U2: Truths and Consequences
Mullen, his blond hair slicked back in a spiky cut, is, on the other hand, characteristically fresh faced and upbeat. Mullen, 25, is the quietest member of U2 — and he clearly idolizes Bono. Just as clearly, Bono feels considerable affection for Mullen. The two men spend a great deal of time together — Mullen getting a kick from Bono’s tireless intensity, Bono finding relief from himself in Mullen’s good-natured enthusiasm and good-hearted directness.
Mullen pulls up a chair next to Bono, and the conversation turns to Joshua trees — the gnarled trees indigenous to the deserts of the American Southwest. The tree was named by the Mormons when they were settling Utah; its shape reminded them of the Biblical passage in which Joshua pointed to the Promised Land.
The imagery couldn’t seem to be any more obvious, particularly for a man who confesses that the year in which he wrote lyrics for much of the material on The Joshua Tree was “a bit of a desert” — due to his obsession with the viability of rock & roll as a way of life, his marital upheavals and the death of Greg Carroll, U2’s twenty-six-year-old personal assistant, to whom The Joshua Tree is dedicated. Bono, however, refuses to pin the symbol down precisely.
“We find it funny,” Bono says about responses to the album’s title, recalling that somebody asked, “You’re not gonna change your religion again?” after hearing the Mormon tale. In explaining why the band chose the title, Bono for once falls short of words: “I’m not going to talk about the other reasons. You know, the symbol is a very powerful one, and you don’t . . . you can’t . . . you don’t . . .”
“It’s supposed to be the oldest living organism in the desert,” Mullen says. “They can’t put a time on it, because when you cut it, there’s no rings to indicate how old it is. Maybe it’s a good sign for the record!”
The photos on the album’s cover and lyric sheet were taken near Joshua Tree National Monument, in California, not far from where the ashes of country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons were scattered in 1973. According to Bono, however, even the band wouldn’t be able to locate the exact Joshua tree that was photographed. “We stopped off on the road,” Bono says, “and we went out, and we were shooting this landscape with the tree, and we just got back on the bus and drove off. Then somebody thought, ‘God, say you ever want to go back to that tree? Or other people might go out looking for the tree.’ And then we thought, ‘No, better that people can’t find it, or else some guy will arrive with it at a gig.’ ‘Bono, I’ve got the tree!'”
“Joshua trees might be extinct by the time this album is over,” Mullen says, laughing.
“The funny side of this is, like, with this album, everybody’s trying to say, ‘U2, the next this, the next that,'” Bono says. “You get record-industry people saying, ‘As big as the Beatles — what’s the name of the album?’ ‘The Joshua Tree.’ ‘Oh yeah, oh right.'” He laughs. “It’s not exactly Born in the Joshua Tree, or Dark Side of the Joshua Tree. It sounds like it would sell about three copies.”
Of course, 3 million copies is more like it — and even that’s a conservative estimate for what will very likely become one of the most successful, not to mention most important, records of the decade. (The Joshua Tree entered the Billboard chart at Number Seven.) The reference to Born the U.S.A. is appropriate, not only because that album also lifted a populist artist to mega-stardom but because, as in Springsteen’s case, the sheer aural pleasure of The Joshua Tree and the awesome, uplifting power of U2’s live shows will probably obscure the fact that the album is as foreboding a record as can be imagined. The Joshua tree itself may be a symbol of hope and deliverance, but its twisted shape and the barrenness of its environment suggest the sort of forces that must be confronted before redemption comes.
And perhaps even after redemption comes — at least in the form in which this album will present it to U2. In the face of enormous popularity and its attendant pressures, the band will have to struggle to maintain an independent sense of self. On a much smaller but equally dramatic scale, U2 faced the issue of rock stardom and its meaning after its 1980 debut album, Boy, brought the band members international recognition when some of them were still teenagers.
“I think we have to own up to the fact that we really weren’t that interested in being in a band after Boy,” Bono says about the intense period of spiritual questing that he, Mullen and the Edge undertook at that point. “We were, during October, interested in other things, really. We thought about giving up the band. And Adam’s reaction to us thinking about giving up the band was he wanted to get out of the band. October we made with the attitude ‘If people don’t like it, hey, maybe that’s better than if they do.’ We wanted to make a record, and yet we didn’t want to make a record, because we were going through a stage where we thought, ‘Rock & roll is just full of shit, do we want to spend our lives doing it?’
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