Archive for February 2017
…continued from yesterday:
The only regret I’ve experienced with The Joshua Tree was missing the tour. The most viable place close to me where U2 stopped was The Hoosier Dome on November 1, 1987. It was a Sunday night. It was three hours from home. I was seventeen. The question didn’t even fully leave my mouth before my father said, “Hell no.” I have lived with that regret ever since. But that hasn’t been too horrible of a burden to bear. I saw U2 twice on my own terms when I still considered myself a fan. And besides, The Joshua Tree is now a quantified, calculated entity entombed in the morass that makes me me. I have lived within its universe comfortably and prosperously for thirty years. I always know what it has to offer, and am grateful for the coming-of-age landscape to which it transports me when I hear a single or listen to the whole album. But that’s also why I now have a U2 dilemma.
The album is thirty years old this year. Not surprisingly, U2 has seen good cause to tour, with the album as their featured piece. My understanding is that they will play the album in its entirety, and follow up with other stuff. They’ll be at Soldier Field in early June, and I know with certainty that I can get tickets. But do I want to get tickets? Dunno.
Here’s the catch: Can I go see a band that I can no longer stomach, even if they are featuring an album that has left an indelible print on my life? I don’t know if I can suppress my disdain enough, or even long enough, to find enjoyment in what they bring. Also, what if I decide to go and get hyped up about it… and the show sucks? I fear that I will have compromised something sacred to my life, only to see it screwed up. And then the next time I listen to The Joshua Tree, and probably times subsequent to that, I will replay an unfortunate concert experience in my mind. The whole thing could potentially desecrate something I hold sacred, and I’m not sure I could overcome that. And I’m damn well sure that I will be listening to The Joshua Tree, or wanting to, a whole helluva lot of times between now and the time my eardrums surrender to old age.
But what if U2 brings their game? What if this is a breakthrough for them and ends up being a transcendent and sublime experience for them and the audience? What if it ends up elevating The Joshua Tree to somewhere in my mind that I don’t even know exists? A good friend whose opinion I respect pointed out to me that chances like this are very rare, and get even rarer the deeper we get into life. The band is still together. They are the original lineup that created the album, and they’ve been intact all these years. I only stand to gain by taking advantage of what will essentially be dropped in my lap.
What if all of this angst is shallow existential bullshit and angst brought on by the corrosive effects of mass-marketing and the fiendish plot by record executives to play on nostalgia to put butts in seats?
A U2 dilemma indeed. I’ve got three months to think about it. It could come down to a game-time decision.
Don’t mistake me for a U2 fan. I’m not. In fact, I mostly can’t stand them anymore for the last fifteen years. I don’t need Bono’s condescending attitude. I don’t need their swing into the mainstream, both with their pop sound and the social and political stance they affected when they broke onto the music scene almost forty years ago. And I sure as hell did not need Songs of Innocence crammed into my iPhone. I got through four songs before I started looking for ways to contain the contamination and sear the experience from my memory.
It wasn’t always like this. In fact, it didn’t really get like this until I saw the band at The United Center on the Elevation tour in 2001. I realized that they had been in a free-fall on the scale of my musical tastes. Their overblown stage antics and Bono’s insatiable ego and thirst for attention turned me off to a great degree. I have to admit, though, that part of my dis-affectation with the concert stemmed from the pre-show tailgate party being so excellent that it became the standard by which I’ve measured a lot of tailgate parties in the past fifteen years. But the antics and the ego? Those were perfect for PopMart in 1997 at Soldier Field. In fact, that seemed to be the theme for the show: Excess. Look what the music industry does to everything it touches. It was a satire, and a damn fine show.
Up until about 1997, you could have seen me bleed if I’d gotten into a debate about the merits of U2. I had a run from 1986 until ’97 when they were as constant in my life as the air I breathed. They seemed to hit all the right notes in my teenage and early-adult life. They had a unique sound deeply rooted in the first wave of alternative music, their songs carried meanings that rang in my mind far past their 4-minute play time, and they had a blue-collar, slightly grungy look and feel that spoke volumes about their roots. In fact, it was in 1987 when they went from being a niche band that few kids in my hometown had even heard of to being the world’s biggest band. Joshua Tree came out in March of that year, and my world was never the same.
I was chilling with some friends in somebody’s basement at the beginning of spring break that year when the “With or Without You” video came on MTV. I burst off the couch with such enthusiasm that my friends thought something bit me. I practically screamed, “They’re speaking directly to me! They can see into my soul!” I had heard the single a week before on my hometown radio station that considered Christopher Cross the edgiest music they’d ever played, but having a visual representation of the sonic experience is what truly sent me through the stratosphere. I had the album within a week, and it immediately left an impression on my heart and mind that has lasted across the three subsequent decades. I can still recall in intimate detail the experience of unwrapping the cassette (it smelled like grape!), slipping it into my stereo, and settling in for my first full listen. Am I hyperbolizing? Not hardly. I think if any of us looks back to the media experiences that have had a profound impact on our lives, most of us would respond with an equal amount of enthusiasm. I can point to Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Grapes of Wrath, Welcome Back, Kotter, Breaking Bad, Friday Night Lights, Quadrophenia, Saving Private Ryan, A Piece of My Heart, and many other entities that I hold sacred as a writer, a teacher, a thinker, and as plain old me that routinely generate the same degree of excitement and enthusiasm years and even decades after I experienced them as The Joshua Tree.
The Joshua Tree is concrete evidence of perfection. There is not a song among the twelve on the album that rings a false note. They are a tight, unified construction that takes the listener on a stunning aural journey, and one just as stunning and meaningful in the mind and heart. Lost love, the empty longing for utopia, heroin addiction, the crisis in Central America, savage industrial destruction of the environment, the addled mind of a serial killer, the lyric treatment of the death of a close friend, and vague longings are but some of the stops along the way, and each one lives within while still building upon the jangly and moody soundscape co-producer Daniel Lanois was able to coax from the band. The songs spoke to me of things my teenage mind knew, yet also of things that took me beyond my borders. And to understand just how tight the Joshua Tree package is, one need only listen to the deluxe edition of the album to hear the songs that didn’t make the cut. Several of them stand well on their own, and have even become respected parts of the U2 catalog. Damn! How good is your album when songs like “The Sweetest Thing” and “Silver and Gold” weren’t good enough to make it, but still go on to be hits in their own right?