"It's like taking the rock jerk that the Fly is and . . . take him to his logical conclusion, which is when he's fat and playing Las Vegas."
-- Bono, on his MacPhisto persona
Rock the Hall: If You Wish Upon a Band
U2 exhibit opens this weekend at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
February 04, 2003
"Give us your wish list."
Who among us, U2 fans one and all, hasn't daydreamed about U2 asking for our wish list, and then telling the band exactly what songs we want to hear in concert, what single or DVD to issue next, or when to start the next tour.
Jim Henke is a U2 fan. He's also the curator of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, and it's because he holds that position that U2 said "give us your wish list" -- a wish list of artifacts Henke wanted to display at the museum. The List has grown into an upcoming exhibit, In the Name of Love: Two Decades of U2. It opens this Saturday, February 8th, and we caught up with the curator by telephone for some history on how it all came together and what fans can expect when they tour the museum.
U2 had never visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. They had never seen the Zoo TV Trabants hanging in the lobby; nor did they see the mini-U2 collection that was on display when the museum opened in 1995; and they missed the Rock Style exhibit in 2000 which featured several of Bono's stage outfits from the Zoo TV and PopMart tours. Their first visit was in May, 2001, when the Elevation tour brought them to Cleveland. While they were there, U2 used the on-site radio studio to record voiceovers for the "Elevation" music video. And they also talked about donating more artifacts to be displayed there for a future U2 exhibit.
"We've always had a good relationship with [U2]," Henke told @U2, "but they had never been to the museum until the Elevation tour, so when they played Cleveland they came by and went to the museum -- all of them did -- and they really liked it. They said they were interested in giving us more stuff."
It was about a year later, as plans were still being developed, that the band asked Henke and his staff to make that wish list of anything they wanted for a U2 exhibit. "It usually doesn't work this way," Henke emphasizes.
The List grew to four pages of U2 artifacts.
"We had the Bono 'Stars and Stripes' jacket from the Super Bowl. We asked if he had a draft of his rewritten version of 'New York' after September 11th when he started singing different words. We got that. The 'Evil U2' outfits from the ["Elevation"] video, stuff like that. Larry actually had his first drum set so that's part of the exhibit. A lot of the stuff we asked for they had."
Henke sent The List to the Principle Management offices, and the U2 camp went to work.
Band stylist Fintan Fitzgerald rounded up items from the band members, as well as several outfits the band has worn (to add to what's already stored at the museum). Ned O'Hanlon and his crew at Dreamchaser Productions came through with animation cels from the "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" music video, as well as Salman Rushdie's handwritten lyrics for "The Ground Beneath Her Feet." And they suggested that Henke contact Steve Iredale, the band's longtime tour production manager, who loaned some of his collection for the exhibit. Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois, and former Principle Management director Ellen Darst (among many others) also loaned items. The effort was so successful that the exhibit, originally planned for just the fifth floor of the museum, will actually fill floors four through six.
"We were talking to Anton Corbijn about getting photos and he came out to see the museum after we contacted him, so we thought, What if we do an exhibit of Anton's photos on one floor? And then basically we just had enough U2 stuff. Once we started getting everything in we looked around and we realized we had enough to do a pretty thorough job."
But it wasn't just the U2 camp that rolled into action for this exhibit. Henke says that once word got out about plans for the U2 exhibit, he heard from fans around the world, and some of their contributions, including collectibles, promotional items, fanzines, and more, will be on display.
"We thought it might be fun to do a wall of that stuff. That was one of our feelings -- because U2's fans are so devoted, we thought it would be fun to acknowledge that. There's one wall devoted to the fans, more or less," Henke says.
The Anton Corbijn photo collection will be displayed on the museum's fourth floor. Later this year, that will be replaced by a display of work done by Steve Averill and the team at Four 5 One design in Dublin -- the group responsible for U2's album covers and other imagery since the band's earliest days. The rest of the exhibit is organized similarly to U2's Best Of albums: Material from the early days through the '80s is on the fifth floor, with the sixth floor housing artifacts from the '90s to today.
"One of the nice things," Henke says, "is that if you're a big U2 fan there'll be stuff here that you still haven't seen. And for the people who don't know much about them, it's laid out and done in such a way that they'll really be able to follow their career."
Henke, who has followed the band's career from his days at Rolling Stone (he wrote the magazine's first-ever article on U2 in February, 1981 -- see link below) up to the present, calls U2 one of his favorite bands. His favorite item on display is from the Rattle and Hum era: Bono's handwritten lyrics for "When Love Comes To Town," which Henke describes as written on the back of a sheet of typed paper. "[Bono] handwrote the lyrics and circled one of the verses and wrote a note to B.B. King: 'B.B., I think you should sing this verse, but you can sing any one you want. But this is the one I'd have you sing.' It's sort of cool to see that little note like that."
As fans walk through the exhibit's three floors, you'll see artifacts and memorabilia representing every aspect and era of U2's career -- the music, the fashion, the image, the social consciousness. But one bright, shiny, metallic part of U2's past didn't make The List, and won't be on display: the PopMart Lemon.
"We had talked to them over the years about the Lemon because they were trying to figure out what to do with it," Henke says. "I think it's just so big. That's one of the things we thought about, because we do have the trabants here, but the Lemon, I think, was just too big to fit in anywhere here."
The U2 exhibit follows quickly on the heels of a John Lennon retrospective. The museum has hosted other exhibits devoted to Elvis Presley, Muddy Waters, rock and roll's psychedelic era in the late '60s, and other important persons and aspects of rock history. What makes the U2 display unique is that it celebrates and chronicles a band that is still making music, still topping the charts, and still selling out world tours. Henke says that's one of the main reasons he wanted to do a U2 exhibit.
"Part of my thinking when we were trying to figure out how to follow up Lennon, and this opportunity started making itself known, I thought it was a good idea rather than doing another person from the '60s or someone from John Lennon's era to do someone more contempoarry, someone who's still active," he says. "I think one of the interesting things about U2 is -- I can't think of any other group that's been together with the same members and is still producing quality music for the length of time they have. Much in the same way that John Lennon was a good subject for an exhibit, they're a good subject because it goes beyond the music and there's so many other different aspects to look at."
In the Name of Love: Two Decades of U2 opens this Saturday, February 8th, with a special preview for members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. The exhibit opens to the general public on Sunday, February 9th. It will close in September.
© @U2/McGee, 2003.