The Boys Who Tried Wolf
Peter and the Wolf auction, Christie’s New York, November 21, 2003
Ruth Barohn and Christopher Conroy
It was a Friday night. And not just literally.
Three years to the day after musician and artist Gavin Friday narrated the Prokofiev classic Peter and the Wolf” at Dublin Castle, with the orchestra from the Royal Irish Academy of Music, to benefit the Irish Hospice Foundation (IHF), sixteen original paintings that were done for a companion book to Friday’s new musical version were auctioned to benefit the charity. On this spring-like November evening (Nov. 21), bidders and friends filled an intimate room at Christie’s New York in Rockefeller Center. They came to support the IHF as well as the hard work of the project’s engine.
Friday arrived with Maurice Seezer, and explained his dedication to the IHF, an organization for which he has done several projects: “Well, I just think it’s a great charity, number one, because it accepts kids, adults dying of AIDS, and older people. As a charity, they tend to do creative things — so it’s making money, but it’s also contributing something artistically and musically. When you give the twenty bucks for the CD and the book, you’re getting something as well as helping a charity, so I find that quite interesting and quite innovative.”
It was that sort of innovation that inspired Friday. “The inspiration was really just to help Hospice. Three years ago we did it live and we said one day, it went so well that we should record our own interpretation of it,” explained Friday. “I was sick about a year and a half ago, and rather than moan, we sat and did our own arrangement of it.”
The ensemble for the project is quite impressive, as Seezer explained: “Michael Blair is a wonderful percussion player; he played with Tom Waits. Renaud Pion has played with us for fifteen years now or so. Julia Palmer played on our very first album together. (Julia Palmer played on Gavin and Maurice’s first tour, not the album. Ed. ) Des Moore [is] a great bango player from Dublin.” Electric guitar and double bass player Gareth Hughes and flutist Catriona Ryan completed the eclectic group of musicians.
An equally eclectic group of artists and orchestras have recorded the symphony with impressive narrators including David Bowie, Sting, Sir John Gielgud, Andre Previn, Jack Lemmon, Boris Karloff, Dudley Moore, Patrick Stewart, Melissa Joan Hart, Dave Van Ronk and Leonard Bernstein. But Friday is more of a Bond man: “Personally, my favorite version is Sean Connery’s version. He did it in the 60s.”
Friday’s version is sure to become the favorite of many fans of the classic and new listeners alike. Along with the fresh musical interpretation by the Friday-Seezer ensemble, the CD is coupled with a book whose drawings were done by singer and activist Bono, who can now add “painter” to his list of credits. Bono’s original paintings for the book, done with daughters Jordan and Eve, were minutes away from being put on the auction block when he arrived at Christie’s with his wife, Ali Hewson, and their close friend, artist Guggi.
Pausing to speak about his appearance at the event, Bono said, “You know, usually when you see me at these kind of events, I’m talking about really serious things like third world debt and the Africa AIDS emergency, but tonight it’s much more fun. I’m here to talk about my dead father. My father — I loved him very much — I am actually here to talk about him. He’s the reason that I did these paintings. He died of cancer a couple years ago. Hospice offered to look after him. They’re angels, really. And I did this for my kids. It was fun to do. I wanted to do something that would make me laugh but also make me cry a little bit.”
Of course, Bono was especially excited to once again collaborate with his long-time friend, Gavin Friday. “He’s a complete pain in the arse. He’s trouble from morning till night. He never shuts up, he’s in your ear, and he’s a genius,” said Bono with an exasperated grin. (We feel his pain. Ed.)
Friday’s genius was about to pay off in a big way. As video footage played of the recording of the “Peter and the Wolf” audio and the painting of the book’s illustrations on a screen in a room of Christie’s, the bidders took their seats. Among the guests showing their support were Principle Management’s Paul McGuinness and Keryn Kaplan, Elvis Costello and Diana Krall, Moby, and artist Darien Loeb.
Before bidding began, Friday took to the stage to applause. “The Irish are very good at telling stories, so I’m going to tell you a story,” said Friday. His theatrical monologue began: “Once upon a time in an ancient and old land called Hibernia, in a dirty little town called Dublin, there lived a man whose name was Bono. This man was very talented and much loved. So loved, it was rumored by some, ‘Could he be God?!'”
Friday’s introduction drew laughter and applause from the guests, for which he paused and then continued with a grin: “There is always some truth in rumors. Now, Mr. Bono had a friend, a dark and mysterious man named Mr. Friday. So dark and so mysterious was this man, it was rumored [Friday’s voice lowered to a whisper] ‘Could he be the devil?!'”
When the laughter died down, Friday went on. “Mr. Friday had a friend, a musical giant, Mr. Seezer — so tall, like a big oak tree, he had much problems with dogs. Together, these three people — Bono, myself, and Maurice — believed that through music and through art, you can make a difference. This is the story of Peter and the Wolf. Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to introduce you to…” said Friday, pausing dramatically, “…God.”
And, in case anyone was unsure, Friday added, “Bono.”
As Bono stepped to the auction podium, to the side of the stage, he stamped the auction gavel down three times and said, “I always wanted to do that.”
In response to Friday’s introduction, Bono quipped, “Well, Gavin is the devil. God and the devil are getting on.”
And although Bono was proud to explore new artistic directions for this project, he seemed to have no delusions about his ability with a paintbrush — or did he?
“My name is Bono and I’m a rock star. And where would we be without rock stars and their delusions? Rock stars who think they can sing — it’s okay. Rock stars who think they can dance — I’m not sure. Rock stars who think they can act — oh, dear Lord! Rock stars who think they can drink the Hudson and stay out later than anyone else — possibly. Rock stars who think they can save the world — spare me that one! But right at the top of the list of rock star delusions has got to be the rock star who thinks he can paint. And I came here to say that I am too much of a fan of art and artists to ever claim that these are more than marks on paper. In the room with real artists I came here to say that,” said Bono humbly.
Then humility faltered. “But I came into Christie’s today — and the Christie’s people are kind of really amazing — and I walked in the door and I saw all the paintings, hung up, and I thought, ‘Did I really do that? They’re really great!'” said Bono. “I was trying to explain why I did this and I wrote this. It’s called Rage Is Not A Great Reason To Do Anything But It’ll Do. So I’m going to read it if that’s okay.
“Rage Is Not A Great Reason To Do Anything But It’ll Do: I have a list of the usual frustrations with God and God with me. Right up there at the top of the list of things that motivate me is the distance between where I am as a songwriter and where I want to be. The difference between the note and the fret, I suppose.
I had a few difficulties on my way to being a musician, if that’s what I am — sometimes I’m not sure it is — but I remember standing with my head just below the level of the black and tobacco keys of my Granny’s piano and I could reach them but I couldn’t see them. Literally, my head was right beneath it. And I could hear the hammer hit the string and bone machine, but I didn’t know after choosing one ivory I could hear a sort of rhyme for it in my head, leading me through the ding and clangor of the choices to a melody. A composition. Song writing by accident. And if you stood on the sustain pedal on the piano, the room would change shape into a cathedral.
I knew then that music is a playground, that for the rest of my life, I will be chasing it. Reverb, echo, the sound of your own voice. The only problem was they sold the piano; there was no room. The two up, two down, outside toilet ,red brick for music. I lost the argument to bring it to our house in Ballymun. I wanted to learn how to play the melodies I heard in my head. Poor Bono. No, poor YOU. Megalomania for me started at a very early age, probably this age. Everyone’s going to have to pay for this.
“Everyone’s going to have to listen to me. Revenge like this takes a lifetime. Revenge on my father, a beautiful tenor who conducted our stereo with knitting needles and a man who never imagined that music might be handed down through the DNA, like his bad back or his bad temper, and never bothered to bother us about learning an instrument. Revenge on music education, which teaches children to imitate rather than create. It’s good to know the voice of the masters, but not to have your own voice drowned out,” said Bono, ending his essay.
“So anyway, ‘Peter and the Wolf’ is a lesson in how to teach,” continued Bono. “This is a new version of the Prokofiev classic by two of my favorite people, two of my favorite musicians, Gavin Friday and Maurice Seezer. And it was in aid of the Irish Hospice Foundation, but actually for the Hospice Foundation worldwide, people who were so ready to look after my father in his losing fight with cancer. These angels asked me to illustrate the book that accompanies the music. Ciaran O’Goara was the art director and guide. I asked my little girls, Jordan and Eve, to help me with details, the filigree of flowers.”
Bono shared his inspiration for some of the characters in the book, as he went to work. “And in Mary Donnelly and Joe Donnelly’s art house looking over Killiney Bay, in one day, I painted myself into the corner as Peter. Age thirteen, I had a head like a baked bean, a formless ellipse until a nose appeared. I was frightened. The boy who lived in a can used to eat the baked beans cold.
Anyway, my father we made the Grandfather, as he was to Jordan and Eve, my two daughters who loved and were loved by him. And his golf club — a working class Dublin guy who loved opera and played golf. His golf club, as it happens, was called Forest Little. So the forest is Forest Little Golf Club. I cast my darling wife, Ali, as Pussy — mischief in her eyes and a curly tail. And the Wolf was ambition for things just out of reach,” Bono concluded to great applause.
Several variations of these characters, as created by Bono, then became open to bid. As the auctioneer took the podium, and the gavel struck, Lot 1 (“Peter & the Wolf VI”) was displayed on the stage. Bidding was intense for each of the sixteen lots, but the mood was certainly light and humorous.
After Lot 6 (“Peter & the Wolf II”) sold for $24,000, Friday appeared at the large desk to the side of the podium and commented, “It’s all a bit laid back. Let’s see something exciting happening here. And then maybe I’ll sing a song.”
After enthusiastic applause, bidding on Lot 7 (“Peter & the Wolf III”) began. When it concluded, the lucky high-bidding woman got a promise from Friday: “This lady, I will personally sing in her ear in about half an hour!”
Friday continued to encourage and entertain the guests, such as during the auction of Lot 9 (“Peter & the Wolf V”). When bidding stalled, he offered, “I will put my tongue in your ear for $30,000.” The auctioneer turned and asked Friday over the surprised laughter, “Do you think that’s a lot of incentive?” Getting a big smile in return, the auctioneer turned back to the audience and accepted an increased bid of $22,000. Friday encouraged, “I have a big tongue.”
The high bidder on Lot 10 (“Study of Wolf II”) was none other than Paul McGuinness. As he bid, Friday inquired, “Does Paul want my tongue in his ear?” to which the auctioneer replied, “He’s paying not to have your tongue in his ear.” McGuinness later said of his choosing to buy this piece (for $20,000): “I liked it. I thought it was the best of the wolves, and I’m looking forward to seeing it on my wall.”
One big supporter of the IHF paid $60,000 — the highest bid of the evening — to see one of these paintings on his wall. Bidding was fierce for Lot 11 (“Study ‘Peter’ I, Study of ‘Peter’ II on reverse”). This close-up painting of the “baked-bean boy” is essentially a self-portrait of age thirteen by Bono, and Friday shared, “I knew him when he looked like that, without the sunglasses. Working-class lads that did well.”
beanboy.jpg These working-class lads did do well, raising $368,000 for an important charity in little more than an hour. And, although, the IHF was certainly the focus of the evening, Friday discussed other projects in which he is currently involved.
Friday did the score to the film “In America,” which opens on Thanksgiving in the United States. This is his third collaboration with director Jim Sheridan (“In The Name of the Father” and “The Boxer”). When asked what attracted him to Sheridan’s film making, Friday replied, “He captures something called humanity and reality between actors more than anyone I know. He’s got what you’d call a cinematic genius but he’s a theatrical genius; he just gets a rapport that’s mind-blowing.” He paused and added, with complete sincerity, “Go see the movie. You’ll cry.”
Bono, who was sworn to secrecy about U2’s new album, did reveal one secret. A burning question whose answer an evening of “Peter and the Wolf” could not be complete without: Who’s the duck? Bono is Peter, Gavin’s the Wolf, Ali is the Puassy. But who’s the duck? Bono laughed at the question and then put his hand up to his grin, as if he were happily revealing this secret and whispered, “Guggi.”
So Peter, the Wolf, the Pussy, and, as is now known, the Duck were all present at Christie’s for the conclusion of this impressive and, thanks to the many collaborating artists, successful project. And we cannot forget Grandfather, whose spirit was present in the wonderful work of the Irish Hospice Foundation.
All photos by Ruth Barohn and Christopher Conroy for U2log.com and GavinFriday.com. Please do not use the photos that appear here on your website or forum without our explicit permission.