Tuesday 06 Dec 2016

The Joshua Tree
S Handle

My favourite music is “The Joshua Tree,” by U2.  I bought it as an old-fashioned tape and played it so much the tape wore out in weeks.  Why is it the favourite in what is a reasonably big music collection?  I suppose, like any question, there is no absolute answer to that one, it is hard to tell the truth about my memories and feelings.

Indeed, when one examines memories or emotions and tries to express each in writing, the last lines from a poem by John Keats, “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” spring to mind.  “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”  Any attempt to express emotions and experiences is doomed to failure. 

Yet, here is an attempt to interpret and explain why “The Joshua Tree” still makes me shiver when I hear it.  First, I identify with a life change, when I think of a massive period of change in my life.  About the time I first heard, “Joshua Tree,” I had recently left a part of Ireland, troubled with terrorism and violence; I moved to a quiet university town to start my college years. 

That move was the first time I experienced freedom; from siblings, parents and expectations, freedom from the oppression that quietly descends on a community caught up in terrorist conflict.  For the first time in my life, I didn’t have to guard my words, didn’t have to try to determine what religion people were before I befriended them and didn’t have to be on the lookout not to stray into territory of the other. 

The freedoms of expression and association I experienced were as a cathedral lifted from my shoulders.  As Wordsworth said, “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive.”  Within a few weeks came an early act of freedom. A few new friends and I drove into Dublin. We camped outside a record store until midnight, when “The Joshua Tree” was to release. 

I took, to heart, the words of Shakespeare and already “grappled some friends to my soul with hoops of steel.” The exhilaration of new camaraderie was still potent and evident among us all on that journey to Dublin. Evident in excited banter, the telling of tall tales and the innocent exuberance of youth on the threshold of responsibility.  Heck, even being in a car not driven by my father was a novelty to this young kid, suddenly released from home and trusted with independence.

It must be the memories we have of times of immense flux in our lives that are the strongest. This was a time of big change at a personal level, for me. Politically, it was a time of unrest and instability back in the troubled part of the Island. 

The different memories associated with “The Joshua Tree” evolve as life marches on. Different album cuts assume less or more importance than before.  Lately, it is the driver of the car, which took us to Dublin, I reminisce, most, about now. 

The driver was one of the few students in those days that had a car at college.  He was what we referred to as a tough cookie.  He pumped weights I couldn’t lift. He played every kind of sport. H he looked after himself.  This big fellow recently left us, because some of his tiny cells wouldn’t stop growing.  It’s as simple as that.

Memories that are more distant come back from time to time. I think of how mesmerized I was by “The Joshua Tree.” I followed “U2” around the country, to a number of concerts. 

The memory, of listening to one of the songs played at concert, “Sunday, Bloody Sunday,” caused me immense angst; it triggered a feeling in me that I had deserted my background, that I had too quickly forgotten the troubles back home.  Eventually that trigger brought me back to a place I had thought I had left behind, namely a participation in politics, and the politics of freedom. 

The biggest smile I have when remembering “The Joshua Tree,” is how, during the first concert, I deliberately separated from the group I was with to do something simple.  To stand among thousands of strangers, close my eyes, stop thinking and be truly present to the music.  It was then that I had a truly spiritual moment.  I found beauty, if just for a fleeting moment.

S Handle writers from Galway, Ireland.

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