In 1993, writer Bill Carter went to Sarajevo, Bosnia, then in the middle of Europe's most devastating post-WWII conflict. He worked with aid groups and shot film while dodging bullets and subsisting mostly on baby food. Convinced that U2 (then on the European leg of its Zooropa tour) could bring attention to the war, Carter bluffed his way into the band's inner sanctum, setting off a chain of events that would lead to a much-lauded documentary film ("Miss Sarajevo"), an iconic song ("Miss Sarajevo," performed with Luciano Pavarotti), and a milestone postwar concert in Bosnia.
In advance of the band's show at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore tonight, Carter, who wrote an unmissable autobiography on the subject ("Fools Rush In," soon to be made into a film) talked to Click Track about the experience. We've left the story in his own words, more or less.
I. If we met in a bar, I couldn’t tell you the story straightforward because you'd think I was lying to you.
I had an extremely tragic loss. My fiancé was pregnant with my kid, and they both died very tragically in an accident, and that led me into a two year tailspin of radical grief that's very difficult to explain…. A friend in Croatia said, "Whatever you do, don't come here.' So of course I went there.
I hitchhiked my way across Europe. I didn't have any money. I started trying to get a job with an international aid group. I was looking for a substitute for love and I was going to do anything to fill that void…[The ongoing war in Bosnia] was the longest siege in European history. All time stops. You just think about right now: a glass of water, a plate of food. So that worked. The people were incredible, and I just forgot about my own problems.
II. Carter fakes his way into the U2 inner sanctum
They're really difficult to convince. I wrote a fax, [pretending I was] the editor of a TV station in Bosnia, knowing they're Irish and they didn't know that no one had gotten a fax from Sarajevo in a year and a half. I knew it would have an impact on them. The fax said, We just want to do an interview with our cultural heroes. We don’t want you to give us money, we just want to have a connection, and I can't come because I'll be killed at the checkpoint, so we'll send our foreign associate, Bill Carter. That was my way of getting in the room.
I really just wanted to film one or all of them saying, Hey, we're thinking about you, [people of Bosnia]. We want to reach out our hearts to you. It was pretty simple but it grew bigger pretty quickly. I got the address off the back of a CD. Probably within a day or two my contact in Sarajevo said they wanted to do the interview. But then I had to get there.
(Meeting the band and making “Miss Sarajevo,” after the jump.)
III. Carter forges travel documents and hops a cargo plane to the band's show in Verona, Italy
I got to the concert, and all I had was the fax and I thought that would be enough, but the guard wouldn't let me in. I didn't have a pass. So we got into a fistfight. That brought out [the band's own] security and they broke it up, and [their] guy said, "We're waiting for you."
They brought me to the green room and there were supermodels there and they all left, and it was me and my friend Jason and Bono, and I did the interview. During the interview itself you can see Bono [realizing what was going on], asking, "How the hell did you get in here?" At the end I told him the story and he said, "If you'd tried to get in the front door, you'd never have gotten in."
We had a good talk. They dedicated a song to me that night and they asked me back to their villa. After a couple of hours me, him and the Edge got into a conversation about what to do [about Bosnia]. And I figured, I can't bring U2 to Sarajevo because everybody will die. So I figured, let's turn this around and I'll bring Sarajevo to you. Bono wanted to go to Sarajevo within 10 days to play, and U2 management was freaking out, but they were very supportive and they said, if that's your choice then [we'll do it]. I don’t think they quite understood how dangerous it was. Luckily, it never happened.
IV. Bosnia comes to U2 instead. Things don't go so well.
But that pressure of wanting them to come made me think of putting people from Sarajevo on big screens and having them talk [during U2 show intermissions]. It was revolutionary. We figured, just put a 25 year-old fireman from Sarajevo up there and have him talk unedited and he'll have more of an impact than anything they'll [otherwise see].
There were mixed reactions. People were like, "I paid 50 euros to see a show. I don’t want to see this [expletive]." Other people were moved to tears. [When the tour hit Wembley Stadium] the reaction was so strong from the London newspapers, I think that was kind of a dealbreaker. They didn't like an Irish band talking about a [European] war.
After Wembley, that was it…They brought me up to Dublin and I stayed for a month and a half or so editing "Miss Sarajevo." Bono financed the movie and he said, "If you call it 'Miss Sarajevo,' I'll write you a song." So of course I'm gonna call it "Miss Sarajevo."
So a year went by and he called me up one day and basically sang me the song. I think Bono was a little scared to sing with Pavarotti, but the song was the perfect fit. And I was in the south of France at Bono's house when I heard their rendition of it and it was pretty amazing…. [They later wound up performing in Bosnia] about two years after the war, but nothing had been rebuilt
V. The Takeaway
U2 as people is the most remarkable part. I like them as people. I've met a lot of [famous people] and I don’t always go away liking them, but individually and collectively U2 are just very interesting people to spend time with. I think it all worked because I didn't want anything from them. They're perceptive people and I think they felt that.
Last year I [was awarded] honorary citizenship of Bosnia. That was a big moment. And I just saw Bono last week.