'Not Suitable for Us At Present'

14 May 2003
One response to an early U2 demo, as Jim Henke, curator of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, found, in putting together the current U2 retrospective.

'In January 1994, I was hired as the Chief Curator of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. The Museum was scheduled to open in less than two years and, at the time, there were precious few artifacts that were worthy of exhibiting. It fell to me to acquire enough historically important pieces so that the Museum would be respectable when it opened in September 1995.

One of the first groups I contacted was U2. Everybody in their organization told me I had to talk to Larry Mullen Jr., and I arranged a trip to Dublin, where we met up and began digging through U2 history: we uncovered a early bio of the band, when it was still called the Hype and when Adam Clayton was acting as manager. We also found a ticket to a Hype show and a poster advertising an early show at which the band was billed as 'The U2's.' Among the more intriguing items were rejection letters from two record companies, Arista and RSO. The RSO letter was addressed to 'Mr. P. Hewson,' and it informed him that the demo tape he had sent to the label was 'not suitable for us at present.'

Other gems included a birthday note, written to Larry by the other band members, as well as manager Paul McGuinness and producer Steve Lillywhite; Bono's first guitar; the first U2 T-shirt, silk-screened by Larry in a school art class; Bono's handwritten lyrics to 'The Ocean'; and the trophy the group won at the 1978 Limerick Civic Week battle of the bands. With a loan of all those items, plus several others, we created a small exhibit devoted to U2's early years.

One of my other goals as curator was to make the Museum more lively and colorful. Architect I.M. Pei had designed a beautiful building, but it was awfully sterile. I thought that stage props might liven the place up a little, and, as it turned out, U2 was looking for a home for the Trabants from the Zoo TV tour. They put me in touch with Willie Williams, their set designer, and he created an installation featuring four cars and the Zoo TV sign. At first, Mr. Pei was not too happy about the display; in fact, his exact words were, "You are trying to make a junkyard out of this museum." In the end, though, he enjoyed the installation, which greets visitors as they enter the front door of the Museum.

A few years later, in 1999, the Hall of Fame co-curated an exhibit, Rock Style, with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The exhibit featured the greatest rock and roll outfits from the Fifties to the Nineties. Everything from the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper uniforms to Elvis Presley's jumpsuits. By this point, U2 had done both the Zoo TV and PopMart tours. I thought it would be great if we could include Bono's costumes from those two tours. I contacted the group once again, and we acquired five of Bono's costumes: the Fly, MacPhisto and Mirrorball Man from Zoo TV, and the Bubble Man and the Lopsided Man from PopMart.

But it wasn't until May of 2001, when U2 came to Cleveland for the Elevation tour, that the group actually saw the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The day after their show at the Gund Arena, the group and its entourage came by for a special tour, and they loved what they saw. They also said that they would like to contribute more to the Hall of Fame. I was already a big fan of the band, as were several of my staffers -- Amanda Gittins, Jenny Williams, Meredith Rutledge and Jackie Clary. So we sat down and drew up our ideal wish list of U2 artifacts. I sent the list off to Dublin, and a few days later, I got an e-mail message back saying that the band had virtually all of the things we had requested.

Having been at the Hall of Fame for almost 10 years, I have to say that this almost never happens. We always send wish lists to artists, and we are lucky if we get a handful of the things we ask for. Among the things U2 provided were Larry's first drum set, his "Hitman" outfit from PopMart, Adam's "Poptart" outfit from the same tour, the four "Zoo Station" uniforms from the "Lemon" video, Adam and Larry's "Evil U2" outfits from the "Elevation" video, and the Edge's No.7 outfit from the Elevation tour. They also sent us the Stars and Stripes jacket that Bono wore at the 2002 Super Bowl and on the cover of Time magazine, as well as the green Gretsch guitar that Bono played at the Super Bowl, Edge's Fender Stratocaster from Rattle and Hum, and Adam's yellow bass from the PopMart.

It was a terrific beginning, but I felt that a U2 exhibit had to include more than just colorful costumes and instruments. I decided to contact Ned O'Hanlon and Maurice Linnane, of Dublin's Dreamchaser Productions. Ned and Maurice have done a lot of video work for U2; they also produced the last few Hall of Fame induction dinners, and they are responsible for the fabulous multimedia presentation about our inductees in the Hall of Fame wing. They said they had the animation cels from the "Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me" video from the Batman Forever soundtrack. Ned also had Salman Rushdie's handwritten lyrics to "The Ground Beneath Her Feet."

But even more important than that, Ned and Maurice told me about Steve Iredale, U2's longtime production manager who told me about some of the items he had picked up in his nearly 20 years with U2: Bono's handwritten lyrics to "Out of Control," "Bad" and "When Love Comes to Town." A note from Bono to B.B. King about the latter song. Newspaper clippings from the band's appearance in Sarajevo. Obviously, he, like Larry, was a pack rat and a key to the exhibit..

Principle Management then helped us get two more Bono manuscripts: his rewrite of "New York," changed after the September 11 terrorist attack, and his lyrics to "Stay." Finally, as word leaked out over the Internet about our exhibit, numerous U2 fans began contacting the Hall of Fame about their collections.

In the end, the exhibit was a collaboration between the band members, the people who work with them (management, Dreamchaser, etc.), and their fans. Many members of my staff even contributed items from their personal collections. And producers Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno were also very generous.

Because of this collaborative effort, we have been able to present what I consider to be the most comprehensive exhibit the Hall of Fame has ever mounted on one artist. The U2 exhibit covers three floors of the Museum and is presented chronologically: the first floor of the exhibit features Anton Corbijn's photos of the group; the second floor features artifacts that cover the group's history from its beginning through Rattle and Hum; and the third floor presents U2 from the Nineties to the present.

In the end, this is a massive exhibit about a massive group, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is honored to present the band's amazing history to the hundreds of thousands of visitors who come to the Museum each year.'

Visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum online here www.rockhall.com


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