By Lin Brehmer

U-2 has a long and storied relationship with the city of Chicago and with WXRT. After tickets sold out for their June 3rd concert at Soldier Field, the band announced a second and final show on June 4th. Tickets will go on sale Monday at 10am. Here’s a short segment of a 2009 interview where Larry Mullen Jr. talks about Bono joining the band.

As time goes by, I’ve realized that there are people who have never heard this amazing story about Chicago’s connection to the U-2 album The Unforgettable Fire.

The inspiration for their album The Unforgettable Fire came from a recommendation from Terri Hemmert. Terri told the story like this,

“It was 1983, and the Peace Museum here in Chicago was about to present the largest exhibit of its’ history… Give Peace A Chance. As you can guess by the title, John Lennon and Yoko Ono were going to be well represented in this exhibit on folk and rock music and the peace movement. So the museum staff contacted this Beatle fan about helping to curate the exhibit. Sounded like a good idea to me, so I came aboard as a volunteer and this would lead to some fantastic encounters with Yoko. That’s another story for another day.

Of course I enjoyed working on the John and Yoko items… the guitar from the Bed-In For Peace, the acorns for peace, a lithograph by John of their very public honeymoon in bed… Yoko was very generous. I also lent the museum my certificate for the tree planted in my sister Joni’s memory at the John Lennon Peace Forest in Israel. I also solicited photos of XRT listeners loved ones for the Imagine room.

But the more I worked on the exhibit, the more concerned I was that we were focusing on the 1960’s when there was so much going on in the early 80’s. So we started incorporating artists like Laurie Anderson, The Clash, The Talking Heads, Bob Marley and Stevie Wonder. Then, not long before the opening of the exhibit, this up and coming band from Ireland, U2, released their new album, War. What incredible timing! XRT had been playing U2 since they were putting out singles and I felt this album was so strong it would make them superstars. I’m seldom right when I predict stuff like this but with U2, I was on the mark for a change.

So I thought it would be fantastic to get a manuscript of one of the anti-war songs in Bono’s hand and maybe one of the U2/War white flags. A reasonable request, don’t you think? Well, not so fast. I started making phone calls with my request and was met with total disinterest. At one point I almost gave up, but hung in there because I knew if we could get something from this band it would show museum visitors that music about peace isn’t in the past… it’s alive and well in the present. So I kept calling till I reached Ellen Darst, U2’s road manager. For once I got a human being who was actually interested! I explained what we wanted and she said she’d check with “the boys” and get back to me. She later called back saying the band wanted to meet with me… they were very interested.

So May of 1983, Marianne Philbin, the Director of the Peace Museum at the time accompanied me to the Hilton Hotel coffee shop to meet with “the boys.” They were exhausted because they were touring the Midwest by bus and weren’t even staying overnight in Chicago. They were due to play the Aragon later that evening but took the time to hear what we had to say. Marianne brought catalogues of past exhibits including The Unforgettable Fire, an exhibit about the atomic bombings of Japan at the end of World War II and Martin Luther King Jr, Peacemaker. Bono and the lads were so interested in the concept of a museum for peace. We had a wonderful meeting and they promised to deliver. Did they ever!!! They donated their stage backdrop from the tour, one of the white flags Bono used on stage and the manuscript I requested at the very beginning of this process. So we were thrilled that they were so generous. Give Peace A Chance was an enormous success!

But that’s not the end of the story. The next year, 1984, U2 released the incredible album The Unforgettable Fire with not one but two songs about Dr. King. They also worked with the Peace Museum about setting up an exhibit in Dublin using pieces from these exhibits. In interviews they have credited their encounter with the Peace Museum for giving them a sense of focus with their ideals and helping propel them on to activism that continues to this day.”


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