Where This Meets That
This acquaintance derided me, saying the lyrics were inspired by events in Belfast (“Where the Streets Have No Name”), Britain (“Red Hill Mining Town”), and El Salvador (“Bullet the Blue Sky” and “Mothers of the Disappeared”), among other places, and, so, by no means should it be considered an “American rock album” in any way.
Yet, for some reason, whenever I manage to play it from start to finish, it always just strikes me as profoundly American, not to mention one of the most perfect albums I’ve ever heard.
The hits it produced still sound as fresh on the radio as they did when The Joshua Tree was released 24 years ago. I was in middle school at that time, and though I had already been a big music buff for years, Bono’s vocals took music to a deeper place than anything I’d heard before.
The album oozes passion, from the first geysered release of “I wanna run! I want to hide! I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside!” to the beautiful, poignant outro of “Mothers of the Disappeared”.
Musically and lyrically, the songs run the gamut of human emotions, from love to longing, and anger to acceptance, but the true gift of the recordings is their sincerity. True, much of the lyrical inspiration came from Bono’s early visits to various third world cultures, but whether American or African, wealthy or needy, we’re all united by those emotions that make us human.
Perhaps that is what strikes me as so “American” about The Joshua Tree: beyond the profoundly American-influenced music of the album (as the band itself acknowledges), the lyrics and soul of the album embrace these emotions and differences and work through them in a cohesive way that approaches the spirit of Emma Lazarus’s poem, “The New Colossus”, that greets immigrants in the base of the Statue of Liberty:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
I once told an acquaintance that it was strange how the best American rock album ever recorded wasn’t an American album at all.