Where Songs Come From

4 Feb 2004
On writing songs for film: Bono and 'In America' director Jim Sheridan, discuss.

'When the U2 frontman agreed to write a song for director Jim Sheridan's film In America, writes Kevin Winter of Associated Press, the key was crafting lyrics and a melody that would extend the melancholy wistfulness of the final scene.

"Film is part of my education," Bono said, sitting with Sheridan on a patio at the Chateau Marmont hotel during a recent visit to Hollywood. "Growing up in the north side of Dublin, our experiences of art and culture came from music and movies. So that's always been a part of me."

In America is loosely based on Sheridan's childhood memories about the death of his brother, mingled with his adult experiences emigrating with his wife and two daughters from Ireland to New York City in the 1980s. Bono watched a rough cut of the movie in 2001 and began crafting lyrics and melody for the song Time Enough For Tears, drawing off elements of film's score by Maurice Seezer and Gavin Friday. Andrea Corr, who sings with her siblings in the Irish pop group The Corrs, performs the lullaby over the closing credits.
"It's definitely about death and all those Irish melancholy songs. We're great at singing songs about death," Bono joked about the tune.

Sheridan wasn't sure at first that he wanted a song, but felt it might reinforce some of the emotions the film explored. "It's a kind of poetic coda," Sheridan said. "The audience is not going to listen to that and reinterpret the film through the song. But if they listen to it over time, they get an added perspective that carries a lot of weight -- but lightly."

With U2 and sometimes on his own, Bono has worked on a lot of theme songs for a lot of movies, including Gangs of New York, City of Angels and the James Bond thriller Goldeneye. Sometimes they are what Bono described as "adjuncts," unrelated pop tunes tagged onto a movie as a promotional device. Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me from 1995's Batman Forever was one of those, along with Elevation, which turned up in 2001's Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.

The singer seems to have more affection for songs written specifically for a particular film story, like The Hands that Built America from Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York, a mournful rock ballad that traveled from the film's Civil War-era riots in the 1860s to the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, just prior to the terrorist attacks. The band had an Oscar nomination for that one last year, but lost to Eminem. Bono didn't get a nomination this year, although In America had three others, including best original screenplay for Sheridan and his daughters, whose memories he drew on for the script.

In America was a chance for Bono to collaborate again with the filmmaker, a longtime friend who once owned a theater in Ireland where Bono performed rock songs as a teenager. "He's been a mentor to me," Bono said. "It's like he's always been a presence in my life. ... and Jim's pitched this film not just to me, but to anybody in Dublin for the past five years at every pub he's found himself in."

They previously worked together on Sheridan's 1993 film In the Name of the Father, about a man wrongly imprisoned for an IRA bombing in London. Bono, Friday and Seezer co-wrote the theme You Made Me the Thief of Your Heart for singer Sinead O'Connor. "There are songs you have to rob. There are songs you have to put together slowly, the ones you have to carry on your back for a while. And then there are songs that are gifts. 'Thief of Your Heart was one like that," Bono said.

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