of 1965’s Don’t Look Back, which followed Bob Dylan on a tour of England, or 1970’s riveting Gimme Shelter, which chronicled the last weeks of a Rolling Stones U.S. tour.

What they got was something completely different, and their audience was split on the difference: The film was either a stunning work of art or a pretentious, self-serving snapshot of stardom.

Looking back on this landmark anniversary, our staff wondered if any of the critics who disliked the movie so much back then had a change of heart all these years later, so I set out to find them.

In many cases, the trail went cold after journalists left their long-time publications, or the publications went away altogether. In other cases, some chose not to respond or didn’t want to participate.

Thankfully, I was able to catch up with a few of them, who provided gracious answers to the big question: Do you stand by your original review? 

Mike Boehm, a Los Angeles Times arts reporter who formerly covered pop music for the same publication, had this to say:

In 1988

“Great rock music lives in that grit and bustle, and it thrives on the specific. Rock greatness is Van Morrison singing about a day at a swimming hole (“And It Stoned Me”) and from the details of his story weaving a vision of the broader qualities of fellowship and generosity of spirit. 

It’s the Rolling Stones introducing you to a gin-soaked barroom queen in Memphis (“Honky Tonk Women”) or Neil Young walking you through a violent rite of passage in “Powderfinger,” molding setting, plot and character into a whole that takes on tragic, mythic proportions. 

Along with the passion and power that U2 certainly possesses, great rock ‘n’ roll must encompass laughter and fun and whimsy and imagination — qualities that U2 simply has not shown. These are crippling deficiencies.”

Today

“My views about the album and film have not changed since the 1988 article ran.

I think U2 subsequently took a step in the right direction when it included humor in its [Zoo TV] stage shows for Achtung Baby.

However, as far as I could tell, the elements of humor, storytelling and down-to-earth detail that I criticized in 1988 as crucial missing elements in U2’s songwriting never did materialize.

I’ve been off the pop music beat since fall, 1999, so I’m not in a position to give any kind of educated opinion about U2’s artistic growth since then.

My overall impression of U2 continues to be that while it has impressive strengths and its success is completely understandable and deserved, there are some missing dimensions that are important enough to disqualify it from the top rank of rock’s greatest bands.”

Carrie Rickey, Philadelphia Inquirer film critic of 25 years, said this:

In 1988

“Apart from permitting U2 fans to gaze upon their rough-hewn idols, there is no obvious point of this movie.

Director Phil Joanou reveres the members of the Irish band to the point of unintentional hilarity. (Rob Reiner and company couldn’t do a Spinal Tap on this; Rattle and Hum is already a parody.) Dogging the band’s heels like a faithful puppy, Joanou does not dare to ask about U2’s politically engaged songs, such as “Pride” (about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) and ”Sunday Bloody Sunday” (about the Troubles in Northern Ireland). The movie is afraid to challenge the authority of these politically anti- authoritarian musicians.

Rattle and Hum, which means to be a portrait of the band often called rock’s social conscience, is the film equivalent of a centerfold pinup.”

Read her full review here

Today

“Movie reviewing is of a moment, Posterity is that moment plus time. I would both stand by the review and append this postscript:

I was one of many in the “love the music, hate the vanity of the project” camp. In 1987, in the context of concert movies such as Stop Making SenseRattle and Hum felt disjointed. Seeing the band visit the shrines and landmarks of American pop and blues felt like an overreach for a young band. I watched about 30 minutes of the film on a friend’s bootleg copy sometime in the early 2000s. Bono and The Edge looked so young and fresh, the music was, as always, thrilling. At that moment, the movie struck me like the image of a young Bill Clinton shaking JFK’s hand at the White House. That is to say, prophetic.”


Thanks to Mr. Boehm and Ms. Rickey for their honest, thoughtful responses.

Though I see where each of them were coming from, I’ll have to admit, I was in the camp that liked the film in the 80s, and I still do. In fact, Steve Morse of The Boston Globe pretty much summed it up for me in his review back then:

“Quite honestly, anyone who lives and breathes music should see this film. So should those nay-sayers who think that rock is little more than decadent mindlessness. There is a dignity to this tour documentary that makes it a human drama as much as a musical one.”

I suppose the fact we’re all still talking about it 25 years on has to say something.

© @U2, 2013.

Like a Song: Miss Sarajevo

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.

My world in the autumn of 2006 was very dark — I’d recently lost the love of my life, was burnt out on my fashion-writing job of seven years and felt a terrible sense of loneliness. Of course I’d suffered breakups before, but this was different. The person who had at first made me feel as if I could take on the world instead validated every horrible word my internal dialogue had ever spoken. And he did this without warning or provocation. 

My inherently optimistic nature eroded to the point that I had no faith in anything — love, God, humanity. Though I sought help from a therapist at the time, her advice wasn’t doing much (and it was costing me a fortune). 

Furthermore, everyone was telling me what I already knew to be true — when you’re in a sea of negativity, you’ll only attract more darkness. It was a very self-destructive pattern to follow, and one I was becoming more and more skilled at perfecting each day.

One of the only lights in my life at the time was, as usual, U2. 

I was the lead on the Edun campaign at my day job, so I had the privilege of writing newspaper ads, catalog copy, event invites and window displays about clothing that spoke directly to the U2 audience. I even got to attend an event with Ali Hewson down in San Francisco to launch the first wave of ONE Campaign T-shirts. She was wonderful and I was honored to be involved.

But coming down from that event, I arrived at my lowest point. I foolishly invited my former love to hurt me again and he delivered. I wasn’t sure if I could recover. In fact, most of me didn’t want to recover. I had a cab driver who was taking me to the Golden Gate Bridge to sightsee pull over and let me out in an unfamiliar neighborhood because I didn’t trust myself at those heights. I’d never been depressed in my life, and I had no clue how to manage the pain.

Holed up in my hotel room, and then later with a cup of coffee in the café downstairs, I devoured the book I had delayed in reading. It was Fools Rush In by Bill Carter.

I’d purchased the book when it first came out, but was infatuated with my boyfriend at the time and made little time for reading. Months after he broke my heart, I finally turned to Carter’s Miss Sarajevo DVD, hoping for a sadness that would match my mood and easily found it.

Having no context for the song until I paid attention to the Missing Sarajevo documentary on U2’s Best Of 1990-2000 DVD, it absolutely wrecked me once I learned of its significance.

The words began speaking directly to me, as many of U2’s songs tend to do:

Is there a time for kohl and lipstick?
Is there a time for cutting hair?
Is there a time for high street shopping?
To find the right dress to wear?

My job in the midst of all the pain in the world seemed very superficial. I told myself for years that fashion could boost self-esteem in people, and clothing was obviously a basic human necessity, but I could no longer justify the luxury of what I was selling through my writing. I longed to find work that made more of a real difference in people’s lives. 

As the river, you say that love will find a way
But love, I’m not a praying man
And in love I can’t believe anymore
And for love I can’t wait anymore 

I don’t speak Italian, but the portion of the song that was sung by Pavarotti always moved me. When I learned what the words meant, I was a goner.

Bono’s soothing voice contrasted with mental images of war made for a brutally emotional combination. Songs such as this, which contain notes that correspond to something inside your soul and open it up, raw to the world, have the ability to heal. And that, along with Carter’s book, started to heal me. I finally turned off my breakup song (“Ultraviolet”) and turned on “Miss Sarajevo.”

As I listened to it over and over again, and made my way through the pages of Fools Rush In, I realized I could find peace in my situation, and got the perspective I desperately needed. People survive things far more horrible than unsatisfying jobs and failed relationships every day. In the face of what those in Sarajevo endured, I was ashamed by how deeply I had wallowed, and how long I had subjected my friends to my sadness. After all, I was mourning the death of a partnership — not the death of a human being.

After finishing the book that same day, I felt compelled to let the author know just how much it touched me, so I sent him a message, which I’m sure in retrospect was embarrassingly long. I don’t remember how much I shared about my life at the time or if I was completely honest with him about how much pain I was experiencing. Knowing me, I probably shared too much, but I wanted him to see that his words, and his film that inspired this beautiful song, really did change my life. He would tell me later that I came to the book and film “when I was supposed to,” and he was right. The universe places things in our path when we need them the most: both the good and the bad. We can never grow if we don’t learn from our pain, and we can never heal if we don’t find a way to get past it. Thankfully, this story got to me at the right time, and when I returned to Seattle, I slowly began transforming back into my authentic self. The happy, confident girl I once was.

Two years later I met Carter in person for the first time, at an event for his second book, Red Summer. Over cups of tea in the basement of Seattle’s famous Elliott Bay Books, I learned that he was in a good place — he was married, enjoying fatherhood, and again working on various projects that promised to make the world better. I was proud to tell him I too had moved on from the dark place I inhabited when I first wrote to him. I quit my fashion job to work for a nonprofit, began dating a new man and devoted my free time to things that brought me joy. Though he’d just met me, he seemed to genuinely care.

As I got to know Bill a little better over the years, it came clear to me that U2 has some sort of divine assistance in finding the most extraordinary creatures on the planet with whom to associate. There are millions of good people on this earth blessed with charisma; and then there are people who have such a magnetic presence and inherent kindness that they draw everyone in their path in with an infectious spark of something intangible. I’ve only met a few people in my lifetime who possess that, and Bill is one of them.

I distanced myself from the pain of “Miss Sarajevo” in the years that followed, but it was never forgotten. Each time I heard the song, I was reminded of that horrible time in my life, and Carter’s powerful book and documentary. 

Fast-forward to April of this year … I was thrilled that he had accepted the invitation to speak at the U2 Conference and would be delivering a keynote about his time during the siege. However, like many of my fellow U2 fans, I thought that his presentation would be “old news.”

I couldn’t have been more wrong — his storytelling hooked me from the moment he opened his mouth, and instantly I was back in the zone, reuniting with an experience I can’t genuinely fathom, stunned again by what those amazing people endured. 

I’m in love with the romantic way that Sarajevo has recovered, and have been planning a trip to visit for years. I think the timing of this story being again front-of-mind is telling me that I need to book that ticket sooner rather than later.

© @U2/Kokkoris, 2013.

SECRETS OF SARAJEVO: 20 YEARS LATER

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.

Many fans remember Bill Carter as they ponytail-wearing journalist who convinced the band to bring the Bosnian War on tour with them in 1993. Few have heard the story of how it all went down.

Today, Carter thrilled attendees of the U2 Conference by sharing his first-person account of the events that led to the satellite link-ups.

20 years ago, Carter had lost his fiancé and joined an unofficial humanitarian group that hand-delivered food to citizens in Sarajevo. He knew that the rest of the world had no idea how bad the situation in that region was, and wanted to find a way to change that.

He described himself at the time as a casual U2 fan—someone who had enjoyed the band’s music and seen a few of their shows growing up, but that was all. He had a good impression of the band members; thought they seemed like decent guys who may be able to help him get the word out about the war. So when he heard they’d be bringing their tour to Italy, he wrote a fake letter on real letterhead from a TV station he was working for and requested an interview, which was miraculously granted (because he pretended to be someone else).

Once he got there, admittedly unprepared, he told Bono of all the things happening in the city under siege, and it brought Bono to tears. The band were only in Italy for a short amount of time, so he was tasked with dreaming up some way for them to help before they left.

After all were in agreement for the satellite link-ups, Bill had a greater problem: Finding folks who would be willing to risk their lives (more than they already w3re by simply living there) to get to the studio to speak to concert audiences. It took him a few days each time to convince the citizens that their participation would make a difference.

And once he did convince them, getting them from point A to point B was no easy feat—he had to drive in the dark with the lights off at approximately 120 miles per hour down “Snipers’ Alley” to make it through. Each trip was just as harrowing as the last, with terrified passengers literally dodging bullets.

Of course he succeeded; the link-ups worked, and the rest is history.

Carter went on to make a documentary about the war, which he was having trouble naming until Bono suggested Miss Sarajevo. Carter thought the name was too “pop” and rejected it until Bono told him that if he used it, he’d write him a song for it.

Again, the rest is history.

Today, Carter is an honorary citizen of (a now-thriving) Sarajevo and the star of his documentary, little Alma, was able to attend an American college with the help of a letter of recommendation from Bono.

(c) @U2/Kokkoris, 2013.

Like a Song: Big Girls Are Best

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’ll admit — I’m not much of a B-side freak.

I know there are fans out there that think many B-sides are equal or superior to their A-side counterparts, but I’m just not one of them. With few exceptions, I’ll give a B-side one or two listens after buying the singles (yes, I’m a completist, so I still buy singles), never to return.

But something magical happened when I first listened to my “Stuck In A Moment” CD in 2001, and left it running to hear the B-sides. A bass-heavy hook got me, so I turned it up. The trademark Bono howls pulled me further in and I was soon falling in love with “Big Girls Are Best.”

While I’m celebrating the fact that this rhythmic song’s got game, I’m also marveling at the lyrics that only Bono could truly pull off well.

Avenue Atlantico 1702
She’s cocoa butter, baby, she’s the glue
She’s got a baby at her breast
She knows big girls are best

Though I’m not a mother, I am blessed with curves, which the majority of my boyfriends have favored, contrary to my self-criticism.

I’m told by my science-nerd friends that my voluptuous body makes me more appealing to a potential mate because on a biological level it demonstrates that I have a greater capability for fertility. I suppose that does make sense, but unfortunately our American society doesn’t encourage women to embrace their flesh — it in fact makes us feel as if we should be ashamed of it.

But what Bono’s doing here in this song is celebrating the large. He’s raising a drink to the mothers feeding their babies with their well-developed bosoms.

She feels it, every sensation
She’s got a smile like salvation
She’s got a baby at her breast
She knows big girls are best

Mama mama mama
Sexy mama mama mama
Sexy mama mama mama

You heard it — she’s a sexy mama. And she “keeps it all together.”

Yes, gentlemen, that right there is called adoration and validation, and set to a Beatle-esque melody that forces you to hum along, it makes for a pretty life-affirming (though admittedly lighthearted) song. And at the bridge it only gets better.

Bono lowers his voice to his greatest come-hither, seductive growl and proclaims all of the desirable qualities in a real woman as he renounces the opposite.

She’s elliptical, also political
Also spiritual, not superficial
Yeah, she’s tropical, yes, she’s illogical
Those little girls are a pest
Big girls are the best

I often play this song very loudly with the windows rolled down on a sunny day. I feel like I’m spreading the gospel of natural beauty; sharing the anthem of average-weight women everywhere. Encouraging the tortured waifs to switch to 2 percent lattes.

It’s one of those songs that demand you listen to it three or four times in a row, because you just can’t stop once you’ve started. I mean, it really doesn’t get enough credit.

Have you ever stopped to think how awesome this song would be live at an arena-packed U2 show? What kind of dancing Bono would do as he purrs like a kitten during the “sexy mama” refrain? I sure have. And it definitely would make my dream setlist.

I recommend this tune not just for the men to nod their heads in violent agreement; I urge the ladies to give it a spin in front of the mirror and challenge them not to feel better about their bodies after listening, no matter what their shape or size.

“Big Girls Are Best” is danceable, also magical — it’s out-of-this-world galactical.

© 2012, @U2/Kokkoris.

U2 Lists: Top 5 Bono Howls

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 Beatles had their yeah, yeah, yeahs; Nirvana, Kurt Cobain’s guttural screams. But U2? They’ve got something none of the others can replicate: the Bono Howl.

The signature Bono Howl is composed of pain, agony, distress, arousal and unabashed joy. What’s so magical about it is that it can start with any one of the emotions just listed, and then morph into the others by the end. Or not.

There are no rules about the length or placement of the Bono Howl, and not every U2 song is blessed with one of these explosions of emotion. In fact, they’re somewhat rare, and like most elements of U2’s music, are better experienced live.

My list below is the Top 5 occasions of the Howl that I feel significantly change the landscape of the song and showcase Bono’s brilliant voice. Sing it with me!

5. Fast Cars (0:00)

Right out of the gate this one is great – Bono’s howl here is a mix of fear and warning that melds seamlessly right into pleasure. You know from the get-go that you’re in for an emotionally charged thrill ride, and the howl is what sets the tone for the entire song. I was lucky enough to see this tune live in Madison Square Garden back in 2005 and it felt like the entire arena full of people erupted into a communal tango at the start. The howl at the end (though not as dramatic) gives it a nice, full-circle feel.

4. All I Want Is You (3:27)

This is the only song on the list that features an integrated howl, woven into the words of the song. But it’s so powerful I’d be remiss to omit it from the bunch. The slow burn of this one, when let’s face it, Bono’s voice was in his absolute prime, only causes the tension to build. The passion behind the story he’s telling — of a complicated love that can’t be realized — commences with a powerful crescendo of a howl, perfectly placed within the word “you.” It’s repeated until The Edge’s guitar seamlessly carries the note to the climax of the song and brings it back down for a peaceful end, as the violins take over. Absolute sonic genius.

3. Electrical Storm (William Orbit Mix) (3:16)

Again, part of the build to the howl is the quiet way in which this song begins. Our hero talks of his love being in his mind “all of the time” and by the time he talks of the rain “washing away” their bad luck, he’s had all that he can take. He erupts into the howl with fierce abandon and then pleads his case for their love to return. It’s easily the greatest point of the song and almost allows us to forget the cheesy lyrics that happen right before it appears.

2. Fez Being Born (1:36)

Before the 360 tour began, I had fantasies of the band opening each show with this song. I thought it was perfect — they could extend the dreamy introduction to give all four men time to reach the stage, then Bono could let out an epic wail as he rose from underground. Four, short, perfect wails, to be exact. I got goose bumps just thinking about it. Too bad it never came true, but I still have hope for future tours (especially since one of the songs they did open with was a couple decades old). Plus, it makes a fantastic alarm clock song.

1. With Or Without You (3:03)

This song is such a staple of pop culture your memories of it may be triggered by various appearances in the past: a penultimate episode of the sitcom Friends; a hilarious bit in the sitcom The Office (American version); a key portion of the plot in the French thriller Tell No One … the list goes on. However you remember the song, my guess is that the Bono Howl is undoubtedly the highlight. Broken into three parts, the glory of this soul-bearing sound illustrates every word that he’s spoken throughout the song. His hands are tied. He’s waited on a bed of nails. His body is bruised. Bono himself described the howl in U2 By U2, though he called it an “Aah-aah,” saying it was the release of the tension and “That is what giving yourself away is, musically.” Indeed.

© @U2/Kokkoris, 2012.

@U2 INTERVIEW: MARY MCGUCKIAN, THE MAN ON THE TRAIN DIRECTOR

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.

Today The Man On The Train releases in the U.S. via On Demand, iTunes, Amazon Watch Instantly, and Vudu. This remake of the original French film stars legendary actor Donald Sutherland opposite U2 drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. making his acting debut in the leading role.

The director, Mary McGuckian, recently shared insight into the making of the film with me. What follows is our interview.

TK: The original Man On The Train (2002), directed by Patrice Leconte, is very critically acclaimed. I read that you aim in your productions to make contemporary works more compelling to modern audiences. The original of this film isn’t that old of course, but the way it was shot makes it feel almost like a classic. Did that factor into your decision to choose this specific film to remake?

MM: The contemporary classic style of the original was more a factor that influenced the production choices for the picture’s remake rather than a factor which influenced the decision to remake it in the first place.

Patrice LeConte’s original is justifiably considered a contemporary classic for good reason. Something I came to appreciate all the more during the detailed analysis that was an inevitable part of adapting it for an Anglo-American audience. No matter how hard I hit it against the wall, the core of the film always sprang back full of bounce. So well designed as to be indestructible.

In the original film, the man often referred to as France’s version of Elvis, Johnny Hallyday, plays the role of the bank robber (The Thief) that Larry plays in your version. Did you deliberately want a rock star for the role?

I’ve heard Larry referred to as the ‘James Dean’ of the band. That’s good enough for me.

Are there any vast differences in the role of The Thief from the original to the present version, other than calling him The Man vs. The Thief?

The film is an adaptation to Anglo-American culture as well as the English language. True to the spirit of the original, I hope, but transposed rather than simply translated. The role was rewritten in collaboration with Larry as it was intended from the outset that he would play it. Generally, I try to write the dialogue/rhythm and voice of a character with a specific actor in mind and so the narrative structure of the adaptation may seem very similar to the original, the character is a different man from a different place, created by Larry from the script on which he made some excellent comments through various rewrites. For my money, he’s taken the original character on a subtle but significant journey.

U2 fans have heard for years that Larry Mullen Jr. was interested in acting. We were encouraged by his starring role in the band’s “Electrical Storm” video back in 2002, but had no idea he would be acting in a feature film. How did you choose him for this role? Did you always have him in mind or did he audition traditionally as everyone else did?

Ah… In hindsight, I think the actor chose the director in this case, rather than the other way round.

The project emerged as a result of a conversation about the potential pitfalls for rockstars who have a yen to exercise the acting bug. L’Homme du Train (the original French title) came up in that conversation as an example of a rock-star-turned-movie-actor success story. It wasn’t until after shooting that I discovered from the original producer, Phillippe Carcassonne, that Patrice LeConte had actually conceived the film at Johnny Halliday’s request.

Prior to that, the film had struck me as extremely well cast. Both Jean Rochefort and Johnny Halliday received many awards for their work internationally. Factors which contributed to Halliday’s success in that role were construed as a combination of his being cast in a role that was well suited to him, enhanced inevitably by his finding himself playing opposite arguably one of France’s most renowned actors in an essentially two-hander heist movie, with all the benefits of comfort-zone that a controlled boutique-style production imply.

Larry responded to the possibility of ‘trying out the acting idea’ with all of the same advantages. A suggestion was that he find a project like L’Homme du Train for all the same reasons. I wasn’t quite expecting the response I got some months later when he had had a chance to view it. Which was, rather than “Yes,” something along those lines might be an interesting first movie, it was more along the lines of “Why don’t we have a go at doing this?”

And so the journey began…

The film was shot on location in Ontario, Canada. Why was this location chosen as opposed to the original French setting?

To add to the above, the adaptation also travelled the film across the Atlantic. In the original, the setting was a fictitious town somewhere in the middle of France. We shifted the setting to a non-specific eastern-seaboard North American (as it happens, Canadian) town.

A combination of production exigencies and the desire to find a location that was geographically authentic to the needs of the story brought us to Orangeville in Northern Ontario.

Tell me how well Larry and his main co-star, American actor Donald Sutherland, worked together during the shoot. Did they know each other before filming?

They met, as actors often do, just before shooting. An unlikely pairing in a film about an unlikely relationship. Donald Sutherland is undoubtedly one of the great ‘monstres sacre’ of contemporary cinema, so his involvement was as daunting as it was an exciting prospect to all of us. As you would expect, his generosity of spirit and his no?holds barred investment of a wealth of experience, expertise and extraordinary intellectual and emotional energy blew us all away.

As courageous as it was for Larry to take on a principle role on his first outing, it was a privilege to witness Donald give everything to the part and the project never once remarking that well … Larry had never done this before.

And you would never have known, as from the very first shot, he was so in character and filming so well, that we all simply forgot.

We can assume from his years of touring and making videos that Larry is well-versed in the process of being on camera, but what was he like as a first-time lead actor? Did he offer suggestions about his character or the script along the way?

Absolutely, Larry has amazing instincts on camera. He has that indescribable thing movie stars have. A quality on camera that can neither be learned, analyzed nor taught. You’ve either got it or you don’t.

I imagine it’s a somewhat nail-biting experience to cast a rock star in your film who is currently on a major international tour. Did Larry’s commitments to U2 ever interfere with the production?

All of our concern was to ensure that the production would never interfere with his U2 commitments. I hope and believe we pulled that off.

How long was the shoot?

Unbelievably short, given Larry’s day-job commitments.

Who composed the film’s music? Was there ever any discussion of U2 contributing music for the soundtrack?

Larry composed the main theme with Simon Climie, variations on which form the bed-rock of the score. And they are still working with it — once it’s finished, you will most likely be able to find it on iTunes.

Indulge us: are there any funny stories or anecdotes you’d like to share from the filming of the movie?

That would be telling!

I noticed that Larry’s longtime partner, Ann Acheson, is an associate producer for The Man On The Train. Tell us about her connection to the film.

Associate Producer is a poorly defined role as it can refer to very little (such as somebody-in-some-way-connected-with-somebody-who-had-something-to-do-with-some-aspect-of-producing-the-film who wanted a credit) through anything in between to a great deal, (i.e. somebody indispensable).

Ann falls into the latter category.

[She was] fully integrated into every aspect of the production from the very first suggestion of investigating the feasibility of it, remake rights options, script adaptations, meetings with actors, all the details of budgeting and financing options and issues, through practical production scheduling including managing Larry’s quite detailed preparation program, script editing and script management. I’ve never seen such a master of colour-coded script scheduling!

We shot the film in record time and still didn’t go over time on a single shooting day as Ann managed the scheduling of all Larry’s other commitments in and around preparation, rehearsals and shooting. On set, it turned out that she was a wizard with the continuity team and knew exactly what the edit notes should be for every take. So much so that after a few days I gave up rushing back to continuity between shots to give the notes as I could tell from the look on Ann’s face whether we had the shot or not. The entire cast and camera crew took to looking back to her at the end of every take as she stood focused in her earphones on the monitor to see whether we got the little nod.

Both Larry and Ann as producers continue to be involved in all aspects of the picture’s completion, delivery and distribution.

As an observant fan, I get the impression that Larry sometimes has the “final say” in U2 matters. Do you think it was hard for him to not be the ‘person in charge’ as you filmed?

The relationship between an actor and director for me is essentially collaborative. Every aspect of this production was pretty collaborative. Perhaps the director’s hat does get the last say with the actor … but then Larry did have a producer’s hat as well!

Although early reviews of Larry’s acting are glowing, do you think because he’s a rock star he will have a harder time proving himself to critics as an actor if he continues down this path?

It is an act of courage for any actor, every time they expose themselves in a role on camera, and always impossible to legislate for press reaction. What matters is that he wanted to do it, he did it and it’s done. Films, like running water, find their level.

Tell us about the film’s release (both in North America and abroad).

The film was made for a North America/English speaking audience. It will be released in the US by Tribeca beginning Oct. 28 On Demand via Cable VOD on all major cable providers, iTunes, Amazon, Watch Instantly, and Vudu. Thereafter, Alliance Atlantis will release it in Canada.

I’m not sure the French, though, will want a remake of a classic by one of their most revered directors served back to them in cold English!

Other international territory dates are still pending.

What’s next on your list of projects?

Right now I’m in finishing mode on a film called The Novelist with Eric Roberts in the title role, and about to start another French based project, The Price of Desire, about Eileen Gray, the famous Irish architect/furniture designer and Le Corbusier.

Do you think Larry will continue acting? If so, would you like to work with him again?

I hope so. And … I very much hope so.

(c) @U2/Kokkoris, 2011.

Photo credit: Sophie Girau. Courtesy of Tribeca Film.

REVIEW: THE MAN ON THE TRAIN

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 2002 film, Man On The Train, by acclaimed French director Patrick Leconte, is re-imagined in a new remake, The Man On The Train, directed by Mary McGuckian, starring Donald Sutherland and Larry Mullen Jr.

Sutherland plays The Professor, a retired literature buff who lives out a lonely retirement in a lavish, hollow mansion. Mullen takes on the role of The Man, a quiet, focused criminal who spends his life not becoming too attached to anything. After the two meet-cute in a small-town pharmacy, The Man seeks temporary shelter at The Professor’s home while he prepares for his next heist.

The Professor, starved for conversation and companionship, attempts to befriend the elusive visitor, while The Man studies The Professor like a textbook. This makes for some very lengthy unintentional monologues by Sutherland, who injects the role with an impressive enthusiasm. Mullen is stoic, yet smart, as his primary listener.

What emerges is a more tender result than that of the original film — in fact, Sutherland and Mullen have such a familiar spark that they form somewhat of an indie-film odd couple. Each knows his place in the world but longs to live in the other’s shoes, if only for a moment. It’s a friendship by thoughtful default.

The film, shot on location in Canada, features gorgeous cinematography, which echoes that of the original French backdrop. The town is quaint; the landscape lush, and an overall air of “good” permeates the vibe. There is almost a sense of sadness in knowing that soon the townspeople’s only bank will be robbed.

Many U2 fans will notice the similarities in Mullen and the character he portrays. He’s a man of few words, he’s tough, he’s strong, he’s handsome and always in control. To say that he’s well-cast would be putting it mildly. Sure, he’s “playing to type” in one respect, but there are also many dimensions of The Man he brings to life that have nothing to do with rock star behaviors.

The Man, perhaps in spite of himself, develops a compassion for his host as he gets to know him. This causes him to reveal more of his life than one would suspect he normally does. In one particularly tense scene in a diner, The Man appears to hold his breath along with the audience as The Professor tries to diffuse a rowdy situation. He’s rattled … and impressed.

Mullen conveys all of these emotions and intentions primarily through his facial expressions and body language. He also somehow manages to get the audience to sympathize with his character, though for all intents and purposes, he’s playing the villain.

The film’s slow pace won’t be for everyone; it’s more artistic than action-packed, but for those who have the patience to see it through, they’ll be rewarded with a thought-provoking and satisfying end.

Hopefully, this is just the beginning of a beautiful extracurricular career for thespian Mullen.

(c) @U2/Kokkoris, 2011.

Photo credit: Sophie Girau. Courtesy of Tribeca Film.

U2 Lists: Top 10 Workout Songs

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.

Many ring in the new year by making resolutions to improve their lives, whether it means getting a better job or quitting a nasty habit. One of the most popular goals is to get in shape, so I thought it might be fun for this first U2 List of 2011 to feature songs that promote such an endeavor.

Though some believe U2 music wouldn’t be conducive to a great workout, I actually find many of their songs making their way to my iPod en route to the gym. What’s great is their versatility — you can vary your routine by simply shuffling your playlist and maximize the types of exercise you get.

10. “Wire” Recommended Exercise: Stair Stepper

This song is a powerful one for those in need of a cardio fix. The beat never slows, and lyrics like such a nice day to throw your life away are a perfect catalyst for releasing aggression. 

9. “Lemon” Recommended Exercise: Weightlifting

Although this song would be welcome at any dance club or discotheque, it’s also especially useful when lifting weights. It’s rhythmic enough to promote endurance, yet slow enough that you won’t hurt yourself.  

8. “Numb” Recommended Exercise: Yoga

For those who take the zen approach to fitness, I recommend the calm chants of The Edge in this repetitive mantra that may otherwise drive you nuts. The perpetual chatter allows for ease when holding poses and the sensory overload of lyrics doesn’t promote any sing-along distractions. 

7. “Fast Cars” Recommended Exercise: The Tango

When I first heard this song, I immediately pictured a couple dancing the tango. A vibrant woman in a flirty, red dress; a sexy man in a crisp, dark suit — joined together in close embrace as they took small steps in time with the music. Grab a partner and try it: Aside from the calories you’ll burn, you may just enjoy some romance.

6. “Mofo” Recommended Exercise: Boxing

Though I’ll admit that this song doesn’t rank among my U2 favorites, there is no denying that the wicked mix of rock and techno promotes spontaneous movement. When Bono performed this song live, he sometimes took the stance of a boxer, which makes a perfect fitness fit.

5. “Elevation” Recommended Exercise: Trampoline  

Prior to a U2 tour, I spend many days getting in shape for what is inevitably the most wonderfully exhausting part of the show: pogo-ing during this song. Jumping up and down in time with Bono’s commands works muscles throughout your legs, and the best way I know to prepare for that is to spend some time on the trampoline … elevating. You won’t want to stop once you start.

4. “Walk On” Recommended Exercise: Walking

No matter what your fitness level or goals, we can all benefit from a good walk from time to time. The inspirational energy of this song, written about Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi, will only fuel your fire to blaze the path ahead.

3. “Vertigo” Recommended Exercise: Elliptical Machine

The sound of the “Vertigo” guitar riff will always remind me of the iPod commercial that launched this song into our collective consciousness. The band, outlined in black in front of bright, colorful backgrounds with dancing silhouettes, made me want to jump out of my skin. Now, I use those images, and that killer riff, to hit my stride on the elliptical machine. A great balance of resistance and persistence as the song builds to the chorus.  

2. “Mysterious Ways” Recommended Exercise: Belly Dancing 

Really, is there any other way to groove to this song? Thinking back to the days of Zoo TV, picturing Morleigh Steinberg shimmying her way across the stage, it’s hard not to bare your belly when the first notes of this tune begin. You should submit to the urge — your abs will thank you later.

1. “Get On Your Boots” Recommended Exercise: Running

Whether jogging on a treadmill or running along a trail in the woods, the momentum that this song builds is like a shot of pure adrenaline. The speed of the beat and Bono’s rapid singing provide the perfect storm of stamina for pressing on. Get on your boots, and get moving!

© @U2/Kokkoris, 2010.

Like a Song: In a Little While

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 first time I heard the song live, it was a lullaby. Really, it was.

If I’d had a baby to put to sleep that night, the calming coos of Bono’s velvety voice and the quiet strumming of The Edge’s guitar would have done the trick. It made no difference that I was in the Tacoma Dome surrounded by thousands of other people. It was that peaceful.

When I first heard All That You Can’t Leave Behind in the fall of the prior year, “In A Little While” was my only star. The album was a good, solid album, but this song was the only one that captured my heart in a love-at-first-listen sort of way.

The Tacoma show was the first Elevation show I attended, and the way the crowd silenced for this rendition of the song was amazing. Bono’s words sounded much softer than the raspy studio version as he danced sweetly with one of Edge’s daughters. The lights were down and the spotlight was following them. When it ended, the hypnotic vibe hung in the air like a tangible guest.

The sound was so beautiful it stayed with me long after I left the venue. When I got home that night from a stressful drive back to Seattle, I put All That You Can’t Leave Behind in my stereo and programmed it to play only this song. And then I set it to repeat.

A few weeks later, in full U2-obsession mode, I had my solo trip to Ireland booked (I just had to see them at Slane) and was getting all of my ducks in a row before leaving the country. The bad news was, my wisdom teeth needed to come out, and they needed to be removed before my trip. I had three months to accomplish this, but I procrastinated the surgery as long as I could. In July, my sweet mother came up from Oregon to provide round-the-clock care for her 25-year-old baby during the process.

It was bad from the get-go. I am terribly squeamish and high maintenance when it comes to anything medical. I can’t watch doctor shows on TV or look at friends who have recently had casts or bandages removed. And when it’s about me, I’m a hundred times more pathetic.

The morning of the surgery was a nightmare — I was sleep deprived, scared and shaky. The surgeon’s attempts to get a needle in my arm for the IV were borderline comical. I was jumping around, breaking into cold sweats, crying — you name it, I was guilty of it. After nearly fainting, they decided it wasn’t going to happen without the aid of some medicine (read: Valium). And after that, they probably could’ve asked me to do it myself and I would’ve obliged. The doctor asked me how many days I had left until the U2 concert, and the next thing I knew, I was waking up with chipmunk cheeks and small metal snaps across my chest.

My mom and I returned to my apartment where I looked forward to settling in to all of the perks I’d been promised the surgery would provide: endless milkshakes, fantastic narcotics and rapid weight loss.

But those were all lies.

What I actually endured were multiple cartons of butterscotch pudding, which tasted as if they’d been seasoned with dried blood; drugs that not only made me nauseous, but caused my body temperature to rise (and keep in mind, it was summertime); and a few extra pounds, courtesy of said pudding, coupled with the fact I seldom got out of bed.

In the midst of my misery, my mother did her absolute best to make me comfortable. She was there fluffing pillows, preparing ice packs and responding to my every demand. I was grateful to have her there, but that didn’t stop me from behaving like a 5-year-old.

On day three I was especially whiny, as my body was acclimating to the pills, and the soreness in my mouth reached its most painful levels. I just laid there and whimpered as if there were no hope for relief. She said “What can I do to make you feel better?” I responded, “Put All That You Can’t Leave Behind in and fast-forward to number six.” She dutifully complied and I tried to keep the tears to a minimum so we could both hear the song. I was still in pain, but I could swear it had lessened as Bono crooned.

I slowly drifted off to sleep, and when I woke up, the pain had returned. I begged for the ice pack, and Mom was right there to deliver it, telling me that everything would soon be all right. She asked if I’d like the music back on, and I said yes. As the CD spun “In a Little While” again, she told me that I should visualize tomorrow, because the pain wouldn’t be nearly as bad then. I shot her a questioning glance, and she reiterated that in the most painful times of her life — physically or emotionally — she’s put herself in the frame of mind that the next day it wouldn’t hurt as bad, and that has helped her through. I promised I’d try and concentrated with all my might on the next day. I pictured myself getting out of bed, dressing in something other than pajamas, taking a walk in the fresh air. It was working.

The next morning I did feel better — and I did all the things I’d envisioned. The day after that, I was well enough to return to work and mom was free to return home, relieved of her nursing gig.

In the months that followed, I was injured at a concert, my grandmother passed away, 9/11 happened, and the office I worked in underwent a huge restructure, which left me employed, but many of my friends without a job. “In a Little While” became more like a mantra than just another U2 song I loved. By then I knew it was written about a hangover, and that it was the last song Joey Ramone listened to before he passed away, but that didn’t change its meaning for me.

To this day, “In a Little While” lowers my blood pressure and sets my mind at ease no matter what situation I’m in, but most importantly it serves as a reminder of my mother’s wise advice: when things get bad, just focus on tomorrow.

(c) @U2/Kokkoris, 2008.

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