I started this post a while ago and then I started to realize how much it rambles. I'm not sure anyone wants to know what I think about music, especially when my thoughts go on like this. But this experience I had rediscovering U2 has taken a lot of space in my grey matter and it even made me physically ill. Something that profound ought to be preserved for myself if for no one else. So here I go:
If there is one thing that's on my mind more frequently or more intensely than anything else, I would say it has to be music. I'm not sure I like what that says about me. I'd rather have it be my family, or God, something noble like that, but it's not. It's music. I might talk about how lost I've been feeling that last few years in another post but I've been thinking that this overwhelming disorientation in my life lately has at least some roots in the way I've been feeling about the state of music in the world.
Back in the 80's when I was in my late teens and early 20's, I was driven. I pursued my job in television with an exlusionary furvor. I pursued my art and writing, if not with the same intensity, at least much more than I do now. Music had really sparked me. While officially I was a goth/punker, I was into any kind of music that had what I considered were edgy, punk rock ideals. Many might agree with my definition but in addition to the obvious choices like The Sex Pistols, The Cramps, The Circle Jerks, 7 Seconds, The Pogues, I included Pink Floyd, Neil Young, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Doors, and (I know, I know) Prince and the Revolution. They were all--or they all had been at one time--pushing the limits and doing things that were outside the mundane crap that had been going on. I loved listening to that but I had two fall backs that I always listened to: Depeche Mode and The Cure. Anybody familiar with these two groups in the early eighties will agree that they are not the same bands they used to be.
Then, in 1985, a punker I knew gave me a cassette he'd recorded from LP. Actually it was from two LP's. One side was TSOL, which was just a little too thrashy for me and I couldn't connect. But the other side of the cassette changed me in ways I can't describe. It was "Under a Blood Red Sky" by U2. I was absolutely blown away by it. I wore the tape out listening to it. I had heard some of the songs much earlier on the radio, "Electric Co.," "New Year's Day," and "I will Follow" among them. I had thought they were cool but when I heard them, my relationship with music was much more cursory. I didn't pay a whole lot of attention. But this, the live, kind of ratty, unpolished, but huge sound grabbed me and threw me to the ground. I immediatly bought it on cassette along with all of their studio albums up to that time. I was disappointed. First of all, the cassette didn't have Bono's long ramble in the middle of "Electric Co." It was edited out. I vaguely remember it being something about clowns. The other disappointment was that the studio versions on Boy, October, and War, did not nearly capture the vibrance and spontaneity of the concert. I had come at these songs in one way and from the studio they seemed wimpy and dispassionate. I've gotten over that, though, and I wouldn't miss the chance to hear the other songs that didn't make it in the concert.
I was completely under U2's spell for years afterward. Unforgetable fire was a thrill because they'd finally done in the studio what they captured at Red Rocks. the Joshua Tree pierced me with its anthems. When the film "Rattle and Hum" came out, I was a cameraman for the local news in Idaho. Between the 6pm and 10pm newscasts, I went across the street to the theaters there and bought a ticket. I sat there by myself shivering from being immersed in the stunning live footage. Phil Joanu is incredible. I know that album wasn't a critical success but I loved it. U2 could do no wrong, except that Bono's God complex started to become apparent. I didn't really think about it at the time but, looking back, I realize that something didn't sit well with me. He had a message and he was forcing it down everybody's throat. And the message wasn't just political. It was about American music and values and it was a little pushy for an Irishman who hated the blues.
Then there was a break. I went on a mission for my church before "Achtung Baby" came out. Mormon missionaries live a somewhat cloistered life in that they don't listen to popular music or watch movies or, in some cases, read the news. All this is so that they can focus on their two years of work. It's actually a good thing and I wouldn't trade my experience for anything.
Of course I couldn't miss hearing the ubiquitous sounds of the band of Dubliners. But I couldn't immerse myself in it and I lost touch. The next thing I remember is seeing videos from "Pop" years later on M2 and if the door wasn't shut before then it was now...and locked. "Pop" sucked and the concert that came here to Salt Lake sucked according to my friend who went to it. So that was it. I didn't need to pay attention anymore. I didn't even know they had come out with "All That You Can't Leave Behind" until last week. I totally missed that one. When I saw their Ipod commercial featuring "Vertigo" my interest piqued, but not enough to get them back on my radar.
But it wasn't just U2 I lost touch with. Music in general was going down the tubes. Aside from the few standouts--Coldplay, John Mayer, and The Killers--music had lost its soul. I was dependant on old stuff to get me by: Pink Floyd, The Beatles, and a few others. I even started exploring genres I'd avoided, going for Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash, and the old delta bluesmen. But for the most part, I avoided music. When I got an IPod, I loaded it up with audiobooks. People would think I was rocking out when I was really sinking into a great book.
Then it happened. A couple of weeks ago I was in the library looking for another audiobook and I saw U2 by U2 among the new arrivals. It was a hefty book and I figured I'd do what I always do with books of that type. I've done it with the best: I thumb through it, looking at the pictures and reading a few pages but inevitably losing interest and returning the book. I've done it with Pink Floyd's book, Mick Fleetwood's, and many others. Still, I thought I'd give it a shot. I read until 3 or 4 in the morning every night for a week until I'd finished it. I'm just getting over a 3-day migraine as a result. But I've also rediscovered my favorite band as well as discovering a few other things along the way.
One of the reasons I fell out with U2 is I don't like liking bands that everyone else likes. If it's the lowest common denominator there must be something wrong with it, right? When I was first into them, hardly anyone else I knew was into them. Now it seems everybody on the planet knows who they are. Also, Bono seems to have this arrogance that I can't abide. That came through in the book, as well. His paragraphs were always 3 or 4 times as long as the rest of the band's. And he had the last word! But the rational side of me thinks that that is what it takes to become what he's become. Not necessarily arrogance but confidance, which he has in abundance.
A few more threads of thought formed inside my little old brain as I read. The band talks about the song, "One," how people play it at their weddings and how the band, having written the song would never have it played in such a setting. It's about breaking up, they say, not getting together. That got me thinking. It's not just the poet who writes the poem. It's the reader as well. They bring their own experiences to the work and make it their own. It doesn't matter who owns the copyright, no one owns the work itself. It's a living thing that starts breathing as soon as someone lays eyes or ears on it.
Ok. That's enough of that. Suffice it to say, my IPod's loaded with U2's music. And I have quite an advantage over the rest of the planet: This stuff is all new to me!