Another Time, Another Place

My buddy’s daughter commented on the fact that TJT doesn’t sound like an eighties album. I found this strange because it is firmly rooted in that decade for me. I replied saying that it was because she was young (mid-twenties). But she said no, there were a lot of albums that had the eighties sound and TJT didn’t have it. Evidently that sound has been very popular with Millenials, but what do I know? I’m about as Millenial as a VCR (what?).

However, her comment did get me thinking about what the band was trying to do at the time. I’ve been rereading old Rolling Stone magazines and there is an interview with Bono where he grouses about eighties music—rock stars in particular. He saw the coolness by fellow musicians as a kind of detachment and something he and his band mates loathed. For all the criticism they received, detachment was not one of them. Their earnestness and seriousness was what drove much of their music. And it was what connected them with their fans. These guys believed in things very strongly and weren’t afraid to let the world know.

Bono also complained about the commercialism of music.  He felt that there are record companies “who treat music like a tin of beans—a product to be sold.” It could be said that this was ironic coming from the lead singer of one of the biggest bands in the world at the time. But what I think he as getting at was that U2 endeavored mightily against the notion of being mediocre, though commercially prosperous. They were not content with treading over familiar ground—even though it was lucrative and praiseworthy—simply because it successful.

In the interview, there is a sense that the band’s superstardom is not necessarily something to reject but to understand that with that position comes a responsibility to the music and the fans. And this is where I think they took the road not taken.

I can’t think of another band from that time that sang more about social and political issues than them (although I did not understand much if it). Songs like Sunday Bloody Sunday and Pride (In the Name of Love) had gravitas. The Police had gravitas, but I always felt they were more literary than political. Sting was political. But it was the subject matter of U2’s songs combined with their music that made them so different.

In the DVD Classic Albums – The Joshua Tree, Edge recalls that they felt very disconnected with what was going on in music at the time, even their music videos were “so different, like they were from some other place”. And though I relate all those songs with the eighties, it is because I listened to them so much during that time. But to someone like my buddy’s daughter, she doesn’t get that eighties-feel like she does from Def Leppard, INXS or Bon Jovi.

No blind alleys for Streets

I remember the first time I saw the Where The Streets Have No Name music video on television. The band set up on the rooftop of a liquor store in downtown Los Angeles and played to a captivated and growing crowd. The part that really struck me was there was a moment when the crowd was still respectful and stayed on the sidewalk while the police tried to keep order. And then—all of a sudden—they run into the street seemingly oblivious to the traffic. I thought how cool would it have been to be there. And in my new-to-rock naiveté, I realized this band was going to be huge. Even watching the video now, there is this sense that this very event was marking a significant change in the growth of the band. They were going to be megastars from that moment on.

After all of the hype surrounding the new album and immense anticipation, the band launched the release with the force of a supernova. Streets raced up charts all around the planet. For a moment, everyone was playing U2 on the radio. They were, as the April 27th issue of Time Magazine stated on the cover, “Rock’s Hottest Ticket”.

Into the arms of America

What nearly all of us can agree on is the sound. The moment I hear the beginning of Where The Streets Have No Name, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For and With Or Without You, I know what it is. These songs are recognizable for their towering vocals and soaring guitars. They are the gold standard for bringing-the-house-down noise that only the best bands can produce.

When I first listened to the album what knocked me off my feet was the open, ambient nature of the songs. There was something sweeping and spacious about them. I visualized the band playing atop a barren mesa beneath a domed night sky. But there was also this strangeness that was a part of every song. It was a little hard to express other than the album felt otherworldly and unlike the times.

If that is what my buddy’s daughter meant, I agree. I have so many memories from that time it is hard to separate the album from the decade. I needed to step out of my own experience to see her point.

1987 was such a momentous time for the band. The culmination of their efforts was put to test to the country that held their fascination. It was a big album by a big band on a very big stage. And we here in the United States ate it up.

It was the album of the eighties that didn’t sound like it came from there.

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Let Me in the Sound

U2 recording the Where The Streets Have No Name video

On March 9, 1987, TJT was released and sold over 300,000 copies in two days in the United Kingdom. By March 21 it debuted at number one on the UK Albums Chart. Less than a month later, across the pond, the album debuted at number seven on the United States’ Billboard charts. Three weeks later it rose to number one and stayed there for nine weeks in a row. The album was met with the same kind of demand around the world. This was not short-lived either, as it remained on dozens of charts for years. It was an unquestionable success.

Looking back at it now, it is no surprise. The music is extraordinary.

What I found interesting was that the band wanted to go into a new direction after the The Unforgettable Fire Tour (summer ’84 through summer ’85). It shouldn’t have come as a surprise because they have always done that. Fresh of their most successful album and tour, they felt they were now at a stage in their career to take bigger risks and explore new sounds. I’ve always admired them for doing that because it takes courage to not go with something that was tried and true.

So how different was TJT than previous albums? In one word: completely. This was the culmination of the band’s growth and it had not been so clearly—and beautifully—expressed before. Granted, it took a lot of hard work with producers Daniel Lanois, Brian Eno and Flood. Reading through some of their interviews in U2 by U2, I learned how difficult the album was to produce. There were conflicting opinions about every song. Although they had a lot of developed material, no one was happy with the current state as they continued to write and record. There was a near-loss of the only full recording of WTSHNN. And in usual fashion, they were in danger of missing the release deadline.

The key ingredient

One of the elements that the band was exploring was soundscapes. Edge explained in Classic Albums – U2 The Joshua Tree DVD, they were trying to create a sound that would place the listener. The idea was to musically recreate some of their experiences in traveling across America. This is a difficult thing to do and something my unsophisticated ears did not pick up for many years. As I began to listening different types of music I realized that there were influences of blues, country and gospel—and not just in the lyrics but the melody. These elements were blended and then illustrated from an Irish perspective, which gave these songs such a distinctive sound. The new sound reflected the band’s love affair with the U.S.

On the same DVD, Bono said that the album is not Irish in the obvious sense, but in a more mysterious sense it is very Irish. The ache and melancholy is something that they identify with very strongly. It was also something that I was in tune with at the time, although I didn’t have the words.

He also added even though the album was huge, they felt they were out of step with what was going on at the time. With much of contemporary music using synthesizers, keyboards and drum machines, they deliberately stuck with traditional instruments. But, I believe it is precisely for that reason that it was so successful. In era of synth-pop coolness, these guys weren’t cool.

Rediscovering the music

Recently, one of the speakers in my car began to distort. After trying to endure the sound for two weeks, I realized I couldn’t take it anymore. I broke down and bought a new set of speakers. The key was to be as economical as possible. I don’t listen to music the way that I used to and haven’t in a long time. So, when I bought my first new car I opted for the basic audio system. It has performed well enough over the years and I was content with it, even though I toyed with the idea of installing a premium sound system. But, I’m a guy on a budget and couldn’t justify spending all that money on something like that.

However, the hellish scratchy noise coming out of my right speaker made the decision much easier. After speaking with the sales manager at the mobile audio store near me, I went for it. He suggested a set that was within my budget.

Consequently, I have been listening to the remastered version of TJT like I used to when I was a teenager—in my car, with the volume cranked to eleven. It is music nirvana.

And the point of my little speaker story is this: it feels like I am reliving the first few times I listened to the album and not just remembering it. It had been a very long time since I really paid attention and even longer since I’ve had a decent audio system.

The best thing about the album is the big-sound, arena-rock anthems that made me wear out the tape in the cassette deck in my first car. These songs are good. I’m talking about drum your hands on the steering wheel good. I’m talking about air-guitar at the traffic light good. Driving down the highway and singing unconsciously I’m transported back to 1987. My car is a time machine and I’m hearing Where The Streets Have No Name like I used to hear it, like when it was new. The way that the beginning just builds and builds and builds, it feels like I am fully immersed in it—like I am literally inside the song. I am way too old to be rocking out so hard, but I love it.

It’s kind of amazing to think that these songs can still make me feel this way—after hearing them so many times. I guess that’s what makes them so good. But it took new speakers to really set the Wayback Machine to the eighties.

In my next post, I will do a deeper dive on the songs and talk about those awesome videos.

When I became a fan (pt I)

I was recently asked how long had I been a fan. I replied, almost thirty years.

That got me thinking. Timing was an important factor in affecting which music would responate with me. The Joshua Tree was the album that came at a pivotal time in my life. We all have stories about life-changing experiences through music.

U2 Joshua Tree

I was in high school and like most teenagers, spent much of my time listening to music. My parents were divorced and my younger sister and I lived with our father.

One day my father came home from work and told me he had to tell me something. He liked to read the afternoon paper spread out while the sitting on our living room floor. With very little emotion, he told me that his nagging cough turned out to be lung cancer. It was also at an advanced stage and the doctors said he had about a year and a half.

I sat on the floor next to him not knowing what to say and then started crying. I didn’t make a sound but my tears began to fall on the newspaper. He patted my back and said, “Don’t worry son, I’m gonna beat this thing. Why don’t you make me a cup of coffee?” I think he did that because he wanted to give me something to do, which I did.

I was never more worried that day in my life. My father was a tough old guy and I thought that if anyone could beat it, it would be him. His treatment was aggressive requiring chemotherapy and surgery. His oncologist was optimistic and we all were relieved when he told us they got it all out.

We cared for him during his illness and I really and truly believed he was going to recover. I thought, he’s going to get better and I can go back to being a kid again. But he didn’t; he actually got sicker. The doctors gave him a year and a half, and he died in nine months.

Afterwards, I struggled for a long time and nearly bottomed out. When Joshua Tree came out a year later, it stuck a chord with me. I remember hearing With Or Without You for the first time on the radio. It sounded so different than other rock songs at the time. The beginning was so gentle and quiet and distinctive, but most of all, peaceful. It didn’t start like any other song. Whenever I heard Larry’s soft drumbeat followed by Adam’s muted bassline I knew within the first couple seconds that it was With Or With You.

Those days I primarily listened to was hip-hop, pop and soul. I didn’t listen to rock much; I just wasn’t into it. But there was something very different about U2’s music, especially Joshua Tree. I found myself not changing the station when their songs aired. They didn’t sound like other bands and I liked that. By the time I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For debuted, I decided to buy the album. As a lower-income kid living in San Francisco, I had to get a part-time job if I wanted to have any money. My mother didn’t earn much and couldn’t afford to give me an allowance. So, I got a job as a baker’s assistant at the local French bakery (which isn’t as romantic as it sounds) making $3.25 an hour. These were the late-eighties, but even then it was considered a low wage. The work was hard but it gave me an income, so I could buy things like music.

A New World

It was the first rock album that I had ever purchased. I had to wait until the weekend because my mom wouldn’t let me drive to Tower Records on a school night. So on a sunny Saturday afternoon I drove to the Tower Records in North Beach and bought my first U2 record. I remember marveling at the nearly all-black album with the band members looking so serious against a stark desert landscape. I remember thinking these guys are cool. Not wanting to wear out the record, I bought some chrome-metal analog cassette tapes to make a good recording. Metal tapes were all the rage back then and I was willing to spend the extra money to have the best tapes for my car and boom box. I spent the rest of the weekend listening to the album and thought that if more bands would sound like them, then I’d be a rock-music guy. It was a whole different realm to me.

Yes, I have still have the album

Yes, I have still have the album

But it was the third song on their album that really grabbed me. I was still grieving from the loss my dad and when I heard Where The Streets Have No Name it felt like the person in that song was thinking and feeling the same things I was thinking and feeling. In the first stanza when Bono sings, “I want to run, I want to hide. I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside.” I kept thinking, that’s me. I did not know it at the time, but I was actually suffering from depression. With all of the wisdom of a teenager, I assumed depression was something adults got, not kids. That depression was like walls all around me slowly closing in until it crushed me. I just wanted to tear it down and break free, but I didn’t know how.

During that summer of 1987 U2 was playing everywhere, which was okay by me because I loved that album. Whether it was Where The Streets Have No Name or I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (and so many others) those songs captured my mood during a difficult time in my life. The longer I listened the more I realized that Bono was a bona fide poet. His lyrics were transcendent. Listening to the album made me feel less sad and at times, happy. I would lie on my bed with my Sony Walkman playing at full volume and imagine that I was the voice in those songs. It was in those moments I would think: Maybe I’m going to be okay, because I feel okay right now.

I was still a long way from recovery, but I was getting there. And what happened next turned out to be exactly what I needed.

 

U2 i+e Live in Paris coming to Blu-Ray & DVD

U2 Paris.i+e

As if you didn’t know already. U2’s latest concert in Paris will arrive on Blu-Ray and DVD on June 10th, so mark your calendar. Or, you can just pre-order it.

U2 i+e

If you missed this concert that aired on HBO last December, you now have the opportunity to own it. This was a fantastic show that must be seen. Our lads from Dublin put on something a little extra for this event given the ordeal Parisians experienced. These versions will also contain behind-the-scenes extras that were not shown on television.

U2 i+e Super Deluxe

For the hardcore fans, there is a super-deluxe version includes the Blu-Ray and DVD, plus a trove of memorabilia (postcards, book, buttons, even a USB light bulb like the one suspended above the stage). It isn’t cheap at $119.88 on Amazon. It might mean saving up, but it looks to be well worth it.

U2 lights up the City of Light

U2 in Paris

Our boys returned as promised and brought with them a little something extra to an audience yearning for an escape. It is amazing how a good show can make you forget about all of the tribulations in your life for a little while. That was evident on fans’ faces as soon as the band took the stage. For a city that was marred by tragedy and paralyzed with fear only weeks before, this was still a rock show and it was treated like one.

What I find admirable is the fact that they always pay homage to the city that they are performing in. There was a certain gravitas to this show and they definitely connected with the audience when Bono declared, “We are all Parisians tonight”. Having grown up in Dublin during the British Occupation, they were all too familiar with acts of terror and violence. He was not simply blowing smoke when he offered his commiseration.

However, they knew their responsibilities well and the reason that they were there was to lift house to the rafters. The bar is always set high—sometimes impossibly so—and they always clear it. Given the temperament of Paris at the time, the bar must have been on the moon. Yet, our intrepid Irishmen confronted this challenge like seasoned athletes and played like pros. It never ceases to amaze me that after all of this time, they never, ever phone it in.

For me, U2 show is always about uplift. Their sets are arranged to start at the ground level and slowly climb over the course of two hours. The whole idea is elevation—and you see what I did there—to ascend the entire crowd into the stratosphere. It should be easy, right? You’ve got fans who paid to see your show, so they’re gonna like it no matter what, right? Wrong. I’ve been to shows where it seemed like the crowd all took Sominex. Even worse, it looked the band didn’t even notice.

The jeopardy was high because taking a too-serious tone would probably bum everyone out. But, being too happy can seem disrespectful. It’s less about taking the middle road and more a high-wire act, which is where our boys go to work.

In their favor it did seem like the crowd needed to know everything was going to be all right and getting their wish. It’s strange to think that something as simple as a concert can do that given the depth of adversity that Paris was suffering. I’m guessing it isn’t that simple. When Bono exclaims the French motto, “Liberté, égalité, fraternité,” (liberty, equality, fraternity) he knows that those words speak to the core values of all its citizens, especially now.

During City of Blinding Lights, he brought this French kid on the stage. I like it when Bono brings someone on the stage with him. I never know what they’re going to do. Some are nervous and stand around waiting for direction from him. Some take to the spotlight like a fish to water. But all of them are happy and I can see myself on the stage alongside him. When he gave that kid his sunglasses and sport coat you would have thought the kid was part of the band.  There was nothing but attitude and swagger in the way he performed with the B-Man.

At the end of the night, Bono said that the band heard that Eagles of Death Metal lost their stage, so they lent them theirs.  EoDM hugged their gracious benefactors and then rocked out like a troop on a mission.

U2 could have easily kept the spotlight on themselves and share some of their own tragedies with the crowd.  Instead, they chose to share it another band who desperately needed it.

Class act all the way.

U2 Live from Paris premieres Monday (12-7)

U2 Live in Paris 2015

Just a quick reminder that this Monday, December 7th will be returning to Paris to perform their last two shows from Innocence + Experience Tour 2015.

The concerts will be held at Accorhotels Arena in Bercy.  Their final show will be airing live on HBO, so set your DVRs.  Even if you’re watching it live, you will want to see it again and again.  I sure will.

There is no doubt that the band has something special planned for these night.  Their shows are already spectacular.  And in light of recent events, I’m sure they will use the time to bring everyone at the arena, and the rest of us watching at home, just a little bit closer.

It’s gonna be awesome.

U2 announce dates for Paris shows

U2 I+E 2015

The band announced the dates for their final Paris shows.  Originally scheduled for November 14th and 15th, the band was forced to cancel their shows due to the terror attacks in Paris on Friday, November 13th.  Many venues were also cancelled as the officials took all necessary security measures to keep the public safe.  Even though they pledged to return, they could not provide a date due to the fact much of the situation was out of their control.

Bono expressed his dismay and anger on the radio saying it was the first direct hit on music that we’ve had on this so-called was on terror.

With the circumstances changing daily, it was nearly impossible for them to know when they could return.  However, they are back and ready to rock.

This is very welcome news as the band has proven again their commitment to its fans, Paris and music itself that they stand with all of us who truly believe that love is stronger than hate.  As fans, I know we can all agree that they have always put the emphasis on the music and us.

U2, Live Nations and HBO all deserve hearty congratulations for rescheduling such a large event so quickly, in what I am sure must be a very complicated and very difficult situation.  So set you DVRs for December 6th and 7th because our favorite lads from Ireland are going to elevate the City of Light.  These shows will takes on special meaning, as they will prove that nothing creates solidarity like music.

Hats off to Paris as well.  I hope these are two more giant steps towards normalcy.

#strongerthanfear

Paris shows cancelled (11-14 & 11-15)

Pray for Paris

The band announced that their shows in Paris tonight and tomorrow night are cancelled due to the terror attacks yesterday.  There is no word yet if the shows will be postponed or cancelled altogether.  In addition, due to the heightened security status around Europe, there is a possibility that this may affect other venues around the region.

Here on this side of the Atlantic we are no strangers to these types of events.  Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families during this very difficult time.

Hopefully, in the coming days there will be more information from the band.  Obviously there are greater concerns right now and I will try to keep up with the latest announcements.

Throwback Thursday (part III)

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As great as the first show was—and it was excellent—there was a little something missing. The crowd seemed a little subdued throughout the night and Bono even noted it during the second show. He attributed it to June Gloom, a weather pattern in Southern California marked by cool temperatures and overcast skies that may have affected their moods.

But the second show was totally different night. From the beginning the audience was rowdy but well behaved. The weather was warmer and perhaps that might have raised their spirits. I say might because I have been to shows where it was raining that didn’t dampen the feeling at all. Whatever the reason, there was an elevation (and you see what I just did there) in the energy of masses.

We also got a prime spot on the rail at about the four o’clock position. I’ve chosen this position a few times during Vertigo and found that Bono tended to linger in this area.   My always friends let me decide where to stand (I’m the show veteran) and I’ve always taken that responsibility seriously. Fortunately, I’ve made the right choices over the years and we’ve never been to a bad show.

Here’s a shot of the cameramen getting into their rigs before the main event.

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By the time the band took the stage my little Canon was working overtime.  As I mentioned in the previous post, I wished I had spent more money on a better camera.  What I quickly realized was with the camera set of Automatic, the flashing lights, the smoke, even Bono and company moving around on stage was a little too much for it.  I took hundreds of shots but far less than that were salvageable.  That was a very important lesson to learn.  Don’t be so freakin’ cheap.

Here’s the band a few songs into to the show.

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I did manage to get a few good shots.  Here’s one of Bono singing to the International Space Station.

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He was right in front of us and I was snapping away like sports photographer.  You can even see Adam and Larry in the background.

This was a great night and I was lucky enough to catch the B-man doing his thing.

I hope you like these images and I welcome your comments.

Throwback Thursday (part II)

The second show of U2 360° in Anaheim was probably one of the best shows that I have ever seen. I saw four shows during 360: one in Dallas (’09), one in Oakland (’11) and two in Anaheim (‘11). All of them were great, but the 2nd show in Anaheim was awesome.

I had general admission tickets and we got there around nine-thirty in the morning on both days to make sure we would get a good spot on the field.

The first night we were inside the runway and it was crowded. I’m pretty sure they had a limit but had I known how crowded it would get, I would have secured a place on the rail instead.

But I did get a few good pictures that night. Here’s one of screen.

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One of the most memorable parts of the show was during “Beautiful Day” when NASA astronaut Mark Kelly aboard the International Space Station recited the bridge to song. His image was displayed on the giant oval screen and he was tossing out little paper words that read, “It was a Beautiful Day” that literally floated right in front of him. You cold tell he was speaking into a video camera but the as he looked down on the crowd. It was amazing. I was so mesmerized that I forgot to take any pictures. But it is something I will never forget.

Only a band like U2 could pull off something like that maybe, only they could pull it off.

Once I snapped out of my stupor I was able to get a few good shots of Adam bring a little soul to the show.

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I like this shot of the screen, especially with Bono mugging while the others a looking quite serious.

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I like this shot of the screen, especially with Bono mugging while the others a looking quite serious.  It’s cool and gonzo at the same time.

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And finally our favorite front-man being himself.

Although it was cramped, I managed to take a few good pictures with my $79 Canon Powershot.  I realized that night that I should have spent more money and bought a more powerful point-and-shoot camera, even though I was on a very limited budget.

It was still a good night and quite memorable.