U2’s Joshua Tree Tour: On Fatherhood and Politics

While my father was driving the family to Monocacy Battlefield for a hike, a young me sat with a CD player.  It had a U2 greatest hits disc in it, and I was holding it precariously in the air so that it would not skip whenever the Toyota 2000 Sienna hit a bump in the road.

Flashback to 3rd grade me, and picture my dad.  He is cooking eggs and pancakes and putting out the cereal options and brewing coffee.  I’m laying peacefully in bed, dreaming.  I am awoken by a guitar, then a bass, and from then and there, the streets have no name.  Bono voices my thoughts….”I wanna run, I want to hide! I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside.”

Joshua Tree is one of a handful of records that my dad would play (read: blast!) to wake up the house, to announce the start of the day.  It is a record that is directly responsible for my love of music.  Joshua Tree shaped me and influenced me as a musician, as a music critic, and as a person.

U2 gets a lot of shit these days, from myself included.  They are a band that achieved global stardom and universal acclaim but never sought to reinvent themselves.  Bono, as well intentioned as he may be, is always too explicit and almost always is too painfully corny, his political bombast and generic platitudes too disingenuous.  In his worst moment as an artist he even force-fed us an abysmal album because he knew no one really wanted to listen.  Nonetheless, I remember Joshua Tree fondly and cannot deny its effect on my life.

So the present day me never had the intention to see U2 live, but when they announced they were going to do a Joshua Tree Tour and perform the whole album in its entirety, I immediately signed up for the early ticket access.  I admit I saw it as an opportunity to buy my dad a birthday present, but the thought of experiencing something that affected me so positively in my childhood and giving back and doing that with him was a dream come true.

And it was.  My dad danced and vibed the whole concert with a glint in his eyes that illuminated his pure joy.  After the show he said it was incredible, and that he was at a loss for words (which for him is quite something).  He processed it and ultimately said it was a concert that was simultaneously intellectually stimulating and wildly entertaining, but he did add that at times Bono’s asides were too much.  My father’s analysis is at the core of why those who hate U2 really hate U2.  But at least they are finally accepting their destiny: Joshua Tree is undeniably their magnum opus, and they did the right thing capitalizing on their anniversary tour.  Nonetheless, Bono saw it as an opportunity to grate us with his platitudes.

Before they took the stage, Frank Ocean, Radiohead, and Jamie xx were played, a sad and all-too obvious attempt to seem hip and cool.  Meanwhile, Civil War, slave, and Native American obituaries, speeches, and poems were being scrolled down on the big screen.  There were times during the show when Bono would say “from the left, to the right, we find common ground to achieve higher ground,” and other political things that reminded us too much of the present day.  He thanked America for being an asylum for the Irish (white immigrants) and came razor thin close at times to saying “Fuck Trump,” but instead went back to the United States’ (relatively) open immigration policies.  Luckily, the musical breaks wiped everything clean and were mini moments of incandescent ecstasy.

Going into the show I knew the politics were going to be heavy-handed, but afterwards I did not expect it to make so much sense.  I thought my increased cynicism with age and my absolute dread of reading the news every day would cause me to loathe U2 for tainting my pure moment of nostalgic bonding with my father.  Instead, I found myself thinking of Paul Simon; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; Sting, Tracy Chapman, Cat Stevens, and Chile’s very own Inti-Illimani.  They are musicians who are very explicitly political in their art, and my father filled the house every morning with any and all of them.  It was as if he were saying: “okay guys, let’s get up and change the world for the better.”  Whether it was a conscious decision or not, my father brilliantly delivered that lesson in such a gorgeous and implicit fashion that it will never, ever be forgotten. And I will love him forever for it.



Lorde, You are not a Liability. You are a Powerful Woman

I really wanted to hate Lorde when she released her debut album.  I was a senior in college and her suburban teenage malaise was not compatible with where I was at in my life.  But lo and behold, her music was inescapable, I heard her croon at parties and her influence hit me regardless of what I wanted.  I thought: here is a white teenage girl complaining about the minutia of her privilege.  How I wanted to hate her, therefore Lorde sucks.

Wanted.  I automatically despised Lorde and the fact that every girl at every party sang along emotionally to all of her lyrics.  Deep down I knew I was judging her for what she looked like: a white, teenaged woman.  The ingrained sexism that I try to dismantle within me everyday triumphed, and I was both pride and prejudice simultaneously.

Deep down I saw how empowered all these women were, and what I was experiencing was disempowerment.  I was on the outside looking in.  Jealous.  I was left out of a circle of women who were singing at the top of their lungs, and as a male identifying person, that is a rare occurrence.

Whatever the thematic and conceptual differences between Lorde’s two albums, the ultimate takeaway from her sophomore effort Melodrama, is that her music is about the emotional difficulty of being a young woman in the world.  “Not easy” at its most understated, fucking impossible at its most real.  “In my head I do everything right,” she sings, but it does not matter if it is in her head or in actuality, some man is going to come around and dismantle all that is seemingly right.  “I am a liability,” she laments on not one, but two songs on Melodrama.

“You’re not what you thought you were……..a liability….”

An enormous part of Lorde’s appeal comes from her maturity.  At 17 years of age she was singing about high school like someone in their late 20’s, early 30’s looking back with wisdom and painful catharsis.  Every time I listen to Pure Heroine, I wish it had come out when I was in high school because it would have staved off so much angst and stereotypical bullshit.  Melodrama doubles down on that, except now she is an adult.  At 19 when the bulk of it was written and at 20 now, she is much wiser than I ever was at that age.  At the very least her art is, and it doesn’t matter if I listen to her music with the lens of a millennial working two jobs and in enormous debt, it speaks volumes to the human experience.

That experience may still be a white privileged one, and that should be noted.  Not often does an artist expose so much and create so much discourse by the age of 19.  Lorde’s music enlightens in such a way that is healthy for progress and empowering to girls everywhere all the while managing not to sound contrite.  I may be older than Lorde by six years, but wisdom isn’t acquired through age, but through experiences.

The most beautiful thing about art is that it is open to interpretation, but it also helps to understand the space and frame of mind the artist was in when they created.  In her interview with the New York Times,  Lorde insisted that Melodrama is not a break up album, but rather “it’s a record about being alone.  The good parts, the bad parts.”

For someone young and fresh out of a long term relationship, “being alone” is essentially the same thing as a break up.  But Lorde is not your normal young person fresh out of a break up.  She knows that one must come to terms with ones self when alone and embrace that identity.  The good and the bad.  Once you learn to love all of that about yourself, then you can move on to better things.  Lorde ghosted for a year, and the pop world is better off because of it.  Melodrama suggests loving is better than not loving at all, and that reflecting on life encourages amelioration.

“But in our darkest hours, I stumbled on a secret power
I’ll find a way to be without you, babe”