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Some reflections on THE JOSHUA TREE.


Josh Hurst
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What the heck... it's Friday, and I'm all Ohioed out from discussing it so much at other boards, so I'm going to post some thoughts and questions about my favorite album of all time, which I've revisited a lot lately.

The most pressing question on my mind... exactly what it "Streets" about? I've heard many interpretations, and they all seem valid; is it about Heaven? Hell? Something else entirely?

What does Bono mean in "With or Without You" when he sings "and you give yourself away"? Should that be Yourself? Interesting that this one line from the song has been inserted into countless worship medlies over in CCM Land...

I was shocked to read that All Music finds "Bullet the Blue Sky" to be a weaker track. It's one of my favorites. Anyone here dislike the song?

What about the lines, "You gotta cry without weeping/ Talk without speaking/ Scream without raising your voice"? What's that mean?

That's enough for now. Maybe I'll hit the back half of the album later. Hopefully these questions will generate some great discussion.

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Ohhhh, now you've done it.

You've raised one of my favorite subjects: the poetry of The Joshua Tree, the second most important album in my life.

And you've started off with some of the great questions of interpretation.

And I simply don't have the time or energy or emotion at this point to dive in. But I look forward to doing so soon. Until then, have at it!

P.S.

"You know I took the poison from the poison stream and I floated out of here..." - Running to Stand Still, U2

"These corrosives work their magic slowly and sweet... " - Ebow the Letter, REM

Discuss.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Really, every line on this album deserves to be discussed, but even I'm not quite up for that at the moment. The rest of you folks can add some more favorite lines if you're so inclined.

And Jeffrey, those two songs are both about drug users... not sure what else there is to discuss, really.

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JOSH! This is in my car stereo right now, and it's probably my #1 album of all time, too! And like you said, it's Friday, so here goes....

One lovely thing about U2 songs

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A third option: perhaps the \"you\" does indeed refer to mankind, but maybe it means that we give ourselves away to lovers less satisfying than Christ.

Absolutely. Nice option.

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I completely agree that Christ is the singer and the "you" is the unfaithful bride of Christ.

On a bed of nails she makes me wait...

My hands are tied, my body bruised...

And then in Rattle and Hum when he reaches the song's passionate peak, he spreads his arms to form a crucifix.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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"Bullet the Blue Sky" certainly doesn't strike me as weak. Its screaming guitars are a tad jarring, though, in the context of the relatively more subdued tones of the rest of the album. (I love Bono's commentary accompanying it on "Rattle and Hum," by the way.)

How about "One Tree Hill"? I was a johnny-come-lately to this CD, so radio play had prepared me for "With or Without You," "In God's Country," etc. However, the beauty and hope of this song was an unexpected gift. Does anybody know the backstory for this song - is Bono mourning the loss of someone in particular?

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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How about \"One Tree Hill\"? I was a johnny-come-lately to this CD, so radio play had prepared me for \"With or Without You,\" \"In God's Country,\" etc. However, the beauty and hope of this song was an unexpected gift. Does anybody know the backstory for this song - is Bono mourning the loss of someone in particular?

Yeah, it's about the death of a U2 roadie, who died in a motorcycle accident when Bono sent him on an errand. One Tree Hill is a real place in New Zealand, though the symbolic possibilities of the name are interesting; anyone think there's a deep meaning to the name Red Hill Mining Town?

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Interesting...thanks for the info, Josh. It's curious, though, I had always imagined it to be about the death of a political martyr in a Third World country or something, especially with the line reminiscent of Cain and Abel, 'his blood still cries from the ground.' Perhaps this relates to a sense of guilt that Bono felt over his death?

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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Anyone have any further ideas on the "Running to Stand Still" lyrics I quoted? Jeffrey? Others?

Some more questions:

In "Exit," Bono references "nails in the night." In the next song, "Mothers of the Disappeared," he says that "night hangs like a prisoner, stretched over black and blue." Both of these lines always remind me of Christ's death. Is that fair, or am I taking the symbolism too far here? And, if those are references to the Cross, then exactly why did Bono put them in?

If one didn't know any better, couldn't "One Tree Hill" come across as a song about Jesus Christ?

Some questions about the album in general: Would you say that there's a theme or idea that unifies these songs? Do the political songs fit well with the more introspective, personal songs?

This is a very good thread.

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As one who has listened many times to these songs, but not studied them, here is my attempted offering of a general theme:

I think the overarching theme may be the obvious one that's right there from the beginning, that of a heavenly longing, a desire for completeness. It starts with "Where the Streets Have No Name," continues with "I Still Haven't Found..." and the more hopeful "One Tree Hill."

Perhaps the political tracks (or the less overtly spiritual songs, anyway) offset these songs of longing, by revealing the crap that leads us to scan the horizon for a perfect home (the murderous regimes of South American nations and the short-sighted imperialist aims of the First World countries, for instance) as well as the sorry means that we use to narcotize these longings.

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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What about the lines, \"You gotta cry without weeping/ Talk without speaking/ Scream without raising your voice\"? What's that mean?

This might be my favorite line of the album. One possible interpretation is that this line is a somewhat sarcastic description of the only way to survive in this world - put up a facade to hide the pain and make it seem like everything is "ok". Don't bother anyone with your struggles so everything stays status quo. To do this, you need to learn to "cry without weeping", "talk without speaking", and "scream without raising your voice". In other words, keep all the pain bottled up inside, and don't express your true emotions.

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Another question:  what is the geographical or spiritual location of 'God's Country'?  The meaning of this song is still a mystery to me.

I believe I've read something from Bono where he says this song refers to both America and Ireland. Here's my take on the song: I always think of America as the "desert rose" that's calling to the speaker, who I always imagine to be eager to immigrate to the U.S. (I especially think of the Irish, given the huge exodus to America over the years.) I picture America in the line "She is liberty, and she comes to rescue me." However, what exactly is she offering? It seems the speaker comes to America only to find that something's not right. Instead of offering hope, faith, and love, with the greatest of these being love, she offers "her vanity," and her "greatest gift is gold." I think Bono's describing an America that promises a lot, but in reality, doesn't deliver. Sounds like everyone in this promised land is spiritually sleepwalking, too worried and busy with financial pursuits to attend to more spiritual matters. Just my two cents and I could be way off base....

And that line from "Exit" about "nails in the night" always makes me think of Christ, too, especially since the nails are associated with the stars, and the stars are associated with the "healing hands of love."

He could see the stars shine

Like nails in the night.

He felt the healing

Healing, healing, healing hands of love

Like the stars shiny, shiny from above.

But what are your thoughts about this song? What is it about? Does it tell of a religious fanatic? Does the speaker totally reject Christ, therefore using his hands that could build to "also pull down the hands of love"? Does he kill himself? Kill someone else? This song always reminds me of Flannery O'Connor's Hazel Motes and Frances Tarwater.

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But what are your thoughts about this song? What is it about? Does it tell of a religious fanatic? Does the speaker totally reject Christ, therefore using his hands that could build to \"also pull down the hands of love\"? Does he kill himself? Kill someone else? This song always reminds me of Flannery O'Connor's Hazel Motes and Frances Tarwater.

Yes to the O'Connor reference. Great observation.

I don't think it's about someone who rejects God; almost the opposite, in a way. I think it's about a religious fanatic who commits an act of terrorism or murder because he believes that God is calling him to do so. He thinks he's obeying God. Really, it could be the same character that we encounter in "Love is Blindness."

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Wow, I participated in this forum back at the old site, but hadn't taken the time to sign up once it moved over here (although I lurk regularly) smile.gif Anyway, a discussion about the Joshua Tree is definitely something to bring me out of hiding. It changed my life when I first heard it in 87 and continues to move me deeply.

Here's a few thoughts on comments others have made:

STREETS: I, too, feel that this song really does focus primarily on heaven. This has become more clear over the years. If you look at some of those "U2 lyric interpretation" sites (and there are plenty out there), you'll find quotes from Bono suggesting that the song was inspired by driving around Dublin and seeing the differences between the rich and poor classes there. In other words, you can pretty much tell which "class" a person comes from depending on the name of his street. At the time Bono said that the song was sort of his way of envisioning a day when rich and poor would be equal (which itself could be a reference to Heaven). The linkage with Heaven seems to have gotten a lot more explicit in recent years, as many of you have noted. During the PopMart Tour, Bono inserted the closing lines from "Playboy Mansion" at the end of Streets: "Then there will be no time for sorrow, then will there be no time for shame, then there will be no time." And of course, the Elevation shows pointed to heaven in a pretty powerful way. I think this is one of the reasons why the band said the Elevation shows felt like "God was in the room."

WITH OR WITHOUT YOU: I have always felt that this song was pretty straightforward in its references to a relationship between a man and a woman, although I can certainly see the spiritual imagery you guys have pointed out. And like you, Josh, I have noted that several CCM acts have inserted the "you give yourself away" line into their songs, most notably Third Day on the worship medley on their latest album.

BULLET THE BLUE SKY: There's no denying that this is a powerful song, and it's obviously still a crowd favorite, but I'm in the minority that feels it has gotten a little, um, rusty, for lack of a better term. It is amazing to me that a song with such a powerful sense of time and place (Central America, 1980s) is continually adapted to other settings and issues (televangelists on Rattle and Hum, the gun control debate on the Elevation Tour, etc.). Again, it's a great song and it obviously still gets the crowds riled up when performed live, but I fear it has begun to lose a bit of its "freshness." smile.gif

RUNNING TO STAND STILL: Probably my favorite song on the album and one of my all time favorites off of ANY album. Bono's harmonica at the end is heartbreaking. The "cry without weeping..." lines are very moving to me as well. I have always felt that they sort of represent the desperation of drug addiction, describing drug abuse as a means of coping with a life of emptiness and desperation. Rather than crying out for help, you turn inward, poison yourself, and fall further down the spiral.

ONE TREE HILL: As others have noted, this song was written in memory of Greg Carroll, U2's roadie who was killed running an errand in Dublin. He was of Maori descent, and "One Tree Hill" is a reference to a location in Wellington New Zealand where he was buried. However, Andrew, you're also right in noting that the song references a political activist/martyr type character. The line "Jara sang his song, a weapon in the hands of love, though his blood still cries from the ground" is a direct reference to Victor Jara, a political activist/protest singer from Chile who was executed by the Chilean military. However, I have also thought that this song could have parallels to the crucifixion account. I really love the apocalyptic allusion to Christ's triumphant return at the end of the song: "I'll see you again when the stars fall from the sky and the moon has turned red over One Tree Hill."

IN GOD'S COUNTRY: I have also often wondered what this song is really about. I like DRose's suggestion that it deals with the Irish coming to America and the image of America as the "desert rose."

And speaking of deserts, I think the general idea behind the Joshua Tree is one of sojourn... the image of the desert as a dry and dusty place where the weary traveler longs for rescue. Some critics made fun of U2 for trying to look like "pilgrims" on the album cover, but I think that is exactly what they were shooting for. The famous last verse of "I Still Haven't Found" sums it all up. Bono declares his faith in Christ, but as long as he's here in "the desert," he's incomplete. It's the same thing C.S. Lewis talks about when he discusses the "inconsolable longing" that all believers will experience until the day they are reunited with Christ.

Ok, sorry for the long rambling response. The Joshua Tree can do that to a person! smile.gif

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Welcome, morgan1098! Glad you're here.

And speaking of deserts, I think the general idea behind the Joshua Tree is one of sojourn... the image of the desert as a dry and dusty place where the weary traveler longs for rescue.  Some critics made fun of U2 for trying to look like \"pilgrims\" on the album cover, but I think that is exactly what they were shooting for.  The famous last verse of \"I Still Haven't Found\" sums it all up.  Bono declares his faith in Christ, but as long as he's here in \"the desert,\" he's incomplete.  It's the same thing C.S. Lewis talks about when he discusses the \"inconsolable longing\" that all believers will experience until the day they are reunited with Christ.

Very nice comments.

Also, thanks to Jeffrey and Josh for sharing that interpretation of "With Or Without You," where Christ is the speaker and "you" is the unfaithful bride. I listened to the song last night with this in mind. Wow! Powerful stuff. Leaves me asking myself, "How many times have I heard this song? And why have I NEVER thought of this??" :-k

And with this thought in mind, would you say that "Trip Through Your Wires" portrays the viewpoint of someone giving in to temptation and following a false love?

And, if I can shift slightly off-topic to a couple of songs that were cut from the album, what do you make of Bono's supposed comment that "With Or Without You" makes no sense without "Walk to the Water" and "Luminous Times (Hold On to Love)"? If "With Or Without You" is about Christ's lament for his unfaithful bride, it seems that "Walk to the Water" is about his pursuit of her.

Walk, walk, walk

To the water.

Walk with me awhile.

Walk, walk, walk

To the water.

Walk with me

In the light.

.....................

I'm looking through your window

I'm walking through your doorway.

I'm on the outside let me in.

Let me love you

Let me love you

Let me.

Thoughts on this song? Thoughts on "Luminous Times" in relation to "With Or Without You?"

--Diane

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Welcome, Morgan! Thanks for the additional insight on 'One Tree Hill'; I appreciate it.

I think what you're saying about the album's theme is dead on. The album's title makes a lot more sense in this context: the joshua tree as a living (spiritual) object stuck in the soul-killing desert, yet in the posture of prayer and longing for something otherworldly.

Both yours and DRose's interpretations of "In God's Country" jive with some of my thoughts on this song, too -- America as the land where our money says 'in God we trust,' yet it's full of 'sad eyes' and our lifestyles make the cross 'crooked.'

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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And with this thought in mind, would you say that \"Trip Through Your Wires\" portrays the viewpoint of someone giving in to temptation and following a false love?  

Yes. The speaker thinks he has found salvation in something, but realizes all too late that he has found nothing but death.

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Thanks for the responses, DRose and Andrew. Like you, DRose, I often ask myself how I failed to recognize the spiritual meaning of a particular U2 song until it is spelled out for me and becomes as clear as day. The most obvious example is Until the End of the World, which I thought for years was a tale of a sordid love affair and then discovered that it is quite obviously a conversation between Judas and Jesus.

DRose, your comments on the B-sides from the Joshua Tree are great. I have always really liked both Luminous Times and Walk to the Water. With or Without You definitely takes on a different meaning when paired with Walk to the Water. The lyrics you quoted from the latter clearly seem to represent Christ's plea to a hesitant bride.

As for Luminous Times, that one is a bit harder to figure. For a long time I just assumed it was about Bono's wife, Ali. The line "I love you cause I understand that God has given me your hand" seems to disqualify this song as being one that is sung from God's perspective. But then again, maybe not. I guess the lyrics could represent Christ's words, as He assures His bride that "love won't let you go" and urges her to "hold on to love." And this might be a stretch, but the line "I love you cause I understand that God has given me your hand, and holds me in a tiny fist," could refer to Christ's words in John 17:24, when He says, "Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory..." The subsequent line, "and still I need your kiss" could reflect the fact that while Christ as God is self-sufficient, He is so desirous of a relationship with us that He was willing to die for us, and therfore "needs" us in that sense. Just a thought.

As for "Trip Through Your Wires," that one has always mystified me a bit as well. Bono has said on many occasions that the song was written with Frank Sinatra in mind, but lyrically I'm not sure what he's getting at. I'll listen to it again and keep in mind your thoughts on giving in to temptation.

On a final Joshua-Tree related note related to the B-sides, there's a theory running around (it is almost a conspiracy among some fans!) that the Joshua Tree was originally intended as a double album. In addition to the aforementioned Walk to the Water and Luminous Times, the songs Spanish Eyes (about Ali?), Deep in the Heart (lots of spiritual imagery and perhaps another song about addiction), Sweetest Thing (definitely written for Ali), Race Against Time (primarily instrumental) and Silver and Gold (anti-apartheid anthem that was used on a benefit album instead) were all recorded during the Joshua Tree sessions. I don't know about the double album theory, but if you can track all of these songs down they do fit in well with the general "feel" of the album. smile.gif

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I've heard the double album theory, as well, and I'm eternally thankful that the band wisely chickened out and made it a single album. As much as I like "Silver and Gold" and a couple of the other B-sides, "Walking on Water" and "Luminous Times" both strike me as being very clearly inferior to the Joshua Tree songs, and "Sweetest Thing" is quite possibly the most annoying and throwaway song U2 has ever done (possible exception: "Some Days are Better Than Others").

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Here's a site completely dedicated to the whole double album idea.

I'm with you, Josh. I'm glad it's a single album, even though I do love some of those b-sides. But seriously, if "The Sweetest Thing" had been on there, well, there goes the whole feel and theme of the album (almost).

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The speaker thinks he has found salvation in something, but realizes all too late that he has found nothing but death.

My favorite lyrical moment when the speaker in "Trip Through Your Wires" reveals that his love is a shoddy substitute...

I was thirsty

And you wet my lips

Not exactly the same thing as being given drink, and certainly not the same as receiving life-giving water. More like trying to quench a need by barely wetting the surface (or satisfying only a sensual desire). Then, of course, the well goes dry and that's that.

--Diane

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