U2’s Joshua Tree – Best Album EVER

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Everyone has that one artist who, for whatever reason, is their artist.  Their favorite.  The one they’ll argue all day long is or was the best artist that’s ever existed.  The artist that’s deserved all of the acclaim they’ve ever received or was completely under-appreciated, but remains the best, ever.

Often times, their music hit us at just the right time.  Maybe it was a time when everything in the world was just perfect and the music captured that moment for us.  Maybe everything was horrible and the music helped us to recover.  Or maybe it was simply a time of transition when we were moving from one phase of our life to the next, and the music captured that.

For me, it was and remains U2.  In particular, it was U2 from War through The Unforgettable Fire, and of course Joshua Tree, culminating with Rattle and Hum.  These were my high school and college years.  My impressionable years.  These were the years that I questioned everything – first and foremost myself and where I fit into this great big world.  These were the years when everything was laid out in front of me but at the same time seemed so far away and out of reach.

I’m not saying Achtung BabyZooropa and albums after that weren’t as good – they were, especially All That You Can’t Leave Behind – they were just after that moment for me.  By that time I was out of college and into graduate school, engaged, then married and then with a family.  By that point I knew who I was and where I was going.  I had it figured out (to the extent we ever do) and I was comfortable.

But War through Rattle and Hum – that was before I had come even close to figuring it out.  Before I had my feet under me and prepared to move forward with my life.  And the album that owned that period of my life – Joshua Tree.

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For – is there a song that better captures the angst of trying to figure out where you fit into the world.  Maybe there has been – but not right at the exact moment I needed it the most in 1987-88 as a sophomore and junior in college.

I have kissed honey lips
Felt the healing in the fingertips
It burned like fire
This burning desire
I have spoke with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of a devil
It was one empty night
I was cold as a stone
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for

Where the Streets Have No Name.  Running to Stand Still Bullet the Blue Sky.

In the howling wind comes a stinging rain
See it driving nails
Into the souls on the tree of pain
From the firefly, a red orange glow
See the face of fear
Running scared in the valley below

If these songs don’t speak to the angst of working to figure life out as an insecure 19 or 20-year-old, trying to understand the big world around you, trying to figure out where you fit in and where the future might take you, then I don’t know what does.

A couple weeks ago my son sent me a text, “You know the shame about Joshua Tree? The first few songs are so good that the bottom half don’t get the recognition they deserve.”  While I don’t know if I should be looking to an 18-year-old for validation, his comment was, in fact, validating.  Primarily, it validated that U2’s music, and Joshua Tree in particular, didn’t resonate with me simply because of the time and place I was in when it was released, it resonated with me because it really was, and remains, just that good.  It validated that the music has depth and meaning and importance.  It validates that music continues to thrive and flourish despite (or maybe because of) its age – hopefully just as I’m doing.  (It also validated that I raised my kid right, but that’s a different essay.)

And U2 has always provided that nostalgic home to return to in good times and in bad.  Bad (Live), all 8 minutes of it, is the perfect go-to song when things are going south (like when you’ve rear-ended someone on your way to work during your sophomore year of college and in your 19-year-old drama you think the world is coming to an end) and some help is needed to get through it,

If I could throw this lifeless lifeline to the wind
Leave this heart of clay
See you walk, walk away
Into the night
And through the rain
Into the half-light
And through the flame
 If I could through myself
Set your spirit free, I’d lead your heart away
See you break, break away
Into the light
And to the day
 Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh
Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh
To let it go
And so to fade away
To let it go
And so, fade away
. . .
This desperation
Dislocation
Separation, condemnation
Revelation in temptation
Isolation, desolation
Let it goAnd so fade away
And so fade away
To let it go
And so fade away
To let it go
Oh now, and so to fade away

Is that an offer?  A promise?  A call to action?  When things are going to shit and you don’t know which ways’ up, it kinda’ becomes all three wrapped together.

Or pounding the steering wheel to Rattle and Hum, in its entirety, on a road trip when you’re much too old to be doing so.

Or singing/humming a horrible out of tune and off-key rendition of 40 (which unfortunately they don’t appear to be playing this tour) late at night to a crying infant who refuses to go to sleep,

I will sing, sing a new song.
I will sing, sing a new song
I will sing, sing a new song.
I will sing, sing a new song.
How long to sing this song?
How long to sing this song?
How long to sing this song?
How long to sing this song?

Or making your kids listen to all of Joshua Tree while driving through Joshua Tree National Park on the way to Vegas simply because you’re their dorky dad and you do those dorky dad types of things.

To this day listening to Joshua Tree, now as a digital download instead of the cassette tape I originally owned, takes me right back to that place.  It immediately evokes recollections of everything that has transpired, all the ups and downs, in the 30 years since it first occupied that important place in my life.  It brings me right back to every triumph, every failure, every bump in the road and every moment of success since I first listened to that cassette tape all the way through in my dorm room during my freshman year.

I never had the chance to see the Joshua Tree tour.  I was away at my sophomore year in college in Boston when they came through Tempe for their two $5.00 shows for the filming of Rattle and Hum and then Tucson in April 1987.  I’d be home for spring break 4 days later but just missed their Arizona appearances.  And I hadn’t yet returned to Boston for my junior year when they appeared in the Boston area on the tour.  So this will be my first time hearing all of Joshua Tree live – 30 years after it played such a huge role in my life – and I couldn’t be more excited.

U2 will be appearing at the University of Phoenix Stadium on Tuesday, September 19, 2017.

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