"Ellis Island" (1988)

Demo Song

Background Information

“Ellis Island” is a title developed by Bono as they were working on Rattle and Hum.

The title “Ellis Island” is mentioned in the book The Man Called Cash: The Life, Love and Faith of an American Legend by Steve Turner:

The same year [1988] Cash met Bono, who came to Hendersonville during a driving trip across America with U2 bass player Adam Clayton. When they sat down for a meal, Cash intoned a long and elaborate grace, thanking God for his wonderful provisions and asking him to bless the food to their bodies. Then he opened his eyes, winked at Bono, and said, “Sure do miss the drugs though.” The demonstration of piety coupled with the admission of weakness endeared Cash to the young Irish musicians. In May 1989 Cash recalled the meeting: “We sat around and played some songs afterwards and then we started writing a song together [“Ellis Island” which was never completed.] We were going to finish it off by fax, but that didn’t work out. I hope to go and see him when I get to Dublin.

The book makes it clear that “Ellis Island” was not finished, and as it discusses “The Wanderer” later on the same page, does make it clear this song did not become “The Wanderer.”

In the book The Resurrection of Johnny Cash: Hurt, Redemption and American Recordings by Graeme Thomson, Adam Clayton speaks about that night:

“That would be Bono’s opening line to most people he met at that time: I’ve been thinking about you and I’ve got this song in my head,” says Adam Clayton. “That’s his way of connecting with people quickly. Bono will always talk songs with his heroes, and he’s always got something that might suit them.” They agreed to finish the song by fax, but never did. “It got to a certain point, but it’s probably still in Bono’s head somewhere,” says Clayton.

In 2015 Bono would discss the song with the Irish Times when they were discussing an event at Ellis Island itself:

A couple of weeks ago, he said a “very bizarre thing happened;” John Cash jr, son of the late singer-songwriter Johnny Cash, dropped by backstage at a U2 show with handwritten notes of a song that Bono and Johnny Cash had written together. “The song was called Ellis Island, and I had forgotten that we started this song,” he said.

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