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"What I like about pop music, and why I'm still attracted to it, is that in the end it becomes our folk music." — Bono

Rock the Hall: A Trip Through U2's Wires

A fan's perspective of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame U2 exhibit
"There's usually one member of a band who is a pack rat, or to put it another way, who has the collectors' mentality. For example, in U2, drummer Larry Mullen Jr. is the collector. From the time U2 first formed (as the Larry Mullen Band) back in a Dublin high school, he has been stockpiling everything from the first U2 T-shirt (now on exhibit at the Hall of Fame) to posters, backstage passes, notes from band members, etc. He virtually has a house full of U2 memorabilia" - James Henke, curator of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum

For any serious U2 collector, a visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum will be a bit like going over to a friend's house and comparing your collection to his. The trouble is the collection you're comparing it against is the band's drummer's. Bottom line is your collection will pale by comparison! I went to the Rock Hall with a wish list of my own, hoping to see items on display that I had not seen in any other collection.

For those not familiar with the Rock Hall, here's a recap: Four decorated trabants from the Zoo TV tour, as well as the neon Zoo TV sign that hung above the stage during the Outside Broadcast leg of their Zoo TV tour in 1992-1993, are in the main lobby. The trabants and Zoo TV sign have been part of the Rock Hall's permanent collection since it opened in 1995.

The fourth floor has a display of Anton Corbijn photos from 1981-present. This will change in May 2003 when a display of Steve Averill's album artwork from the design firm Four5One takes its place. The Rock Hall will be showing Rattle and Hum, Live at Red Rocks, Live from Sydney, and The Making of the Joshua Tree on a schedule in their It's Only Rock and Roll theater on the fourth floor. The fifth floor chronicles U2's "first decade" from 1978-1989, while the sixth floor covers 1990-2002. Dreamchaser Productions has allowed the Rock Hall to show its decade montages from previous U2 videos on the fifth and sixth floors.

I was not disappointed with the depth of material on display, but I was surprised to see so much of it came from people outside of U2 themselves. The list of contributors to the U2 exhibit is quite long: Larry Mullen Jr., Bono, U2, Paul McGuinness, Steve Iredale, Anton Corbijn, Daniel Lanois, Brian Eno, Ellen Darst, Willie Williams, Dennis Sheehan, Ned O'Hanlon, Maurice Linnane, Tara Mullen, Dreamchaser Productions, David Greg Harth, Oliver Giovanoli, Jenny Williams, James Henke, Otto Kitsinger, Amanda Gittins, Mary Cipriani, Chris Alberts, Melanie Zyck-Alberts, R. Todd Richards, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Cass I. Gittins III, Meredith Rutledge, Hillary Frank and Patty Culliton. Close to half of the contributors are not directly affiliated with U2.

Given that, it's not surprising to see the amount of collectibles on display that are on loan from fans. Items like the purple 7-inch "All I Want Is You," Joshua Tree Collection Singles Sampler and Joshua Tree Pizza Box are mixed in with magazines and records of the same era. Most posters and CD singles in the exhibit are on loan from fans. Even tour passes on display are from fans or Henke himself.

There are some true gems found in the exhibit that are either courtesy of Larry Mullen, Jr. or Steve Iredale. Most of the items at the start of the fifth floor are courtesy of Larry. One of his first drum sets, one of Bono's first guitars, some of their first rejection notices, tour itineraries and concert tickets are some of the highlights of the entire exhibit. These humble beginnings shown in the first 30 feet of exhibit space set the tone for how U2 fought to be where they are today. This is the part of the exhibit where fans should take extra time to appreciate what the Rock Hall was able to show. Most of these early items have not been seen before.

For example, one of their earliest press releases, while they were still known as the Hype, is on display. According to Adam, it is "full of lies." Once you see it, you can see what he means. There are hand-written edits on the document, highlighting inaccuracies. For instance, the release says that Larry had been playing drums since the age of twelve. Next to it, there is a hand-written "nine." The only band member to have been given a glowing bio was Adam. I suppose if you're managing yourself, it's okay to do that.

The wall displays are separated by album era. Each display shows some singles from that album, merchandise or costume article, magazines, and personal notes. Steve Iredale contributed some of Brian Eno's production notes -- and those blueprints hold keen insight on how The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree took shape. Bring a magnifying glass, though -- Eno writes small!

The fifth floor also has the fan wall, complete with fanzines and inflatable collectibles hanging from it. The display case is a treasure trove of items normally only found on eBay. Items like the "If God Would Send His Angels" advent calendar, promotional Best Of 1980-1990 helmet, Pop snow globe, 1993 calendar, and Bubble and Gum CD are just some of the items on loan from fans around the world. Next to this display is a signing book so that visitors can leave their remarks about being at the exhibit.

Part of the display that might be overlooked are cels from the "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" video that are found on the sixth floor. Head towards the elevator, and you'll see them. The amount of effort that was taken in the layering of the animation is amazing.

Speaking of the sixth floor, most of the band's stage costumes are on display there. The Rock Hall worked directly with Fintan Fitzgerald, U2's stylist. Special lighting was installed on this floor so that the articles would not fade, although the various outfits held up well given the touring conditions they faced in the '90s. It's hard to picture the clothing on mannequins, but the Rock Hall did a good job in making sure the body language fit the personality of the band member.

Surprising as it may seem, there are some items missing from this comprehensive exhibit. One obvious article is the 12" U2-3 vinyl. Granted, there are only 1000 available, but most U2 fans can name at least someone they know who is lucky enough to have one. When questioned, Henke said that the Rock Hall does have one, but due to the nature of the display, could not find a place to showcase it. There are also no hand drawings from Bono found in the display. After viewing the hand drawings of Jimi Hendrix on the ground floor, I was surprised to see none from Bono. Also, despite the narrative posters on each floor, there was no central location that listed the band's awards and achievements. Some were interspersed through the various displays, however that information could have served well on the stairwell walls leading up to the sixth floor. I was also taken aback not to see more interactive items within the exhibit -- the Interactive Achtung Baby Songbook would have worked well had there been a computer available on the fan wall.

Overall, the journey through the Rock Hall's artifacts made me realize that despite all of the collections I've seen at various friends' houses, nothing tops the one Larry has! Heck -- he bought his next door neighbor's house to store all of his collectibles!

© @U2/Colombaro, 2003.