Wednesday, October 19, 2016

My First Cassette: The Joshua Tree

purchase [The Joshua Tree]

In October of 1987 I purchased The Joshua Tree, so well matched for the most beautifully dark and moody time of the year in windy and wet-leaved Wisconsin. It was a 10-minute walk from the Exclusive Company record store on Main Street to my home on Hickory Street. I felt a foreign cool carrying home that cassette in the Exclusive Company’s famous black bag with silver writing. I had hoped I would bump into a girl who’d ask me what I bought at the Exclusive, and we’d open into a conversation about the hit songs. Of course at that time, nobody knew what else was on a tape unless you bought it and listened to it all the way through. That’s where the value was, of course: the surprises only you could access through the purchase.

Within the first year I had purchased The Joshua Tree, my first cassette and first music purchase ever, I probably listened to it over 100 times at night as I fell asleep. In this capacity, it was rivaled only that year by side one of New Order’s Power Corruption and Lies and side two of the Cure’s Standing on a Beach singles collection. I could only listen to one side because I had the kind of tape player that didn’t switch sides naturally and instead when it reached the end of a side it banged rather than clicked to a finish. If I had the energy, I’d wake up and flip it.  

I cried over getting dumped to this tape; I sprinted home with Sun Country Peach Wine Cooler on my breath to meet curfew listening to this tape, twisting the jack of my cheap headphones expertly to avoid it playing into only one of my ears; I psyched myself up before swim races listening to “Bullet the Blue Sky”, “In Gods’ Country” and “Where the Streets Have No Name”. I remember walking the five minutes to Sunday Night bible study feeling edgier from listening to it, ready to challenge my very friendly CCD teacher.  I get goose bumps now realizing how naïve and lame I must have sounded talking about how Bono didn’t stand for American politics nor institutionalized religion.

It took a couple months before I started fast-forwarding through the Joshua Tree in order to skip the hits and start with “Bullet the Blue Sky”.  Before the tape could bang to a stop, I’d get up and turn it over for the darker and more drifting side two, usually waking up again during the rolling “In God’s Country” and the harrowing “Exit”.

Bullet the Blue Sky, with Bono’s sudden grunts and groans, Larry Mullen Jr’s barrel-chested drum approach and the Edge’s thick guitar is audaciously akin to “Whole Lotta Love”. Even the melody is similar. In hindsight it’s also the tune that sonically, along with Bono’s spoken-word delivery (“…pealing those dollar bills/slappin’ em down ‘100’ ‘200’ and I can see those fighter planes…”), probably foreshadows 1991’s ultra-cool but tepid Achtung Baby.

Until this week I hadn’t listened to this nearly perfect album for over ten years and not until now did I realize how bluesy it is, almost a futuristic dark Americana sound. At the time I was mostly seduced by Bono’s conviction and the Edge’s guitar playing, which develops on the signature infinite guitar sound (originated by Michael Brook) that he started on the Unforgettable Fire. A lot of people had their hands producing this effort including Brian Eno, Flood, Daniel Lanois and even Steve Lillywhite. It’s a wonder it doesn’t sound disjointed.

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