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[W]e'll have to say that in the '80s rock-and-roll went to work for corporations and got up at 6 a.m. to go jogging. And it wasn't just to keep fit. It was to . . . improve the prospects of the corporation. -- Bono

There's Plenty of Rattle and Lots of Hum

Cleveland Plain Dealer
"All I got is a red guitar, three chords and the truth," U2's Bono proclaimed during a concert in 1987.

Somewhere along the way, it seems, he acquired a green guitar, too. It's on view now at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, along with a ton of other U2 memorabilia spread over three floors. One for each chord, perhaps?

Truth is, In the Name of Love: Two Decades of U2 offers an engaging overview of the Irish quartet's rise to superstardom.

This is the rock hall's first major exhibition devoted to a contemporary act. And on most counts, it's a big success.

Guitarist the Edge, bass player Adam Clayton, singer Bono and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. gaze down upon visitors from a billboard-sized portrait hanging in the upper reaches of the museum. Take a close look at the cryptic image on the Edge's T-shirt. It bears the name of our fair city and a date -- Nov. 3, 1970. That writing is part of a mug shot of Jane Fonda taken when she was arrested in Cleveland for disturbing the peace.

Two dozen U2 photos by longtime band lensman Anton Corbijn fill the fourth floor. As part of a salute to the whole group, however, too many pictures focus only on Bono, frontman of 1,000 haircuts. Thank heaven for a priceless shot of the whole band in drag.

The rest of the retrospective is arranged in chronological order, with the fifth floor covering U2's formative years in the '70s through 1987's Rattle and Hum double album and film.

In addition to Mullen's rickety first drum kit and Bono's banged-up first guitar, there are rejection letters from a couple of major record labels (alas, but not the heads of the talent scouts who passed on U2, which went on to sell 115 million albums) and an amusing bit of trivia pertaining to Peter Rowen. He's the young lad who posed for the covers of the band's 1980 debut Boy and other releases. For his services, he got a box of Mars bars.

Too bad the rock hall couldn't procure one of those white flags Bono used to wave onstage in the '80s. They tried, said chief curator Jim Henke, but U2 hadn't saved any of the iconic banners.

The museum's top floor is a treasure trove of artifacts tied into the group's horizon-expanding '90s albums -- Achtung Baby, Zooropa and Pop -- and 2000's Grammy-garnering All That You Can't Leave Behind. Mannequins sport designer get-ups from U2's last three tours, including Bono's black-leather Fly and golden MacPhisto outfits.

The tongue-in-cheek razzle-dazzle of the 1997 PopMart tour ultimately backfired, although a fun-looking miniature model of the stage set makes it easy to see how the band might've been sold on the idea. A related series of concept sketches includes an intriguing proposal with lasers shooting out of giant microphones.

Put it all together and you have an informative and entertaining survey of the group's career to date. But it isn't quite on a par with the rock hall's even more well-rounded John Lennon exhibition, which recently ended a two-year run and raised the bar very high for the curatorial department.

The U2 exhibit is jam-packed with stuff, ranging from vinyl rarities to posters to all sorts of souvenir merchandise. (Achtung Baby condoms, anyone?) Unfortunately, all these products don't tell us a lot about the four unique personalities at the heart of the group.

With the exception of Bono's handwritten (and minimally revised) lyrics for "Bad," "Stay (Faraway, So Close)" and other songs, as well as meticulous notes by producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois from a couple of recording sessions, the exhibit doesn't shed much light on the band's creative chemistry, either. They groove in mysterious ways.

The most curious relic is a pair of everyday black loafers worn by Lanois during the making of U2's last album. Not to worry -- there's no off-putting odor. The shoes are safely enclosed in a display case, along with a funny note from Lanois about how his taste in footwear was mocked by Bono.

"Good enough for Michael Jackson, good enough for me," Lanois writes.

Rounding out the installation are video loops with sound bites from band members and concert highlights.

Even better than the real thing? No. But for U2 fans who still haven't found what they're looking for, this exhibit is just the ticket.

© 2003, The Plain Dealer. Used with permission.