Tag: Like a Song

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Like a Song: Electrical Storm

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 knew I should have just waited five more minutes, but I had to start getting ready for work. I’d already lathered shampoo into my hair when the sound of the William Orbit bells got me. A rational person would have thought, “Oh well, I’ll catch it next time.” But I was past rational. I’d been waiting to catch the new “Electrical Storm” video for days.

I quickly turned the water off and leaped out of the tub, grabbing my towel and throwing it around myself as I ran into the living room.

Standing on my carpet shivering, my first glimpse was of Larry carrying a mermaid out of the sea. Oh, how I longed to be that mermaid.

The footage was grainy and black-and-white-mysterious, which only magnified the hazy romance that was playing out before my eyes. I was instantly hypnotized by the images.

The band was telling a story. They were being artistic. They were showing Larry wet, with his shirt half off.

Forgetting that I was as waterlogged as Mr. Mullen (although shampoo suds now stung the corners of my eyes), I staggered over to my couch and sat down to watch, too stunned to speak. I was seeing my long-time crush alternately writhing around in a bathtub and playing his drums while my new favorite song played in the background.

The year 2002 was shaping up to be a good one.

In the weeks and months that followed, I became obsessed with the song and subsequent video, imagining myself in the Samantha Morton role, hoping there could somehow be a sequel.

I did all of the things that the certifiably insane would do: I watched the video every night and studied it frame-by-frame. I fashioned my Halloween costume after Samantha’s mermaid ensemble. I made the “Bono yell” from the song my permanent outgoing voicemail message.

When my sister called in hysterics over Answer Guy’s latest column, which joked he had seen the video 237 times, I nervously laughed, as the math in my head told me I surely had seen it that many times.

I preached to co-workers, family members and non-U2-fan friends about its greatness. I made desktop wallpaper out of a screenshot from the video—I was unstoppable.

Just when I thought my psyche was really in trouble, a Web site called Meetup.com appeared and I began attending U2 Meetup gatherings with other local fans. It turns out I wasn’t crazy at all; just “passionate” or “dedicated” or “committed” to the Best Band in the World. No concerned looks at that table—only support and encouragement for my addiction.

I had met my enablers.

And somehow, in the midst of the bonding, I had formulated a goal for myself: to work for the band on their next tour. I even had the perfect position in mind: Tour Mermaid.

I figured since “Mysterious Ways” was old news and Morleigh Steinberg was out of commission as a belly dancer, a tour mermaid would fill a necessary void. Plus, U2 would undoubtedly play the song live, since it practically begged for a storm-inspired light show. It was a win-win all around.

But as everyone knows, U2 are seldom hiring. Unless you are related to the Edge or sat next to Bono in math class or bottle-fed Larry, you probably don’t have a hope in hell of infiltrating the camp.

Armed with this knowledge, I figured I’d just have to be creative—make myself known somehow, then make myself irresistible. I’d become a freelance Principle.

An opportunity arose when I learned that @U2 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum were co-hosting a U2 Fan Celebration in the summer of 2003. I’d been to the museum to see the U2 exhibit earlier in the year, but decided to return for this special event, which was to feature (among other things) a fan confessional.

Basically, they were reviving the booth from the Zoo TV tour and giving each of us three minutes to record our “confession” to the band. I figured this was meant to be—my portal to communicate with the immortal four.

So I bought a new dress, traveled with a friend to Cleveland and rehearsed what I was going to say as if I were auditioning for a Broadway play. I even made index cards with detailed reminders: who I was, where I was from, how long I’d been a fan, why I was the number one candidate for their yet-to-be-created Tour Mermaid job.

The day of the confessional, I watched Family Ties re-runs in the hotel as I nervously got ready for my big moment. A new Venus razor, sparkling red jewelry and jumbo-size hot rollers were involved.

When I arrived at the museum, my friend and I headed over to the booth for our big moment. I was third in line. Three being my favorite number, I took this as a good sign.

Tension mounted as we chatted with other fans. Some had prepared nothing, others brought in various props to add to their performance.

I felt strangely normal compared to many of my fellow fans, despite the fact I was going to sell myself as an ideal fictional character for a tour that had yet to be invented.

I listened outside the booth as the first girl in line and my friend both had their turns. They nailed it. Both emerged flushed and excited, happy that it was over but glad they’d done it.

Now it was my turn.

I went behind the makeshift curtain and met the cameraman, who politely told me where to stand and reminded me of the three-minute limit. I smiled sweetly and told him to begin filming at any time.

He gave me the “action” signal, the red light went on, and I immediately became a babbling idiot.

Remember that episode of The Brady Bunch, where Cindy appears on a game show, then develops a dose of stage fright the instant the camera starts rolling? That was me.

Instead of referring to my bullet-pointed index card, I became immediately self-conscious about how over-dressed I was, and fidgeted with my hair and necklace. I forgot the clever narrative I’d scripted to justify why the band needed a traveling mermaid. I couldn’t remember what qualifications of mine I was supposed to highlight. What should have sounded breezy sounded shaky; what was once funny only echoed my desperation.

And to top it off, in addition to spitting out my e-mail address, phone number and astrological sign (I’m sure), I mumbled something about wanting to do the band’s laundry. For real.

I think my intent at the time was to demonstrate that I’d be willing to do anything for U2. I’d shine their shoes, walk their dogs, prepare their favorite meals or “swim” around a stage in a costume that boasted fins, because I loved them so much.

But instead, I mentioned that I was good with a washing machine.

And then the (now chuckling) cameraman yelled “Time!” And it was over. I blew it. My one chance at stardom crushed by a random act of stage fright.

I exited the booth, head hanging in shame, and told my friend of my failures. I can remember her disbelief, as I’m probably the least shy person she’s ever known.

It didn’t make sense to me either. I love being in front of people. I was captain of the dance team in high school. I sang in front of thousands in college choir. Not once have I ever clammed up.

But something that day got me and I never got over it. I worried for months that if the band really did watch my confession, I’d be banned from all future possible “fan moments” like dancing with Bono during a show. I gave myself headaches imagining their conversations:

Bono: “How about that girl a few rows back for ‘With or Without You’ — the Greek-looking one holding the ONE Campaign sign?”

Larry: “Have ya’ lost yer mind? That’s the lady that wants to bleach our whites!”

And so forth.

To console myself, a year later I made a pilgrimage to the French Riviera where the “Electrical Storm” video was filmed. I visited the same train station where Samantha took her opening run. I wore a silver two-piece swimsuit and had my friend photograph me triumphantly standing in the same stretch of water that the mermaid emerged from.

Now when the band comes calling, I’ll be ready.

© Kokkoris/@U2, 2007.

Like a Song: Sunday Bloody Sunday

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 been a lot of talk about this next song — maybe too much talk.”

-Bono, 1983

In 1983, I was a 7-year-old whose days primarily consisted of eating, sleeping and MTV. Back then, MTV wasn’t just a channel, it was a way of life. Alarms were set to wake up with Martha Quinn, meals were rearranged to accommodate especially good rock blocks, and on at least one occasion, school was missed to watch a World Premiere Video.

Music was shifting from being a completely audio experience to a necessary visual experience, and witnessing the transformation was nothing short of thrilling. Instead of bands just having to sound good, they had to look good — or at the very least, have a compelling image. And that’s where U2 won me over.

I already knew (and was fond of) “Gloria,” but when the home-video-like concert clip of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was thrust into heavy rotation on MTV, it altered my musical life. The instant I’d see the profile of Bono grace the screen, with the ’80s flames superimposed over his face, I was immediately marching in time to the drumbeat, scrambling to find anything I could to create a makeshift white flag to wave along with him (pencils and Kleenex were usually my default).

To me, the burning torches defying the rain, Larry squinting through the fog, and Bono wearing one of his band’s own shirts defined the epitome of rock and roll. I imagined myself in the water-drenched crowd — miserable, exhausted and exhilarated. I just wanted to be a part of it. But of course, I was too young for shows on the War tour. And also too young to understand why the song was really so powerful.

In 1988, as a 12-year-old, I saw Rattle and Hum in the theater. The most passionate moment of the movie came during the band’s rendition of “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” On the day the clip was recorded, Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, suffered a brutal IRA attack at a Remembrance Day gathering. Eleven people were killed and 63 were left wounded. Bono was filled with rage and turned the performance of this song into an angry political rant. I felt uncomfortable watching it, yet had tears in my eyes by the time he knelt in peace at the end. As a junior-high student in Oregon, I still had no idea what the song was even about, but after seeing that, I needed to know.

Since the Internet was not yet part of daily life, I made a trip to the library and looked up things like “Irish troubles,” “IRA terrorists” and “Bloody Sunday.” What I found was devastating — the first incident in November of 1920, and then the second in January of 1972. Innocent people dying over philosophical disagreements; history repeating itself long after lessons should have been learned. This newfound knowledge only intensified my love for the song, which grew as I did.

The song stayed with me through college, when it turned into a ballad on the B-side of “If God Will Send His Angels.” That version was quiet and calm, internalizing its pain unlike its predecessor, which was more like an open wound.

By the time the Elevation tour arrived, my U2 obsession was back in full force. I had attended the Tacoma show and entered a local radio station contest for tickets to the first of the soon-to-be historical Slane Castle concerts. I didn’t win. But I couldn’t stand it — I needed to see my boys in their natural habitat once and for all. And since none of my friends at the time were as U2-rabid as me, I had to go alone.

I booked an ETS package a few days later and before I knew it, found myself on a plane to Dublin. I made friends on the tour bus and at the hotel where we stayed, but unfortunately got separated from them on the morning of the show. Alone on the castle grounds, I prayed my way to a wristband and ended up on Edge’s side of the heart. In the sea of faces, I recognized no one, though we all had something fundamental in common.

The energy of the show was everything I thought it would be and more, but “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was in a class by itself. As Larry’s drums brought the song in after an energetic “I Will Follow,” the entire mood of the crowd changed. A breeze blew by, voices were lowered, and I’ll swear it even got darker outside. I went from being a groupie at a rock concert to being a family member at a national wake. The spirit of the song, coupled with the ancient territory we were standing on, multiplied by the fact Bono had just buried his father a day earlier, made for a primal feeling I’ll probably never experience again. This song was their history, their past — their pain. And now we were all a part of it.

By the time the refrain arrived, the crowd was so riled up that drunken groups were shoving each other (and everyone in their way) into the railing. The security teams were doing everything in their power to keep us safe, but in a field of 80,000, it’s a little difficult to maintain control. As Bono cried, “Wipe your tears away,” a surge of people came crashing into the barricade and my then-petite frame couldn’t sustain it. I first heard a crack, then blacked out, then came to only to see a security guard reaching over to pluck me out of the crowd. I resisted and screamed “No! Don’t take me out!” He just shook his head and muttered to his colleague “Bloody Americans.”

I spent the remainder of the show trying to take a deep breath (impossible), feeling for my driver’s license (so I could be identified) and bracing myself against the railing for further attempts on my life. Never before did I actually think I might die at a rock concert.

After the show, the on-site medical personnel concluded that I had indeed cracked a rib. They taped me up with whatever materials they had in their tent and sent me on my way with sympathetic glances.

By the time I made it off the field, my tour bus had left and I had to walk the dark countryside for over an hour in search of a ride. Bono wailing “Tonight we can be as one/Tonight, tonight,” echoed in my head as I realized I was too tired to panic.

Thankfully, a tour group that got a late start took pity on me and offered me a seat on their bus, which was also headed back to Dublin.

The next morning I concealed my new battle scar with a full-coverage blouse, as I didn’t want any of my new friends to know about it. When we all hiked up to the gates of Bono’s house later that day, we discussed what our favorite parts of the show were. “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” despite my injury, still made my list.

The Vertigo tour was different for me. By then, I was blessed to travel and attend shows with a network of U2 friends and family. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” made its way into the setlist each night, this time usually sandwiched between “Love and Peace or Else” and “Bullet the Blue Sky,” and I liked it every time. But it wasn’t until the final show I attended, in my hometown of Portland, that the hairs on the back of my neck stood up because of it.

Bono had just finished drumming in his Coexist headband, and the boys were scattered around the stage. Larry’s drumbeat started, and as I scanned the room, trying to decide where to look, every face I saw was familiar. At the front were girls that sometimes got to dance with Bono on stage; to my right were fans I’d met the night before at our @U2 10th Birthday Bash; to my left were pals I’d made from working on the site, and I knew if I were to faint at that very moment, I’d fall into the arms of a friend. Tears involuntarily formed in my eyes as it all finally hit me. That night, the raw anthem became a love song — to and from all of the people I’d met as a result of first hearing it.

I’ll never be able to thank U2 enough.

© @U2/Kokkoris, 2007.

© 2024 Tassoula

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑