By MICHAEL RODRIGUEZ
I can trace my love for writing back to when I was about 11 years old. Inspired by a passion for music, I remember inking pen to paper my thoughts on how certain songs affected me at that time.
Warning: I shared a similar story back in March 2010, but it became important to me again and – especially now that “Consider This” has grown in readership – I’d like to retell the tale.
It was the early ‘90s when I was in a scenario not unlike the 2000 film “Almost Famous,” in which the movie’s main character finds a record collection under his sister’s bed after she moves out of the house. Well, my brother had moved and also left behind a collection of albums on vinyl and audio cassette. This meant that Black Flag, Green Day, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles and U2 were all at my beckoning.
Bored one day, I decided to play the album with the cover that intrigued me the most. I’m not exactly sure why, but “The Joshua Tree” by U2 was that album. There was just something about a black and white photo of four guys standing around in a desert that interested me far more than the psychedelic craziness on Zep’s “III” or the Fab Four’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” And so I played it.
The first track was “Where the Streets Have No Name,” but consider for a moment how a song like this may have sounded to a teenager who grew up listening to hair metal and grunge. I originally thought that, in order to be classified as a rock band, the singer must scream, howl and exaggerate every note; the guitarist must perform a minute-long solo in every song; the bassist and drummer should not grow beyond their role as timekeepers; the lyrics must be dark and melancholy or decadent and self-celebratory; and no more than three to four chords should fill up about 16 bars.
Yet here’s U2 using a church organ to crescendo into their album opener, which switched time signatures between 3/4 and 4/4, and was carried by a melodic guitar riff that sounded more like bells chiming than the rip-roaring shreds which I had become accustomed – all this accompanied by a rhythm section that resembled a speeding locomotive more than an actual beat, a singer that pleaded instead of yelled and lyrics that encouraged the breaking of barriers in an almost gospel-tinged tone.
“This ain’t rock!” was my initial reaction. But I played the album repeatedly anyway; after all, it was my brother’s and I held his taste in the highest esteem. What I discovered was that the band was so far ahead of my musical sensibilities that I had to grow as a listener before I could even begin to understand or appreciate it. “The Joshua Tree” is now my favorite album, and “Where the Streets Have No Name” is my favorite song.
These memories usually come flooding back whenever a reader compliments my writing style. After blushing disagreeably, I remember that my goal to be as eclectic a storyteller as U2 are as musicians and songwriters stems from the acknowledgement that I had to reject all that I knew in exchange for something that might be better.
In turn, I want to be a writer whose body of work also inspires change. The reward goes far beyond appreciating music since a sort of self-Haussmannization can also occur. Consider that the U2s in my life right now are my diet, exercise and patience. Identify all that you’d like to embrace but have scoffed at in the past (you know, your New Year’s resolutions) and begin today.
Granted, it’s been 22 years since I first played “The Joshua Tree,” but U2 are still inspiring me to write – this time with their new album, “Songs of Innocence.” The fact that it was released for free on iTunes was a definite plus. And yes, I’m aware that the Irish quartet has since been deemed a sellout for becoming Apple’s “corporate” band. But hey, the goal for many musicians isn’t necessarily to build an exclusive relationship with a handful of fans but to have their music reach as many people as possible. It’s somewhat of an elitist viewpoint that in order for something to be genuine it must remain small in scope.
P.S. I’ll probably bore or lose the interest of some folks with this piece, but after all the heavy stuff I’ve penned recently, I figured this one’s for me.