9th March 1987, U2 released their 5th studio album Joshua Tree. The album would turn the band from heroes into superstars. It won the Grammy Award for the Album of the Year and also won the band Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal in 1988. The band toured extensively to support the album resulting in it becoming one of the highest selling record ever with over 25 million copies sold.
To mark the album’s 30th anniversary in 2017, U2 kicked off a global tour – The Joshua Tree Tour. In 2017, the band played over four legs in North America, Europe and Latin America. The 2019 tour includes Oceania and Asia. The tour marks the multi Grammy winning band’s debut performance in India.
Needless to say the band’s fan base is gripped in a hysterical frenzy. The conversations at pubs, offices, gyms and even on social media are usually starting with “Have you booked U2 tickets yet?” This is not just because of the band’s popularity but also for the classic Joshua Tree is. Every song is a masterpiece.
After my 5th round of re listening to the album on a loop, I thought of calling up senior music journalist and the local music Wikipedia and fellow cowboy Narendra Kusnur to discuss the songs.
Here below a small transcript of the conversation and our wish list of songs for the concert.
Note: Language maybe altered to suit the platform’s requirements.
Kusnur – ‘Joshua Tree’ is the most popular and also the most successful album by U2. Sadly, most people know only the 3 songs. All songs in the album have their own history. Where the streets have no name is about Belfast, Ireland where Bono felt people were recognised only by their religion and place where they stay. I still haven’t found what I’m looking for has gospel connotations and is about inner search.
Me – With or without had a strange rumour that it is about drugs.
Kusnur – It is actually about his wife whom he missed while touring. So he has written the song about how life was with and without her. She would come to his concerts but there were times when she couldn’t.
Me – How come the rumour?
Kusnur – It has multiple layers. Most U2 songs start with one theme and then move on to another and so forth. Even with I still haven’t found what I’m looking for, people just hum the hook line but they don’t really know about the gospel connection. They think it is about random things they haven’t found in their life.
Me – I don’t know how many actually read the entire lyrics and try to dissect them.
Kusnur – The general tendency is to just remember the hook line. Same with Where the streets have no name, people interpret it in their way.
Me – I always thought it was about wealth inequality and no one really cares which street the poor live on.
Kusnur – Yeah correct. In fact in an interview Bono said this. He first found such a street in Ethiopia on a trip with his wife for famine relief. Bono is known for his philanthropic work for famine, Aids. He has also negotiated with world leaders to reduce debts of the poor nations.
Me – He also worked hard for peace in Ireland.
Kusnur – Ya, that was his basic cause. He also started ‘Project Red’ where he urged the top corporate companies to donate money. In another interview he stated that like in a concert where people are not bothered who is standing next to them and are just singing along, the world should be like that.
Me – Bullet the blue sky was a very outspoken song in the album.
Kusnur – It was based on the political situation in El Salvador. U2 have written quite a few political songs, this is one of them and it has got a pretty bold title also just like their other song Sunday bloody Sunday. One can understand just by the title that the song is about politics.
Me – Also the lyrics,
In the howlin’ wind
Comes a stingin’ rain
See it drivin’ nails
Into the souls on the tree of pain,
indicate humans messing up the environment.
Kusnur – It is similar to what Pink Floyd did in their song Goodbye blue sky. Blue sky is a metaphor for cleanliness. Actually with the whole album, Joshua Tree, Bono wanted to do something American. He had become friendly with Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and Keith Richards at that point of time. Through them he got into roots music, before that he did experiment but this album was rock n roll based on roots music. So there is a lot of folk rock influence with some blues in a few songs.
Me – Like One tree hill, for example
Kusnur – That one and also Trip through your wires. In Running to stand still, the harmonica is very roots-y. It is a combination of blues, folk and rock. During the making they were also reading a lot of American literature. The song Exit is based on Norman Mailer’s 1980 novel The Executioner’s Song, they chose very unusual topics. The name itself has biblical connotations.
The Joshua tree grows in adverse conditions and seen by U2 as a symbol of faith and hope. The tree was named, by early Mormon settlers, after the Old Testament prophet Joshua, as its branches reminded them of Joshua raising his arms to pray.
Me – The album even ends with a political song, Mothers of the disappeared, which was about war crimes, POWs and all
Kusnur – Running to stand still is about drug addiction, based on an addicted couple. It is more like a ballad with harmonica and guitar and piano.
Me – A drug ballad with lyrics like
She is ragin’
She is ragin’
And the storm blows up in her eyes.
She will suffer the needle chill
She’s running to stand still.
Narendra Kusnur‘s wish list (only 5 of the 50 songs he wishes for) –
City of blinding lights
Sunday bloody Sunday
Hold me, Thrill me, Kiss me
Where the streets have no name