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"The musicians are only ordinary people. It's the music which is extraordinary, if you like." — Bono

A lyrical quest for Bono ends where it began

Portland is at center stage as fans set out to right a wrong after discovering long lost U2 material
Oregonian
Danielle Rheaume was trading e-mails with work mate Cindy Harris about their favorite band, when Harris made a startling claim.

I've got some of U2's things, Harris wrote her last October. I'll tell you about it sometime.

"No, tell me about it now -- I have to see it!" Rheaume said she wrote back.

Rheaume suspected the items Harris possessed might include legendary lyrics thought to have been stolen in Portland in the early 1980s. The loss had forced U2 to hastily rewrite its second album, "October."

The next day at work in Olympia, Rheaume knew she was right.

Harris produced a zippered, clear plastic bag -- the kind bed comforters come in. The bag held a black binder, a blue hand-sized spiral notebook, photos and documents. A work visa bore lead singer Bono's given name, Paul Hewson. The notebook contained scrawled ideas for song titles, including future hits such as "Sunday Bloody Sunday."

From that moment, the then-26-year-old Rheaume, a Bono fan since age 8, resolved what to do with the collection: "I began my quest to get it back to him."

For years, Rheaume said, she had a feeling she would meet Bono one day. The papers were certainly her chance, because he had sought them so long.

But first, she faced a puzzle: how to return belongings to an international celebrity who pays a staff to help fend off strangers?

U2's early loss

Several books about U2 mention a Portland concert on March 22, 1981, after which Bono's briefcase disappeared. The band, then a niche college-radio upstart, was touring to support "Boy," its first album. It played to a handful of people at the Foghorn Tavern in the Gateway area. Three women later joined the band backstage.

They must be groupies, the band figured, according to "Into the Heart," a book of stories about U2 songs. The women flirted and eventually departed. Later, the band suspected they were thieves: Bono's briefcase was gone.

"Bono was devastated," Eamon Dunphy wrote in "Unforgettable Fire," a U2 biography. "It wasn't the money, the passport, the personal knick-knacks. It was the words he had written. And the breach of trust."

The loss, several books say, also left the singer scrambling to re-create months of work.

Bono ended up re-writing songs in the studio. Band members said the session was their worst studio experience. The effort also generated U2's least popular release.

Two years later, when the band performed at Portland's Paramount Theater, now the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Bono asked if anyone had seen the briefcase. He repeated the question at the Rose Garden arena in 2001.

Belongings recovered

After Harris moved into a rental house in Tacoma in 1983, she said, her husband found a beat-up brown briefcase sitting alone in the attic.

Harris quickly concluded the briefcase belonged to U2, but she did not hear about the reported theft for several years, she said. Her husband wound up using the briefcase. Harris put its contents into the plastic bag, hoping to preserve them but unsure what to do.

"I had started a family, and I thought it would be impossible to ever get ahold of them and let them know that I have these items," recalled Harris, 44.

But when Rheaume came along, awed by the collection, Harris felt her friend could return it .

Rheaume carefully organized the items, placed them in a safe and set about contacting the band.

She e-mailed a London friend who worked for a fan Web site (www.U2log.com). The friend got Rheaume in touch with a woman at U2's management firm. For months, Rheaume said, she pleaded for a chance to deliver the collection.

The management firm suggested U2 might fly Harris and Rheaume to Ireland. But that didn't work out.

An East Coast band appearance? Not that one, either.

Rheaume grew frustrated.

Then, last summer, she suggested a meeting to coincide with Bono's lecture Wednesday for the World Affairs Council of Oregon. The management firm agreed.

Rheaume said she was anxious for the delivery to happen this time. But she said a Bono aide reassured her: Don't worry, it will happen .

Sure enough, Rheaume and Harris met Bono at the Benson Hotel lobby Wednesday afternoon. Rheaume finally had her moment. One by one, she showed Bono the photos, lyrics and letters.

She also found out why it took so long to reach the rock star: He had told his staff the women were taking good care of his long-lost belongings.

That night, as Rheaume and Harris sat in the ninth-row Rose Garden seats Bono had given them, he announced the lyrics' return and thanked the women.

"I," Rheaume said, "was on the edge of my seat."

© Oregonian, 2004.