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.