With or Without You

Life just happens to you: like an accident. No: it happens to you as a result of your condition. Not choice, but- at best- process, and at worst, shocking, total change.-Salman Rushdie

Love, a zone in which nobody desirous of compiling a human (as opposed to robotic, Skinnerian-android) body of experience could afford to shut down operations, did you down, no question about it, and probably did you in as well.-Salman Rushdie

Contentment. It beats excitement. Try it, you'll like it.-Salman Rushdie

I hated The Joshua Tree when it first was released. This was a big deal for me as I loved U2, theirs was the first concert I went to without my parents (at UIC Pavilion. I was 13, it was the second leg of The Unforgettable Fire tour) and the record was such a huge hit when it was released, to hate it was a little bit like saying you hated chocolate (i.e. people would look at you cross eyed and ask what was wrong with you, but a small select group of people would say they TOTALLY understood where you were coming from, they hated it too). I can't entirely explain this well now, except to say that the music on this record seemed like such a radical departure from the punk influenced sounds of Boy and War, not to mention they were no longer exploring themes of rebellion and protest (themes which obviously appealed to me as a disaffected teen). And one cannot discount the huge role everyone else liking it probably had on my feelings because this was the period of my life when I believed that musical tastes were a great indicator of personality and morality, so what did it mean that, suddenly, people with whom I had nothing in common, people I actively disliked, were all over this record? If bullies and idiots were liking this record, clearly, there must be something wrong with it. Not to mention that it seemed nearly impossible to get tickets to see them in concert and (I had already adopted my "no arenas or stadiums" rule for concerts at this point). By the time Rattle and Hum came out, it was just easier to see U2 as a childish infatuation which I had outgrown. Among the super cool kids I encountered in high school, college and beyond, writing off U2 as cheesy, naff, too earnest, and, yet, complete sell-outs was the thing to do. Occasionally, I would have heated discussion with people about whether they should have/could have remained a "little protest band" or if the world had forced them to become larger than life and if, perhaps, it was understandable why they had chosen the path they did.

Then Achtung Baby came out and from the moment I heard The Fly on the radio, I found myself dragged back into listening. Which didn't mean I had given up on my cool kid affectations: I vividly recall seeing Faraway So Close and telling a boy who I suspect was interested in dating me (he was a friend of a friend and he had very large teeth) that U2 was probably past their prime, that all their best music was a decade old; I mean, I loved the song Stay, but I didn't have to tell him that. I liked Zooropa and Pop and being out of school I found there were fewer people willing to have philosophical arguments about music. Then All That You Can't Leave Behind came out and I found myself cast in a show with Joel, and after we became friends I learned he was someone who not only could outgeek a lot of the superfans waiting in line at a concert with his U2 knowledge, but was willing to argue down all my snotty complaints about how they should be making music to inspire us to storm the castle walls and I found it far more entertaining to get excited about something I liked than to sneer at it because some people thought it was uncool.

I met Salman Rushdie on September 7, 2001 and asked him what it was like to be a rock star among writers and he spoke to me at length about hanging out with Bono. The following week, I found that those U2 records from the early eighties were the only ones to which I could bear to listen, it expressed what I was feeling despite being from before, it felt real when so much else (including having met Salman Rushdie) felt so irrelevant.

But despite this, I maintained my general dislike of the The Joshua Tree. 

Then one day I heard this song in a store and realized the reason I didn't like this album (and this song in particular) when it first came out was because I didn't have the ears to hear it. Because  while U2's earlier records were about rebellion and anger, things about which teenagers know quite a lot, this one was about love and pain and growth and acceptance. Yes, it's true, every teenager is Hamlet, every adolescent thinks they invented love and pain and believes that no one in the world understands them. And then they grow up. They have their hearts broken (sometimes more than once). They get rejected and they falter. They have to  compromise their hopes and dreams. They sometimes feel trapped. But they also find love. They witness moments of beauty, moments of grace. They sometimes find great opportunities in the most unlikely of places, at the most unlikely of times. Someone once told me that experience is what we get when we don't get what we want and life is a string of experiences except, sometimes, what we get is not so bad, even if it is something we didn't think we wanted.

Not all questions, young prince, are as easy as the one pondering whether to live or to die.

We are all walking backwards on a tightrope stretched across a dark unknown and since we cannot know where we are going, as we can really only see the past, we never know if the right thing to do is to continue on the rope or to fall into the abyss.

Of course, I couldn't know any of this, much less understand it, at fifteen.


Popular Posts