“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” was one of 1987’s most popular music videos, earning heavy rotation on MTV and helping the U2’s ascent to global superstardom. Not bad for a clip that was shot as an afterthought.
The group was in America on their famed Joshua Tree tour when their record label suggested shooting a video for “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” the album’s powerful, soul searching track that Bono once described as “an anthem of doubt more than faith.” At the time, the song had not yet been earmarked as a single.
“This was just a side assignment that kind of came up last minute because [U2] were under pressure to deliver a video,” cinematographer Declan Quinn later recalled to the Las Vegas Review Journal. “So we said, ‘OK, we’ll do that.’”
With no budget to speak of and even fewer ideas, U2 and their touring team decided to shoot the video in Las Vegas.
“‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ is a very open confession of the way somebody feels about how his life is going,” Barry Devlin, a friend of the band and fellow musician who directed the video, explained. “And I thought, ‘OK, well let’s shoot the most sincere song they’ve ever written in the least sincere city they’ve ever played.’ There was an ironic counterpoint to the song, in a way, by shooting it in Vegas.”
There was also a more functional reason for shooting in Sin City.
“I only had two lights, really, but Las Vegas has the biggest lighting budget in the entire world,” Devlin admitted. “It was so low-tech… but that meant we could get in right close.”
U2 was scheduled to perform at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas on April 12, 1987. After the show, the plan was to whisk the band to Fremont Street in the city’s older, Downtown area for the video shoot. Just one problem: “If the audience knew that we were filming on Fremont Street, we would have been overwhelmed,” Devlin recalled.
To get around the potential pandemonium, U2 stole a page from the Beatles’ playbook. “I got four lookalikes dressed up like the guys to go home in the limousines, and the crowd followed them,” the director revealed. “Then the band came down to Fremont Street in a laundry van.”
Once on site, the crew quickly went about their business. The basic concept would have U2 wandering the neon-lit streets while singing along to the tune. A shopping cart and wheelchair would be used to push the sound system and camera, respectively. Meanwhile, the band was given minimal direction.
“I said, ‘Edge, you’re a guy who’s trying to make a living busking, there’s this mad guy who keeps wanting to tell you about God, and what you’re trying to do is just get away from him,’ ” Devlin recalled. “And that’s how they played it. It’s really quite funny, The Edge trying to ignore this lunatic on his shoulder and Bono keeping after him.”
Watch the Music Video for ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’
Everyone in the video outside of the band became unwitting participants. Gamblers were suddenly extras. Casino workers suddenly had an Irish rock star throwing his arms around them and, in a couple of cases, kissing them. At one point, Bono slid onto the hood of a car that was stopped at a nearby intersection. Nothing was planned.
“All those interactions were real,” Devlin noted. “In an odd way, people kind of loved hugging him and vibing with him, but they weren’t necessarily fans. They were guys and girls on the street, they were working people in clubs, whereas if you had his adoring fans there, it would have been quite different and too sycophantic.”
Not everyone was thrilled with the shoot.
“Larry [Mullen Jr., the band’s drummer] was like, ‘I don’t even have a drum, what am I supposed to do? Hit the sign post with drumsticks or something?’” Quinn recalled. “I remember Adam [Clayton, bassist] kind of going, ‘OK, that’s enough, you got one chorus out of me, I’m getting in a taxi,’ and he just took off.”
Despite Clayton’s dismissal of the shoot, the video became hugely popular. By the time “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” was released as The Joshua Tree’s second single that May, U2 had become one of the biggest acts on earth. The song reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, while its video became one of MTV’s most popular clips of the year.
Devlin would go on to forge an impressive career of his own, collaborating with U2, while also writing, producing and directing a long list of TV projects. Still, in a 2019 interview, he named the video for “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” as one of the proudest moments of his career.
“It’s a great video. And it was made very cheaply,” he explained. “It was made, as a way creative things sometimes are, not because I had a lot of things at my disposal, but because I had almost nothing at my disposal.”
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