This story was first published in May 1992 for the cover of British rock magazine, SELECT. The deadline was so tight, I had to write it, long hand, on the transatlantic flight home, the day after the tour’s climactic final show in Madison Square Gardens, NYC, then type it and fax it to London, the following afternoon. What is reproduced, below, is about one third of the final report. Most of the photos are by me, too, using an early Canon Sureshot.

 

EVERYTHING YOU KNOW IS WRONG, U2 over America. A tour awash with sightings of strange characters in silver lame suits. A tour invaded by snarling, bug eyed, rock star, alien, party animals and shot through with brain jamming subliminal messages. “We have got to get to that place where schlock meets trash,” says Bono, ” that’s where rock ‘n’ roll belongs.”

Friday, March 20: Mr and Mrs Phil Joanou are stretched out on their New York hotel bed. Neither has slept for 50 hours. They’re surrounded by magazines, half eaten jumbo club sandwiches and empty champagne bottles. A pair of jaded bridesmaids are slumped on the couch.

He is the man who directed Rattle & Hum. She is the international vice president for A&R at Imago Records. Twenty four hours ago they flew to Las Vegas and got married in the Gracelands Wedding Chapel while an Elvis impersonator sang, “wise men say, only fools rush in…”.

They met for the first time on Wednesday, March 18 on U2’s Zoo TV Tour in the Brendan Byrne Arena, Meadowlands, New Jersey. “Well, Bono inspired us,” Katie explains, matter-of-factly. “In between songs, he said, “let’s go to Las Vegas and get married…for a while!” He should be careful what he says, because there are some pretty impressionable people in the audience. And we’re two of them.”

Welcome to Frazzle Rock where only fools are allowed in and the wise and sane, swiftly depart.

“Zoo TV is a state of mind,” the band’s smiling manager will tell me. “It seems to describe the atmosphere of complete irresponsibility that surrounds this tour.”

“It’s a means for us to plunge 20,000 people into confusion,” Adam Clayton will expand.

“It’s all about mischief and mystery,” Bono will confide in a late night bar binge at New York’s Ritz Carlton hotel.

Zoo TV is the high tech nerve centre for U2’s travelling road show. It’s the high tack gateway to cosmic chaos. But even the professional weirdos at the controls of Frazzle Rock are phased by the Las Vegas wedding story. Everyone is talking about it. Did you hear about..? Is it true…? Life has taken art and shot it through the stratosphere for more than the first time on this tour where EVERYTHING YOU KNOW IS WRONG is emblazoned on the official tour itinerary book. All aboard!

I joined the ZOO TV TOUR – A RUMBLING, ROARING monster of microchip wizardry and serious mayhem on March 17, St Patrick’s day, in Boston, Massachusetts. A tour awash with sightings of weird characters in understated Las Vegas trash suits, a tour rumoured to be invaded by snarling, bug eyed, rock star alien party animals.

At Logan airport, a man in a neat, grey suit and a card that read “MR HAYES” was there to meet me. It was the earring that gave him away. Outside is America and a black, stretch limousine. Sleep is out of the question. Let’s grab this beast by the ears and crawl, head first, into its gaping, slavering maw. “I’m ready, ready for the laughing gas. Ready for what’s next…”IMG_4247

7pm. Paul McGuinness and I are in a cab headed for the Boston Gardens Arena. Outside the venue  a sea of turbulent green scarves and banner bearers march up and down, cheering and waving. Four blocks away, the cab is stopped by a wildly gesticulating cop. “No way. You caint go down dere”. We produce impressive bouquets of colourful laminates. Still no dice. “I am U2’s manager,” McGuinness announces, And I certainly hope you don’t intend to say the same thing to my band,”

The Gardens Arena is a 75 year old structure that looks like a twisted, circular, high rise tenement. I’m backstage being mugshot by McGuinness for a Zoo TV Access All Areas pass in the Principle Management Production office. “With this pass,” he assures me, “you can go onstage and sing.” An Irish pipe band , hired for the occasion, is limbering up in the hallway. The office bristles with portable computer technology, fax machines and softly purring, bubble jet printers.

Members of the band flit in and out of the dressing rooms. Larry Mullen – black leather, biker jacket, white t-shirt, jeans – is paying a short visit to the band’s resident massage therapist and homeopath who advises them about nutrition and gives them some of the old reflexology and acupressure. Adam strolls by, sporting, if sporting is the right word, a decidedly nondescript and shapeless pair of baggy, brown tracksuit bottoms that, no doubt, cost him an arm and a leg. The Edge looks more and more like some ’50s roughneck beatnik with his tiny, black wooly watch cap, worn jeans, scuffed boots, crew neck and yellow cord sports jacket. Bono appears, smiling, in his ubiquitous brown sheepskin jacket, darkly hennaed locks framing his deliciously evil, bug eyed shades.

Out front, a seething swathe of green has spread itself out like a writhing moss on the cliff-steep, four tier seating. Homeboy support group, The Pixies, are thundering through their hard working 15-track set, pounding it out with an electro-surge of thunderous power, starting off with Bossanova’s ‘Cecelia Ann’ and taking in ‘Velouria’, ‘Planet of Sound’ and ending in ‘U Mass.’

And then it’s time for “the most gorgeous, the most sexy, all the way from Dublin, Ireland’s Mr Ramalama, King Boogaloo, the High Priest of Happiness – he must have scripted this himself – ladies and gentleman, Beeeee Peeeee Fallon…!” A silver, sound surround, mirror ball Trabant, rigged out as a DJ booth, is lowered onto the stage and BP Fallon, erstwhileLed Zeppelin publicist, friend of Bono’s and full time, big figure in Irish rock folklore – clambers in and starts spinning some James Brown, Massive Attack, PM Dawn, Phil Spector and Waterboys’ discs. The sound is already deafening and the band aren’t even on yet.

Zoo TV is a massive rock ‘n’ roll carnival on the road, a rogue elephant of music and image. Colourful Trabants, painted with assorted style and message by cathy Owens, Irish artist and long time friend, hang suspended above the stage like skeletal trophies in the lair of some 21st century predator. Four giant Nocturne vidwalls of screens dot the stage set, flashing out their mind-blinding messages of provocative nonsense: WATCH MORE TV…DEATH IS A CAREER MOVE…IT’S YOUR WORLD YOU CAN CHANGE IT…CALL YOUR MOTHER.

The pace and noise suck you into the tornado, spinning a threatening infinity of schlock/shock subliminal messages. And the eye of the storm is Bono, the Rock Star, The Fly, a demonic joker, a futuristic rock ‘n’ roll ringmaster who can turn a mirror on your soul. His aura is a frightening turmoil of dark and frightening hues. He knows you because he is you. Us.

It’s a carnival, a circus, a zoo on the road”,he tells me later. “The first couple of nights in Florida is was just pure adrenalin, but now I’m becoming more conscious of the character. I can do things with it, him.”IMG_4248

The show reaches an emotional climax during a short acoustic set on a small round stage that stretches out into the middle of the hall reached by a narrow ramp from the stage. A remote control broadcast tv camera on a mini railway track runs the length of the ramp. All four band members assemble there to sing an almost acapella version of Angel of Harlem before Larry takes the hanging rope to spin the dangling DJ booth. A beam hits it and suddenly the silver Trabant becomes as whirling mirror ball as Bono sings Lou Reed’s Satellite of Love, stretching the song – with this visual device and his soft, haunting, falsetto – into something completely new, spacey.

On St Patrick’s night, the world is turned on its head as  – unprededented – U2’s very quiet drummer steps up to the mike to sing Ewan McColl’s ‘Dirty Old Town.’ Excruciating off key to start, he finds his vocal ‘legs’ and rouses a stirring chorus. It’s a song with much, nostalgic meaning for Boston based Irish exiles.

Then The Edge tosses in his self penned ballad, ‘Van Diemen’s Land’ about John Boyle O”Reilly, an Irish poet, deported by the British who escaped and relocated to Boston. “Boston is our home from home!” Bono, the showman, bullshits to the ecstatic crowd.

IN THE RESTAURANT AND BAR, just off the Four Seasons hotel’s main foyer, members of the band, friends and crew have assembled for after show, wind down bevvies. The tables are strewn with romaine lettuce shreds, empty bottles, prawn tails and half devoured sandwiches.

The Edge is in confab with a denim clad Neil Young who Bono describes as “an extraordinary guitar player who transcends the time”. Larry is talking to Zoo TV director, Ned O”Hanlon. Bono holds court, across the way, among his circle is old mate, Peter Wolf of the J Geils Band.IMG_4249

Success was like a big bad wolf”, Bono says when we’re sinking a last beer, later, “now we laugh at it. I laugh at limos and four jerks with police escorts, a rock band getting all this attention. I used to find it embarrassing, now I find it funny. There’s an aspect of rock and roll that is just ridiculous, but you’ve got to enjoy the ride – it is a trip.

We have to get to that place where schlock meets trash”, he confides. “That’s where rock ‘n’ roll belongs. Sam Shepard said something about being in the eye of the contradictions when the doo doo hits the fan. That’s where rock ‘n’ roll should be, too: in the eye of the contradictions.”

Then he’s gone. Whizzed off into the rock ‘n’ roll ether that surrounds him whenever he steps outside his hotel room. He looks lean and fit, clear eyed, angle-faced, cleft-chinned handsome, a wry smile plays at the corners of his mouth.

Rock ‘n’ roll is all about contradictions,” he says, “we’d got so big and unapproachable, we had to open up. We had to talk but how did we do that without getting caught up in our own contradiction? All that millionaire mansion stuff is rubbish. We’re not hiding. We’re saying, ‘c’mon, here we are. Give it to us, we want it all.”

 

 

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17 thoughts on “The REAL Thing – 5 strange days inside the U2 Zoo

    • I wasn’t sure about publishing it, again, after all this time. And what you’re reading there is about one third of the final piece, which means it was close to 4,500 words long, written longhand, overnight, on a transatlantic flight from JFK to Dublin.

      • I might get round to publishing the rest of it, which includes a drunken party with Gary Oldman, a row with Madison Sq Garden bouncers, as well as the last two shows.

      • Oh Jaysus, where? I’m trying to get through the next installment of Finnegan’s Wake, by proxy. Joyce, in Finnegan’s Wake, is the ubiquitous fly on the wall, a colloquial GCHQ, if you will

      • I am based in Cambridge. Aha, so Joyce is sort of an observer of the tale? How very interesting. As luck would have it, Bloomsday celebrations will be hitting my local area very soon so I hope to meet more Joyce fans!

      • I’m no Joycean scholar although, when I read your reaction and observations, it reminds me, as Joyce often does, of street and pub banter in Dublin where nonsense and verbal play is not only commonplace, it’s required. Joyce, if you think about it, could be HCE, Mr Earwicker because, in a sense, as the author, observer and chronicler of these conversations, that’s exactly what he does, earwig.

      • I am certainly no scholar either but that is certainly the impression I got too. There are so many layers to it I could ramble on all day about my thoughts on it all – in fact my friends are completely bored of it now, haha!

    • It was a funny experience. It was the first time U2 ever gave a journalist that much access. I stayed in their hotels, ate, drank and travelled with them but there was a constant battle. They wouldn’t give me a one on one interview so I had to hustle comments from them. Then they insisted I check all the quotes with them and I said, I would, but for accuracy, only. They would have no editorial control or it was sayonara. The problem was they had promised an interview to another magazine. But I was working a tight deadline, then they were trying to avoid me but they couldn’t. In the end, this story, which was for a young audience they had lost, made them cool in Britain, again

      • Your pacing and word choices certainly captured the chaos of that scene. It is fascinating how they allowed you such access and denied you such access simultaneously. But your keen eye caught a lot anyway! I really do hope you share the rest at some point.

      • The reason I posted it was because I’ve been doing these blogging courses, etc, three at a time, and one suggested I keep an eye on my stats and check what’s been popular and, while all my stories have had a good average, the Shane McGowan story went down well. Then another course suggested I drag things from my archives. Hence, out of both of those, U2.

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