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Video opens window on U2 influences

D 30 January 2007     H 22:19     A Corine/Dead     C 0 messages

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Archival footage of others synced to band’s new song

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

J . Freedom du Lac

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Lou Reed, left, is one of dozens of musicians honored by lead singer Bono in the video for U2’s new song.

In the video for U2’s new song, Window in the Skies, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Billie Holiday, Marvin Gaye and a shirtless Iggy Pop take turns singing the lyrics on Bono’s behalf.

Instead of the Edge on guitar, you see Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Elvis Costello and a very young Keith Richards.

All thanks to the magic of editing and copyright clearances.

The Window in the Skies video is a montage that features roughly 100 archival clips of various musicians performing in concert. The footage has been carefully and cleverly edited so that the performances synchronize with U2’s lyrics and music — right down to Frank Sinatra conducting the song to its conclusion.

It’s a triumph of postmodern reconstruction, a four-minute, 19-second celebration of some of popular music’s most beloved and influential figures.

U2 seems to have invited the entire Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to its party, and more than a few folks showed up: Ray Charles, Joe Strummer, Smokey Robinson, Patti Smith, Jerry Lee Lewis, Robert Plant, Ronnie Spector, Roy Orbison. They were joined by some celebrated newcomers, from rapper Kanye West to the Canadian indie-rock band Arcade Fire.

"We wanted to honor these great artists," says Gary Koepke, the video’s director. "We wanted to celebrate them and their passion. This video had to happen. And it made itself, basically."

Well, not really. It took three months and plenty of man-hours to make the addictive video, which has become a hit on YouTube and VH1 and has inspired endless pages of Internet discussion-board messages about who exactly appears in the clip and when. (That’s Lou Reed, not Jim Morrison, at the 44-second mark; Beyonce, not Britney Spears, at 1:47. A rundown of all of the artists might eventually appear on U2’s Web site.)

Koepke had exactly one music video credit on his resume (David Bowie’s Slow Burn) before working on Window in the Skies. He’s an advertising executive by trade and cofounder of the Boston agency Modernista!, which last year teamed with Bobby Shriver and Bono on their "Choose Red" initiative to help fund medication for AIDS patients in Africa.

Koepke says the wheels began to spin almost immediately when Bono gave him a copy of a new U2 song that was intended for a greatest-hits package.

"Everybody probably has a different interpretation," the director says, "but to me, the song is about time and the power of love."

Somehow, that interpretation led to the idea of a montage of musicians.

The resulting video features 137 clips, including several "Where’s Waldo?"-type crowd shots in which the various members of U2 can be seen, if only briefly.

As director of business affairs for Modernista!, Jeff Estow spent endless hours making licensing deals for the archival footage and trying to secure permission to use the artists’ likenesses.

In making his pitch, Estow says, he told the musicians’ reps that the video would be "a very tasteful homage to artists from across eras and genres who’ve provided particular influence and inspiration to U2."

Sinatra’s estate attorney signed off on the project almost immediately (it didn’t hurt that Bono had worked with Sinatra). Shortly thereafter, Presley’s estate agreed to allow the singer’s image to appear in the video and provided footage from a 1968 comeback special that synced exceptionally well with Bono’s singing.

"Once that happened, we went to other artists and said Sinatra and Elvis are in the video, and things really got rolling," Estow says.

The video is not meant to be a comprehensive yearbook of popular music’s best.

"There were a few legends we missed, obviously, that we really would have liked to get," he says.

Among them: Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, James Brown, Chuck Berry and Bruce Springsteen. While the Beatles didn’t make the final cut, their representatives approved the project after the deadline; the video has been redone to accommodate them. The new version probably will be released this week. And then, Koepke says, that’s it: No more music videos.

"This project took a quarter of a year to finish," he says. "If I do another one, it will just be a picture of the sun rising and the song playing over it. Very conceptual! "


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