U2 :: The Joshua Tree (1987)

I was never much of a U2 fan before the release of The Joshua Tree. Their music was around of course, playing somewhere in my musical peripheral, on the radio, out of friends’ stereos, and at past high school dances. I also knew plenty of people who raved about the band and their music, friends who had seen them play live and who talked about their albums. I had more than a few friends who harbored crushes on both Bono and drummer Larry Mullen, Jr., as well. I just never had found myself attracted to their music, or moved by it, that is until my first year living on my own and my indoctrination into U2 via their album The Joshua Tree.

It was not the boy I moved in with who introduced me to the album, but one of his many friends. See, he had grown-up in the same city his whole life, going to school with the same people from early school years onward, and we were living in that city together. This meant that most of the times we were at all social I was surrounded by groups of people I was meeting for the first time, or just getting to know, who had known him, and each other, their whole lives. I felt like quite an outsider, and my shyness that I had thought to have overcome in my last year of high school and first two years after, had come back in full force. I was overwhelmed and often without words, following next to him, holding his hand tightly, and staying somewhat in the shadows, observing, and waiting to feel comfortable.

A few of his friends welcomed me in with open arms, and in smaller groups with these few in tow I started to open up. Music, as always, was helping me and discussions about albums and live shows became a bridge between me and some of his friends. One girl in particular, his best friends girlfriend at the time, took me under her wing and we talked often about bands we listened to. We were both fans of The Cure and Cocteau Twins, and had both been at the same Inxs concert years before.

She was a huge U2 fan and had been one of the people in the crowd when they had played on the roof in downtown Los Angeles. I admitted to not being all that keen on their music, and to honestly not have known much of their music sans the hits that played on the radio, or on MTV.  It was 1991, The Joshua Tree had been out for more than a few years at that point, and she asked if I had heard it in its entirety, and not just heard the hits from it.

I had not.

She asked me to listen to it, after rushing down to her car to pull the cassette out of the stereo, and then get back to her. She made me promise to take my time with it, and to listen to it from start to finish, not skipping anything.  I took the tape from her and promised to listen.

Quite a few notable things happened from the time she handed me the cassette, to the time I spoke with her again. The most significant was that I had found out I was pregnant. The boy and I had split up twice during this time, too, one time because of the pregnancy, and one time because we struggled so much at being together; in so many ways we had coupled and moved in together for the wrong reasons. I had moved out of our apartment and gone back home, so scared at the time that I honestly did not know where else to go but home; he followed me, soon after, and we both ended up sharing my childhood bedroom, together.

We were both so lost.

Music was my lifeline during this time in my life, not anything new for me, but the music from that time holds a certain meaning to me that is unshakeable and intense. I am quite sure that my love of this album is tied to this, and that even though the songs have evolved in what they mean to me as the years have passed since I first played that cassette, I know that me at twenty-three is what I will go back to first whenever I hear The Joshua Tree, and any song off of that album.

My favorite song on the album is Running to Stand Still, which is also my all-time favorite ever U2 song. The song hit me deep and hard, like being hit by a car and left there lying in the street, bleeding and barely breathing. Though I had never been a heroin addict, and had no idea what a needle chill would feel like, I knew very well what addiction felt and looked like, and I most certainly knew what it meant to scream without speaking. I had spent many, many years feeling silenced by my insecurities, by my memories, and by those around me.

I was running as fast as I could then, not knowing where I was going or how I would get there. I was scared and shaking, but persisting nonetheless. I wanted a place to land, to feel safe and secure. I wanted to have a home of my own. Through it all, I was learning to grab hold of my voice and use it. I knew this song inside and out, and held it close to me.

Red Hill Mining Town is my second all-time ever favorite U2 song, but its impact on me came much later. It was the months I lived in Chicago, the second time there, when we lived in that tiny studio apartment, all of us in such close quarters. I look back on it and I do not know how we survived in such a small space, five of us together, but we did. I worked as a temp for a spell of time then, taking the train around town from one company to the next, mostly answering phones and keeping reception desk chairs warm. The Wrigley building was the one I ended up at most often, and it was my favorite both for the location right by the water, and for the fact that we could listen to music all day and read whilst keeping a desk filled and answering an occasional call. I was reading How to Kill a Rock Star (Tiffanie Debartolo) and listening to this album, replaying Red Hill Mining Town over and over again. It seemed to sing to the core of who I was right then, and also sing to the characters in the book as I read.

The lyric “I’m still waiting, I’m hanging on, you’re all that’s left to hold on to” resonated so clearly and precisely, spinning circles inside my soul. I hear the line now and it gives me chills. It is the part of the song I always have to sing-a-long to.

Trip Through Your Wires and One Tree Hill are songs I recall listening to, with the boy and our new baby, as we drove down to the beach one late Summer afternoon. The windows were down and we were uncharacteristically at ease with each other. We shared a sno-cone later that day, giving our baby daughter tiny ice chips that she pushed in and out of her mouth, giggling and making faces at us as the cold shocked and delighted her. I remember being in the car, singing these songs together, and feeling momentarily like a family.

Where the Streets Have No Name reminds me of a loft-like apartment we looked at once, back in the days when we thought we would stay together. There was a small room on the bottom floor that we thought to use for a nursery, and a large loft that hung over the living area and kitchen that we imagined would be ours. We stood side by side, looking up at it, imagining out loud a big bed with a soft duvet thrown across it, inviting us to stay in bed longer. There was no visible street sign on the block of the apartment and we laughed at that, saying that we could hide there together, in a no-street-name guise of mystery.

With Or Without You reminds me of the day our daughter and I left. Hearing it, even now, causes my throat to tighten and tears to sting at my eyes, threatening to fall. The song still delivers a sense of sadness to me, and of loss. It also reminds me of the man I later married, and how he learned to play it on the guitar not long after we met. He would tell me often how much it reminded him of how he felt about me. For a while after he died I had to turn the song off if I heard it come on the radio, and I would skip it when I played this album. I know the sadness I feel hearing it now is a mixture of both memories, and the impact of those times and people in my life.

On a whole, The Joshua Tree album is loaded with volumes of memories from my life, so far. It remains in my list of favorite albums due to the connections I hold close to the album, and due to the songs I love dearly.   I have often said that albums that came into my life in the late eighties and early nineties are albums that will forever be with me, tucked in for the long haul in my soul. I am grateful for them, for the music that held me together and kept me going, proof that music is ever and always saving my life.

The Joshua Tree is, and always will be, one of my favorite albums.

Running to Stand Still (live) :: U2

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