The Joshua Tree’s Desert Space

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Where is tension found?

We were on a family vacation in Southern California in the late 80s when I begged my parents to take me to the Joshua Tree. Yes, the actual tree. It had become a mecca-of-sorts for myself in recognition of the album I had listened to more than any other to date. But in my adolescent naivety, I was unaware that there are hundreds of thousands of acres of little “Joshua Trees” throughout the Mojave Desert and had no clue where the actual one was (pre-internet days). Unfortunately, I never made it to the actual tree and sadly (as recently discovered), the tree is no longer living.

The reason this news is heartbreaking to thousands of fans is the reality that this tree is an iconic symbol and marker to one of the greatest albums of all time – my first real introduction to an entire record that had the depth and movement that begged for more of an experience than a listen.

Thematically, The Joshua Tree is both a spiritual quest and a reflection of the band’s love/hate relationship with the U.S. In fact, the album’s working title was The Two Americas – a reference to what Bono deems the “mythic America” and the “real America.” Though in retrospect this juxtaposition seems like a mere play on the band’s undying political angst, there was something much deeper being worked out in this album for both U2 as musicians and Bono as a lyricist.

In short, they have chosen to give space to the tension versus the declaration of answers.

Think about it here with The Joshua Tree. “With or Without You” is written on the heels of a (then) turbulent marriage with the struggles of a rock career and maintaining a home life. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” juxtaposes that which is professed in faith and that which is unknown. “Bullet the Blue Sky” wrestles with America’s savior complex in their involvement with El Salvador and the perception of power and freedom. “In God’s Country” plays on the contrast between the beauty of America’s landscape and a place where fresh political ideas (at the time) had been abandoned.

Lay these tensions alongside a still young band’s pursuit of finding themselves in the desert (literally) and we get a collection of songs that not only stood in stark contrast to the 80s hair-bands and ballads of its day, but continues to stand amongst some of the greatest albums of all time.

“Where the Streets Have No Name”