Two years after Hal Willner's death from complications related to COVID-19, Bono and The Edge paid tribute to their close friend and frequent creative collaborator last week during a special evening of music and memories in Brooklyn.
The pair performed 'Get It On', 'Walk On', and 'Angel of Harlem', during the 'I'll Be Seeing You: A Celebration of Hal Willner' event at St. Ann's Warehouse in DUMBO.
Gavin Friday, whose 1989 debut solo album 'Each Man Kills the Thing He Loves', Willner produced, performed his songs 'Apologia' and 'Each Man Kills the Thing He Loves' during the tribute.
The celebration of Willner's life last week also included performances and tributes from Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Michael Stipe, Rufus and Martha Wainwright, Cat Power, Beth Orton, Eric Mingus, Teddy Thompson, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, Suzanne Vega, and the actors Steve Buscemi and John C. Reilly, among others.
Willner, who passed away in his New York City home on April 7, 2020—the day after his 64th birthday—had collaborated with U2 and members of the U2 family for decades.
Well known for his nearly 30 years as music supervisor for 'Saturday Night Live', Willner produced albums for Marianne Faithfull, Lou Reed, William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, and is perhaps even better known for assembling tribute albums and live events celebrating the life and works of Leonard Cohen, Thelonious Monk, Tim Buckley, Edgar Allen Poe, the Marquis de Sade, and Marc Boland/T-Rex.
A rendition of T-Rex's 'Bang A Gong (Get It On)' that U2 recorded with Willner during a New Orleans stop on their Joshua Tree 2017 Tour appears on the 'AngelHeaded Hipster: The Songs of Marc Bolan & T. Rex' album Willner produced and that was released posthumously in October 2020.
In 2000, Willner famously produced the bulk of the songs that appeared on the soundtrack album for 'Million Dollar Hotel', the Wim Wenders-helmed film for which Bono wrote the screenplay.
But U2's earliest collaboration with Willner dates to 1993, when Bono and Edge contributed the song 'Conversations on a Barstool', which they wrote for Marianne Faithful, to the soundtrack for the Robert Altman film 'Short Cuts'. (The version that appears on the soundtrack was performed by Annie Ross and produced by Willner.) Gavin scored 'Short Cuts' alongside Maurice 'The Man' Seezer and Willner.
A few days after his friend's death, Gavin shared the story of meeting Willner for the first time in 1987:
In 2006, Bono, Gavin, and Virgin Prunes' members Guggi and Dave-id Busarus contributed songs to Willner's sea-shanteys-inspired double-album 'Rogue's Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs and Chanteys'. Bono recorded 'A Dying Sailor to His Shipmates' for the project, while Gavin recorded 'Baltimore Whores' on his own and 'Bull in the Alley' with Guggi and Busarus as 'Three Pruned Men'.
'U2 Live at the Apollo', the special edition subscription gift from U2.com in 2021, was dedicated to Hal.
The life and legacy of Hal Willner is beautifully captured atHal Willner Tribute, which notes Hal always said when one of the greats would pass: "It's Up to Us Now!"