MUSICIAN // Oct 1987
LUMINOUS TIMES: U2 Wrestle With Their Moment Of Glory
Musician circa 1987 //p68
By John Hutchinson
by Jeffrey Croft, Mike Fuller, Adrian Boot
A lot can happen in half a year. In the last six months U2 have gone from being a beloved, middle-level rock group to
The Biggest Band in the World. Almost alone among their generation of groups they have upheld rock's best values while also
winning a stadium-size audience. Which is not the motivation for creating music, but which is surely a heck of a trick. This
year almost every popular musician ends up talking about U2. Sting, finishing up his new album in New York, recalls the farewell
appearance of the Police on the final night of the 1986 Amnesty International tour: "The last song we played, we handed our
instruments over to U2. Every band has its day In '84 we were the biggest band in the world, and I figured it was U2's turn
next. And I was right. They are the biggest band in the world. A year from now it'll be their turn to hand over their instruments
to someone else." We've got to be careful here not to measure success just by seats sold or dollars generated. The Bee Gees
were once the Biggest Band in the World. So were Fleetwood Mac and the Monkees. If you just count cash receipts, the B.B.I.T.W
right now is probably Bon Jovi. And in 1965 Herman's Hermits outsold the Beatles. No, if we're going to bestow such grand
and stupid mantles, we must be clear:
U2 are- right now- the band that best combines great talent with mass appeal, who
capture and set to music this moment better than anyone else with a prayer of reaching so wide an audience.
In the six
months since the release of The Joshua Tree, the entire climate around U2 has changed. This Irish quartet who had never had
a record in the top ten scored two number one singles and a number one LP right out of the box. Their spring tour of the U.S.
was a triumph, and their autumn return promises to bring down the stadiums. Perhaps more important, they have continued to
quietly release new songs- by now almost another album's worth. The flip sides of U2's singles "With Or Without You" and "I
Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" gave buyers four new songs- "Luminous Times," "Walk To The Water," "Spanish Eyes"
and "Deep In The Heart." In August they upped the ante by packaging "Where The Streets Have No Name" with three new tracks:
Against Time," "Silver And Gold" and "Sweetest Thing." Add in their two new collaborations with Robbie Robertson ("Testimony,"
"Sweet Fire Of Love") and Bono's contribution to the new T-Bone Burnett album ("Purple Heart") and you have an idea of U2's
creative energy in 1987.
Sitting in their manager's Dublin office above Windmill Lane, the studio where their albums are
recorded, Adam Clayton and Bono listen to acetates of the three newest songs. "Race Against Time" opens with a low drone,
moves into a heavy bass riff- played by Edge, and sounding as though it has been inspired by a rhythm on the Irish hand-drum,
the bodhr‡n- and then is augmented by "treated" guitar. Bono, dressed in black, his hair swept back into a pony-tail,
taps his feet, swaying slightly from side to side; Adam smiles and beats time with his hand. Then a distant voice rises: Bono
sings in an Ethiopian language, and follows it up with the phrase, "race against time." It is an infectious groove ("Larry
did this in one take," says Adam with a grin) and has an African flavor. It is vaguely reminiscent of Peter Gabriel. Bono
tells me that the song was inspired by his visit to Ethiopia, and refers to the famine there. "It reminds me of the desert,"
he says. "The desert is so empty, but it aches with a strange kind of fullness."
Next up is "Silver And Gold," a version
of the song Bono wrote at the Sun City Sessions. It's tough and raw, with Bono in husky and confident voice, underpinned by
a sinuous bass line, and with Edge demonstrating his newfound prowess in blues-based guitar. "Sweetest Thing" opens with a
piano, picks up tempo and moves along with tight, fast-moving percussion and fluid bass. Bono dips in and out of a falsetto,
singing "I'm losing you" in a way that recalls John Lennon.
Three new tracks, all of them memorable, and they're hidden
away on the back of the third single off Joshua Tree. Just what are these guys doing? Riding the crest of a wave, U2 are brimful
of confidence and have a rock-steady belief in the power of their music. They're willing- indeed, determined- to stretch their
talents to the limit. Bono says, before the interview begins, "We're nowhere near our peak yet. We're only just beginning
to tap a completely new set of ideas."
It is the day after U2's gig in the vast NEC arena in Birmingham, England, which,
with the exception of an outdoor concert in Cork on the following Saturday, brings the first leg of their world tour to a
close. The Dublin evening papers announce that Bono has been listed in the top ten of "The World's Sexiest Men." At this moment,
though, Bono doesn't look too sexy. He's tired, unshaven and his voice is a mite hoarse. On the way into Windmill Lane, where
the outside walls are covered with U2 graffiti, he was encircled by a small crowd of fans, mainly female, who asked for autographs,
shook his hand and shrieked with excitement. He said a few words and was escorted, almost at a run, to the doors of the studio.
he waits for the other members of the band, Bono chats quietly. "It's strange coming home like this," he murmurs. "You come
back to Dublin, to your family and all the familiar places, and it seems like another world."
If Dublin looks a little
different to Bono, U2 looks different to Dublin. Earlier in the summer, when the band played two nights at the Gaelic soccer
stadium Croke Park, the newspapers were filled with stories about the local boys making good in the U.S.A. The predictable
backlash quickly came from Irish journalists who questioned the efficacy, if not the good intentions, of U2's concern for
the world's underprivileged. Those shots have rankled the band, but not as much as the fact that critics have spent more time
analyzing the U2 phenomenon than U2's music. Being without honor in your home is a traditional burden of being The Biggest.
arrives at the office looking like a hippie. He is still the diplomat who smoothes over rough patches. Larry Mullen, newly
vocal after years of refusing interviews, is the most down-to-earth in his comments, which are generally wry and good-humored.
Because Larry kept his silence for so long- and maybe also because he looks like James Dean- he got an image as reserved and
serious. So journalists have recently been delighted to find out what a funny guy the drummer is. At a New York press conference
last spring a reporter asked the band if Larry's status as a sex symbol in Japan had spread elsewhere. Mullen, who had not
spoken a word the whole time, raised his head, leaned forward and said, "Not yet, but we're hopeful."
As our conversation
begins, Adam considers his replies carefully and at times gets a little acerbic. Bono, as ever, is the most vociferous. He
restrains himself at first, but gradually becomes more involved, at times becoming quite agitated. Some of his pronouncements,
read in print, may seem overly earnest and perhaps a bit pompous, but in person his fiery character is charming. If he sometimes
talks faster than he thinks, you nonetheless feel that his sincerity is genuine and that his comments are always heartfelt;
his integrity burns right through any skepticism.
In a few years somebody else will be the Biggest Band in the World. But
Bono, Adam, Larry and Edge will still be making music from their hearts, and lots of us will still be listening. In fact,
when all this current hubbub dies down, the music will probably be easier to hear. Then we can forget about charts and political
litmus tests and get back to the real soul of U2.
"Isn't it incredible, " Larry Mullen smiles, "that when you reach a certain
stage everything suddenly becomes important. Everyone has been talking about the U2 phenomenon and not so much about the music.
That's the bottom line, after all."
MUSICIAN: Let's get this out of the way first: How seriously do you take the Irish criticism that you're only
playing liberal songs for white middle-class audiences in America, and that U2 is ineffectual as a force for change?
That assessment is wrong; it's actually inaccurate.
EDGE: Our perspective is Irish. Sure, that isn't as relevant
to a black kid in New York as to someone in Dublin, but there's a spirit in what we do that I believe can transcend cultural
barriers. The success of U2 is based on the fact that it does that. We find in our European shows that we have a language
barrier, yet some of the audiences seem to understand what we're getting at better than our English or Irish audiences.
It's fair to say that we don't have a big black audience in the United States, and we really regret this, but it has nothing
to do with the color of their skin. It's cultural. Black music has a different sensibility in American urban areas; at least
different from an Irish urban situation. We have a large Latin audience in the Southwest and in Florida, and to say
that it's primarily middle-class means nothing in America. Working-class in America is middle-class by Irish standards. I
think that that critic's description of the audience at the Amnesty International concert at the Giants Stadium as "mainly
white, middle-class and content as a field of flowers" is misleading. I've never met a man whose contentment derived from
his class- never! Why should a person who is middle-class be necessarily more content than a working-class person? This is
a completely empty-headed argument intellectually, and that critic ought to have been more rigorous.
: It's irrelevant. Why is he trying to impose class structures on music? Is Frank Sinatra any less of an
artist because you have to pay a small fortune to see his concerts?
MUSICIAN: But do your socially conscious songs actually achieve anything in terms of change, or are they simply
a handy release valve for the consciences of thousands of young people?
BONO: I don't think that it is an artist's
duty to provide answers, and the idea that a rock 'n' roll band is going to change the political infrastructure of a country
is, I think, just naive. We, as a group, don't have to justify any reaction to our music. Literally, if people went home and
battered their wives after a U2 concert, or stuck syringes into their arms, or even committed mass suicide [laughs]- we can't
be responsible for the exact response to our music. But, as it happens, the Conspiracy of Hope Tour doubled Amnesty International's
membership in the United States. Significant?
MUSICIAN: Yet it was reported that Amnesty International said that the number of young new members was more of
a burden than anything else.
EDGE: Not true. That was a spokesman who didn't know what he was talking about. We
contacted Amnesty when we heard about that, and they said that, on the contrary, the young people who joined Amnesty International
because of U2's interest and the Conspiracy of Hope Tour are greatly valued and are greatly effective.
are people who have been working for twenty years for that to happen! I read the article where that point was made, and not
only was it bogus, but it was dangerous. It actually encouraged apathy, and that, I'm afraid, is the great middle-class disease.
And I'll bet you one thing- that the guy who wrote that article isn't from Cedarwood Road [one of the less privileged areas
of Dublin]. In my experience, the only people who talk about class structures are middle-class. As it happens, I really respect
the U2 audience. I think they're extraordinary and, indeed, a kind of phenomenon in their own right. They come from different
backgrounds, and it seems that, more than any other audience in rock 'n' roll, they have found a way of channeling their energy
MUSICIAN: To an extent. At your homecoming concert at Croke Park there seemed to be an incredible feeling of solidarity
between the band and the audience that I've never seen at an outdoor gig of that size. But Bob Geldof in the British TV documentary
on the show, said that the audience's new-found optimism would probably only last as long as the bus-ride home. There were
a large number of drunk, semi-hysterical kids in the crowd.
BONO: [angrily] How many? All of them?
MUSICIAN: No, but a significant proportion, I'd say.
BONO: A small minority of a rock 'n' roll audience
of 50,000 is a lot of people. If even ten percent of them are assholes, it's a crowd, a frightening mob. But have you ever
tuned into the police radio at midnight on Christmas Eve? It's unbelievable- you'll hear things like "They have a priest up
against the wall." There are more people hurt at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve in Dublin than at a U2 concert! Some people
obviously drink too much. I've drunk too much; I've fallen over; I've called the fellow in front of me names and then put
up my fists when he turned round. But a lot of the U2 audience are working men with wives and kids- a guy might work overtime
so he can get to the concert. And why should we put the responsibility on him to sign up with Amnesty- the guy probably hasn't
got the time to have his kid baptized by the local priest! You can't make these grand assessments of the whole audience. Go
home with them; get on the bus with them! When was the last time Bob Geldof got on the bus to go home to Finglas? And who
knows- maybe next time the kid will think twice about who he votes for, instead of only once.
ADAM: I just don't
think it's true that people forget everything on the bus home- not at all.
BONO: Even if it is true, it doesn't
detract from what U2 does.
: U2's music has many different elements. If someone comes along to a concert and is inspired to join Amnesty
that's one part of it, but someone else may feel emotionally overwhelmed by the music, and someone else again may just come
along to jump up and down and bop. They're all relevant; they're all important. They're intertwined, and to put emphasis on
one element is wrong.BONO
: And that's the story of U2's relationship with the press. They put emphasis on one
thing or another, instead of taking the situation as a whole. The press like grand statements, but not necessarily statements
about truth. That's where we sometimes differ.EDGE
: They can simplify the message to a point where what's really
being said by the band is no longer evident. What we're about is possibly too complicated to be explained in a few lines in
a review, and even to attempt to explain it like that is wrong. I think a review can give an impression, but it can't sum
up U2 in total, or give all the story.
MUSICIAN: Where are journalists getting it wrong?
ADAM: We can't tell you, man. Just listen to the
BONO: The most serious misconception is in oversimplification. It's easy to mock us because we have belief
in, and respect for, our audience- in a way that is unusual for a rock 'n' roll band. It's easy to paint it as a populist
ploy, or as stupidity and naivete. But we came out of that audience, and we're now onstage, playing to it. Whether the U2
audience will be any more significant than the audiences of the 60s or 70s remains to be seen.
EDGE: We're just
trying to figure out how to live in this world. That's what it's all about.
BONO: I'm sorry. I apologize if I
got carried away with myself. This is an issue that riles me a little bit. I probably haven't expressed myself that well,
because I'm still thinking the matter out- I haven't really thought it through enough to give an accurate response. But it
worries me that people judge us by their own assumptions regarding what the band is about. When The Unforgettable Fire came
out there was a negative reaction to it in the United States- it wasn't a straight rock 'n' roll album. At that point we could
have made a rock 'n' roll album, but we started to experiment, and experimentation is almost not allowed, because pop is the
dominant force in music in the 80s. People are impressed by record sales. Why? I also think that a great deal of rock criticism
is at an all-time low at the moment. It's got to the stage in Ireland where journalists have decided to criticize U2 just
for the hell of it! That's not a good enough reason. What rock 'n' roll criticism has to do is own up to its own limitations
and uncertainties. And then there is the problem of being an Irish band in Ireland, where a whole generation is on the slippery
slope, and they're holding on to us, trying to turn us into some kind of icon.
MUSICIAN: How do you rid yourselves of that burden? And how can you keep in touch with that generation?
I don't know. I don't know how we're going to do it. I'd say the odds are against us doing it. All this responsibility has
been thrown upon us, just because we're a rock 'n' roll band.
MUSICIAN: But you've taken a lot of it upon yourselves- it's a brave thing to have done.
BONO: I suppose
we make music that we want to hear. That's all. But I'll tell you what I think. I see something changing- I think people are
looking for art that doesn't just reflect the chaos, but challenges it. And that's why I believe there will be a reexamination
of soul music, country music, gospel and folk- music made by people. As one French writer said about us, what's so extraordinary
about being human? To a lot of the intelligentsia, the most offensive aspect of U2 is our lack of self-consciousness. But
rock 'n' roll is not an intellectual art form; it's much more to do with instinct. With U2 I'd like to achieve a balance between
the head and the heart, and I'm not sure that we've got it yet. But at least that's what we're aiming for. I'd like to make
a rock 'n' roll album now that has at its core a sense of abandonment- there are so few artists owning up to what it's like
to have both fears and faith.
ADAM: Our music is about humanity; it doesn't create fantasies.
A filmmaker like Francis Ford Coppola doesn't have to justify Apocalypse Now in the way that we have had to justify songs
like "Sunday Bloody Sunday" or "Bullet The Blue Sky." He sees things in a particular way, and expresses them in a movie. We
accept it, look at it, and examine the film. With U2 that doesn't seem to be the case. This word "responsibility" crops up
all the time in assessments of U2, but do critics judge Coppola by the reaction of cinema-goers to Apocalypse Now? Shouldn't
we ask that question about rock criticism? People said, "How can you write a song like 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' when you don't
live in Derry?" But they didn't ask Coppola if he was on the river being smuggled into Cambodia. Of course he wasn't- he's
a writer! I think that rock 'n' roll criticism itself has to be reappraised- it has to be more intellectually rigorous. It's
turning in on itself, and the same standards should apply to rock as apply to other art forms.
MUSICIAN: Tell me about the three songs on the B-side of your new single, "Where The Streets Have No Name."
They're different. They're three extremes of what U2 can do. The first one is a version of "Silver And Gold," where you'll
find some of the rawest rock 'n' roll that you can hear. We've got a beautiful song called "Sweetest Thing," which is pop
as it should be- not produced out of existence, but pop produced with a real intimacy and purity. It's very new for us.
last one is called "Race Against Time, "which is a study in rhythm. It's like taking some of the rhythms of traditional Irish
music, where there is no emphasis on the two or the four- a strange, twisting, rhythmic experiment. I actually played bass
on the track, but it was inspired by Adam. He has the knack of playing parts that no one else would ever think of. My bass-playing
is very predictable, but this is one of my more unusual parts.
BONO: On the "With Or Without You" EP there are
three songs that all deal with obsession, with that kind of sexuality. I'd like to have done a whole side, a whole record,
blue. That EP is something close.
MUSICIAN: "Luminous Times" is very somber- it's almost like a track from Low or "Heroes."
a great track. Some of those songs would definitely have been contenders for the album, but what happened was- and it is a
classically "U2" thing to do- we had quite a lot of time to work on the record, but right in the middle the Amnesty tour came
up. That took us out of circulation for about two months, because of the dates, recovering, getting the gear back, and getting
back into the studio. We ran out of time. There could have been two records, depending on which songs we decided to finish.
There was this one album, the "blues" album that Bono was talking about, and another, much more "European," which is kind
of the way I was led. "Luminous Times" would have been on it, as would "Walk To The Water." In a funny way you aim somewhere,
but the album itself makes up its own mind. We hustled to try to finish it, and to get our own views across, but it is a democratic
band, and neither my nor Bono's feelings came through completely. What we ended up with was The Joshua Tree.
: Why didn't "Spanish Eyes" make it onto the album? EDGE
: It wasn't ready. That's the only
reason. I discovered this cassette of something that Adam, Larry and I were playing around with, and it evolved in the course
of an afternoon's recording in Adam's house. It was forgotten, and months later I dug it up and played it to the group. We
then realized it was great, but it had got lost in the confusion.BONO
: Marc Coleman, our assistant, has been
through my cassette collection, and he found about a hundred songs that I've collected over the last five years. There are
acoustic bits and pieces, bits of the band at sound-checks- and he reckons that at least half of them are goers.
MUSICIAN: The song that Marc engineered- "Deep In The Heart"- is very free-form. It's unusual for U2.
That's exactly what it is. It's a bit like the "4th Of July" of this record. With "4th Of July" Adam and I were in this room
playing and we didn't even know we were being recorded. It was the same with "Deep In The Heart."
ADAM: It was
actually recorded on a 4-track cassette machine. It was the only recorder set up.
BONO: "Deep In The Heart" was
a simple three-chord song idea that I'd written on the piano, about the last day I spent in Cedarwood Road, in my family house.
After I left and went out on my own my father was living there by himself, and there were a lot of break-ins. Heroin addiction
in the area was up and kids needed the money. Anyway, my father decided to sell the little house, and before he moved out
I went back there and thought about the place, which I'd known since I was small. I remembered a sexual encounter I'd had
there- "Thirteen years old, sweet as a rose, every petal of her paper-thin... Love will make you blind, creeping from behind,
gets you jumping out of your skin. Deep in the heart of this place... "The simple piano piece that I had was nothing like
what these guys turned it into, which was an almost jazz-like improvisation on three chords. The rhythm section turned it
into a very special piece of music.
LARRY: Yeah, like Edge says, these moments just come along when you're not
expecting them. The great thing about U2, and probably about Adam and myself more than anyone else, is that we struggle with
our musicianship all the time. We don't know what to do. We don't know what the format is, we don't know what a great rhythm
section is supposed to do; we're still discovering. Even now- and I hope that this is something that doesn't disappear- it's
the struggle, the fight to get it right, that makes U2 what it is. The day that U2 stops fighting is the day that U2 will
not be the band that it is now.
: Do you listen to other drummers, Larry?LARRY
: I'm very rarely inspired by them. I get
more inspiration listening to Christy Moore playing the bodhran than listening to Steve Gadd. But I look at drummers. When
we did the Amnesty tour, I asked Manu Katche if I could sit down behind him and watch. He was freaked and didn't know what
I was doing, but I just wanted to see what real drummers get up to! I like to watch, as opposed to listening. It's just jealousy,
I suppose, based on the realization that a good drummer can do things that I can't. There are two angles to drumming, which
you can see by comparing Manu Katche with, say, Omar Hakim, who's an incredible technician. They both sit at the kit in the
same way; they both have similar attitudes and the same flair, but Manu has a feel that I really admire. On the Peter Gabriel
tour he was offered work on four albums, I think, and I got anxious for him, because I saw the risk of him becoming a session-head.
Another drummer I really like is Andy Newmark, for his precision. He never put in any frills. I remember meeting him in a
hotel a long time ago, and I said, "Look, I'm having a problem with tempo, and I'm a bit embarrassed about using a click."
He said, "I use a click all the time in the studio." He talked to me for maybe an hour, and he explained to me how to work
with a click, how to rehearse- all those sorts of things.
MUSICIAN: You have control of your studio drum sound?
LARRY: Yes, complete. But Edge or Bono might
suggest something- we work together on it. Nothing that I do is really my own; everything is influenced by the others.
MUSICIAN: Do you and Adam work together in the early stages of laying down the backing tracks?
We've found it very difficult working together, because neither one of us knew how to play in a band. I'd say, "What are we
meant to do here? The bass line goes like that, and I want to play it this way!" An awful lot is battling through it. It was
only on The Joshua Tree, and now live, that Adam and I are complementing each other. We've never done that before. It's not
through our own fault- we never learned how to do it.
ADAM: I take my cue from Larry's drumming, to be honest.
Once Larry has decided on a beat for a song, I try to emphasize it with the bass. We'll rehearse the bass and drums sometimes
if we're having a problem with a song.
LARRY: But that's only a new development. At the beginning it was much
more difficult, because Adam wasn't playing what a normal bass-player would, and I wasn't always doing what a normal drummer
would do. So there was conflict, not in terms of personality, but as far as the playing was concerned. Things weren't sounding
right, and so we worked really hard, listening to dance-music, trying to find out how a dance record is made.
On the recording of the first three albums we didn't do the backing tracks as a band. The backing tracks were usually guitar
and drums, and I'd put down the bass later. I had the luxury, once the song was there, of being able to figure out a bass
part. I hated using cans in the studio, because you can't hear anything, so I would do the bass in the control-room, where
I could hear the bass and drums. Now we don't bother with cans at all; we use stage monitors.
MUSICIAN: You worked on two songs on Robbie Robertson's new album. I can see some similarities between you and
the early Band- a kind of pioneering spirit and a visionary quality. And like the Band, you've looked closely at America from
an outsider's perspective.
EDGE: We spring from the same source, perhaps. That comparison is an interesting one,
because, as Robbie said-what was his turn of phrase?
BONO: "I was fifteen, and I guess I had the fever!" Robbie
puts on sunglasses before he plays up the neck of his guitar. There was messing about and there was playing for real. When
he played for real he looked the part- he was incredible to watch. He had the Hawaiian shirt on, and the shades, and he was
belting it out. As a singer he's totally underestimated, and, indeed, he underestimates himself. He has an extraordinary voice.
What we're doing now, and what we were interested in doing then, was finding out about the original blues music- not the rehashed
white blues, which was so awful- which has the spirit of what we've been trying to express since the beginning: the feeling
of alienation and loss, the feeling of not being at one with your circumstances. Their music has pain in it, depth and a sense
of personal commitment.
MUSICIAN: You don't think that white guys can sing the blues? When I bought the John Mayall and Eric Clapton Blues-breakers
album in 1966 it sounded pretty authentic to me, as I imagine your music sounds emotionally authentic to your fans.
By the time we had arrived that whole scene had gone.
BONO: Clapton is a true bluesman, there's no question about
that. The blues doesn't belong to any color.
EDGE: Yeah, it's all about feeling. I'm sure that Eric Clapton is'
more of a bluesman than, say, Robert Cray- but I'm judging purely on instinct. There must have been blacks who felt the blues
more than whites, but at the same time I think it's possible for white guys to feel the same emotions- like Keith Richards
or Eric Clapton. Those feelings make the blues.
BONO: I think it is inverted racism to believe that the color
of your skin prevents you from being a soul singer or blues player.
ADAM: What we're discovering now is that
pop music, or commercial music that you hear on the radio, is just not for us. It doesn't fit in with what we're trying to
do. We understood Irish traditional music first, realized that it had a long history, and with that kind of understanding
we were able to go through to country music and appreciate its depths, and eventually end up somewhere in the Delta. That's
what we're focusing our attention on now, rather than on studio techniques.
LARRY: But it would be wrong to suppose
that when one of us gets into the blues suddenly everyone says, "Wow! Let's go for it!" We all have different tastes. My interest
in blues music is from Bono's perspective, which is that of soul singers. That's what attracts me, as opposed to the actual
history of the blues, of which my knowledge is obviously very limited, because I grew up in the 70s.
MUSICIAN: I hear you want to record a country album, Larry.
LARRY: I've had it planned for a longtime,
but I still haven't got around to doing anything about it. When this tour's finished, I'll get down to it seriously.
MUSICIAN: I'm told that you have a great voice- that's what Maria McKee says, anyway!
this is true. [Guffaws from the band] You think Robbie Robertson is underestimated!
BONO: Go on, give us an aul'
LARRY: I did say to Maria that if I did get this country record together, I'd like her to come and help
me sing, and maybe write a few songs. Unfortunately, I can't play guitar, and when I did start to learn, I did something to
my hand and I couldn't get it round the neck. These guys think that I didn't bother to try [laughter], but it's completely
untrue, and I will learn how to play. My initial interest started when I got into Johnny Cash through Bono here- he was always
talking about the At Folsom Prison album- and then I became friendly with a guy who loaned me all his country records. I've
always known Patsy Clime songs, although I never really understood them, but now I listen to Johnny Cash, to younger people
like Steve Earle and Dwight Yoakam, and to the Judds especially.
BONO: Larry gets love letters from the Judds!
MUSICIAN: You've been writing country and blues songs, Bono?
BONO: I wrote one for Roy Orbison called
"She's a Mystery To Me", "When Love Comes To Town" is the one I wrote for B. B. King. I haven't sent them out yet- I write
them, then I lose them. Anyway, they're not fully demoed yet...
EDGE: The best story is about the time that Bono,
T-Bone Burnett, Bob Dylan, and I were up one night writing a song, and Bono lost the lyrics! So I hope Bob has them...
There's another song I wrote about B.B. 's guitar, called "Lucille," but that's a country song. "When Love Comes To Town"
goes like this: [sings softly] "I was a sailor lost at sea; I was under the waves before love rescued me; I was a fighter,
I could turn on a thread, but I stand accused of the things that I've said- when love comes to town I'm gonna catch that plane.
Baby, I was wrong to ever let you down, but I did what I did before love came to town!" The last verse is a gospel verse:
[changing tempo] "I was there when they crucified the Lord; I held the scabbard when the soldiers drew the sword. I threw
the dice when they pierced his side, but I've seen love conquer the great divide!"
MUSICIAN: Robertson said that when you're writing lyrics for a band you've got to write on the group's behalf,
not just for yourself Would you agree?
EDGE: Not actually true, but accidentally true. There's
such a strength of commitment within the group that ninety-eight percent of Bono's lyrics could have been written as if they
were for the band.
BONO: But a writer has to be selfish.
EDGE: It's not that Bono would ever be precious
about his lyrics- he always comes to us and discusses them. We may only be his first critics, but in that sense there is an
input, and occasionally someone from the band will contribute.
BONO: Edge will sometimes walk up to me and say
something like, "I still haven't found what I'm looking for," and I'll turn it into a song: The original statement came from
Edge, and it occasionally happens that a song will work out that way. But I think that the group would support me if I went
out on a limb, even if it's something that they don't fully believe in.
MUSICIAN: T-Bone Burnett said that Bono is an inheritor of John Lennon's gift for making grand statements, and
that U2, with its capacity for musical expansiveness, is one of the few bands able to "fill" a stadium.
Well, John Lennon was an artist of performance, in a way, and U2, onstage, is the same- there is a performance of music that
has previously been made. We work with what we have before us. If it's a small club, like in the early days, I might g&
off the stage. We once played to seventeen people in Birmingham and I would sit down with them in the middle of songs. I'd
drink from their glasses, and pour the rest over their heads. If we're playing in arenas, we'll adapt accordingly. U2 music
tends to float a bit, and it suits not being hemmed in by a small room. When we're recording we use the studio as an instrument,
and we work with the stage as an artist might work with a canvas. We make big music that isn't easily contained.
You see, our love of music is not just for the sound, but for the fact that you can communicate with people through it. That's
what I believe U2 is all about. It's an ability to reach people, to touch them, to have a relationship with someone through
your music. There are no physical limitations to that. You try to provide the biggest platform on which you can get through
to people- and for them to get through to you. It's a two-way process.
EDGE: But we never sit down to write a
"big" song or a "big" lyric. We write songs because we want to express something.
BONO: I find that people make
assumptions about U2 based on the singles, or on the Under a Blood Red Sky film. They accept the rhetoric that War is a very
brash record, but on that LP is a song called "Drowning Man," which is the most intimate musical piece. The Unforgettable
Fire is a very intimate album, and a very personal one. "Pride" was the odd song out, and if someone judges the album by that
one single, then he's missing out. I take it as a compliment if someone says that we're making grand statements, but I'm not
just interested in that. As a writer I'm now more concerned with complexities and gray areas than I ever was. We made black
and white statements in a particular period in the group's history, when we kind of went through the John Lennon Handbook;
Lennon wrote a song called "Sunday Bloody Sunday."
MUSICIAN: There are plenty of comparisons between the Beatles and U2 these days.
EDGE: I don't know
if there really are any significant comparisons to be made, beyond the fact that, like the Beatles, U2 is a band. Otherwise,
I don't know... There's a guy who argues that there is a twenty-year cycle to everything, and that The Joshua Tree and Sergeant
Pepper are exactly twenty years apart! [laughs]
BONO: When we were kids, everyone wanted to be in the Beatles.
Now we are! [laughs] I'm only kidding! THAT'S A JOKE! In the 80s, which is a barren era, we look back at the 60s as a great
reservoir of talent, of high ideals, and of the will and desire to change things~ We're turning the 60s into the twentieth-century
Renaissance, and trying to relive the period. Therefore people want to turn U2 into the Beatles.
LARRY: The only
good thing about the references, for me, is that the Beatles, like us, didn't take themselves too seriously. They had a laugh,
made music seriously, and that was it. We're not spokesmen for a generation.
MUSICIAN: So let's talk about the music. "Where The Streets Have No Name" is a classic introductory album track.
It really sets the pace and the context for the rest of the album.
BONO: I thought that the intro sounded like
an orchestra tuning up. It was a treatment of an Edge keyboard line.
EDGE: Yeah, Brian [Eno] did one of his Russian
things on it. It was a natural choice for the beginning of an album, and we actually tailored the intro for that position.
Had we put it elsewhere on the record we would probably have shortened it, because a lot of U2 songs start out longer than
they finally end up. But we loved the way it evolved, so we left it as it was. To be honest, though, when you're making a
record the running order just develops, as the songs tend to give us clues when we're working on them.
MUSICIAN: But there does seem to be some kind of a structure to The Joshua Tree, although perhaps it's a rationalization
after the fact. The first two tracks are "transcendent" songs, and they're followed by love songs and more socially oriented
BONO: There is a beginning, middle and end to the LP. I actually object to the fact. that we had to
put it on two sides- I'd have liked it all on side one, and nothing on side two.
EDGE: This side one/side two
business isn't something we subscribe to, although we used to take advice like "Stick anything that's going to keep radio
happy on side one, and put all the experimental, interesting stuff on side two."
BONO: "Running To Stand Still"
was always meant to be followed by "Red Hill Mining Town" and that's one reason for having the CD- although I'm not a big
CD person myself. I like the crackles.
MUSICIAN: What do you consider the highlights of The Joshua Tree, with the benefit of hindsight?
The inner sleeve, basically!
ADAM: I think the power of "Bullet The Blue Sky" is something we never conjured up
before. That's what I like.
EDGE: But whenever I hear that track I think about how far it could have gone. As
a guitar-player I'm only barely getting into that style. The guitar-playing is much better live than on record, where I was
only exploring the possibilities.
MUSICIAN: Was the guitar multi-tracked?
EDGE: It was a live take. The guitar break towards the end
has an overdub on it, but the basic track is live. We should get into this now, because it's a classic example of this kind
of recording. When we were planning this record, one thing we wanted to do was to take up where we left off with The Unforgettable
Fire in terms of recording techniques- getting the sound of a live performance. There is no way that recording each instrument
in a separate acoustic environment, and, trying to blend them back together again, from tape, is going to get the same result
as musicians playing together. You don't get the sound of the room, you don't get the chemistry. So we did The Joshua Tree
in Adam's house, in my house, and also in the "live" room here in Windmill Lane. Everybody was in the same space, playing
with eye contact and a great deal of feeling. The sound of "Bullet" is the sound of U2 playing in a room. It is essential
for that song that we have that feeling. It's the same for a lot of the other tracks too, like "Running To Stand Still."
I tend, as a word-writer, to think in terms of a running-order. It would be on my mind a lot. The whole process of U2 involves
four people, and we all have different opinions. Side two would have been different if I'd had my way. I wanted it to go further
into the swamp. There was a very different piece before "Exit," and a gospel song to go before that. I had this idea that
we should start with U2- with "Where The Streets Have No Name"- and then dismantle U2 during the record, and be left with
nothing recognizable as us. This didn't completely come to be, because in the end we took decisions on the strength of the
songs. I would battle more for the big idea, for the structure of the whole record, but in the end what we went for- dare
I say it- was the Beatles' idea that each song has its own identity.
EDGE: The music is so different from anything
we did before, in terms of where the music sprung from. If we'd taken that notion to its extreme people wouldn't have known
what was going on. It would have been quite good to see people totally floored by it, but we also wanted to present what we
felt was the strongest material.
MUSICIAN: Do you consider your music primarily as art, entertainment or a vehicle for meaningful messages- be
they spiritual or social?
EDGE: I don't think we ever consider anything other than 'This is a song we want to
write." No one ever says "This is great entertainment!"
ADAM: You're talking about all the things that make up
a song- you can't separate them.
BONO: The people who try to do that are those who are on the outside looking
We're on the inside, and we can't see in front of our noses. To try to turn us into prophets- or for that matter wanting
to put us on in Las Vegas- is missing the point.
Trip Through Their Wires
U2's touring gear is best divided into categories. Electric guitars include a Gibson Explorer and Les
Paul, two Fender Strats and Teles, a Modulus Graphite and a Squier Strat. Acoustics are an Ibanez M-4321 V and Yamaha FG 365II
and 1.20A guitars. Adam's basses include Fender P and J Basses, a Zon Legacy with Bartolini pickups and an Ibanez Musician.
All strings are Superwound and Rotosounds.
U2 pumps their sound out of Vox AC30, MESA/Boogie and Roland JC-120 amps, with BGW and Yamaha power amps bringing
up the rear. Larry's drums are Yamahas, with LP timbales and cowbells. Cymbals are Paistes. Keyboards are a Yamaha CP70, DX7
and DX21, and an Oberheim OB8. Effects include Yamaha SPX90 and 90B, a Korg SDD-3000, Ibanez DM1000 and VE400 and quite a
few Boss boxes. MIDI gear is represented by Yamaha QX1 and QX7 sequencers, with 360 and Sycologic patchers. Mikes are Shure
SM58s and SM10s, and boards are an Amek C2520 and a TAC Scorpion.