Tag: Tassoula

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.

ALCHEMY AT THE APOLLO: REFLECTING ON U2’S HISTORIC NIGHT

By Tassoula E. Kokkoris

This work was commissioned for the site atu2, which was online from 1995 – 2020 and it still protected under a shared copyright.

There are sacred spaces throughout the world—from houses of worship to wonders of nature. Places that change your chemistry as you enter them because of the palpable energy that permeates throughout.

Nestled in the heart of Harlem, The Apollo Theater is a sacred space.

Last night, U2 weaved their magic into a long-standing tapestry of historic performances, both honoring the heroes that came before them and confirming their place among the greats.

Opening its doors in 1914 as Hurtig & Seamon’s New Burlesque Theater, the space officially became the Apollo in 1934. Under its new ownership, the focus shifted from burlesque to variety shows and welcomed African-American performers and patrons for the first time. What resulted was a renaissance of jazz, blues, dance and comedy.

Ella Fitgerald won an “Amateur Night” competition there as a teenager, which kick-started her career. The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Richard Pryor, The Jackson 5 and countless others also began their legendary journeys in the space. James Brown was so important to the Apollo that after he passed away, his body was brought to the theater to receive mourners ahead of his funeral.

When the smiling members of U2 wandered onto the stage last night without any announcement or warning, it was as if those of us in the audience time-traveled back to 1980 when the band first arrived in New York, “on a cold and wet December day.”

The four young boys made their American debut at The Ritz rock club, and three of the songs they played at that first U.S. concert opened the Apollo show last night. Their ages may have shifted, but their energy certainly hasn’t.

Capping off the high-charged trio of “I Will Follow,” “The Electric Co.,” and “Out of Control” was “Red Flag Day,” a rocker from Songs of Experience, which sounds more at home after those classic tracks than it does on its own album.

From there, for seven more songs, they continued at a pace bands half their age would arguably find challenging to sustain, only slowing slightly for “Beautiful Day.”

Furthermore, the usual Bono commentary was quite minimal this evening. Despite several celebrities in attendance, including Jared Leto, Jon Bon Jovi, and Little Steven, Bono only called out to Harry Belafonte, who was in the balcony.

At the end of the main set, Bono briefly let the audience physically support him as he hoisted his megaphone up during “American Soul,” I, for one, breathed a sigh of relief when he safely landed back on the stage.

The band saved the tear-inducing moments for the first encore.

When they re-emerged, Bono said, “Let’s try a song that we played the first time we came here in 80-whatever-it-was …” and the curtain raised to reveal the shimmering instruments and smiling faces of the Sun Ra Arkestra along with the Sex Mob Orchestra, whose horns brought “Angel of Harlem” an incomparable electricity. The only time the band previously played at the Apollo, in 1988, was to film portions of the video for this song.

Next, a rousing “Desire” led into a heavy-on-funk, stripped down arrangement of “When Love Comes to Town” and concluded with a raw “Stuck in a Moment,” which Bono dedicated to Anthony Bourdain and his family after an acknowledgement of the recent celebrity losses and a mention of INXS’s Michael Hutchence, for whom the song was originally written.

The second encore included Bono and The Edge on “Every Breaking Wave” (it only took two takes—whoopsie) and the full band for “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses?” and the finale of “Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way.”

Though the set list was heavy on mainstream hits, nothing about the Apollo show felt basic. U2 is accustomed to playing to tens of thousands of people per night, but here they had just over 1,500, and seemed almost more at home in this setting.

Those in attendance—a mix of contest winners who were subscribers of either Sirius XM or U2.com, or were drawn from a Twitter contest—enjoyed an alchemy that doesn’t happen at every rock concert. It was an exchange of energy between the band, who were exuberant, and their followers, who were euphoric, and the building itself, which holds the secrets, successes and souls of those who have blessed its stage in decades past.

A sacred show in a sacred space.

(c) atu2.com/Kokkoris, 2018.

Who was that girl?

Notebook page

I was so precise, I even included commercials.

I could read at age 2 and 1/2; I could write at age 4. Writing was always my retreat—what I did when I was excited or confused or sad or angry or not wanting to do something less fun.

Cleaning out boxes several months back, I discovered so many of my own writings that gave me pause. Here are just a few of the things I found:

  • Poems about my stuffed animals, created before I was enrolled in school (so I must have been 4).
  • Lists of names for my future children (I was dead set on a daughter named Abigail Rhode so I could call her “Abbey Road” for short; and a son named Lincoln Paul, after my favorite president and my Grandfather/favorite rock stars).
  • Lists of names for the pets I’d have if I wasn’t allergic (the somewhat basic “Champ” for a dog; “Drama” for a llama; “Buttermilk” for a bunny, named for a favorite book). Hilariously, there are no names for cats. I always hated them, even as a kid.
  • Stories about my Sea Wees having all kinds of oceanic adventures after they “escaped” the bath through the drain (Sea Wees were bath toys—little mermaids that floated on sponge lily pads).
  • Lists of the fireworks my dad bought for the 4th of July one year, and the order in which I thought he should set them off (not sure he listened, but he was probably glad the writing kept me busy while he barbecued).
  • Lists of my favorite Beatles songs (divided by lead singer).
  • Transcriptions of favorite TV shows and film scenes. These came only when we finally got a VCR and I could pause and rewind what I missed—I wasn’t typing; I was hand writing every word.
  • Fan mail (I kept copies of what I sent, so I could match up replies and see if the celebrities actually read them before responding).

… and the “list” goes on. As you can see from above, it wasn’t all narrative work. Much of what I was doing was putting things in their place. Sorting something mundane or hypothetical, just so I could keep it organized. I’ve always been creative, but I also came out of the womb very “Type A.” I’m a planner. I like to bring order to chaos. I like to fold laundry and organize my closet by color; I get perverse joy from making agendas and researching trips and watching everything fall into place.

So, as often as I wrote stories or essays about my experiences—especially when I was younger—I also made lists. I don’t remember ever doing anything with these lists, other than feeling an immense satisfaction at their completion. And from the dust that’s gathered on them, once I finished them, I must have just tucked them away, or wrote another list a few pages later in the same notebook.

On a cleaning spree when I last moved in 2013, I remember ripping out pages of notebooks that were gibberish or outdated so I could utilize any remaining blank pages. Start fresh.

One of those notebooks I shoved in my hall closet only to be discovered again today. What was inside? The photo you see above. The first week of MTV, catalogued by hand, complete with time stamps.

I have no idea what compelled me to do this nor do I have much practical use for it (I’m sure the VHS that must have contained these gems is long gone by now), but it was a kick to see after all these years.

It’s interesting to look back on my younger self and wonder what she was thinking.

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.

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.

Singing Words of Wisdom: U2 and The Beatles

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.

They invaded America. Took on political causes. Got pulled off of rooftops in the middle of performances.

They even played an amazing gig at Red Rocks.

They’re the Beatles…and U2.

If you’re a music fan like me, you probably grow tired of the endless Beatles comparisons made whenever a band achieves marginal success. For years journalists have described countless bands as “the next Beatles” or “bigger than The Beatles.” Only U2 truly comes close.

In fact, the more I learn about each group, the more I realize how identical their paths have been. To be fair, anyone looking hard enough could find similarities between any two bands. But in exploring the patterns of The Beatles and U2, the circumstances are more unique.

THE EARLY YEARS

The Beatles began as four teenage boys from Liverpool, England. John Lennon, a sarcastic-but-smart troublemaker, frequently liked to skip school because it bored him. Paul McCartney, an exemplary student, did well in classes and planned on eventually attending university, possibly to become a teacher. George Harrison, the youngest of the group, whose musical pursuits were supported by his family, was the most direct of the bunch — and not a fan of conformity. He told biographer Hunter Davies about school “I hated being dictated to…I was just trying to be myself.” And Richard Starkey, the eldest of the group, had played in more bands than the other three by the time he joined them. They liked to call each other by nicknames such as Macca (Paul), Lennie (John), Hazza (George), and Ringo (Richard).

John, Paul, George and Ringo had three band names. First, they were Johnny and the Moondogs, then The Silver Beetles and finally The Beatles. The manager that put them on the map, Brian Epstein, had never before managed a music group.

Paul McCartney and John Lennon lost their mothers unexpectedly when the band was just getting started. John’s mother was killed in a car accident.

U2 started with four teenage boys living in Dublin, Ireland. Paul Hewson, a gregarious-but-intelligent kid, often skipped school because it didn’t interest him. Dave Evans was a strong student who had plans for higher education if his music aspirations didn’t materialize. Larry Mullen Jr., the baby of the group, took piano and drum lessons as a young man. His family nurtured his talent and he did well in the Artane Boys Band — until they told him to cut his hair. He didn’t care much for conformity. And Adam Clayton, the oldest member of the band, had a more mature knowledge of music — impressing his mates with words like “gig.” It was part of the culture in Dublin to call each other by nicknames like Bono (Paul) and The Edge (Dave).

Bono, the Edge, Larry and Adam had three band names. First, they were Feedback, then The Hype, and of course, U2. Their manager, Paul McGuinness, had never before managed a punk band.

Bono and Larry Mullen Jr. tragically lost their mothers in their teenage years. Larry’s mother was killed in a car accident.

RELIGION

The Beatles began collectively searching for “the answer” in the late sixties when they followed the teachings of His Holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. All four band members, along with their wives and girlfriends, traveled to India and Wales for a three-week retreat to learn the technique of Transcendental Meditation. Although first praising the philosophy, the band soon lost interest and faith in the Maharishi. Ringo was the first to leave the retreat, claiming to dislike the food, then Paul, John and George followed. Upon returning to England, the band publicly acknowledged their “mistake” in belief. In 1989 Paul went as far as to say “I don”t like religion as such because there’s always bloody wars with every bloody religion.”

U2’s baptism, of sorts, came much earlier. Bono, the Edge and Larry joined the Shalom Christian prayer group while the band was still growing its roots. Though Adam never became a member, the beliefs of the other three threatened to disband U2. Luckily, the young men chose the music over Shalom. At present all four men have mentioned having faith, but not in the extreme manner of their youth. In 2002, Edge said “I still have a spiritual life, but I’m not really a fan of religion per se.”

THE FAMILY BUSINESS

In 1967, The Beatles launched a company called Apple Corps, Ltd., in an effort to give creative artists a chance to realize their dreams without having to endure corporate red tape. Though this altruistic venture found worthy musicians such as Billy Preston and James Taylor, the other branches of Apple (a clothing boutique, a division of electronics, etc.) failed miserably. Ultimately, the only portion of Apple that remains today is the publishing company.

In 1984, U2 started Mother Records, a record label meant to act as a stepping stone for up-and-coming musicians. Their aim was to establish a deal for a few singles from the artist that would in turn elevate them to a higher status where they could negotiate deals with larger labels. Although bands like the Hothouse Flowers and Cactus World News achieved great success from this venture, three managers and several years later, the label folded. All that remains today is the Mother Publishing Company.

LYRICS

Both bands have songs based on love, war, peace and faith. A fair argument could be made that scores of musicians also sing about these topics. It’s the specific parallels that make the paths of U2 and The Beatles so fascinating.

For instance, it’s not surprising that John Lennon and Bono both chose to write about the loss of their mothers. Their lyrics represent the necessity of not letting go.

In “Julia,” John writes “Half of what I say is meaningless/But I say it just to reach you, Julia.”

“I Will Follow” has Bono singing “If you walk away, walk away/I walkaway, walkaway..I will follow.”

Civil rights were also a common thread. In “Blackbird,” Paul McCartney sang about black women overcoming their obstacles to soar above their oppressors: “Blackbird singing in the dead of night/Take these sunken eyes and learn to see/All your Life/You were only waiting for this moment to be free.”

In “Pride (In the Name of Love),” Bono remembers American civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. “One man come in the name of love/One man come and go/One man come, he to justify/One man to overthrow.”

Neither band shied away from letting politics enter their catalog either, always singing for the preservation of peace. In “Revolution,” John Lennon claimed “But when you want money for people with minds that hate/All I can tell you is brother you have to wait.”

In “Please,” U2 condemns an unspecific political figure or social group: “So you never knew/That the heaven you keep, you stole/Please…please…please/Get up off your knees/Please-yeah…please…please…/Leave me out of this please.”

And on the lighter side, both bands created anthems to celebrate a nice day. The Beatles with Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun”: “Here comes the sun/Here comes the sun/And I say it’s all right/Sun, sun, sun here it comes”; U2 with “Beautiful Day”: “It’s a beautiful day/Sky falls, you feel like it’s a beautiful day/ Don’t let it get away.”

Coincidentally, even some titles are similar. The Beatles had “Within You and Without You,” and U2 had a number one hit with “With or Without You.” John Lennon’s heartfelt ballad to his wife Yoko, “Dig a Pony,” was first called “All I Want is You.” One of Bono’s most treasured songs to his beloved Ali is called “All I Want is You.”

HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS

Paul McCartney has been married twice, producing four daughters and one son. John Lennon shared a birthday with his son Sean.

The Edge has been married twice, producing four daughters and one son. Bono shares a birthday with his daughter Jordan.

IMITATION IS THE HIGHEST FORM OF FLATTERY

At the end of the Let it Be documentary, The Beatles venture to the roof of the building for an impromptu performance, only to be dragged off by the police. When U2 filmed the video for “Where the Streets Have No Name” on a Los Angeles rooftop, it ended with the police unplugging their equipment.

Over the years, U2 have covered several Beatles songs including “Help!,” “Helter Skelter,” “Happiness is a Warm Gun” and “In My Life.” On their recent Elevation tour, the introduction to U2 taking the stage included The Beatles’ version of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band.” They even hired Chris Thomas, a former Beatles collaborator, to co-produce their upcoming album.

QUOTABLE FRONT MEN

Part of the appeal in both bands is undoubtedly the charisma of their members. All eight men displayed intelligence, quick wit and a knack for well-placed sarcasm every time they were put to the test. Their front men, who both have messiah comparisons under their belt, have been nothing short of a quote-collector’s dream:

“Part of me suspects I’m a loser and part of me thinks I’m God Almighty.” – John Lennon, 9/1980 in The Playboy Interviews

“It’s a strange thing to need 20,000 people screaming your name to feel normal.” – Bono, 9/2002 on The Oprah Winfrey Show

MEETING OF THE MINDS

So — have the two superpowers ever met? Sadly, John Lennon never had the chance to know any members of U2 (although they were reportedly only a few miles away from the Dakota when he was killed in December of 1980).

George Harrison had unkind words for U2 in the late ’90s, saying “Look at a group like U2. Bono and his band are so egocentric — the more you jump around, the bigger your hat is, the more people listen to your music. The only important thing is to sell and make money. It’s nothing to do with talent. Today there are groups who sell lots of records and then disappear. Will we remember U2 in 30 years? Or the Spice Girls? I doubt it.”

Bono responded: “We were great fans of his but he didn’t like U2 very much. I heard he was very bad-tempered — I think it might have been more true to say he was the grumpy Beatle rather than the quiet one.”

However, Paul McCartney said great things about U2 at the Super Bowl in 2002. Rumors go so far as to suggest that Bono attended the wedding of Paul McCartney and Heather Mills in the summer of 2002, so one could assume they’re probably friends.

Not to be outdone, Edge recently collaborated with Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono for an art show. Dangerously, he allegedly invited her back to the studio (wink).

AND IN THE END

What does all of this mean? Maybe it’s just a clear documentation of amazing coincidences involving two phenomenal mainstream bands. Or maybe it’s divine intervention.



© @U2/Kokkoris, 2004.

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