The Most Un-cool Band Ever,? recalls Larry

7 Feb 2003
'The only thing we could agree on was making music.' explains Larry in an interview ahead of 'In the Name of Love: Two Decades of U2'. 'We were no good at anything else.'

It's a good thing the members of U2 became rock 'n' roll superstars, writes John Soeder, Cleveland Plain Dealer Pop Music Critic, because drummer Larry Mullen Jr. might not have cut it as a fashion designer.

He created the first U2 T-shirt. But it didn't quite turn out right.

"The shirt was too small, so the actual U2 design is on the stomach, as opposed to the chest," Mullen said.

He modeled the logo after a U2 button designed by guitarist Dave "The Edge" Evans and silk-screened the shirt in high school.

The primitive souvenir hangs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum as part of "In the Name of Love: Two Decades of U2," a major new exhibition. It opens Sunday.

Despite some early attempts at self-promotion, U2 didn't know beans about marketing or merchandise when the Irish quartet got its start in the '70s, Mullen said.

"We were the most uncool band ever," he said, checking in by phone last week from the Dublin recording studio where U2 is working on its next album.

"We had it all wrong," he said. "We went to London when bands like Echo and the Bunnymen and Teardrop Explodes were cool. They looked cool. They really worked on image.

"We were four guys from Dublin. The only thing we could agree on was making music. We were no good at anything else."

You could say they found their niche. Known for its socially conscious and spiritually uplifting anthems, U2 has sold 115 million albums worldwide.

The group's passion and "genuine" music make U2 an ideal subject for the rock hall's first large-scale installation devoted to a contemporary act, said chief curator Jim Henke. As Rolling Stone magazine's music editor in the '80s, he was one of the first American journalists to champion the band.

U2 is "very serious about rock 'n' roll," Henke said.

The U2 retrospective occupies the top three floors of the museum, replacing the popular John Lennon exhibit.

Two dozen U2 photographs by Anton Corbijn, the group's de facto visual biographer, fill the fourth floor. Those will come down in May to make room for artwork by Steve Averill, the band's longtime graphic designer.

The fifth floor is crammed with mementos, including press clips, posters, Mullen's first drum kit, one of the Edge's guitars and singer Bono's handwritten lyrics for "Bad," "Out of Control" and other tunes. Stage costumes, Adam Clayton's bright yellow bass from the "PopMart" tour and other artifacts from U2's most recent major roadshows are featured on the sixth floor.

Four outlandishly decorated Trabant automobiles from the "Zoo TV" tour have been suspended above the museum lobby since the rock hall opened in 1995. Band members expressed interest in lending more memorabilia during a 2001 visit to the museum, when they were in Cleveland for a concert at Gund Arena.

Many items in the exhibit came from Mullen, U2's designated pack rat.

"I started collecting bits and bobs right from the beginning, the first piece of press we ever got," he said. "We were advertised for some early shows in England as the U2s. Other promoters misread our handwritten notes and thought our name was Liz. So it was: WELCOME LIZ FROM DUBLIN."

It was actually Mullen who started the band. After he posted a musicians-wanted notice at Mount Temple High School in Dublin, the group held its first jam session at his house in 1976. Two years later, U2 won a St. Patrick's Day talent contest in Limerick, Ireland. The trophy is on view at the rock hall.

"It was a turning point," said Mullen, 41. "We grew up with the punk scene in Dublin, where everyone was crap. All of a sudden, we got into this competition and we won.

"But it was a double-edged sword. As uncool as we were, it made us even more uncool. ...We got the equivalent of $600 or $700, a trophy and our picture in the paper. It was all wrong. Bands like U2 weren't meant to win competitions. Bands like U2 were meant to struggle like the rest of 'em."

Along with rejection letters from two record companies, the exhibit includes a hastily scrawled note from the Edge to Mullen, circa 1982: We have already gone to practice. . . . We really need to rehearse!!!

"We used to get together on Wednesday afternoons and on the weekends," Mullen said. "Those were good, fun days.

"I suppose the difference now is our instruments work and stay in tune. Back then, everything was out of tune and nothing worked."

Mullen said he was struck by the "naive" sound of the band's first album, "Boy," when he revisited it a few years ago while putting together material for the U2 compilation "The Best of 1980- 1990." (A companion set, "The Best of 1990- 2000," was released in November.)

"None of us is a virtuoso," Mullen said. "There's no chance we would ever become session musicians. We find it difficult to play with other people [or] to play other people's songs, because we're so tuned in to each other.

"There's no doubt when the four of us get into a room, something happens. . . . We never learned how to be musicians. We only learned how to work to gether.

"We don't seem to be able to get bored playing with each other, so to speak."

U2's first three albums - "Boy," "October" and "War," all produced by Steve Lillywhite - bring back mixed emotions for Mullen.

"People were starting to recognize the band, but it was a very odd time for me," he said. "I was 18 and I was starting to do all these things, making records and touring. The other guys got a lot more enjoyment out of it than I did at the time.

"I was the youngest. . . . I was actually very scared, because I was out of my habitat."

The full of this fascinating interview with Larry was from


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