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"One of the central ideas of Zooropais that it is of the moment, it's catching the stuff that's in the ether at that time."

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Zoo TV Station Talent

Propaganda, Issue 16, June 01, 1992

 

THE SINGER

"There is a Zoo TV in most cities in the world," explains Bono mysteriously. "Early on in Berlin, when I think we had stopped shouting at each other for about a day, we just decided to take the day off and we took everyone to the Berlin Zoo -- which is near Zoo Station -- and saw the llamas and said 'hello' to the buffaloes."

Curious and curiouser. They knew there was a Zoo Station, named after the zoo, but they also knew of a novel written about an incident in World War II when Berlin was being blitzed and everyone was in the bunkers hiding from the Allied bombing.

"When they came up the next morning," continues the singer, "the gates of the zoo had been blown off and the cages had been knocked down by the pressure of the bombing, and walking and scrambling over the rubble of Berlin were giraffes, a cheetah, rhinoceroses -- all trundling through Berlin...It's been an image in my mind of just how surreal war is at a certain point."

The story throws a little more light on the origins of Zoo TV, now itself uncaged and trundling across America and Europe. A germ of an idea was born when, as the Eighties turned into the Nineties, the Lovetown tour shows from Dublin were broadcast by radio to 50 million Europeans. By the time production designer Peter Williams flew out to Tenerife to see the band last summer, the phrase Zoo TV was perforating the conversation...but no one quite knew what it meant in practice.

Another story from the singer: "Well, you know what Zoo Radio is, chaos or crank radio shows sometimes, but not necessarily. It's where people get a chance to ring up and tell you they've just had heart surgery or that their wife has three breasts. The visual equivalent to that is The Morton Downey Show here in the U.S. or on a milder level. Geraldo, Zoo Radio, Zoo TV are terms that exist already..."

And terms that are being subverted with a wide grin and a thick tongue-in-cheek on the current tour. Unlike other rock tours where sophisticated video equipment accompanies the band in order to make them more accessible to the audience, Zoo TV almost seems to make U2 less accessible, more obscure and enigmatic in their stage presence, competing for attentions with a manic host of moving images. A million miles from so-called "video reinforcement."

"Video destabilisation," Bono calls it, and then clarifies further, "Video deconstruction would be the art term."

Sometimes in the middle of the Zoo TV broadcast -- the concert, that is -- the singer has physically grabbed the roving lenses of the Zoo TV and forced it into his face and then symbolically thrust it between his legs. Satire is writ large on the Zoo TV monitors.

"Satire and humour in the Nineties is important," he explains. "I think comedians are the real rebels of the time. People are defenseless in their laughing and they can accept a lot more than they can from somebody with a placard or something with a sermon.

"A good comedian can tell you where you're at and you don't even know that he's doing it. He's describing the world in very bleak terms, but you're not depressed -- an incredible card trick, that. Great comedians like Lenny Bruce described the underbelly of life at the top, described what was going on behind those closed doors. He was really doing what an Old Testament prophet would do, but he was doing it with one-liners, he was doing it with his routine."

Zoo TV is more than just the Achtung Baby tour. Brian Eno believes it will lead the way for other bands in touring through the Nineties. Bono's happy to wait and see, but the surprises are clearly not over yet. There's a promise for the future from the presenter of Zoo TV.

"As the tour gets underway we can, literally, at a few days' notice, beam the concert into anywhere. We're looking to create video bootlegs, especially in Eastern Europe where it's hard to get rock 'n' roll."



THE PRODUCTION DESIGNER

"Everything that U2 ever do is designed by committee," says Peter "Willie" Williams, who has worked with U2 since the early '80s. "No matter who they get to do anything, they always end up having a large hand in it themselves. So it's not strictly fair to say that any one person designed this show because there are so many different things involved."

He is responding to a description of him by Paul McGuinness as "the architect, more than anyone, of this show."

But it is true that Willie is responsible for the overall visual look of Zoo TV. He first heard about the idea when he flew out to visit the band in their "carnival period" in Tenerife in February of 1991. He hadn't seen them for a year or so.

"I discovered that everyone had completely lost their minds, playing me music that was very different, really something, like one called '69,' which became 'Ultraviolet' (which became 'Lady with the Spinning Head') and also 'Wild Horses,' which hasn't changed that much -- it was exciting because it was obvious that something different was happening."

As well as Bono having this phrase, "Zoo TV," Willie also discovered they had developed an affection for a little car called a Trabant. They had even shipped one out to Tenerife for photographs. Willie recalls thinking it was all "deeply, deeply bizarre."

Several months later at the first production meeting in Dublin with band, Paul McGuinness, Steve Iredale and Jake Kennedy, two of the best received ideas were for television monitors all over the stage and to use Trabant cars as light sources.

Extraordinarily, both stayed the course. Although we are talking at the outset of the tour, he is already pleased that two main dangers have been avoided -- namely that the video element has not overpowered the band ("It's like if you're in a pub, if there's a TV on you don't chat to your mates, you end up looking at the TV...the distraction factor.") and that the band have risen to the task of having to be more organised about the set as they play.

"As it happens, they are still extending songs if they want to, and we just have to live with the consequences...and the way it's turned out, the video is a lot more flexible than it's ever been before."

The show is big, bold and colourful; an over the top showbizzy extravaganza of light and sound and quite unlike the productions he has been involved in with U2 before -- stark, clean and minimalist. But then he has worked with David Bowie and Frank Sinatra on his days off.

"I always said that the next production would be minimalism on a humongous scale. Yes, it's a massive production, but when the video is asleep it's often a very clean production.

"It became clear to me that the way to go is divide and conquer. When you're going to be over the top, be very over the top indeed, just go way over the top, and when you've had enough just go incredibly minimal..."

He says it's only really OTT when it's appropriate: "Like 'Bullet,' when we just descend into hell or 'Ultraviolet,' when the lights are really quite silly and it's like being in a snowshaker...but I feel it is entirely appropriate as the singer is wearing a Gary Glitter outfit."

He was surprised that the Trabbies worked as well as they do as light instruments. He knew they'd look pretty and be fun, but he had contingencies in case they didn't actually do the job. In fact he's surprised that the whole show, potential technical nightmare that it is, is working so well.

"There's a lot of elements that are live, like the satellite TV, which would be much easier if they were taped. It is a chaos in a way, but it is a designed, thought-out chaos. There are moments when anything can happen...which is nice."



THE DJ

B.P. Fallon is one of a kind. Watch.

"Bono asked me to write the tour programme, which meant hanging out with the band in Dublin, driving around with them, and everyone was supervibing.

"One realised it was less the loaves and wishes from the sermon from the Mount Temple and more, 'Let's have a look at your willy.' Zoo TV is heavy on grinnerama."

B.P. Fallon is the DJ on the Zoo TV tour. This means he plays music by the likes of Public Enemy and James Brown from his silver mirrored Trabant before U2 arrive on stage. Caped in an extravagant gold and velvet cloak bearing the image of Elvis Presley in a crown of thorns, he describes his DJ role as "foreplay."

B.P. is also, enigmatically, Zoo TV's guru and viber. And he has a history with U2. He recalls a party one Christmas, back in the late Seventies, given by the guitarist in Horslips, when "this chap came along vibingly earnest, glasses, intent...and handed me a tape with his phone number on it."

The chap, of course, is now a very well known bass player.

"Adam was on fire with the fact of going forth and conquering, and he asked me great questions. I liked him. I also like the tape, particularly 'Shadows and Tall Trees.' "

B.P. has not only been just a disc jockey. He worked at the Beatles' Apple Records and was employed as media guru by bands such as T. Rex, Led Zeppelin and the Boomtown Rats. But he kept bumping into U2, even contributing to a hit record.

"I had gone to see Chrissy Hynde. Bono visited her and we ended up, with several others, doing backing vocals on 'Pride.' "

And U2's Achtung Baby? "It's their best, their most vulnerable. I like the sense of risk, of not being afraid of being naked. I like the sense of not following charted courses, of not being afraid to be bleeding..."

Now out on the road, B.P. is "guru" -- a wild rock 'n' roll mix of Gandhi, Martin Luther King and John Lennon -- and he is in love with the music: "Four things adrenalise me -- music, people, God and sex -- it sums up all of us. Nothing is complete without them."

B.P. Fallon, guru, viber, disc jockey, is conveying what he calls "a sense of contagiousness upfullness." What does it involve being on the road with U2? "It involves being B.P. Fallon, high priest of happiness."

See. One of a kind.



THE PAINTER

Catherine Owens is a painter who was born in Dublin, lives in New York, went to Birmingham, England, last autumn to paint some German cars, and is currently finishing the job on stage in Lakeland, Florida.

She says: "I'm an artist with a studio in Chinatown, working full-time and begging, borrowing and stealing to get by. My own work is conceptualist-oriented. Unlike this." She indicates a yellow and orange flower she is delineating on the underbelly of a purple Trabant motor vehicle.

She has known the members of U2 since she was 16 when, according to her own account, she was a "groupie." At the time she was a bass player in an all-girl group called Boy Scoutz and, she confesses, "I used to chat up Adam about bass playing."

The tour work began last August when production designer Peter Williams told her of his plans for the Trabants and invited her to come up with some ideas. She put her ideas to the band at a meeting with them during the recording of the album in Dogtown, just outside of Dublin.

She already had a sense of the direction the band were looking into. In the summer of 1990, Adam came to stay in New York for a month and they did the club scene together. Later, after talking with Adam, Catherine also sent across to the band videos of work being made by some of the city's more interesting new artists. It was from that that they picked up on the work of Mark Pellington, who was to contribute key video footage to the Zoo TV production.

By January this year, she was in Birmingham painting Trabbies. "The basic idea was that the imagery on the cars should have nothing to do with the car itself. Being an artist, I like the idea of taking imagery out of the galleries and taking it to the people, taking contemporary images and putting them on cars just like you would on the surface.

"I hope the audience respond with humour and that they are uplifted. I'm not looking for a huge deep lecture to the masses."

It was also through Catherine that Adam became interested in the work of another New York artist, David Wojnarowicz, now dying of AIDS. His work hit the headlines two years back in the controversy over public funds subsidising art that some, like Senator Jesse Helms, deemed "improper."

With the decision to donate royalties from the release of the "One" single to AIDS charities, the band decided to see if they could incorporate some of Wojnarowicz's work into the visuals for the song, notably the single sleeve and video.

Catherine acted as intermediary: "David has been very reluctant to work with anyone in collaboration on his images as he is an independent operator, but it was one of those fated moments where all the phones were answered by the right people and all the and all the answers were 'yes.' "

The image of the buffaloes was chosen at Adam's suggestion -- they had earlier been used on the cover of Wojnarowicz's book, Close to the Knives. Mark Pellington was commissioned to create the video footage of the buffaloes for the vidi-wall, including David Wojnarowicz's text, "Smell the flowers, while you can."

Catherine is surprised that is has all worked out so well: "With David being so ill it has been an amazing thing that he has been so forthcoming with this project -- he hasn't worked much in the last eight months but he felt this was a wonderful way of getting his message across to a lot of kids without exerting all the energy himself."



THE FORMER TRABANT DRIVER

When Peter Micek arrived for rehearsals of the Zoo TV tour in Lakeland, he got a surprise. As he walked out into the arena he saw seven fabulously decorated Trabant motorcars hanging from various parts of the stage set. Anyone would be intrigued. He says he was "shocked." Just a few years ago, when he played in various Czech rock 'n' roll bands, Micek used to drive a Trabbie around his hometown of Ostrava, not far from the Polish border. That was before he fled the country into exile in the USA, where he was granted political asylum.

"I didn't have a Trabant myself," he recalls. "But many of my friends did, and I was often driving one around. It was a funny feeling to see them hanging there. I had to ask someone to explain."

The reason he didn't understand immediately is because he is not a member of the regular U2 touring crew, but is traveling on behalf of Phillips, who have supplied the vidi-walls for the stage set. Since he was 15 years old, Micek played steel bass in rock bands in Poland. Ironically, as long ago as 1978, he was playing in a band called U238.

"I do like U2's music and find it exciting. Maybe 10 years ago, when I was younger, it would have been an ambition to be in a band like this."

But pre-revolution Czechoslovakia was a far cry from the country today, beset as it is with many economic and political difficulties. In 1985, aged 26, he and a friend took a holiday to Yugoslavia, got out of the bus, and simply ran for the woods and across the border into Austria, where they looked for political asylum.

"I can't explain simply why I left. It was so many things all together," he says. "Everything was going nowhere in that country in those days. We had no idea of the changes that were coming."

Simply being in a band could land you in trouble with the Communist authorities.

"We wanted to play original songs, not just covers, but this meant that the censor had to go through all the lyrics of the songs and say yes or no..." His voice trails off. "But that was only one of the reasons why I left. There are too many to recount." He was held in Vienna for nine months in a camp for those pleading for asylum, eventually granted a U.S. visa, and entered the U.S. in 1986.

In Czechoslovakia, getting a Trabant would take a year's wages of the average citizen, he remembers. They were a status symbol for many.

"I can't imagine driving one this colour, but they symbolise everything that has happened over the last two years. It's a good joke, I like it."



© Propaganda, 1992. All rights reserved.

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