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Catch up in 10

U2 in concert

Opening night of The Joshua Tree Tour 2017. Photo by Chris Enns.

It’s been a while since I’ve checked in, so here’s an update for all who may read this …

Here are 10 updates about my life:

  1. I started a new job in March (yep, still in Tech Marketing).
  2. The U2 tour (see above) started in May!
  3. I wrote this about the best song on that tour.
  4. I wrote this about perhaps what was the most anticipated song on that tour.
  5. The 43rd Annual Seattle International Film Festival started in May!
  6. Yes, I still cover it. Just on my own blog instead of Cinebanter.
  7. This site got a makeover a few months back, thanks to Lemon Productions.
  8. Twin Peaks is back, and this is a great post that mirrors my thoughts on it.
  9. I joined Orange Theory in April, and have lost 10 lbs. (so far).
  10. I discovered Positive News via Twitter, and I check it every day.

I promise, I’ll check in more often.

UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF THE EXECUTIONER’S SONG: THE BIRTH, DEATH AND RESURRECTION OF EXIT

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.

When I was a budding journalist…

When I was young I wanted to be many things when I grew up: ice skater, rock star, ballet dancer, wife of Michael J. Fox, etc. but when I got to be a teenager, I really had a feeling I’d end up a writer. Writing always came easy to me, and it was something I couldn’t physically stop doing, no matter what the situation.

Of course, when I was young, we still had those things called newspapers, so I naturally wanted to be a reporter. I found chasing stories and asking people hard questions to be an exciting job.

I would take my fashionable Minolta Disc camera (it was green, silver and awesome) to take important photos of whatever I was supposed to be covering. But of course, I had to wait for the roll of film to be finished, so it always seemed like a lifetime before we got the actual photos back.

This is what a roll of film looked like post-developing:

What disc film used to look like post-development

Thankfully, when I became the editor of the paper in high school (it was called The Verdict, because our school was named for a Supreme Court Justice), I had photographers with real SLR cameras to accompany me on my assignments, and they always took better photos like the one below this paragraph. This was the day we got to ditch class (with the journalism advisor’s permission) and head to downtown Portland to catch a glimpse of Madonna filming Body of Evidence with Willem Dafoe. We didn’t meet her or speak with her, but I wrote a review of the film and Jason snapped this great picture. I wonder whatever happened to Jason.

Madonna in Portland

Also important in a young journalist’s life were the obligatory Steno pads. In the days pre-digital-recorder, and pre-laptop, we had to resort to good, old-fashioned paper and pens, and because I’m painfully nostalgic, I kept my favorite two Steno notebooks: the one I had while working at The Oregonian and the other one I received at journalism camp my junior year.

I wasn’t too concerned with privacy back then, putting my home address on the cover.

What was a high school student doing at The Oregonian? Working hard, that’s what! No, really, I was living out a geeky dream. I had been chosen to write for a city-wide student newspaper called Youth Today and our advisor was Judson Randall, a senior editor at the paper back then. We met and worked in the actual Oregonian newsroom, and the summer after I began there, I was chosen to attend a journalism workshop in Washington DC, which led to me meet some lifelong friends and contribute to another student newspaper called Young DC.

Apart from the actual fun of reporting news and crafting stories, those experiences marked my first real moments of independence as a young adult: I took a bus (or drove myself) downtown to work at the newspaper, signed myself in with a security badge and taught myself how to use the prehistoric (but at the time very cool) computer terminals. I would walk down to Powell’s Books and research stories for hours; I took my first solo plane ride to Washington DC at age 16 and have been a frequent flier ever since.

One of my favorite articles back in the old days was a piece I did for the traveling exhibit that featured Anne Frank’s actual diary on display. That had been my favorite book since I first read it in 6th grade and I was obsessed with Anne for many years, identifying with her in many ways (though I wasn’t Jewish). When the show came to town I literally got goosebumps just reading a flyer for it, so I knew that assignment had to be mine. I contacted the American Friends of the Anne Frank Center (they were sponsoring it), and they gave me a guided personal tour so I could enjoy the full scope of the presentation. I was moved to tears and promptly went home to write the article you see below. It made the front page.

Check out that byline!

Less than a year later, I had applied and been accepted to the famous University of Missouri-Columbia journalism school. I worked briefly a real newspaper before deciding that I couldn’t earn a good enough living doing that and became an advertising writer instead. Hence, my career today.

The money is certainly better, but marketing will never take the place of a well-worn Steno Pad.

When I Was Punk Rock

Me, proud of my new look.

Being the baby of the family, I was often talked into things that seemed like a good idea at the time, but later proved to be ridiculous.

One example is the Sunday that my sister spent dressing me up as a “punk rocker” when I was four years old. No, it wasn’t Halloween. No, there was no costume contest to attend or pageant for tiny fake whores, just a barrel of laughs at the expense of the littlest Kokkoris, who was more than game to get gussied up in the fashion of some of her favorite rock stars.

Even at age 4, I knew how to work it.

In fact, I distinctly remember liking the getup so much that I begged to dress that way on a permanent basis. Thankfully, my mom vetoed that wish and the next day I went back to being Sweet Little Tassoula.

Me, back to normal with a face free of makeup.

Maybe that’s why I turned out to be such a groupie?

Part of the Club

Originally posted: March 14, 2010

That’s me in the front row, with the hair I wasn’t allowed to cut.

When we’re young, there are always clubs that we want to join. The big one for me was the high school dance team, the Marshall M-Ettes. I had taken dance classes all of my life and was sure I’d make the team at my first audition freshman year.

And I did. But I made 2nd string, which at the time was like being benched on the basketball court (and hurt me deeply).

I didn’t make first string for two reasons: 1) I could do the splits on both sides (right, yes — with practice; left, not so much) and 2) I had absolutely no self-confidence when it came to flaunting my body in front of large groups of people.

I was always an excellent public speaker, and loved being in front of an audience, but dance was different — I was raised in a home that dictated I should not make myself attractive to boys, and much of dance team dancing at my inner-city school was very sexual and flirtatious.

So I had trouble leaving what I’d been trained to act like at the steps of my house and bringing it to the audiences of Marshall High School. It didn’t help that we had a horrible bitch of a coach who did her best to humiliate me every chance she got, or that my dearest friends were co-captains and 1st string dancers, but somehow I got through it.

At the heart of it all, I loved to dance. I would practice with the team every day for two or three hours, then go home and practice some more. I practiced my way to 1st string (finally, in my junior year) and lettered in the sport (a big deal to me when I was 16), then went on to become a captain my final year.

Some of the best and worst times of my high school years were spent with my fellow M-ettes — many who I’ve remained friends with and some who I’ve been lucky enough to reconnect with on Facebook.

And, wow! I was thin back then. A tiny 97 lbs.

Perhaps I should have never quit dancing.

I’m front and center here, performing a Madonna-themed medley.

Underage Marriage

Two more items of interest popped up as I was sorting through a pile of childhood papers tonight. My marriage certificates.

What?

These were apparently something we did at the Sadie Hawkins dances in what would’ve been my sophomore year of high school.

The funny thing? I have a memory like an elephant and I have absolutely no recollection of this whatsoever. I apparently married my friend Scott (not once, but twice), though we never dated in reality. Perhaps he lost a bet?

Now I also wonder what else I have forgotten from those events. Did I register for gifts? Wear a pretty dress? Had I known at the time it would be my only wedding, would I have done things differently?

Sheesh, time flies.

Child of the 80s

Folks older than me seem to assume that I identify more with the 90s because those were the years in which I graduated from high school and college, but really, I consider myself a child of the 80s. To me that decade was much more interesting and colorful — if given the choice to revisit either, I’d easily pick the 80s.

And what would the 80s have been without Cabbage Patch Kids? I remember yearning for one of these in a way no other toy had previously captured me. They were overpriced, ugly, impractical dolls that flew off shelves most likely due to their clever adoption gimmick. Whenever you purchased a doll, it came complete with its own name and adoption papers, and the company that manufactured the dolls would keep in touch with you if you properly completed your paperwork. In addition, to validate the authenticity of the dolls, you had to find the Xavier Roberts signature on its bum. It was all very important and official.

But these dolls were hard to come by. Not only were they easily out of the price range of most middle class families, they sold so quickly, the company couldn’t keep up with the orders.

I had all but given up on getting one when my 9th birthday rolled around. I carefully examined all of the wrapped gifts and saw that none of them bore the famous shape of the Cabbage Patch box, and I didn’t want to make my parents feel bad by showing my disappointment, so I acted especially excited about a lavender terrycloth robe that my mom presented me with, and rejoiced when I saw the solar powered calculator that was supposed to help me improve my math skills. At least there was cake, I figured.

Then my mom and my sister disappeared into my parents room and returned triumphantly carrying my new Preemie™ and my mom told our guests the story of being afraid to walk it home from Fred Meyer for fear she’d get robbed.

Marlena and me, right after she was “delivered” on November 25, 1984

My baby’s given name was Marleen Berty, which I thought sounded terrible with “Kokkoris” so I promptly re-named her Marlena Charisse. Marlena after my favorite character on Days of Our Lives, and Charisse after one of my close friends at the time.

In this photo you can see Marlena with her adoption papers and her first birthday card. She still sports the outfit she came in.

In the 80s I also begged for another toy I never got: Atari, the revolutionary home video game system that pretty much all of my friends had. Instead of giving in to that desire, my parents and grandmother supplied me with a steady stream of quarters, which I rapidly fed to the arcade across the street at the Eastport Plaza mall. My games of choice: Tempest, Centipede and of course, Pac Man (or more specifically, Ms. Pac Man). Below you’ll see a sticker from one of my stationery collections featuring the character.

Above the sticker is my book about Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton. Mary Lou was what kept me glued to the ’84 Olympics and also what made me take gymnastics for the next four years. I had a bodysuit and training suit identical to hers and practiced my winning smile (another thing she was famous for) in my bedroom vanity mirror on a daily basis. I still watch and enjoy the Olympics, but I don’t remember ever liking another athlete as much as I liked her.

Abbey Road

Perhaps the most mainstream fan-girl thing I’ve ever done is to visit the legendary road where The Beatles shot the cover for their famous album of the same title.

The first time I saw it was in May of 1998. I was a recent college grad and went on a literary tour of England, Ireland and Wales with a bunch of classmates and my two favorite English professors. On one of our last days in London, my roommate (Trinn) and I journeyed out for a Beatles walking tour led by the “Biggest Beatle Brain in Britain” and had a wonderful time. The last stop on the tour was Abbey Road. Walking up the steps to the studio was like entering a sacred church. I was shaking in disbelief that I was on the land that sparked such amazing masterpieces. It didn’t disappoint.

Left: My first walk across the famous road. Right: Me with the sign.

The second time was July of 2005. I was reporting live from Live 8 in London for @U2. Paul McCartney and U2 had opened the show with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, which thrilled my sister and me to no end. We had the time of our lives in Hyde Park with all the music and fanfare, then later at Harrod’s and other city hot spots. The next day with no “work” to do, we ventured on to a Beatles walk similar to the one Trinn and I went on in 1998. It was a wonderful year only made better by this trip and I’m glad I could share this great place with the person who made me a Beatles fan as a young child (my big sis).

Me in 2005, from a slightly different angle (and much better fashion sense).

In September 2016, my Mother and I ventured to San Francisco to celebrate her 76th birthday. While there we wandered into an art gallery that featured several band images. After the docent saw me gravitate toward the Beatles section, she asked if I was a fan. I replied I was a super-fan who had visited Abbey Road twice. She then led my Mother and I upstairs, out of the area the public was allowed, and showed us the original prints taken on the day of the shoot. There were only a handful, and every take was represented. I was speechless. It was part of a special series that would be shown at a later time, after we’d left the city. I was so grateful for that special sneak preview.

Fan Girl

My parents recently moved into a new (smaller) home, so I was required to pay them a visit and pick up many of my childhood archives that were cluttering their space. As someone who loves scrapbooking and cataloging everything I do, I’m taking special pleasure in uncovering my younger self as I dive into boxes and boxes of memories.

When I find common threads in my life then and now, I’ll be posting relevant notes and photos. I hope those of you who knew me then will smile, and those of you who know me now will enjoy meeting Little Tassoula.

The first grouping I realized was my obsession with celebrity (which, let’s face it, hasn’t exactly faded). I’ve been writing fan letters as long as I can remember — these three are from 1988. The first is what I received back from then-crush Vonni (now Giovonni) Ribisi, who played Corey on the sitcom “My Two Dads.” After gushing about how I hoped the main character would pick him (over Chad Allen) to be her boyfriend, he (or his fan club president, I suppose) replied with this standard black & white glossy (autograph on the back).

21 years later, I the Groupie, would stand next to he, the movie star, at a U2 concert. And no, I didn’t mention the fan letter to him.

The next letter I received was a personal response from Jim Davis, the writer/creator of Garfield. I remember sending him a long-winded tome about how I hated cats, but for some reason loved Garfield and he should be very proud of this grand achievement (making a cat-hater a fan of his cat-based cartoon). He apparently got a kick out of it and was nice enough to send me an autographed print AND this hand-signed letter. I always thought when I became famous, I would be as sincere and personal when writing back to fans.

The third response here shows that my political activism started very young. Watching the news rabidly every night with my parents, I became an admirer of the first female Filipino President Corazon Aquino. When we had an assignment in Miss Prentice’s English class that required us to write to an important figure, I didn’t limit myself to the American variety and wrote directly to the Philippines. My Mom shook her head, sure that I’d be disappointed when I didn’t receive a response, but she was mistaken. Not only did I receive a letter from her Correspondence Secretary, I got an official photograph of my hero.

Not bad for a middle-school kid, eh?

So—how did I do with the U2 setlist?

Earlier in the week, I posted my setlist prediction for U2’s performance at Dreamforce. As with any opinion piece, I had some mail about “how so wrong” I was and how some of my choices were “beyond long shots.”

I’m pleased to report, that although I wasn’t completely right, I was mostly right. See above for the side-by-side comparison of what I thought they would play and what they actually played, in the order they played them.

The set was also shorter than I had projected (by three songs), but that’s okay. Their performance blew me away and I couldn’t have been happier with the outcome. Especially their epic Trump rant and “40” at the end.

Simply brilliant.

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