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"A game like chess suited me because I was able to put everything from my mind and work with something abstract."

-- Bono

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I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night (Part 1)

Q magazine, September 01, 1993
By: Adrian Deevoy

 

"The hotel is broken." It could be a new blipvert buzz-slogan for U2 to flash up on their Zoo TV screens. "Everything you know is wrong," "I'd like to teach the world to sing," "Celery is rhubarb's ugly sister." "The hotel is broken."

The 40-strong U2 executive have descended upon a beautiful rural hotel 20 minutes outside of Verona in Northern Italy and the well-oiled Irish machine has had a large Italian spanner hurled deep into the works. Vital faxes vanish, outside telephone lines are a rare luxury, rooms lack crucial items of furniture and you daren't plug in the trouser press for fear you'll kill your television. Mention to Bono that you experienced an unnerving power cut whilst in the bath and he apologizes. "That was probably my fault. I blew up my shower."

By the second afternoon of a five-day stay, Bono has re-christened the sprawling country retreat the Hotel Fellini. "It's so busy discovering the secrets of the universe in the folds of a woman's skirt," he explains poetically, "that it's forgotten to buy any toilet paper." But such is the potency of U2's celebrity, they couldn't stay in the city for fear of being mobbed. "You know what the Italians are like," shrugs Adam Clayton. "Very loyal, very passionate." He motions towards the hotel's electronically operated gate where a group of fans keep vigil in the 90-degree heat, hoping to catch a blurred snap as the objects of their Mediterranean ardor motor by.

Tonight, U2's manager, Paul McGuinness, has arranged a dinner for what Adam smirkingly calls "the grown-ups": a gaggle of guests, business associates and the Italian grande formaggios who'll ensure that the band's two shows at the Verona stadium -- where they will play to 90,000 people -- run smoothly. During the seven-course gourmet extravaganza, McGuinness is every inch mine host: telling stories, cracking jokes, talking highly informed shop, asking the waiters which vineyard a particular wine grape came from. Educated at Dublin's Trinity College (although he quit his Philosophy and Psychology courses a year early to manage a folk group called, and you may laugh, Spud), the upper-middle class Anglo-Irishman quotes regularly from the classics -- this being Verona, Romeo and Juliet receives a regular plundering. McGuinness is revered throughout the music business as an intellectual heavyweight, a ruthless negotiator, a twinkle-eyed charmer and a card-carrying bon viveur of considerable enthusiasm. Later, he'll flippantly define his role as "the only person in this entire organization who can bloody spell." But as the sticky drinks draw this particular pastathon to its potentially Mr. Creosote-eque conclusion, one thought remains unfuddled by the raunchy red of the region: you would hate to have to conduct a business deal with him.

Back at the al fresco bar, Bono and the ne'er untitfered guitarist who answers only to the name of Edge -- no need for definitive articles among friends -- have returned from a day's gallery-crawling in Venice, where the sun has comically beetrooted both their noses, and are now studying the latest reviews of the Zooropa album (the follow-up LP to Achtung Baby which was recorded in snatched moments during four fractured, and sometimes fractious, months in Dublin earlier this year). After 30 minutes spent silently squinting at the New York Times' critical assessment, Edge reaches a conclusion of sorts -- "That's fucking great," he beams, and passes the photocopy across to Bono. "You know," he says, "I'm glad people haven't thought we're just doing this as a stopgap thing. We wouldn't do that -- just waste an album. It had to work." When the show's belly dancer, Morleigh Steinberg, is introduced, she points to her stomach just in case there is any confusion as to her job description.

Inside, Larry Mullen -- the band's only true sex symbol, clad in cool motorcycle chic -- is chalking his cue and addressing a tricky cannon shot at the pool table. Thoughtfully sipping a vodka and orange ("although I've already enough drink on me tonight"), he circles the table, examining the angles. He makes an earnest hustler. The three-quarter size table, he decides, "is a bitch." There are no jaws on the tiny pockets, so every pot has to be millimeter perfect. Hitting and hoping is out of the question. At first it seems like a restriction but soon a highly tactical game, bearing closer relation to chess than pool, evolves. Larry curses quietly when he misses and taps his cue appreciatively on the ground when his opponent -- your correspondent -- plays an especially magnificent shot. Twenty minutes of unfaltering concentration later, the black is doubled into its nominated pocket. "Flukey fucker," mutters Larry sportly and pauses before shaking the victor's proffered hand. "Best of three?"

By dint of the fact that it is now half three in the morning and no one has shown the remotest interest in exchanging their alcoholic beverages for something warm, malted and milky, it begins to dawn that U2's collective body clock is set at a different time to the rest of the world.

The hotel staff -- to much Manuel-like exasperation -- were told prior to the entourage's arrival that they should expect a group who like their evening meal at around 1 a.m., generally turn in no earlier than four and stumble down for breakfast between one and two in the afternoon. There will, of course, be occasions, the incredulous chambermaids were informed, when the band have a really late night.

Adam, casually togged in jogging bottoms and Jesus boots, is complaining in his curious Dublin suburbs/home counties accent: "I'd promised myself I wouldn't drink tonight and here I am half pissed again." From beneath his yellow Mohican meringue, he burbles happily about the splendid meal he and Larry enjoyed in Verona this evening and marvels at their "extremely beautiful waiter," confident in the knowledge that his supermodel fiance, Naomi Campbell, is arriving tomorrow thus ensuring that his heterosexual credentials remain fully intact.

By now, the spirit of the Goddess Valpolicella is speaking through everyone. The Stereo MCs are pounding out of a ghetto blaster on the floor. Larry, who describes himself as "a man who hits things for a living," drums along on his legs. Paul McGuinness tells a joke about a Mexican ("although I'm loath to subscribe to such crass racial stereotyping") who meets an Irish philologist and asks him whether the Irish have an expression parallel to "maana" in their vocabulary. The philologist thinks for a moment and says, "No, I don't think we have anything that conveys such a desperate sense of urgency." Boom, and if you must, boom.

The band's wardrobemeister, Fintan Fitzgerald, scampers around drunkenly, taking Polaroids (a popular hobby in the U2 camp). When it is suggested that Fintan has his own picture taken, he opts for a close-up of himself licking the Italian promoter's face. The rotund local impresario laughs mirthlessly and dabs his damp cheeks with a handkerchief. At 4 a.m. Bono and Edge grin sleepily and sidle off to their beds. Adam makes his excuses and stays.



EARLY THE FOLLOWING afternoon, the first image that greets you is Adam and Larry motoring past in a low, red Maserati, both waving and smiling. Larry, having obviously adjusted well to last night's humiliation on the pool table, shouts, "Morning, Bastard!"

In the breakfast room, Bono wanders across for a chat. Dressed in black T-shirt and trousers and wearing his impenetrable Fly shades, he cuts an impressive, if compact, figure. He has cropped Cuban-heeled cowboy boots on his feet and his hair is dyed jet black. Bono doesn't want to conduct an official interview, preferring instead to let the others go on record while he enjoys a series of informal conversations. Conversation is an area in which he excels: humorous, crazily tangential and always flatteringly attentive. Being a busy, post-modern rock star, he has little time for small talk and is more likely to open up by asking if both your parents are still alive, then by mentioning how very humid it is. Today, he introduces himself by speculating whether the Italians are more fascinated by sex or shoes. "Probably a dead heat, unless they combine the interests," is the saucy verdict.

Removing the wraparound Armani sunglasses, training his bright blue eyes on yours and leaning close, he tends to speak in a slightly hoarse whisper (his hand pecking at your knee and arm, like a snug bar auld fella, to stress particular points), he says he doesn't feel fully qualified to talk about Zooropa as "to be honest, I'm not completely sure what a lot of the songs are about, they just...arrived." We discuss the underlying atmosphere of cloying perviness, "that Dennis Hopper, Blue Velvet vibe" that envelopes the album. "There's certainly an evil feel to things like 'Daddy's Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car," he says, cupping his hand over his nose and mouth in an approximation of Hopper's unsavory, oxygen-slurping character, Frank. "That song could be about dependency or something more sinister. It's an electronic blues, my Robert Johnson thing. Flogging the soul to Satan." He laughs loudly when it is suggested that "Babyface" is a masturbation anthem, then frowns. "You see, to me, that song could be seen as being totally innocent." " 'Lemon,' " he continues nibbling a piece of dry Italian cake, looks at "the power of imagination, the mind taking off in two different directions -- in a Studio 54, 'Disco Duck' setting. The falsetto was completely natural. I've always felt there was a fat woman trying to burst out of me. Don't know what Freud would make of that!"

And what of "The First Time"? No one in the band seems to know what it's about. "That's about something so dark and deep," he hesitates, theatrically looking right and left, as if someone might be eavesdropping, "that I don't think we want to know what it's about. I'll tell you a funny thing," he says, changing the mood, "that song started out an Al Green soul thing." Then, at the top of his voice, in the empty restaurant, he starts singing. "I've got a love/A lover like no other/She got soul, soul, soul, sweet soul..." And on he goes, utterly unselfconscious, inserting the relevant soul instrumentation in between vocal lines, indicating potential brass parts and drumming loudly on the table with his hands. It's a wonderful performance, interrupted by the arrival of a large American gentleman in a small vest who stations himself in front of Bono. "I want to apologize," he says. "That note you gave me, I didn't pass it on until this morning, but he's scheduled to read it this afternoon." Bono shrugs. No problem. Who, you wonder, is this mighty power who has to allot windows in which to read mini-missives from the rich and famous. "Oh, that's Axl," laughs Bono, easing himself out of his seat, reinstating the shades and heading out into the hotel courtyard. "My mate, Axl."

Axl Rose, Guns N'Roses' very own Captain Moodswing, is, it transpires, staying in the hotel because he has developed a profound passion for U2 since the release of Achtung Baby and tries to see them live whenever their pan-global itineraries intersect. The song "One," he says rather sweetly, makes him cry.



BY MID-AFTERNOON, the entire entourage has been shoehorned into cars and buses and is on its way to the Verona stadium.

The sheer scale of the Zooropa '93 Zoo TV stage is astonishing. Technicians swarm over it like soldier ants, connecting cables, adjusting scaffolding, shouldering large pieces of wood. Such is the size of the site, some of them pedal between tasks on bicycles. The structure takes between 12 and 13 hours to erect and travels a day ahead of the band. Watching this 180-strong army of experts go about its synapse-scrambling business is a humbling experience. Had they lived 4,000 years ago, these people would have had no problem with the pyramids. In fact, they'd have probably built them, then taken them out on tour.

During soundcheck, Edge airs a rough live sketch of his freshly minted disconnection rap, "Numb." Bono strolls down his catwalk in the blazing sunshine nodding appreciatively, singing the backing vocal to himself.

"Remember," says Larry, wielding an imaginary pool cue, shirtless in the backstage catacombs, "revenge is sweet." En route to the band's dressing room to rest his voice before the show, Bono is reminded of his itinerary for tomorrow, which includes a lengthy American radio interview and a brief film that a small crew from Sarajevo are making. He takes hold of the written schedule, his eyebrows hiking up above the glasses. "Sarajevo," he whistles through his teeth. "Jesus."

As the band relax in a changing room customized with curtains and cushions of Indian aspect, the adjacent production slips into overdrive. Faxes chatter, Macintosh Powerbooks are snapped open. the three ringing phones barely audible above the crackle of walkie-talkies. It's organized chaos; no one flaps. Even at their most harassed, the U2 team have time to stop for a quick pleasantry. As they pass each other in the concrete corridors, they smile and often stroke each other. Many of them, the Moonie recruitment department may be keen to learn, are absently humming U2 tunes.

"If we panic, then everyone else does and it's immediate bedlam," explains Zoo TV's video coordinator. "And remember, this is Italy. These people have won international championships for panicking."

Outside, 45,000 Italians are swaying to the Zooropa disco manned by Colin Hudd (who alternates duties with Paul Oakenfold). Some fans are visiting the Video Confessional wherein they are filmed saying anything they like ("Obscene, strange, religious, but nothing about the band and nothing boring," implores the camera-carrying video "priest"). Before the band's encores tonight, the best confessions will be screened. In the queue for this curious celluloid sin-absolving arrangement, a hairy man grips my arm and in a heavy Tuscan accent hisses, "I have much sexual laarve for Larry." God bless you, my son.

In the backstage catering area, band and crew alike are laying waste to hillocks of truly excellent food. "A good meal helps morale," says the cook, wisely. "They used to have a caterer who didn't provide the variety we do and apparently everyone was quite miserable. Food is very important."

At 9:20, the head of lighting leans casually across the sound desk and, just as you would flick off a bedside lamp, throws a small switch and every light in the stadium goes down. On the vast vidi-walls, a film loop of a Nazi boy beating a drum in the Berlin Olympic Stadium rhythmically mesmerizes the crowd, the disembodied buzz of "Zoo Station" cranks up and U2 kick start the finest outdoor show in the history of rock 'n' roll.

Stadium concerts were never meant to be like this: the sound is as clear as Waterford crystal; you are bombarded with so much visual stimulus that your attention couldn't wander if it wanted to and human warmth floods from the stage. By the end of the first number, your cockles have been charbroiled and your flabber scrupulously ghasted. The Achtung Baby songs -- all dark, guilty, scared and confused -- shimmy by: "The Fly," "Even Better Than the Real Thing," "Mysterious Ways" (cue bellydancer, last seen tinkering with Bono's laptop backstage, now cavorting hypnotically in all her Turkish finery); "Until the End of the World," "Tryin' to Throw Your Arms Around the World." Sandwiched between, you get "New Year's Day," Larry Mullen's pub singer rendition of "Dirty Old Town" and "One." During this last song, a tangible wave of emotion washes over the crowd.

Axl Rose, standing so close you can see the tiny picture of Charles Manson on his reverse-mode baseball cap, reaches for a cigarette (and, surprisingly, screws it into a white holder before lighting it). He stares at his big sneakers, looks around at the lighter-lit stadium, makes an attempt at his skirt-swirling, round-shouldered Axl dance and bites his lip. His minder looks on anxiously. As the song finishes, Axl stares into the middle distance and murmurs, "Oh, man, that's beautiful." Meanwhile, the band have cantered down the runway to a small stage in the middle of the crowd and are thrashing out an inspired acoustic set including "Angel of Harlem," "When Love Comes to Town" and "Satellite of Love" (with guest video contribution from Lou Reed). Then, without pause for breath, they reel into the powerful issue songs "Bad" and "Bullet the Blue Sky," then ricochet on to the U2 anthems "Where the Streets Have No Name," "Pride (In the Name of Love)" and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." And on that bombshell, they say goodbye.

Weird stuff flashes upon the screens: singing teapots, snatches of soap opera, mad random access Italian words, the video confessionals (one bloke screams, one says nothing at all, a woman exposes her chest). Then the band reappear with Bono in the guise of his new alter ego Macphisto. He's a sad creation -- a show business casualty who you imagine spends his time in a seaside boarding house, reliving his days in repertory theatre, fingering yellowed local press notices. He wears a gold lame suit, multi-story platforms and a little pair of red horns to sing "Desire." You know the type. The Italians aren't sure what to make of this pitiful pan-sticked creature who speaks like Quentin Crisp on recreational drugs.

Macphisto places the now traditional Zoo TV phone call to his friends Clannand (which Macphisto pronounces "Cler-nard") who are celebrating their 20th anniversary in Dublin and we all sing "Happy Birthday."

Musically, Zooropa '93 ends on a quiet note, with "Love is Blindness" and a sentimental "I Can't Help Falling In Love With You." As Bono croons, a full moon rises above the stadium surrounded by a cluster of stars. You can't help but wonder whether it's another clever Zoo TV projection or just the celestial elements trying to muscle in on the act.



TONIGHT THERE IS to be a party. This is call the Rigger's Arms, an occasional occurrence on U2's tours, where, for a tenner a head, the lighting riggers organize a major ceilidh and if they have to build a room to hold it in, so be it: it's what they do for a living. The hot news this evening is that many barrels of Guinness have been flown in from Dublin. Your first pint is pulled by the bellydancer, the second by Larry Mullen, the third by Edge's guitar tech. Then it all gets a bit hazy. Bono turns up with Axl. Edge wears an outsized beret. Everyone dances to Bob Marley's "Is This Love?" Adam canoodles prenuptially with his Naomi. Larry smooches with his girlfriend Anne to "Forever and Ever" by Demis Roussos. A performance art troupe called Machnas suddenly appear wearing huge plastic U2 heads. There are isolated outbreaks of ragamuffin frugging. For some reason, there are three one-man igloo tents outside. As Colin Hudd gets a house groove going, the dancing gets more determined. The spirit measures become decidedly non-metric. Conversations start to take on an avant-garde twist. Someone requests "Always Look On the Bright Side of Life." The Guinness is showing no signs of running out. The sun came up hours ago. Oh, crikey!

(Continued in Part 2)



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