- 30 Jun 17
Hot Press talked to U2 about their album The Joshua Tree and the relation between American politics and rock 'n' roll music.
Our March 26, 1987 issue found Bill Graham renewing acquaintances with his old pals, Bono and The Edge.
U2 are the only band of their generation to breathe new life into old rock ceremonies and revive abandoned dreams. Now that they have became a familiar figure in the Promised Land of United States, this provides much of the focus for their new and sometimes tempestuous offering, The Joshua Tree.
While a song like 'Red Hill Mining Town' is specifically about the trials and tribulations visited on working class people in the British Miners Strike, the album as a whole represents the American side of U2’s collective personality - with an unmistakable Irish tinge.
The Joshua Tree is about the belief that human spirit cannot be killed - it is the final spark of optimism in the midst of contemporary power politics.
The Joshua Tree is both their most ambitious album and their most troubled. With a new emphasis on the poetic power of language, U2 place less reliance on faith.
The Edge gave us a few insights into the motivation behind the album, “As with much U2 work, it’s ‘reactionary’ in a sense. Whereas 'War' was a reaction to the weak, placid music, we saw everywhere, I think this was, in a funny way, our reaction to The Unforgettable Fire. We had experimented a lot in its masking and done quite revolutionary things for us, like 'Elvis Presley In America' and '4th Of July'."
He continued, "We felt on this record that maybe, options were not such a good thing, that limitations might not be very positive. So we decide to work within the limitations of the song as a starting-point. Let’s actually write songs. We just wanted to leave the record less vague, more open-ended, atmospheric and impressionistic. Make it more straightforward, focused and concise."
Bono added, “We approached arranging and producing each song like it was unique. We just hoped the album would have a sonic cohesiveness based on the idea that we were playing it..."
Whilst professing to being an optimist, Bono qualified that, "You mustn’t be blind or deaf to the world around you. 'Running To Stand Still' is based on a real story while Exit, I don’t even know what the act I sin that song. Some see it as a murder, others a suicide – and I don’t mind. … The album’s real strength is that though you travel through deep tunnels and bleak landscapes, there’s a joy at the heart of it."
On the more serious note, they reflected on what rock 'n' roll music can do for America politics. Bono said, "well, I think, first of all, it’s not your first reason for being on stage, to effect change in the political climate of a country I don’t know what the first reason is but it’s not the first reason. But I like to think that U2 have already contributed to a turnaround in thinking."
"and if we have, it’s not even the point, is it really? You don’t write a song because you think it’s going to change somebody. You write a song because that’s the way you feel." The Edge added.
Adam believed, "you write a song because something hurts. I mean if you look at social change within America, that came from the Delta areas, the plantations or wherever. A lot of the change in American is rooted in blues music; that was what people listened to. It was the protest music of the time."
"I don’t think it’s up to bands to have their politics and point of view worked out. I don’t think it’s up to me as a singer to have answers. I just think it’s important that you put questions. I don’t know of a rock n roll band that ever offered up answers and I think it’s wrong for pop stars to be politicians."
You can also see all of U2's Hot Press covers in the flesh as part of our 40th Birthday Exhibition in the National Photographic Archive in Meeting House Square, Temple Bar, Dublin. Open seven days a week, admission free!