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"It's a very special song, because it's the first time that we ever really made a statement." — Larry, on "Sunday Bloody Sunday"

Comprehensive U2 Exhibit Dazzles Rock and Roll Hall

The Commercial Appeal
U2 is hardly a museum piece, but after nearly 25 years of making music the adventurous Irish rock group has collected enough memories and memorabilia to fill the top three floors of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland.

"In the Name of Love: Two Decades of U2," which opens Saturday and runs through September, will feature the largest collection of U2 artifacts ever assembled, said James Henke, vice president of exhibitions and curatorial affairs for the museum and a former editor for Rolling Stone. Display items include stage outfits, musical instruments, lyric sheets, personal correspondence, video and animation cells and concert posters.

"Some of these come from the earliest days of the band," said Henke.

The exhibit includes, for example, a press-kit bio of the Hype, one the band's early names; the first U2 T-shirt, handcrafted by drummer Larry Mullen in a high school art class; a 1978 trophy won in a battle of the bands, and rejection letters from two record labels.

Henke said the exhibit had been discussed for several years but picked up steam when the band members - Mullen, singer Bono, guitarist the Edge, and bassist Adam Clayton - visited the I.M. Pei-designed museum in 2001 during a Cleveland stop on its Elevation tour.

"Bono and Larry really liked the museum and said they wanted to send us more stuff," Henke said.

He made a list of about 75 items that he would like to put on display and, "Lo and behold, they had most of them and said they'd be glad to loan them to us."

U2 has sold more than 80 million albums and has earned just about every award in the music business, and it is one of the few rock bands that has lasted this long without any personnel changes, Henke pointed out.

The four musicians also have had an unusual amount of stability in their professional relationships, retaining the same core group of people since its early days as a Dublin punk-rock band.

Steve Averill, founder of the Dublin design firm Four5One, suggested the name U2 to the band and has created the graphics and artwork on nearly every album and single that the band has released.

"I did the first (album) sleeve for them, for the EP U2 3, Averill said in an interview, "and I've been working with them ever since. The only ones we didn't do were Wide Awake in America and Rattle and Hum."

He said he the design firm went through its inventory and found that it had a lot of graphics from the band's later years, but that most of the early artwork had disappeared.

"There's an amazing amount of outtakes," he said. "We might have 50 or more sleeves done up for a single album."

The group's 1997 album Pop, for example, went through several working titles during the recording process, including Discotheque, Miami and U2 Incorporated.

Averill would visit the studio, listen to the sessions, and try to capture images that fit the sound and the lyrics. "It's exciting...but the first thing you hear might be a lot different from what it sounds like at the end of the day, so you have to adapt.

When Discotheque became Pop, "the concept changed so dramatically," Averill said. "We wanted to, in some way, tie in with the pop-art movement of the 1950s, but also to tie it in to today. The result was a pop-art style of design with more contemporary colors."

Working with the four musicians in U2 is always a challenge, Averill said, because they are all "strong individuals."

The collection of album graphics from Four5One will not go on display until May. For the first three months, the space will feature 30 photographs of the band by noted Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn, whose work appears on such U2 album covers as The Joshua Tree, Achtung Baby, Pop and Rattle and Hum.

Some of the other notable display items cited by Henke include Bono's first guitar and his handwritten revisions to the song "New York" after 9/11; recording-session notes by producers Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, and animation cels from Dreamchaser Productions, a Dublin video company that has worked on numerous U2 projects.

© 2003, The Commercial Appeal.