Why Dracula & Frankenstein’s Monster Aren’t Scary

One of my biggest pet peeves is the ongoing misuse of the word “classic”.  We can agree that opinion and taste are extraordinarily subjective.  One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, as the saying goes.  But to describe older forms of entertainment as “classic” simply because they’re not modern works is lazy, dishonest and annoying.  In order for anything to be considered a classic it has to be truly great, something that stands the test of time.  No exceptions.
 
The original Dracula and Frankenstein movies don’t even come close to meeting this important standard.  And yet, there are those who stubbornly and insistently hail them as classic examples of old school horror.  (Do some Google searches and you’ll see what I mean.)  While there’s no question regarding their technical influences on future filmmakers, there is considerable doubt they were ever truly terrifying to audiences who first saw them in theatres, let alone the DVD audiences of today.  The idea that watching these films increased your risk of fainting or throwing up is laughable, to say the least.  They won’t even increase your heart rate.
 
All I kept thinking about while screening Dracula, the first authorized albeit condensed cinematic version of Bram Stoker’s novel, was how slow everybody talked, including the title character.  Bela Lugosi, who famously played the caped vampire in that 1931 film, was too in love with the idea of taking dramatic pauses, a technique John Wayne also used throughout his long career.  When the real estate agent, Renfield, asks him in an early scene if he wants to sample what Dracula generously offered him, The Transylvanian Count replies, “I never drink…wine.”  Even with that thick Hungarian accent of his, he can’t sell the line properly.
 
And then, there are the close-ups.  Dracula has the ability to control minds by simply staring into your eyes.  Whenever this happens, the camera goes tight on his face and his eyes are highlighted.  This is done far too often to ever generate any unsettling feelings, with one exception.  That would be the first time we meet the old vampire who initially pretends to be Renfield’s chauffeur as he makes his way to the fantastically decrepit castle.  It’s the only time he ever successfully creeps you out because you don’t expect his presence in that scene. 
 
As the movie progresses, the more you see him the more you get used to him and inevitably, you’re not at all frightened.  It also doesn’t help that in one scene when he’s about to take a bite out of a nubile victim, he squints while in the middle of an uncomfortable facial expression.  Too many takes in front of too bright a light, perhaps?  Or was it something more serious, I wonder?
 
And what about those silly hand movements?  It’s like he’s channelling Killer Kowalski or something.  He doesn’t look like he wants to control your very being, he looks like he wants to put the claw on you.  And really, that’s more irritating than anything else.
 
In The Spanish Version, also released in 1931, Carlos Villarios takes over the role and never have I laughed so much at a would-be villainous performance.  Bulging your eyes in scene after scene arouses ridicule, never terror.  He makes Lugosi look like Michael Myers by comparison.
 
Despite his towering size, Frankenstein’s Monster is just as unscary.  Lame groaning along with Tarzan-speak and awkward walking aren’t ingredients for a recipe of terror.  The famously overrated make-up doesn’t help matters, either.  It’s too cool looking.  And again, we see him too much.  Maybe if his identity was kept secret until the very last shot of the first film or, even better, we never see him at all.  Wouldn’t that have achieved the desired result or would it have just delayed inevitable disappointment?
 
Also, why are the fight scenes in Frankenstein and the equally overpraised Bride Of Frankenstein so awkwardly and clumsily executed?  There’s no intensity, no sense of menace or suspense.  It’s like pro wrestling without the conviction.  Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to have the monster throw that dummy from the top of the windmill.  Lessens the impact of the terror, methinks.  And when you replace Boris Karloff, who played the monster in the first three movies of this franchise (Son Of Frankenstein was the other), with Lon Chaney Jr., a second-generation character actor who can best be described as an ugly Clark Gable with very noticeable facial characteristics, and have him say absolutely nothing or even grunt and growl in the fourth film, The Ghost Of Frankenstein, don’t expect anybody to accept the change.  And when you re-cast the role again and again for more sequels in the hopes that no one will notice the difference and audiences will still be frightened, even the most naive and foolish will think you mad.
 
In the end, these movies suffered badly from overhyped ad campaigns which promised eager Depression-era audiences nothing but genuine terror.  When you oversell what you can’t deliver to moviegoers, who had more fears in their troubled, day-to-day lives than was ever represented in old-fashioned horror films, is it any wonder why these pictures have aged so badly?
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, August 27, 2007
11:37 p.m. 
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Published in: on August 27, 2007 at 11:38 pm  Comments (1)  

Upcoming Changes

Now that my recent series on The 10 Greatest U2 Singles is completed and all ten installments are available for you to read at your leisure, it’s time to get caught up with the latest developments involving this website.
 
A little while back, Windows Live Spaces implemented some new features and changes.  The most annoying alteration involved my lists.  In the past, whenever you started adding items to an existing list the newest entries would go right under the ones you had already saved.  In other words, every list featured items in chronological order or the order you typed and saved them in.  No longer.  Since last month’s update you may have noticed that new entries on the Fading To Black and Writings Of Dennis Earl blog lists started appearing at the top rather than the bottom.  Essentially, the order was reversed.  The good news is that you can now put list items in any order you want, something that was long overdue.  I’ve just finished restoring the lists to their original orders and everything is fine again.
 
Speaking of lists, there’ll be another one for my FTB entries up very soon.  I’m close to the 100-link limit on my first one and therefore, need to make some room for a follow-up.  As a result, The Funniest People Alive will be deleted.  You’re only allowed 20 lists on here so in order to fit in the second FTB blog list, something has to go.
 
Also, I’m planning to take down most of my Top 10 and Worst 10 movie lists.  In their place, you’ll see lists of Great Movies and Awful Movies.  There’ll be lots of terrific titles to check out and plenty of dreck to avoid.
 
It might be time for a new layout and profile pic.  The current design has been up for almost a year but it shouldn’t stay forever.  It’s always best not to get too attached to a visual concept.  That way, you can experiment with new looks and try to hook new readers.  I’ll see what I can find.
 
At this point, I’m very tempted to remove my Amazon Book List.  There haven’t been any clicks lately and more importantly, not one single order.  It would be nice to make money blogging with this site but thus far, it’s been impossible to make one red cent.  I’m open to any good ideas anyone has about this.  You can reach me at dennischarlesearl@hotmail.com.  In fact, you can email me at any time about anything related to this website.  It’s always great getting feedback.
 
It’s uncertain what’s to come content-wise on The Writings Of Dennis Earl as the summer transitions into fall.  All I can tell you is to keep visiting and enjoying the site.  New stuff is on the way.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
3:19 p.m.
Published in: on August 21, 2007 at 3:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

The 10 Greatest U2 Singles (Part Ten)

1. With Or Without You
 
“I remember I’d seen this girl when she first came to [my high] school, very early on, and thought she looked Spanish, a rose for sure, dark with blood-red lips…There was something so still about her, and to a person who is not still, it was the most attractive thing in the world.  And that was Ali, who within a few weeks would become my girlfriend, and within a few years my wife.”  Bono from U2 By U2
 
Inspiration.  Every songwriter desires it.  Without it, great music can’t be birthed.  Elusive and spontaneous in nature, it appears in many forms:  your own internal thoughts and feelings evoking some kind of creative excitement, inanimate objects motivating an unlikely lyric, the family pet and, most especially, the love of a beautiful woman.  Indeed, where would U2 be today without Alison Stewart, Bono’s longtime muse?
 
An Cat Dubh, The Sweetest Thing, Electrical Storm, Spanish Eyes.  That’s just a sampling of the songs she directly inspired.  But there’s one such number, the greatest single U2 has ever made, that stands out above all the others.
 
It began life as a simple chord pattern, unearthed at some point during The Unforgettable Fire tour.  There were no lyrics, no dazzling guitar riffs and no melody line for the vocal.  Not yet, anyway.  Expanding on Bono’s original musical idea would prove exhausting and difficult, like a number of the songs that would end up on The Joshua Tree album, as The Edge explained to author Neil McCormick:
 
“We tried all kinds of permutations but it never seemed to get any closer to sounding like a record.”
 
Then, the band took a break to participate in the 1986 Conspiracy Of Hope tour in support of the human rights organization, Amnesty International.  Once back in the recording studio, they returned to the song.
 
Adam Clayton noted in U2 By U2 that “in earlier versions, it sounded very traditional because the chords just went round and round and round.  It was hard to find a different take on it or a new way into it, it was just a promise of a song.  We started playing with a drum machine and having it build up with a big fat bass.”
 
The real turning point was the arrival of a dangerous new product:
 
“I was sent a prototype of the Infinite guitar by Michael Brook[e],” The Edge remembered in U2 By U2.  “It arrived during the sessions with elaborate instructions on how to hook it up:  one wrongly placed wire and you could get a nasty [bolt] of electricity.  This piece of gear would have failed even the most basic of safety regulations…It was homemade technology, but very effective.  It gave me infinite sustain, like a violin.  I had just taken it out of the box and was playing around with it in one room while Gavin Friday and Bono were in the control room listening to the backing track of ‘With Or Without You’.  We were really at an impasse in the search for the right arrangement, and were just at the point of leaving the song to one side.  Then, through an open door, they heard the sound of the Infinite guitar combining with the bass and drums and just went:  ‘That’s it!  But what the fuck is it?'”
 
Bono wanted The Edge to record with that mysterious guitar right away without any hesitation.  It was a major breakthrough for a difficult song neither Daniel Lanois nor Brian Eno, who contributed a crucial keyboard part, had much faith in.  But according to Bono, Gavin Friday, his old pal, felt differently and became a major champion for the track.
 
“He personally rescued ‘With [O]r Without You’.  He pulled it out of the wastepaper bin, organized it, structured it and was the one who believed it could be a big hit when Brian and Danny had passed on it,” the U2 singer told Neil McCormick.  (Friday was thanked in the liner notes of The Joshua Tree for his efforts.)
 
In the Classic Albums episode devoted to the 1987 blockbuster, The Edge noted how proud he was to have gotten away with a very simple solo, rather than something more grandiose and overwrought, during the song’s final minute.  It’s an amusing moment when he talks about that while playing those exact notes.
 
Then came the words.
 
“The lyric is pure torment,” Bono remarked in U2 By U2.  “One of the things that was happening at that time was the collision in my own mind between being faithful to your art or being faithful to your lover.  What if the two are at odds?  Your gift versus domestic responsibility?…I have this person in my life whom I love more than my life but I’m wondering if the reason I’m not writing is because I’m now a domesticated beast.  I’m wondering if I’m house-trained?  If I meet somebody and I want to go off with them, to find out what their world is like, I can’t because I’m a married man.  It’s not even about sexual infidelity.  I just remember thinking: ‘Is this the life of an artist?  Am I going to have kids and settle down and betray my gift or am I going to betray my marriage?’  It was a very difficult time in my head.”
 
The song was the first single issued from The Joshua Tree and became the band’s first number one single in The United States.  (The liner notes of 18 Singles erroneously states that it only reached number two.)  It was also the first single to be issued on CD.  According to U2.com, there’s even a rare Video CD version that was put together for the now-defunct CDV player produced by Philips.  Only 50 copies exist.
 
At various U2 concerts throughout the last 20 years, the song has been performed with an added verse nicknamed the Shine Like Stars section.  (“Yeah, we’ll shine like stars in the summer night/We’ll shine like stars in the winter night/One heart, one hope, one love/With or without you”)  According to this website, this extended version of the track has been played 183 times since 1987, mostly during tours in support of The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby.  There have been occasions when Bono slightly alters the lines of that bonus section just to mix things up a bit.
 
Curiously, the song has only been licensed four times and never for a commercial.  At the movies, it was heard in the 1994 thriller Blown Away (which also features I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For), and in the little-seen 1999 movie, With Or Without You.  On TV, it was featured in two episodes of Friends.  In The Season 2 Episode, The One With The List, it’s the song Ross dedicates to Rachel over the radio.  (Listen for the tail end of the intro leading into the first verse at the 20:51 mark.)  And in The One Where Ross & Rachel Take A Break from Season 3, it’s the song playing while a depressed Ross, who’s just been dumped by Rachel, reluctantly dances with an overeager woman who works at a copy place.  (The “sleight of hand” line kicks off at the 21:05 mark.)
 
One last bit of trivia.  Who is that mysterious woman you occasionally see in the video for With Or Without You?  That would be Morleigh Steinberg, who years later was hired for the Zoo TV tour to replace a departing belly dancer.  The choreographer, who worked on Wild Orchid and Earth Girls Are Easy, ended up becoming The Edge’s second wife in 2002 after a long courtship.
 
 
 
What makes this 5-minute single the greatest one in U2’s growing repertoire?  Why is it better than the mournful but appreciative tributes Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own and Mofo?  Why is it more emotionally profound than the deeply moving anthems Miss Sarajevo, Beautiful Day, Pride and Where The Streets Have No Name?  Why do the lyrics connect more strongly than the lines in the strangely hypnotic Numb?  And why is it more captivating than the groundbreaking I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For and The Fly?
 
Those who have loved and lost instinctively know the answers to all of those questions.  No intellectual articulation is necessary.  When you listen intently to the words, Bono’s confident vocals and that stirring arrangement, your emotions tell you everything you need to know.  There is no greater subject for a songwriter to tackle than love and no other U2 song captures the crux of romance like With Or Without You.
 
There’s that strong sense of recognition you feel as Bono quietly bemoans the state of his relationship while simultaneously refusing to let it go.  There’s something there, a deep and powerful love that flourishes during the great moments and drowns during the worst, hence his dilemma.
 
He paints a cold portrait of his lover.  (“See the stone set in your eyes/See the thorn twist in your side”)   What did he do this time?, you think to yourself.  There’s the image of a storm representing ongoing interpersonal turmoil.  It’s a lyrical idea he would also use on The Sweetest Thing (“Ours is a stormy kind of love”) and the aptly named Electrical Storm.  Yet, the relationship survives.  (“Through the storm we reach the shore”)  But Bono is a demanding bugger and is unsatisfied with the current state of affairs despite his lover’s best efforts.  (“You give it all but I want more”)
 
Adam Clayton’s bass playing is so important here.  One wrong note, one mistimed pluck and the whole thing falls apart.  He quickly settles into a nice groove at the 8-second mark which sets the tone for the entire song.  Add Larry Mullen Jr.’s deliberately simple but potent drumming, two very different guitar parts by The Edge and Brian Eno’s subtle keyboard work to the mix and it’s quite an arrangement.
 
The alternate uses of The Infinite and The Explorer work remarkably well.  The high, drawn-out notes, which sound like they were created with a theremin, constrasted with The Edge’s signature guitar sound is instantly memorable.  It’s impossible to think of this song not including those crucial elements.
 
Like all the best U2 songs, With Or Without You keeps building and building to its emotional apex and then, it ends without a lyrical resolution.  It’s an authentic ending.  Life is messy.  People change.  Relationships aren’t perfect or safe.  The temperature goes up and it goes down.  But love and sex will always be irresistibly addictive to any two people who find themselves drawn together for the purpose of unified passion.  The trick is making it last.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, August 19, 2007
2:26 a.m.
Published in: on August 19, 2007 at 2:28 am  Leave a Comment  

The 10 Greatest U2 Singles (Part Nine)

2. Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own
 
“My father was a very strict man but his severity was wasted on me.  He was a good father in all the ways you could reasonably expect but we clashed a lot.”  Bono from U2 By U2
 
In the early morning hours of August 21st, 2001, the cancer in Bob Hewson’s old body finally claimed him.  His youngest son was there by his bedside in an Irish hospital during his final moments.  His voice reduced to a whisper because of Parkinson’s disease, Bob had one last thing to say.  His son wanted to know if he needed anything and even called in a nurse for assistance.  As they both put their ears to his mouth, out came Bob’s reply:  “Would you ever fuck off and get me out of here.  This place is a prison cell.  I want to go home.”  It was a difficult end to a difficult relationship.
 
When Iris Hewson, Bob’s wife and Bono’s mother, died shortly after the sudden death of Bono’s maternal grandfather in 1974, “there was just three men living on their own in a house.  That is all it was then, it ceased being a home.  It was just a house, with three men killing each other slowly, not knowing what to do with our sense of loss and just taking it out on each other.  Things could get to a very, very high pitch,” Bono told Neil McCormick in U2 By U2.
 
But in truth, the former Paul Hewson was a troublemaker from the very beginning.  He cried constantly as a baby, and throughout his childhood, he was capable of sudden, intense violence.  There’s a famous story about him getting kicked out of high school for throwing dry dog shit at a Spanish teacher while she was eating her lunch.  It’s no wonder his first nickname was The Antichrist.
 
At some point during the Popmart tour of the late 1990s, Bono had this song idea that he worked on with The Edge.  It was meant to be an honest, warts-and-all tribute to his father.  He called it Tough after the opening lyric.  According to The Edge, however, “there was something that wasn’t quite right.”  During the sessions for the follow-up to Pop, it was presented to the rest of U2.  “When we played it together as a band it was a bit cloying, so it didn’t end up going on All That You Can’t Leave Behind.”
 
After being rejected for that album, Bono continued to tinker with it.  Three days after his father succumbed to cancer, he performed a rough version of the song during his funeral.  It would take another three years to finish it properly.
 
“It had a very traditional feel in its original form and so we spent a lot of time trying to find a different setting for it, a way of retaining the strong melodies but just changing the harmonic content to try and make it a little more special.  I think it was on its third or fourth rewrite when [producer] Steve [Lillywhite] pointed out that it didn’t really have a chorus, it needed an extra bit, a bridge to lift it to the chorus line, and Bono sang that falsetto piece on the spot,” Adam Clayton remembered in U2 By U2.
 
The song’s emotional high point arrives near the end.  It is the moment when Bono pays the ultimate tribute to his father by thanking him for sharing his love of music with him, specifically opera.
 
“This man gave me my voice – my singing voice and the attitude I would need to defend it. He didn’t fill my little head with big ideas. He filled my big head with little ideas. It was protection as he saw it. There began a headlock that continued for some time,” he declared at Bob’s funeral in 2001, as reported by The Irish Examiner.
 
He further explained himself in U2 By U2:
 
“He was a beautiful tenor who would stand there in front of the speakers, conducting the music with my mother’s knitting needles.  I remember the look on his face, just lost to music.  For some reason, he never imagined music might be handed down through the DNA like his bad back and quick temper.  I asked him years later, ‘What are the things you regret the most?’  He said, ‘Not being able to play music.”
 
[snip]
 
“It’s so odd, it’s the thing I can’t figure out.  It was almost like my father’s whole attitude was: don’t dream.  This was his unspoken and sometimes spoken advice.  To dream is to be disappointed, that was the running theme, and I think that was perhaps because he had given up his dreams.  So he didn’t want me to fill my head with mine.”
 
[snip]
 
“I think the seeds of ambition were sown, paradoxically by this repression of the spirit.  If you keep telling somebody not to do something then that might just be what they become driven to do.  Megalomania might have started right there…Of course, I didn’t know what it was I was actually going to say or play, but the world was going to have to listen.  Which, of course, is really psychological shorthand for ‘my father would have to listen’.”
 
In 1993, he told Rolling Stone Magazine, “I really, really enjoy opera now, ’cause he used to listen to it all the time. He’d just kind of throw you something like that.”
 
Larry Mullen Jr. summed up their relationship best in U2 By U2:
 
“Having heard all the stories of life in the Hewson household, when you saw the two of them together it was kind of funny.  He always saw Bono as his kid.  He didn’t see the rock star.  It was like, ‘He’s my son, he deserves a clip around the ear.’  That’s the way he behaved around Bono.  And although he may not have said it to Bono, he took real pride in what the band were doing.  But he also really enjoyed sticking the boot in, just because he could, with a snigger.”
 
Tough ended up being renamed Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own after the chorus.  It was a major smash in the United Kingdom where it hit number one.  It was the only time two consecutive U2 singles (Vertigo being the other one, in this case) hit the top of the charts there, according to Wikipedia.  It would later win two Grammys, one of which was for Song Of The Year.
 
 
 
How do you pay tribute to a man you never really knew and had a hard time getting along with?  That was the challenge for Bono in writing this single.  At its heart, it’s a love song soaked in bitterness and regret.  Throughout, there are lost opportunites for openness (“And it’s you when I don’t pick up the phone”) and plenty of frustration over the lack of civility (“We fight all the time”) and normal father-son conversations (“I know that we don’t talk/I’m sick of it all”).
 
It’s a one-way communication between Paul and Bob Hewson with Paul doing all the talking.  It’s the rock star shedding all of his protective layers reaching out to the most important man in his life while in his most vulnerable state.  For an Irishman, it is the most courageous act.
 
Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own is an extraordinarily moving song.  It is rare for me to openly weep while listening to any kind of music, but Bono’s words, his vocals, the arrangement of the track and U2’s first-rate playing break you down rather easily.  There are many instances where you are literally fighting back tears and utterly failing.  Your eyes turn red, you feel freshly made water running down your cheeks and you’re trying not to be louder than the song that put you in this state in the first place.  It is U2 at their cinematic best.  You feel a sense of release when it’s over.  It’s great sonic therapy.
 
There have been occasions where I’ve wept through the entire 5 minutes and 4 seconds and it’s uncertain now what kind of emotional state I was in before pressing play.  You certainly don’t need to be particularly susceptible in order for its sweeping emotional power to affect you deeply.  But the part that always gets me is the middle eight section that leads up to the moment where Bono pays his father the ultimate compliment.  (“You’re the reason why the opera is in me.”)  It is so pitch perfect you wish Bob was still alive to hear it.
 
The song is also remarkable for not mentioning the words “cancer” or “love” at any time even though it is clearly about both.  This was Bono’s way of finding closure with his father as he stubbornly and cantankerously battled the diseases that were ravaging his body.  It’s about him reaching out in a sincere way, hoping to find reception from a man who normally revelled in giving him a hard time about everything.
 
Using simple, direct language, he dissects their relationship.  “We’re the same soul”, he sweetly sings as he explains why they always fight.  And then there’s this passage that would make his father proud.  (“I don’t need to hear you say/That if we weren’t so alike/You’d like me a whole lot more”)  Right in the middle of his beautiful musical eulogy he injects a dose of Bob’s black humour.  He would’ve enjoyed that.  He loved to take the piss out of his son, regardless of his increasing stature in the music business.
 
Late in the song, during its emotional apex, a sense of abandonment is expressed.  (“Don’t leave me here alone”)  Reality is hitting home and Bono is desperately trying to cope.  (“And it’s you that makes it hard to let go”)
 
Like Mofo, Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own is one of their lost singles, criminally overlooked despite its Grammy victories.  (Incredibly, it peaked at #97 on Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles Chart.)  As the years go by, it will grow in stature.  Filmmakers will find a place for it in their films.  Families will request it be played during funerals for the fathers they lost.  It is that special kind of song that helps you understand the complexity of the father-son relationship in straightforward terms.  You can’t help but relate it to your own life.  Maybe that’s where the tears come from, that sense of quiet recognition about the essence of the father-son dynamic that Bono so brilliantly captures with his lyrics.  Or maybe it’s just the story of Bob and Paul Hewson that gets to you.
 
Whatever it is, a strong case can be made for Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own being their greatest all-time single.  For me, however, there’s only one other song in their growing catalogue of greatness that tops it.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, August 6, 2007
10:10 p.m.
Published in: on August 6, 2007 at 10:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

The 10 Greatest U2 Singles (Part Eight)

3. Miss Sarajevo
 
“We were interested in the idea of getting warmed up to make a U2 album by taking on a more experimental project that would throw us into new areas that might inform our own work.  I did that with the [Captive] soundtrack album before The Joshua Tree and Bono and I had done [the score for the London stage production of A] Clockwork Orange before Achtung Baby.  So we talked to Brian Eno about doing a film soundtrack.”  The Edge from U2 By U2
 
“There has always been a bit of tension between U2 and Brian Eno, because Brian regards himself as a creative force.  I think he finds it frustrating that within the parameters we’ve set, he is not a writer, he is one of the producers…We have a collaborative music-making process that’s been established from the beginning and I couldn’t possibly permit a situation where Brian Eno was making more than a member of U2.  Brian is a genius but so is the band…It was against this background that U2 decided to have a go at making a record with Brian as a full partner.  It wouldn’t be a U2 record, it would be a side project.”  Manager Paul McGuiness from the same book
 
Island Records, the band’s longtime label, was insistent on that last point.  There was no way they were releasing this one-time effort as a U2 album.  So, they called themselves Passengers instead.  Eno came up with the name. 
 
The original plan was to write and record music for The Pillow Book, a Peter Greenaway film that stars Ewan MacGregor amongst a mostly Asian cast.  For some undetermined reason, though, they lost that gig.  (However, U2 would contribute a Zooropa album cut, Daddy’s Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car, to the soundtrack.)
 
Undeterred, they went a slightly different route.  Eno came up with the concept of making music for “imaginary films”.  He even went through the trouble of inventing a number of fake titles and plotlines, which you can read in the liner notes of the Original Soundtracks 1 album.  However, some of the selections they worked on ended up being used in real movies.  One such number ended up becoming a very special track in more ways than one.
 
Bill Carter is a globetrotting American journalist who ended up in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s following a tragic car accident that claimed the life of his girlfriend.  In mourning and caught in the middle of a brutal civil war he managed to get a job reporting for a local TV station in Sarajevo.  He even helped out with the humanitarian effort when he could.  (Check out his book, Fools Rush In, for more on this period of his life and career.)
 
In early July 1993, the young journalist met with Bono in Verona, Italy.  The band was touring in support of their about-to-be-released Zooropa album and were scheduled to perform two shows at the Stadio Bentegodi.  He convinced the singer to do an on-camera TV interview.
 
“During the course of the interview with Bill Carter, he described everyday conditions.  He described how, in makeshift bomb shelters, people were listening to U2, playing rock and roll and dance music at deafening levels to drown out the sound of the shells landing.  Young people were watching MTV, seeing bands and presenters who looked just like them, and wondering why no one was talking about what was happening to them, how ordinary young people were being murdered on their way to school in a city just a short drive across the border from the clubs and concert halls of Italy and Germany,” Bono remarked in U2 By U2.
 
Carter wanted the conflict to receive more press coverage than it was getting at the time, so he suggested the band visit Sarajevo and play a gig there.  Bono impulsively agreed to the idea which divided his bandmates and concerned their manager.  (They would eventually make a stop during the second leg of the Popmart tour.  They played a memorable show at Kosovo Stadium on September 23rd, 1997.  Bono had to let the audience take over vocal duties because he “woke up without a voice” earlier that same morning, as The Edge put it in U2 By U2.)
 
After seriously debating the idea and trying to work around their tour schedule to fit in time for Sarajevo, the band came up with a different approach altogether.  Why not hire Carter to put together a film crew and simply shoot some footage for Zoo TV so that their audiences could see firsthand what was happening?  Furthermore, how about setting up satellite transmissions so Yugoslavian citizens could tell European and Asian audiences what they were living through in their own words live?
 
While shooting raw material for Zoo TV, Carter and his crew discovered this underground beauty pagant.  Sometime after the tour concluded he edited the footage they shot into a short documentary film.  But it needed a title.  After screening it, Bono felt strongly about it being called Miss Sarajevo, according to Wikipedia.  (The film would later win a number of awards.  It’s now available on DVD.  The Passengers song of the same name is reportedly featured in the film as the theme.  The video for the song includes footage from Carter’s documentary.)
 
Meanwhile, Bono kept getting these phone calls from the great Italian tenor, Luciano Pavarotti, as he explained to Neil McCormick:
 
“He had been asking for a song.  In fact, asking is an understatement.  He had been crank-calling the house.  He told me that if I didn’t write him a song, God would be very cross.  And when I protested that we were in the middle of our own album, he would say, ‘I am going to speak to God to speak to you.  It’s Easter.  When I next call you, you will have a song.’  One of the great emotional arm-wrestlers of the age.”
 
Bono never did write that song for him.  Instead, he gave him a showcase on this track the band was working on, a tribute to the young women of Sarajevo who protested the war in their country by staging that underground beauty pagant, an act of non-violent defiance.   He wrote a verse in English and had it translated in Italian by Anna Mazzarotto so the great tenor could sing it in his native tongue.
 
“That was a trip, to write a libretto for a voice like Pavarotti’s.  To get into the right frame for that I was impersonating my father [Bob, who was a huge opera fan] singing in the bath impersonating Pavarotti,” Bono remembered in U2 By U2.
 
The result was a rarity in modern music, the seemingly incompatible worlds of opera and rock blending together seamlessly.
 
In the end, three studio versions of the song were issued.  The Best Of 1990-2000 features the butchered Radio Edit which has a cleaner opening but is only four and a half minutes long, fading out before much of the concluding instrumentation.  There’s the Single Edit which clocks in at 5:19 and was included on the CD single.  And then, there’s the complete album version which is almost six minutes long.
 
Nevertheless, the song received extensive airplay worldwide after its release in the fall of 1995.  It was a Top 10 hit in the UK, The Netherlands and Australia.  But its biggest chart success was in Latvia where it hit number one. 
 
The song was debuted live on September 12th that year at the second annual Pavarotti And Friends benefit concert for the War Child charity in Modena, Italy.  Brian Eno, Bono and The Edge joined Pavarotti for the performance.  You can hear it on the Pavarotti And Friends 2 CD. 
 
In 1999, George Michael covered the song for his Songs From The Last Century album.
 
When U2 play the song live, as they did frequently during the Vertigo Tour, Bono takes over Pavarotti’s solo.
 
 
 
It begins unusually.  The Edge’s guitar playing is slightly off-rhythm, quietly seducing as it fades in.  The tone of it is different.  No fuzz, no loud histrionics.  If the Northern Lights had a sonic equivalent, this would be it.  Then, the rest of the band joins in.  It takes a few seconds for drummer Larry Mullen Jr. to lock everybody in with his patient rhythm.  Then, Bono starts asking a series of rhetorical questions. 
 
As he sings, it’s hard not to notice how remarkably restrained he is here.  Even during the choruses where he briefly uses his falsetto he’s not going for broke.  The limitless passion he exuded in Pride, Where The Streets Have No Name and I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For is noticeably absent. 
 
But there’s a very good reason for that.  Miss Sarajevo is about thriving in secrecy during a time of great turbulence and uncertainty.  It’s about carrying on your daily life despite living in hell.  More than anything, it’s about love in the face of death.
 
Bono’s lyrics are direct and poignant.  There’s a nice recurring theme he develops right from the opening line.  Instead of simply parroting the time-for-love, time-for-hate balancing act of the Old Testament book, Ecclasiastes, (which The Byrds reworked into Turn! Turn! Turn!), he flips the ideology on its head.  He simply wonders if there’s time for anything normal in a war-torn country like the former Yugoslavia.  With devastation all around them and fear polluting the atmosphere is it possible for civilians, particularly beautiful young women, to live in some kind of denial in order to maintain their sanity?  Are they able to organize something as trivial as a beauty pagant without succumbing to the guilt, anger and sadness they would normally feel if they allowed themselves to focus on nothing else but the war raging outside their secluded quarters?  Can they even be faithful Muslims amongst so much hatred?  Is prayer an effective spiritual sedative?
 
Wisely, Bono never offers any answers.  Maybe there is no right answer.  Or, maybe there’s more than one right answer.  Regardless, these queries he poses, which seem so simple and straightforward, are much more complex beyond the surface.  These are questions we take for granted.  Not the people of Bosnia, most especially those beauty pagant contestants.
 
And then, out of nowhere, Luciano Pavarotti takes center stage.  He is not restrained by any means.  It is a magnificent solo which gives the song the emotional payoff it has been building up to.  How appropriate that the word “l’amore” is the word that showcases the endurable strength of his tenor vocal.  It doesn’t matter that we have no clue what he’s singing about.  (It is an Italian libretto, after all.)  It’s the feeling that counts.  His presence, much like the song itself, evokes chills.
 
His passionate delivery nicely embodies the stubborn spirit of those young women of Sarajevo.  In one of U2’s quietest numbers, it is the ultimate act of defiance.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, August 3, 2007
9:15 p.m.
Published in: on August 3, 2007 at 9:15 pm  Comments (2)