Just the other day in the news, I read that the Joshua Tree that was featured in the photo used for the cover of U2’s “The Joshua Tree” fell over and gave up the ghost. I found the item a meaningful coincidence that came my way. For a long time now, U2 has been wobbling downhill musically. To read the tree fall over is a sign from the beyond that my favorite rock group has passed on creatively.

Like the Rolling Stones, REM, and a lot of other big dude groups that have signed huge contracts to keep the meal ticket going, U2 has stopped making good music and is coasting on the sounds that made them famous. I’ve felt that way for a long while now, and it’s been a hard blow to take, to know that the group you identified with as a young man have sold out and lost the ability to make music that sends you to the next level.

Shortly after I read about the demise of the tree, I read a pretty good analysis by a comedian that sums up how I’ve grown to loathe the U2 stance. One day you wake up and realize you can’t look at the artists you looked up to anymore. That’s when you read the stories that reveal your heroes were always that way. You just didn’t know because they had control of the publicity, and they were so good you didn’t notice. Bob Dylan’s “My back pages” plays in the back of my mind on that one.

It just makes me mad. U2’s music was a defining part of my life for a long time. They were the first rock and roll band I found on my own time, that I searched out and bonded with using my own interest. There are other bands that I grew up with: Devo, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Grace Jones, and Bob Marley. U2 was mine, and not my folks.

It started in homeroom class during my freshman year. There was this girl doodling “U2” scrawls on her notebook, and I asked her what that was about. She told me they were her fave group and that she thought they would become hugely famous one day. I took that in and forgot about it for a while.

The next time I heard about them was later that year, with the release of “New Year’s Day”, which I thought was a pretty cool song. There were a lot of one hit wonders during the eighties that still bring me back to certain thought-processes even today. I can remember myself in the backseat of my folk’s car, listening to that song and thinking it had all the right sounds to make me like myself and what I was doing.

Later on, I heard a song called “Bad” that was performed live. This was during the Live Aid era, which I didn’t really get into, but the singer sounded familiar, and I liked listening to the song on the radio when it played. I thought it was really cool.

Enter 1987. I’m on the bus, and this dude who never liked me, for some reason we start to talk more. One day his attitude changes and I get the feeling he’s gone through some kind of personal change. He asks me if I’ve ever listened to U2, and I say not really. He loans me his copy of “War”, and says I’ll like it.

I listen to it that night, and it makes a huge impression on me. I listen to it over and over all night. I don’t get any sleep that night (and it’s a school night), I just keep listening and marveling at how the music seems to get me in the right place. I’ve found my favorite band, and it’s my favorite band.

The next day I give it back to my bus buddy, and say it was awesome. He nods and says he knew I would like it. I tell him I stayed up all night and listened to it, and I have to get my own copy. The school day is tough without sleep, but all I can think of is getting my own copy and hunting down any other albums U2 might have.

I pester my folks and eventually end up with copies of “War”, “The Unforgettable Fire”, “Under a Blood Red Sky”, and then “Boy”. I can’t get enough of the stuff, and U2 music becomes my newfound friend. It’s passionate, larger than life, and atmospheric in the way it gets into every crevice of my soul.

A lot of my friends don’t share my interest, and I encounter more than a few people who sneer at my devotion to such a “bunch of posing losers”, but I don’t care. I like the music, it speaks to me in this time and place. My musical interest doesn’t stick with U2, but it marks my first serious exploration, and from there I investigate other sounds. Sometimes I find good stuff, and sometimes I strike out. I can always fall back on old faithful.

I get posters, and I even want to be Bono. It’s an idolization, and that leads nowhere ultimately. For now, I have a short duration personal savior in the form of some famous dude who appears to embody what I don’t recognize in myself.

Right about this time, “The Joshua Tree” gets released. I remember listening to a Christian radio station, where the DJ went over each song on the album, and gave what I thought was a pretty good, non-denominational analysis of each song. The album is unbelievable because it seems to me so different from the stuff I’ve been listening to. I graduate from high school and get ready to go to college during the summer that my new favorite group hits the big jackpot and become rock and roll legends. It’s a good time to be a fan.

I acquire “The Joshua Tree”, and it just seems like I’m accumulating an arsenal of good music to send me to the happy place wherever I go. This is in the days of walkmans the size of tricorders that took four double A batteries and came with a strap for hot, over the shoulder action. Later on, I’d borrow a dorm mate’s copy of “Wide Awake In America” and go nuts listening to it. Just about anything U2 did I could listen to and identify with easily. Yeah, I’m hooked. Little did I know just how great it would get for me.