Best Of ’99: U2, Salman Rushdie Collaborate On Pop Song

Irish rock band, controversial author adapt elements of his new book 'The Ground Beneath Her Feet.'

[Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at 1999's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers. This story originally ran on Monday, Jan. 25.]

Bridging the arts of music and literature, U2 and controversial author Salman Rushdie have teamed to write the tune “The Ground Beneath Her Feet” — a song that weds mythological themes to rock music.

With lyrics taken from Rushdie’s book of the same name (set for an April release) and music written by the Irish rock band, “The Ground Beneath Her Feet” has already been recorded in demo form, according to R.M.P., the London-based publicity firm that represents U2.

Rushdie described the song in a report from the British newspaper The Guardian. “Bono and I have been friends for several years,” he said, “and I sent him the novel when I’d finished it, and he responded by coming up with this beautiful melody. Simple as that, but of course, very pleasurable.”

Paralleling the novel, the ballad’s lyrics refer to the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice — which describes the agony of lovers separated by death — and place it in a rock ‘n’ roll context. The song includes the verses, “All my life I worshipped her/ Her golden voice/ Her beauty’s beat/ How she made us feel/ How she made me real/ And the ground beneath her feet.”

Rushdie previously spent time with U2 during their 1993 “Zoo TV” concert tour, during which he joined the band onstage at London’s Wembley Stadium. He even stayed at singer Bono’s house as a guest. “I spent three or four days with him over the years,” Rushdie said last year.

U2 recently released a double-disc greatest-hits collection, U2: The
Best of 1980-1990,
which included such songs as “With Or Without You”
(RealAudio
excerpt
) and “Desire” (RealAudio
excerpt
). The foursome entered a Dublin studio in November to
begin work on a new LP. They were joined by producers Brian Eno and Daniel
Lanois, who collaborated with the band on their most commercially successful
releases, such as 1987′s The Joshua Tree and 1991′s Achtung
Baby.

Howard Junker, editor of the San Francisco literary magazine “ZYZZYVA,” reacted skeptically to the news of the author’s collaboration with the rockers, but also got a kick out of the idea.

“If this doesn’t sink the both of them, what will?” Junker said, laughing. “Both their careers are tentative at the moment. In the old days, the Beatles would hang out with literary types like Eugene McCarthy, so this is perfectly appropriate for what it is.”

In the past, there have been other author-musician projects, such as beat novelist William Burroughs recording with Material’s Bill Laswell and poet Allen Ginsberg teaming with punk-rock icons the Clash.

Rushdie has spent nearly a decade under British police protection since the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a “fatwa,” or religious edict, to kill Rushdie for his alleged blasphemy against Islam in his book “The Satanic Verses” (1988).

In September, Iranian president Mohammed Khatemi announced that, while his government has insufficient religious authority to revoke the fatwa, it does not endorse killing Rushdie. Since then, however, two groups — an Iranian student association and the 15 Khordad Foundation — have renewed calls for the death sentence to be carried out. The Khordad Foundation upped its reward for Rushdie’s death from $2.5 million to $2.8 million.

While no concrete plan exists for the song’s release, Rushdie and U2 are reported to be considering releasing the song on the Internet to coincide with the April publication of the novel.

Regardless of when the song sees the light of day, Junker sees an ironic justice in the odd coupling.

“It’s like Marilyn Monroe wanting to play a part in ‘The Brothers Karamazov,’” he said. “Everyone serious wants to be pop; everyone pop wants to be serious. There’s a long tradition of that, and I’m all for it.”