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U2

interview by Frank Andrick
first published in Komsomolskaya Pravda, Moscow, Russia



U2


U2

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“My first face-to-face encounter with U2 came on the eighteenth day of March in 1981. But through their music—their debut album Boy and the series of singles (that had only been released in their homeland of Ireland, but which I had because of my work as a radio program producer)—I felt as though I already knew them.”



U2's emotive slice of life and their impassioned observations of a senseless world around them, coupled with the ability to describe the inner and empty dialogues of the self had already touched many people, but had yet to touch the bank accounts of corporate America and its reflective, self-serving mouthpiece, the electronic media (i.e. radio).

This particular day in '81, as I started to say earlier, they arrived at the radio station KSJO in San Jose, California, an area of suburban conformity about 50 miles south of San Francisco. At the time, I held the position of Research and Music Director at the station, and one of my duties was the adding of new songs to the lists from which the disc jockeys picked their plays. In those days, the disk jockeys were still able to program their own shows and to pick out the music that they wanted to play. Now, the music on radio stations and the news on television stations are determined by a few professional "programmers," who send their "program lists" and news out via computer to all their "customers" around the country. The disk jockey has no control anymore over what is played or not played—except on "college radio," which is free of commercial concerns because it is funded by the university and has nothing to do with corporate America, short of gratefully receiving free records from the record industry.

Since meeting the disk jockeys (DJs) still made a difference in getting your record played, U2 was on a "radio press tour" across America. And that's why U2 was at KSJO. The four members, Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullin Jr, all 20 years old at the time, were interviewed on the air, did a tour of the station and had pictures taken with the DJs, executives and fans who had shown up to meet their current favorite band. The band was polite, soft spoken and earnest. The passions that governed their music were evident in their conversations. They made points without resorting to clichés. They had the strength of the truth as they saw it, and the forum to share it in various forms of personal dialogue with their fans. Their next stop was at San Jose State University, where U2 would play their San Francisco Bay Area debut show at a free concert in the cafeteria sponsored by KSJO and my "Modern Humans" radio program, and radio station KFJC, an avant-progressive college station in nearby Los Altos Hills.

The show was triumphant! U2 stormed through their set, proving their points with the power and immediacy of the live performance. Every song on their debut album, Boy, was presented in a rough-hewn, madness-driven frenzy that drove their studio perfection into the wind. Songs like "Stories For Boys" and "Electric Co." took on a new, blinding shine while the band's improvisational masterpiece, "The Black Cat," wound out to an 18-minute, glorious cacophony of feedback punctuated by stabs of light in the shape of drums and bass. After the concert, Larry Mullin, the drummer, and I walked about the campus area and got lost. Larry missed his ride back to the hotel in San Francisco where the band was to play the next day. We eventually went to my home, which was nearby, to call the managers when they arrived. In the meantime, we talked— about the concert, about his astonishment at the size of the audience (1,500 people), and we laughed at the remembrance of the cafeteria floor jumping up and down in waves, literally in time with the beat of the crowd and the drums. The floor, because of California's strict earthquake-resistant building code—is spring-loaded on a massive suspension system, and the new-wave pogoing of the capacity crowd caused the floor to surge and retreat slowly in 6" waves!

Over the years, I'd see U2 whenever they came to town, but it wasn't until the Joshua Tree tour that I spent a lot of time with them again. This time, I journeyed to Las Vegas, Nevada, where the band shot the video for "Where The Streets Have No Name," and themselves attended a gambling casino show of the master of the big band croon, Mr. Frank Sinatra. It was an odd study in contrasts—from the barren desert to the opulent ballroom with its crowd of unmindful gamblers set against a backdrop of broken dreams.

Later, the band was to join an all-night vigil for reduced arms and nuclear testing at a desert atomic test site somewhere close to Las Vegas. Ah, Las Vegas: opulent palaces dedicated to gambling as a way for the jaded to entertain themselves; the town where over-the-hill entertainers go to make big bucks playing to little old ladies—from Frank Sinatra to Elvis Presley, they all come here when they no longer look young enough for Hollywood or MTV. Las Vegas. Not a socially-conscious U2 kind of town.

Then, it's on to San Diego and three nights back home (for me) in San Francisco. My laminated security pass, marked with a large letter "M" for management, opened doors that led to long corridors that led to other long corridors and finally to the "Hospitality Room" with about 150 people wearing the non-exclusive triangle "after show" pass. Most of these people had won their passes at one of the many Bay Area radio station promotions. They thought they were going to meet U2. They didn't even get close. We moved on toward two armed guards who blocked the entrance to the next long corridor. After displaying our passes, we were allowed to pass through the corridor and into another room. A beautiful, efficient woman appeared, calling herself Suzanne. We gave our names, she spoke into a walkie-talkie radio, got a confirmation from somewhere deep in security command central, and walked us to another beautiful woman.

Sheila Roche is part of U2's management team, and she took us personally through the last door, past the last guard, into the backstage dressing room area, where we suddenly left the real world behind and entered a dimly lit room hung with curtains to soften the walls. Large, comfortable couches that one could sink into gratefully after all the standing and waiting and walking down brightly-lit corridors, being challenged every two minutes to prove your right to be there, this was heaven. There was a table set with breads, wonderful cheeses and fresh fruits. Another table was loaded down with all types of beer from all over the world, including of course the Irish staple, "Guinness," a dark strong beer highly prized for its creamy froth. Another table held whisky, brandy, gin and plenty of Stolichnaya vodka.

I hadn't seen U2 for five years, though when Larry Mullin entered the room he strode up to me right away, "Well, this is a blast from the past. I'm glad to see your face!" And when Larry and Bono both took the time to take me aside to tell me how much they appreciated my efforts over a decade ago to help them and support their music, I felt both humbled and overjoyed. These were not the all-too-common "rock stars," filled with an overwhelming sense of self-importance. These guys, in spite of their superstar status ("The Band of the Eighties"), are still living, loving, normal human beings whom fame, money, adulation and the game had not corrupted.

What is a "zoo television," you might well ask, and so I did. Guitarist the Edge explained, "It's a video instrument. It's immense, the control center is like Cape Canaveral." It came about, he continued, because "We asked if we could put something together that we could use live—a video instrument—not just images, but something we could actually use.... Something so flexible that we could change it on any given song. It's a whole new way of doing a show."

Bono/U2

Multimedia artist cum record producer Brian Eno, who also worked behind the mixing board on their Achtung Baby album, helped design U2's staging lights, video monitor complex and the input of images used in the Zoo TV tour's onslaught of multi-staged, multimedia information blitz. "There are times when the imagery overwhelms the group," asserts Eno. And the implication is that this is as it should be. "It's getting away from the idea of the video helping people to see the band more easily. We are using video as a way to obscure them or lose them in a network of material."

As for the band's performance, it was almost a parody of their image of an excessive, pompous groupfrom the exaggerated entrance of a black leather and sunglasses-clad Bono to the clanging intro to "Zoo Station," the concert ending of Bono in a gold spangled suit hugging his own reflection in a gold-framed, full-length mirror. They must have spent some time watching their documentary-style movie, Rattle and Hum, and some time reflecting on their image to the outside world. So when I chided Bono backstage for his "rock star" entrance and exit, he replied: "Yeah, it's funny, I finally get to act like the asshole that I once thought I wanted to be."

Success is a funny thing; it's very difficult to handle. It changes people, usually for the worse. The Bad Brains once wrote and recorded a song called "Money Changes Everything." The song later became a hit for Cyndi Lauper. "Money Changes Everything" could almost be a truism about success. But there are a few who can become successful and still remember what is important and what is not. Among U2 (the band) and the people who run U2 (the business), "Money doesn't mean a thing." For U2, humanity means everything. Their last statement to me before we went back to living our separate lives was very telling: "You are not a friend, you're family."

  

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