Deep Dive Friday – A Middle Age Look Back at ‘The Joshua Tree’ by U2

It was thirty-five years ago this week U2 released their album, ‘The Joshua Tree’. It was highly-anticipated and I believe their best-selling album ever. And I remember hearing it for the first time as if it had come out yesterday. But since the album is now thirty-five years old, it’s entered middle-age as I have.

In March of 1987 I would have been twelve years old, in junior high, writing, and kind of hating my life at times. Junior high was the worst of my school years for the bullying I endured along with alienation and ostracization, too. My home life was deteriorating and I didn’t have the words to express it. But in the words of U2’s lyrics on ‘The Joshua Tree’, I found a way to put them in my mind and keep them there.

I’m going to say that for me, ‘The Joshua Tree’ and the follow-up album ‘Rattle and Hum’ (the album recorded live on ‘The Joshua Tree’ world tour along with additional studio tracks) was the end of the first era of U2, and my personal favorite. They’ve gone in different directions since and sadly I haven’t always kept up with them though I will remedy that someday. But in the thirty-five years since ‘The Joshua Tree’, I’ve come back to that album along with ‘Rattle and Hum’, and the four albums that preceded those two (‘Boy’, ‘October’, ‘War’, and ‘The Unforgettable Fire’).

For me, U2 taught me about ‘conscience’. My personal definition of conscience is the beliefs, ideals, thoughts, and feelings that guide a person’s words and actions in the world. Because for me, U2 are all about passionate feeling along with quiet introspection. They sang about feelings, about faith, love, hope, but also pain and anger. ‘The Joshua Tree’ album and the ‘Rattle and Hum’ follow-up were a culmination of that era because after that they moved into a more technical and critical eye to the world (though they did return to that in the early part of this century).

The first track released from ‘The Joshua Tree’ was what I call a non-traditional ballad “With or Without You”. It was a huge hit and I think was the first U2 song my mother really got into. Then I played ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ (the second single released) and she was like, “They’re talking about God and Jesus.” I told her U2 had been talking about God and Jesus since their first album and they were men of faith and that yes, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” is a gospel song (my favorite version of it is the performance with the band and a gospel choir from Harlem in the film ‘Rattle and Hum’).

The third single from the album, “Where the Streets Have No Name” is a favorite of mine because of the way it starts out like the Second Coming almost. It builds and soars and I will personally recommend laying down and listening to the song with headphones to get the full experience.

But there isn’t a misfire of a track on this album at all. The song “Running to Stand Still” (track four) is one I have come back to time and again and will go into at another time and another place here. I read in interviews with the band that the song is about drug addiction as heroin ravaged Ireland in the 1980’s and band members lost friends to drug overdoses. One set of lines stands out for me (and these are the ones I will return to at a later date in a different place here):

You got to cry without weeping

Talk without speaking

Scream without raising your voice

You know I took the poison, from the poison stream

And then I floated out of here

(Songwriters: Evans / Clayton / Hewson / Mullen

Running To Stand Still lyrics © Polygram Int. Music Publishing B.v.)

And for me, all I have to say to those lyrics is: “There but for the grace of God go I” (attributed to John Bradford, mid sixteenth century)

But I’m going to move on to the other tracks on the album:

“Bullet the Blue Sky” – a powerful song with serious political statements in it. Bombs falling raining down onto the sky ‘pounding the women and children’ (line from the song) and also calling out the hypocrisy of Christian evangelism in asking for money yet doing nothing to alleviate pain and suffering in the world as Jesus taught.

“Red Hill Mining Town” is about a mining town when the mine closes and the hardships faced by the people. In the 1980’s, this happened throughout England, Wales, and the rest of the United Kingdom due to the conservative government of Margaret Thatcher and so this song is a statement that everything wasn’t good for everyone like the powers-that-be wanted you to believe.

“In God’s Country” is a personal favorite and one I want to blast as I drive through the deserts of the American southwest or the wheatfields of the Midwest some day.

“Trip Through Your Wires” reminded me of something Bob Dylan might have done and I know Bob Dylan was a huge influence on the band.

“One Tree Hill” is a song they wrote for a member of their crew who was killed in a motorcycle accident and they sang it at his funeral. Once you know the story behind the song it stays with you forever.

“Exit” – From what I’ve read, this is a song the band hasn’t performed live in many years and it is very dark. For more on the song, here’s a link that contains quotes from the band members themselves about the song’s origins and history: Link here

“Mothers of the Disappeared” – The last track on the album and it’s about the mothers in Central and South America who’s husbands, sons, and fathers were taken from them by the brutal regimes in many of those countries never to be seen or heard from again. From this song, I learned about these women who would hold silent protests and just dance in public to campaign for the release of their loved ones.

In the thirty-five years since this album came out, the passion and emotion of this album became a wreckage of lost faith through relentless criticism that passion and feeling were nothing but attention-seeking behavior and ego (NOT TRUE AT ALL!!!). In addition to the criticism, cynicism took over and life itself ground down a lot of people. And all this culminated in the last six years in our world where right-wing extremism threatens to engulf the world in a totalitarian nightmare. No, I’m not exaggerating that at all because when you lose or temper your passion to try and keep from having raging hate-mongers come at you, that tolerance doesn’t work.

It’s time to get passionate again. To talk about faith, hope, love, pain, and suffering and to work our asses off to make this world a better place. Because peace, hope, love, and freedom are worth fighting for. In the last few years, I’ve begun to find my passion that I thought I had lost but unlike the band on this album, I am finding what I’m looking for because it was always there all along.

Deep Dive Friday – The Breakfast Club

Deep Dive Friday is where I write out more on a particular movie, book, tv series, music artist/album, or some type of culture topic.

It was thirty-seven years ago this month the movie, ‘The Breakfast Club’ was released (February 15, 1985). I would have been ten at that time and getting ready to transition from elementary to junior high school, which didn’t go well for me. But this film is for all the Generation X kids (born between 1965 and 1980) who went to school in the 1970’s and 1980’s (and finally graduated in the 1990’s- I graduated high school in 1992).

Generation X has been referred to as the first, and last feral generation. We were the first generation raised where fifty-percent of parent divorced and the other fifty-percent both worked long hours outside the home (not a lot of stay-at-home moms back in my day). We came home to empty houses and had very little supervision for the most part. This is why we were into books, movies, and music that were way beyond our age or were before our time. We knew all the bad words by the time we reached kindergarten and knew about sex, drugs, violence, and rock ‘n’ roll all too well by junior high.

So when the kids in this movie seem to be trying to make it in their own world even though they’re still kids, this is why Generation X reveres this movie and can quote it chapter and verse. And in the end when Brian writes the letter to Principle Dick-Head Vernon (the dick-head is my addition, by the way), he writes that Principle Dick-Head has already made up his mind as to who he thinks they are even though they’re all a princess, a jock, a nerd, a basket-case, and a criminal.

A brief summary of the plot: five teenagers at a fairly well-off school show up for an all-day detention on a Saturday. The principle overseeing their detention sets them up in the library and tells them not to move, sleep, or do anything really except write a thousand-word essay telling him who they think they are.

Here’s the detainees:

Claire – the Princess (played by Molly Ringwald). She’s in there because she cut class to go shopping. She’s rich, gorgeous (I still want Molly Ringwald’s haircut from that movie) and closed off though it comes off as top-notch conceit and snobbery.

Andrew – the Jock (played by Emilio Estevez). He’s quiet and you can sense he’s bottling up a lot of emotion.

Brian – the Nerd (played by Anthony Michael Hall). He’s earnest and a bit eager to please so you have to wonder what he’s in for.

Allison – the basket-case (played by Ally Sheedy). She’s dressed all in black (like a homeless version of Stevie Nicks) with dark hair flopping in her eyes and dark eye makeup. She says nothing for the longest time until she opens up.

John Bender – the criminal (played by Judd Nelson). He’s dressed in a long coat, motorcycle boots and has a serious attitude problem as they’d say back in the day. At first, he’s a bullying asshole but like the others, he’s got a lot of shit to deal with.

Before I go any further here I want to say this to anyone who watches this movie and is not from the generation that originally saw it the first time (Millennials and Generation Z), we were not having the conversations about mental health like we are now. Your fucked-up mental health wasn’t something you really talked about and sadly back then, you took it out on other people and fucked up a lot. I’m not excusing bad behavior but I just want people to understand it was a different time.

Now, getting back to the movie.

At first, they’re bored, quiet, and finally Bender starts making noise and gets the others to join in with him. The big scene in this film is known as the ‘group therapy’ scene where they all sit around and finally reveal what they’re in for (except Bender because God only knows what he was sentenced to detention for).

Claire reveals her parents use her to get back at each other and her peer group is super-strict and it’s either go along with them or go it alone. But back then you couldn’t reinvent yourself too easily but Claire also makes some valid points when she tells the others that on Monday when they’re all walking the halls they probably won’t even look at each other, much less say ‘hi’ or anything like that. And yes, peer pressure to stay in your own lane as its’ said in the modern vernacular was that bad back then (I don’t know how it is now for high schoolers so I won’t speculate about that here).

But the pressures to succeed I think is just as strong now as it were back then as I read about young people today feeling enormous pressure to get into a good college and get a good career going. Brian the Nerd and Andrew the Jock certainly feel this as Brian was in there for having a flare gun in his locker which he planned to use to kill himself because he got an F in shop class. And Andrew was in there for taping a kid’s buttocks together in a hazing ritual. Andrew was carrying around a shit-ton of guilt and shame over that as was Brian for wanting to kill himself. Bender had revealed his parents abused him badly and he felt like he was sentenced to be a lifelong criminal though like Clare he could call out bullshit when he saw it. Allison said she was in there because she had nothing better to do but did reveal her parents ignored her and she felt totally alone.

After that, they get high on marijuana from Bender’s stash in his locker, rock out and dance to some music. Claire gives Allison a makeover (basically combs her hair and removes her ton of makeup) and Andrew and Allison connect as do Claire and Bender (though speculation is rife as to what Claire and Bender did in the closet Principle Dick-Head had locked Bender in (he broke out by crawling through the ceiling duct-work back to the library to get high and dance and talk).

In the end, Brian writes the short letter to Principle Dick-Head telling him he sees them as they are and that it’s a stupid idea for them to tell them who they think they are.

I can tell anyone who will listen that who you are will change over your lifetime. And if you flash-freeze yourself to who you were in high school or college then you’ll be a major dick-head everyone will probably hate or try to ignore. Life will change you, sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worst. But I think the most important lesson to learn from this movie is that we’re all fucked up messes but that doesn’t mean we’re irredeemable hoodlums, or that we’ll always be the same throughout our lives.

The things I love most about this movie are:

Bender’s absolutely brilliant contempt and defiance of authority culminating in such classic lines as, “Does Barry Manilow know you raid his wardrobe?, and “Eat My Shorts” (which Bender said years before Bart Simpson made it his catchphrase).

I love Claire’s look and fashion sense and her ability to call bullshit on a lot of things like how you don’t really resist peer pressure when you’re a teenager. It takes a lot of years to stop giving a shit about what other people think of you because it takes so long to realize these shit-heads never had any real power over your life to begin with.

I love Allison being in there because she was bored and kind of a witness to the dysfunction of the others.

I loved how Andrew was so tender with Allison in the end and how he didn’t rise up to his dad’s bullshit when his dad picked up at the end of the movie.

And Brian, well he probably wrote the best less-than-a-thousand-word essay ever. I wish I’d written something like that to the dick-head authority figures I put up with in high school and beyond. Lucky for me I have the internet now.

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