On the Edge of 30: U2’s THE JOSHUA TREE

Originally released March 9, 1987

Thirty years ago this month and next, U2, Brian Eno, and Daniel Lanois were putting the finishing touches on what is arguably one of the greatest rock albums ever written, THE JOSHUA TREE.  That “the album wears well,” even three decades later, would be a tragic understatement.  Frankly, though I have listened to it repeatedly over the past 29 years, THE JOSHUA TREE sounds as fresh at the end of 2016 as it did in the spring of 1987.  It’s possible that nostalgia—“the rust of memory,” as the great sociologist Robert Nisbet once proclaimed it—clouds my judgment, but I don’t think so.  Other albums from that time that meant almost as much to me then sound dreadfully tinny and dated now.

So, my continuing and continuous awestruck response to THE JOSHUA TREE can’t be complete nostalgia.

Still, I can still see in my mind’s eye a great friend (I was madly and stupidly in love with her; she not with me) sitting in my car, watching the heat lightning streak across the Kansas night sky, and the two of us listening to it with rapt attention.  I would’ve married her the next day, had she allowed it, but she was content with being a close friend, and I had to suffer that fate with her if I wanted to be in her company.

After the hearing the entire album for the first time, the two of us sat in silence for a long time.  At the end of that silence, we slowly began to analyze the album and what it meant to us.  Granted, I wasn’t even twenty at the time, but such things as albums and album lyrics served as a sort of religion for me.  Bless me, Bono, for I have sinned.  The listening, the silence, and the analysis that followed were so deeply intense, that I cried quietly in the dark as the two of us talked.  I was that moved

Again, I have to reach to the very depths of my mind, my soul, and my being to understand that reaction 29 years ago.  Yet, it was a real reaction.  One so deeply felt that even today, surrounded by Michigan snow and a creeping twilight, my heart still aches a bit.

The music of THE JOSHUA TREE is also not the kind of music I generally admire and obsess over.  The more progressive and electronic elements found on UNFORGETTABLE FIRE are far more to my liking.  At least in general and in theory.  I’ve never been a fan of the blues-gospel-rock hybrids and sensibilities that clearly inform and inspire THE JOSHUA TREE.  Even many of the overarching messages—especially the hypercritical, anti-Reagan rhetoric—drive me a bit mad.  Yet, I can recognize the earnest beauty behind each of Bono’s statements.  Additionally, he’s not just a mouthpiece for a showy kind of evangelical Christianity, untouchable and yet Midas-like.  Bono has, time and again and always to his credit, been in the thick of things, whether its in poverty-torn Africa or war-torn Central America.

It must be that earnestness that speaks across the decades.

Regardless, if you still listen to THE JOSHUA TREE, you know what I mean.  If you’ve not pulled it out in a while, I envy you.  Do so.

5 thoughts on “On the Edge of 30: U2’s THE JOSHUA TREE

  1. Kevin Williams

    The intro to “Where The Streets Have No Name” is my favorite bit of U2 music ever…but I’m with you, Sir Bradley of Birzer – “The Unforgettable Fire” is more to my liking as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. AND I QUOTE- ” Other albums from that time that meant almost as much to me then sound dreadfully tinny and dated now. ” Knock-Knock-Knock………..OMG,SERIOUSLY Brad??? HAHA…………….Are You choosing to OVERLOOK the Infamous “Hold Your Fire” Album by the world’s GREATEST LIVING BAND of ALL TIME??? LOL.

    Okay,granted……………THAT album came out Sept.8th 1987,so it’s MORE than 30yrs. old technically……..but still,the feeling is THERE!!! I’ve always ABSOLUTELY LOVED this album (Hold Your Fire)!!! Of course MANY diehard RUSH fans will disagree with me on this one,but to ME? THIS ONE and their NEXT studio-album “PRESTO” was VERY Heartfelt to me,as I was still in high-school during BOTH album releases and at THAT time,all my friends were ALL INTO Bon-Jovi,Metallica,Poison and all the REST of the hairband/metal bands from that era!!! I however,chose to keep my FOCUS on RUSH,and listening to EITHER of those albums,brings back faded memories just like YOU described in this blog,about how You and your “friend” listened to the Joshua-Tree!!! The “feeling” You had back then,NEVER dies out!!! Just like the feelings I HAD back then,over these RUSH Albums,will NEVER die out either!!!

    Anyway,I think I’ve said my Peace here!!! Haha,so I’ll simply end this by saying,YES…………the Joshua-Tree was DEFINITELY a great album,BUT……………not at ALL…………….the ONLY ALBUM that year,that shouldn’t be overlooked!!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: On the Eve of 30 Years: THE JOSHUA TREE | Stormfields

  4. Just because it isn’t “progressive” in the typical sense, doesn’t make U2 or The Joshua Tree any less compelling or artistically satisfying. I also prefer The Unforgettable Fire and Aching Baby…Hell, I even give Zooropa more spins these days than usual. But like Brad touched upon, there’s an earnestness and honesty to this band and album that was so uncool at the time, and very refreshing. U2 wasn’t concerned with image or cool factor. They wore their hearts on their sleeves and just wanted to put their emotions and sentiments through their amplifiers. Bono has said that TJT is their least obvious Irish album, however the ache and the melancholy is uniquely Irish, and I think I identify most with that statement. I love the underrated tracks in particular: Red Hill Mining Town, In God’s Country and One Tree Hill.

    Liked by 1 person


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