The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

The U2 Dilemma pt. 1

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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?

continued tomorrow…



Written by seeker70

February 21, 2017 at 8:21 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. […] was wrangling with a bit of a crisis three months ago when I blogged about U2 touring for the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree.  It seemed all I needed to do was announce […]

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