Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Whatever happened to............the boy from the cover of U2's album War???

The child is Peter Rowen, now a photographer who lives in Dublin, Ireland. Bono lived across the road and was friends with Rowen's older brother, Guggi. It was Guggi Rowen who gave Paul David Hewson the nickname "Bono".

It's not entirely clear why Peter Rowen was chosen to be the model for U2's first album, the EP Three. There was a very large age gap between Peter and his older brothers, and by 1979 Guggi had already left home to be on his own. Only his brother Clive, then 18, was still living at home. Rowen's parents consented to the shoot, and Peter was paid with a box of Mars chocolate bars. I've been unable to discover who the photographer was, but the cover designer was Steve Averill, a friend of U2 bassist Adam Clayton. Peter appeared in a three images on the cover of Three: One of him facing the camera while eating, one of him nude from the waist up with a cowboy hat and toy rifle over his shoulder, and one of him nude from the waist up and in silhouette facing a woman (whom I cannot identify). Three was released only in Ireland. A small promotional booklet accompanied the EP, which depicted Rowen mugging for the camera, gulping down a chocolate bar. He was fully clothed this time, wearing a horizontally striped shirt and a camouflage jacket.

In 1980, U2 released its debut full-length album, Boy, which featured a cover photo of a shirtless six-year-old Peter Rowen, hands behind his head, staring out directly at the camera. The cover designer for Boy was Steve Averill and the photographer was Hugo McGuiness. Photographing a young boy was the obvious choice, of course. Once more, Rowen's parents gave their permission and Peter got paid in candy bars. Several images were shot, including one of Peter with tear-like streaks issuing from his eyes, shoulders hunched; one of Peter in make-up, pretending to punch Larry Mullen, Jr. in the head; side-by-side photos of Peter, one staring into space and the other with his hands behind his head, smiling; and one of Peter gripping his left shoulder and looking askance. But the decision came down to two images of a shirtless Peter Rowen, hand clasped behind his head, staring simply forward. One showed him slightly scowling, and the other showed him very innocent. The latter imaged was chosen for the cover. (The cover shows nothing but Peter Rowen; the band's name and the album title appear only on the back of the LP.) But this cover was only used on the European versions of the album. Out of fears that U2 would be accused of promoting pedophilia, the image was changed to a distorted picture of the band for the American and Canadian releases. The photo of Rowen appeared on the inner sleeve of the album instead.

In 1985, Averill and photographer Ian Finlay (who'd shot band photos for Boy) worked on the cover for U2's next album, War. Averill says that initially, the concept was to find an iconic photograph of war. But more and more, the band thought that this would limit the idea they were trying to get across. Averill then recalled an image of Jewish children in the Warsaw Ghetto being rounded up and taken to the death camps. Averill remembered that one boy had a look on his face as if he were asking, "Why is this terrible thing happening to me?" Averill then conceived of the idea of essentially reshooting the image with a modern Irish boy. Once more, the model was Peter Rowen, and once more the price was Mars bars.

Rowen says he has no memory of the Three or Boy coveer shoots. His only memories of the War shoot are that he heartily disliked the soup that was served for lunch, but was too shy to say anything to Averill's wife (who made it). His other memory is sitting in the back of the car while they went home. The photo shoot was at Finlay's house in Dun Laoighaire, a seside suburb of Dublin. Bono was driving and talking animatedly. Suddenly someone shoted "Look out for that car!" It seems Bono hadn't been paying attention, and had almost rear-ended another vehicle.

The War cover caused a minor stir in the Rowen household. One of Rowen's older brothers, then living in London, was thrilled to see posters of Peter everywhere. Somehow, girls in America discovered the Rowen family's phone number, and began calling the house to talk to "handsome" young Peter.

Peter Rowen was famous for something other than his U2 modeling work, however. In 1984, the film Back to the Future was released, and it caused a huge interest in skateboarding in Ireland. But with no skateboards manufactured in Ireland, they had to be imported from the United States. Clive Rowen opened a skateboard shop, Clive's of Hill Street, in a former bicycle shop. Their father used to own a bicycle shop himself, so they were well acquainted with wheels, ball bearings, trucks, and the like. Clive's became an iconic skateboard shop in Ireland, and even a young Tony Hawk visited it to see what the hubub was about. Temporary ramps were set up outside the shop, and local people were astonished at the tricks and maneuvers being performed there. Among the young skateboarders was Peter Rowen! A temporary skate park got set up in the disused Top Hat Ballroom in Dun Laoighaire.

In 2012, filmmaker Dave Leahy crafted a documentary about Clive's and the early irish skateboard scene, titled Hill Street. Peter Rowen featured in photographs and home movie footage in the film, and was interviewed on camera.

But Rowen's association with U2 was not yet over. Several unused photographs from the 1979, 1980, and 1983 photo sessions were used for the covers of the U2 albums The Best of 1980–1990, the Early Demos, several singles, and the unreleased album Even Better than the Early Stuff.

As for Rowen, his interest in skateboarding soon took a back seat to his interest in painting, and then photography. Years later, he was on assignment when an older man approached him and struck up a conversation about the camera Rowen was using. The man said he used to be a photographer, and his most famous picture was the cover of U2's War. The man was Ian Finlay, who'd given up photography for the law and was now a judge.

In 2001, U2 performed at Slane Castle in Ireland. Peter Rowen was one of many photographers hired to stand in the pit just below the stage and photograph the band as they performed. Later, Rowen and the photographers were invited backstage to meet the band, and Rowen reconnected with Bono, The Edge, Mullen, and Clayton.

Rowen admits that he doens't owen copies of either Boy or War, but does have framed prints of the photographs that made up both albums. Those are his only souvenirs of his work with U2. As for shooting a U2 album cover, he says he'd be delighted to do so -- if the band paid him in chocolate bars.

Below are some outtakes from the 1980 Boy shoot:

Below are some outtakes from the 1983 War shoot:

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