I am not a music person, in that I can name musicians or songs, or, Heqet forbid, actually sing. In fact, music is to me something like tiny physics or higher math. I know it is interesting, and I like to read or watch well written stories about it, but don’t ask me to explain anything. So, if I were you, I’d stop reading this post right about now.
I am a fan of U2, and I had assumed I was a fan because they make good music. But more recently, I realized that I like U2 also because they saved us from the 1980s.
Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with Guns N’ Roses, Queen, Metalica, AC/DC, Bon Jovi, Foreigner, Journey, or Motorhead. Probably. Well, to be honest, I can’t name a single song any of them ever made. But my impression is that most of these bands were continuing traditions that date back to the late 1960 (which ran from 1971 to 1977), and not doing a lot of innovation. Doesn’t matter, I’m not an expert. But I’m pretty sure U2 innovated.
Their greatest album is probably Joshua Tree. A couple of years ago I went to the Joshua Tree (revival?) concert performance at the Big Corporate Thingie Stadium* in Minneapolis. It was the best of concerts, it was the worst of concerts. Best because it was one of the great bands of the century (last century; too early to tell for this century) performing their arguably best album with all their own retrospect sewn in. Worst because Big Corporate Thingie Stadium was not built for musical performance despite the oversize duvet covers they hung on some of the walls. That stadium was built, more than any other stadium built to date since Roman times, to have the worst acoustics possible, which is necessary to confabulate the visiting offense during football games.
Eagle Rock produced a documentary on The Joshua Tree (1999), which includes conversations with U2’s members. (Did you know one of them is named The Edge? Well, that’s Mr Edge to you. Me and The, we’re on a first name basis. I wrote him a letter recently. It started out, “Dear The,” But I digress.) Anyway, the conversations are revealing because they pin down the ways U2 stepped aside from what was going on, musically, in the middle of the 1980s, and how they scraped against, and punctured through, the envelope everyone else was operating in. The thing is, U2’s hard turn from the usual direction “immediately catapulted the band into the category of rock superstars.” This catapulting caused the innovation by this group to be fully real, to not just fade away. Innovation, breaking away from traditional producing methods, paying attention to the rhythm section (aka drums), producing the album in a house instead of a studio, embracing encouragement over competition. All these things and more.
Joshua tree was in part a response to an ongoing takeover of of America by extremist Republicans (not recognized by most at the time) and similar deterioration of humanity going on elsewhere, and thumb in the nose to the stolid keepers of the musical way of the time (see list of bands above).
I won’t discuss the how or why here, but the album came along at a time in my life that was well suited to that particular soundtrack. That, however, means almost nothing compared to the meaning for the mothers in Chile.
A century and a half ago, my ancestors came forth on this continent because they chose a risky move over near certain starvation in Ireland. Just under a half century ago my distant cousins came forth to address America with a series of questions and inspirations. When you think about it, there is nothing more American than starvation. It also turns out that there is nothing more American than a foreign band adopting us as their errand child. Also, just so you know, Yucca brevifolia is endemic, nothing more American than the Joshua tree.
Songs on this album:
Where the Streets Have No Name
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
With or Without You
Bullet the Blue Sky
Running to Stand Still
Red Hill Mining Town
In God’s Country
Trip Through Your Wires
One Tree Hill
Mothers of the Disappeared
U2 Band Members past and present:
Larry Mullen Jr
*I prefer not to partake in the “naming rights” scam, thank you. I refer here to the stadium the Vikings play in.