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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Story Behind U2's Song "Miracle Drug"

(Originally published on Yahoo! Voices on July 29, 2011. The link in this article was extracted then)

U2 are famous, among other reasons, for the surprisingly touching and often pregnant with meaning inspirations for their songs. One of their songs that has been most discussed for its meaning is "Miracle Drug" from the studio album "How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb", copyright 2004 U2 Limited. Although never officially released as a single from the album, "Miracle Drug" has quite a devoted following among the band's fan base, and even outside it. Here is the remarkable story that inspired it.

Cerebral Palsy is an "umbrella term" that covers a number of neurological disorders of varying severity and symptoms caused by lesions, and sometimes tumors, in the brain. Therefore, there are various types of CP as diagnosed, and it is not uncommon for an individual to have multiple types of varying degrees in the same case. Because CP is so variable, very little is known about it. There is no cure. And treatment consists wholly of attempts to correct growth anomalies and minimise symptoms and long-term complications. Even this is very hit-and-miss, more experimentation than anything. Researchers and doctors are not able to even agree on what causes the lesions and damage to the brain that results in CP (though oxygen deprivation is the undisputed cause of a small percentage of cases).

Christopher Nolan (September 6, 1965-February 20, 2009) was born with severe Cerebral Palsy. His was a very complicated birth. He was breached and, in order to save the life of both mother and child, a C-section was performed. A second surgery was also required on his mother. He himself was deprived of oxygen for approximately two hours, but somehow he managed to survive. His condition has often been described as paralytic, but that is inaccurate. As he himself wrote in his memoir "Under The Eye Of The Clock" he rarely ever stopped moving. The trouble was that he had almost no control over those movements. He humourously describes his embarrassment when stress and tenseness caused his limbs to fly about unbidden and he punched someone in the face or worse. His spasms were so severe that when he commanded his body to move a certain way it often froze and refused to move at all. Even his ability to speak was affected: his words came out only as moans and shouts. He was placed under the care of the Central Remedial Clinic in Clontarf, Dublin, and when he reached school age his family moved into Clontarf so that he could attend at the school sponsored by the clinic. His family, friends, and school staff communicated with him through a system of meaningful eye movements. After the medication Lioresal became available, he was able to control his head just enough to type using a "unicorn" device attached to his forehead. He immediately began writing letters, short stories, plays, and poems heavy with alliteration. Soon, he decided he wanted to attend school with the able-bodied. He tested as having above average intelligence, but a school could not be found that agreed to take him.

Mount Temple is a secondary school in Clontarf, Dublin which was established in 1972. It was an experimental school for its time. It was the first public school in Ireland to be nondenominational and one of the first to enroll both sexes. The faculty employed a very liberal, tolerant attitude toward the behavior of their students and in the teaching methods they used. (Interestingly, it also has the distinction of having the most star-studded alumni in its period of Irish history, the most recent of which being actress Eve Hewson, Bono's daughter.) It was thus the school to which to send children who didn't fit anywhere else. After a brief interview with Nolan, they agreed to take him on. He was the first disabled child to be taught there. For the first week, he attended half-days in order to build up his stamina for the full-day schedule, to give him time to become relaxed in the public school setting, and to give his able-bodied student helpers time to adjust as well. In time, he adjusted very well to the format of Mount Temple despite the great fatigue that the long days gave him and he had a large body of friends there. When he was fifteen, his collection "Dam-Burst Of Dreams" was published which established him as a school legend to this day. Eventually, he went on to Trinity College, Dublin and published two more books: "Under The Eye Of The Clock" (a reference to Mount Temple Comprehensive) and the novel "The Banyan Tree". He died after choking when he was 43 years old.

The boys that became U2 also attended Mount Temple Comprehensive School. They were also put out of other schools because of being children of bi-national and/or bi-religious parents and/or having behavioral issues. Fourteen-year-old Larry Mullin, Jr. posted a sign up there for auditions in his family's kitchen. Seven boys answered the post and the Feedback was born. Mount Temple allowed the boys to use a classroom there to practice in. In time, the lineup was whittled down to its four current members and the name was changed to the Hype and, finally, to U2. It was by winning a talent contest at Mount Temple that the "baby band", as fans now affectionately call that stage (originally coined by U2's manager Paul McGuinness), was able to cut its first EP with CBS Records: the now very rare and sought after "U2 3". All of which is now the stuff of legend.

It was just as U2 were enjoying their last year of school that Nolan arrived. He must have left a mighty impression on the boys of this band, for there you have the possible roots of Bono's least discussed and longest held cause: disability advocacy in Ireland, particulary for those with CP. And the inspiration for "Miracle Drug" which is written as if from the view point of Nolan's mother.

"Miracle Drug" by U2 ("How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb", 2004)

http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=RNm7P2lY9DA