Music can change the world because it can change people

May 5, 2012 |  by  |  Achtung Baby, U2 Memorabilia

A Filament Project bracelet made with a string from Bono's Gibson acoustic used during the Achtung Baby re-release sessions at Hansa Studio in 2011.

I get asked a lot if I’ve met Bono. Surely someone who’s devoted 20 years of her life and a URL to the man has met him, right? Wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. I haven’t met him, haven’t touched him, haven’t smelled him, haven’t been rendered stupidly speechless by his presence. And it’s probably for the best, as I still don’t know what I’d say to the man. “Thank you” is my best guess. It’s simple, sincere, all-encompassing. But it’s the same thing I say to the pizza delivery guy and the pedicurist. The man whose voice has been in my head for a couple of decades probably warrants a little more inspiration.

But, this week I did manage to get a little closer to him thanks to The Filament Project, an organization that collects donations of guitar, bass and other musical instrument strings along with various electrical and telephone cables to create bracelets and other jewelry. U2 fandom’s EdgeFest, knower of all things The Edge, spotted and won and shared an auction on eBay for one of these guitar string bracelets. It was for a string from Edge’s Fender Stratocaster guitar, played during With or Without You at the 360 tour’s finale in Moncton (totally thought I was done saying that word) last July. I quickly clicked on “seller’s other items” and saw a listing for another bracelet — one made of a string from Bono’s acoustic Gibson guitar, used during the 2011 Hansa sessions, when U2 went back to the famous Berlin studio where they recorded 1991’s Achtung Baby. The listing included a photo of the packet of strings donated to The Filament Project, on which Dallas Schoo, U2’s beloved (by fans as much as the band) guitar tech had written, “This is a packet of used guitar strings off of Bono’s Gibson acoustic guitar from the re-release of “Auchtung Baby” [sic] in “From the Sky Down.”

[Bono's solo performance of So Cruel with the Gibson acoustic during From the Sky Down at Hansa Studios.]

I’m not a huge spender on eBay when it comes to U2 collectibles. There’s just so much stuff. There are shirts and singles and box sets and pins and promo materials (PopMart condoms), and once you have one of the things you have to have all of the things. It’s mentally exhausting and financially debilitating. I stick to items that overlap with my interests. I’ve been involved in publication design since middle school and am now a graphic design professor trying to cheaply decorate her apartment — I focus on U2 magazine and tabloid covers, as well as any interesting advertisements. The purchases usually stay below $10. (However, the ultimate goal is to own a copy of the rare and really expensive U2-3.)

But the vision of Bono seducing those strings to the sounds of One, So Cruel, The Fly and Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses during the anniversary session at Hansa led to the resolution that I couldn’t not have the bracelet. The vision sadly dissipated, though, when I saw “The Buy It Now listing has ended.” I learned on Facebook that EdgeFest had bought a matching pair — Edge’s string for herself, Bono’s for her husband. The girl doesn’t do anything halfway. But through her, I starting following The Filament Project on Facebook and Twitter and learned that another Bono bracelet would be listed later in the week.

“Later in the week” was so ambiguous, and resulted in even more time spent on my smartphone than I’m proud to admit, obsessively refreshing eBay pages. But after a few anxious, sleepless nights, and with the goodness and grace of two of my other U2 girls (Lilah, who’d already bought one of the very limited Bono bracelets and alerted me as soon as an auction for a new one went up, and Beth, who purposely didn’t buy it because she knew I was pining for it — I’ve not yet met either in person), the bracelet was mine. It seems more than a little silly — guitar strings that get thrown away every day wrapped up in discarded telephone wire. But knowing I have circled around my wrist a guitar string on which Bono played songs from my favorite U2 album in the place they were originally recorded makes it the most stunning, most precious piece of jewelry I own. One of Bono’s recurring quotes is something along the lines of, “If I am close to the music and you are close to the music, then we are close to each other.” We don’t need physical proximity to feel connected to our favorite music and musicians. I suppose wanting the bracelet may seem a little contrary to that, but it makes me feel more connected. It’s like an oversized wedding band. I don’t need it to prove the monumental role this band’s music has had in my life, but it’s a lovely symbol of a bond that can’t be broken — an everlasting love, if you will.

Me holding Bono's guitar string while watching him play it.

The soul behind The Filament Project (on Facebook, Twitter, eBay) is Jo Adell, a fourth-generation artisan and second-generation jewelry maker. She started the project in February after enduring a series of unfortunate personal events, including a robbery the same night she attended a benefit in support of Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, a group that “provides assistance to all types of career musicians who are struggling to make ends meet while facing illness, disability or age-related problems.” After the benefit, she decided to transfer the self-pity she was feeling into support for a greater cause.

Jo’s U2 is the band Moonalice, who opened for U2 at the 360 show in Oakland, Calif., on June 7, 2011. She spends a lot of time with them, and got a bag of used strings from their guitar tech, which she started turning into jewelry, mostly as gifts for other Moonalice fans. After the benefit, she started working her connections to get hold of strings that might bring in a little profit, which she could then donate to Sweet Relief. Moonalice frontman Roger McNamee is a co-founder of Elevation Partners, along with Bono, and when Jo and her Filament Project partner, Deb Grabien, told him about the project, Roger (who “has the biggest heart in the world”) called Dallas on the phone in Dublin and asked for strings. Jo and Deb have since been rounding up contributions in the San Francisco Bay area and beyond, including Richard Thompson, The New Riders of the Purple Sage/David Nelson Band, David Lindley, Heart, Ani Di Franco, Amanda Palmer and more. They’re working on contributions from Stephen King (yes, that Stephen King), the Rolling Stones, Sir Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty. And if you’re interested in a Bono or Edge bracelet, keep an eye out — I think she’s got a very limited few more in the works. She’s also putting in a request for some of the bass boy’s strings.

Right now, the proceeds from the sale of the guitar string bracelets are earmarked for Robin Sylvester, bass player for Ratdog, Rubber Souldiers and other bands. He is in kidney failure and awaiting a transplant. He’s currently doing well enough that his doctors are allowing him to perform, but has been instructed to take it easy. After June 15, the proceeds will go into a general fund.

In an interview at the 1983 US Music Festival, Bono — just 23 at the time and already a head full of urgent, impassioned ideas — said, “Music can change the world, because it can change people.” I’ve made several U2-inspired purchases this week, none of which benefitted U2 — $25 went to the African Well Fund for their 10th annual Build a Well for Bono’s Birthday Fundraiser; $15 went to Every Mother Counts when I picked up the organization’s special release CD at Starbucks, featuring an unreleased acoustic version of Original of the Species; and an amount that a sane girl might spend on a Tiffany bauble — but Tiffany doesn’t sell anything this magnificent — went to this bracelet, 40 percent of which will go to Sweet Relief. I’m doing nothing noble — just selfishly waving my credit card to feel a little closer to my band. But these people and these organizations are doing extraordinary things — changing the world through music. My thanks go to all involved for giving us fans a way to connect with the music even when it’s not playing, and to connect with causes bigger than ourselves.

(I do find it pretty humorous, though, that Bono’s strings go for more than guitar-god Edge’s on eBay. In U2 By U2, the other band members never tire of mentioning what a crap guitar player Bono was. According to Larry:

“It was obvious from the beginning that Bono was going to be the singer, not because of his great voice but because he didn’t have a guitar, an amp or transport, what else was he going to do? He had delusions that maybe he was a guitarist but without the equipment it wasn’t possible. He could strum a guitar but he was no guitar player and it could be argued that he’s still no guitar player.”

Even Bono has gone in on the ribbing: “I want to play the guitar very badly. And I do play the guitar very badly.”)

[Bono's solo performance of The Fly with the Gibson acoustic during From the Sky Down at Hansa Studios. Boss chair kick at 1:07.]

[U2 play One during From the Sky Down at Hansa Studios, with Bono on his Gibson acoustic.]


12 Comments


  1. So thrilled that these strings so far all have happy homes… I personally know each person that bought one (with the exception of Lilah). Next tour I imagine a photo or two where we start to put those guitars back together. <3

    • We absolutely must re-string the guitars next tour! So thrilled you found out about all of this, Lori-Jo.

  2. Wow, Beth, what a beautiful testament! I shall share this far and wide! Would like to make use of this space to say thank you to my partner Deb Grabien. In LOLcat speak it breaks down to ” I duz teh makings, Deb duz teh talkingz”. Deb is Our Director of Outreach and Acquisition, she literally pulls the strings of her many many connections in the music world, and without Deb’s tireless assistance, and our beloved Roger McNamee, I would not be able to do this project.
    Deb has 17 novels published, you should really check out her Rock & Roll Mystery Series the Kinkaid Chronicles, written by a woman who Has been There!Find Deb at http://www.deborahgrabien.com. Also, check out Moonalice at http://www.moonalice.com. (If you attended the 360 show at Oakland Coliseum, Moonalice was the opening act)
    Who knew that one of the best results of this project is the joy I’ve felt from each of you who is now wearing a U2 string! I want more of this, I want to be able to touch every music fan the way I got to touch you. And I’m cryin. Again.
    Thank you so much.

    • Wow, Beth.
      Thank you for saying these things about a Dear Dear Friend of mine. I’m crying with happiness for Jo!
      (PS: my husband has been collaborating on the logo)

      • Yes, our beautiful new logo is the result of much feedback from many people, Cherie’s husband Rupert did the original graphic, Deb’s husband Nic embellished it and added the colour.

    • Thanks for all you’re doing, Jo. I’ll update the post with some of this info. Wishing you much continued success with this project. So happy to be a little part of it.

  3. Beth – that’s a marvellous blog piece, and I want to ask if you’d mind if I included the link to it in my thank-you letter to Dallas Schoo? Since this is an ongoing project, with hopefully longterm and far-reaching positive help for musicians in need as a result, I would love to be able to point to a piece like yours as proof positive of what we can do with a jeweller’s skill and dedication, and guitar strings that would just go into the recycling bin anyway.

    By the way, as a guitar player, I completely understand and agree about strings from Bono going for more money than Edge’s. Honestly, it’s purely a matter of quantity and availability: Edge being the guitarist, he plays more, has more guitars, and consequently changes strings more often. Bono, whose main instrument is his voice, is going to be a source of far fewer strings. The rarer the product, the higher the demand, and the higher the demand, the more they’re going to cost.

    Please do let me know if I can link to this in my letter to Dallas. And as it happens, the members of U2 I’ve met (in summer 1986, at the kickoff party for Amnesty International’s Conspiracy of Hope Tour, here in San Francisco) were absolute sweethearts. Making their strings available for this wonderful project just confirms what I already knew: nice, nice guys!

    cheers,
    Deborah Grabien

    • Thank you so much, Deb. I wouldn’t mind a bit if you shared this in your thank-you note. I’ll update the post to include some of the information Jo mentioned above, including a little more about you, if that’s OK.

      Makes sense about the guitar strings being more for Bono since they’re rarer. I just thought it was humorous that the guitar god’s strings are going for less than the “novice.” :) But anything that has enabled Bono and U2 to make music is priceless to me.

      Looking forward to watching the project pick up and bring more people the thrill it’s brought me. Thank you guys for what you’re doing.

      • Perfect! And yes, feel free to include any information about me you’d like. I’ve also got a wiki page, if anything in there takes your fancy.

        • I’ve just put the letter to Dallas in its envelope (this is a proper letter, not an email, and it’s off to Dublin). Both this blog and Twist of Fate are given as livelinks, as part of my thanks for what tremendous impact this project (thanks to Dallas) is having.

          • So happy to hear you’re passing along our excitement and gratitude to Dallas. Part of why U2 fans love the band so much is their loyalty to each other, and to crew members like him who have been around since the beginning, practically. It’s fun to see more Filament Project auctions up on eBay — awful hard not to bid!

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