In March 1987, the album "The Joshua Tree" was released by U2. It debuted at number one in the UK and quickly reached the top of the charts in the United States. At the time, I had no idea what the impact of this blossoming Irish band would be or the politics behind their music. Additionally, I had no concept of what a Joshua Tree actually was. Like many people, I was captivated by this new sound - the catchy lyrics and the soulful music which accompanied. So like many others, I purchased the album. It was then that I first recall taking note of what a Joshua tree actually looked like. Up until that point I had spent most of my time east of the Rocky Mountains and in Europe so I had never seen a Joshua Tree in person. However, nearly a decade later, while driving a stretch of highway in the Mojave desert, I experienced a sentimental moment as I drove over a hill and viewed a lone Joshua tree highlighted by the western setting sun. As the sun peeked through a thin layer of clouds to illuminate this solo tree, I felt a bit choked up inside as I marveled at it's majesty. There it stood alone in acres of barrenness. Rocks, sand, brush, and shrubs seemed to cower below as this creature reached toward the sky defying the elements and time. This insular living thing opposed all and presided like a living monument and testament to any being who has endured the extreme hot and cold temperatures of the desert.
I guess this is what U2 had in mind when they picked the title for this blockbuster album. And I do mean blockbuster. These are just small testimonies to the success of the album:
-"With or Without You" and the rhythmic gospel "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" were released as singles internationally and quickly went to number one in the U.S. "Where the Streets Have No Name" was also released as an international single and became a smash hit
-The Joshua Tree won U2 their first two Grammy Awards, with the band receiving honors for Album of the Year and Best Rock Performance By a Duo or Group With Vocal.
Just prior to the release of "Joshua Tree", U2 spent time studying American blues, pop, and country artists. It's been said that while the members of U2 felt antipathy towards the United States and anger at our foreign policy, the band was fascinated with the country, its open spaces and freedom. Additionally, the band wanted music which portrayed a sense of "cinematic quality" reflective of the imagery created by American writers the band had been reading. It's also been said that this title was picked as a "Tribute" to the United States of America and not a metaphor. I'd like to express my personal take on that statement but before I do that please let me give a bit of background:
While a Joshua Tree stands tall in the desert, it's really not a very sturdy tree. The trunk of a Joshua tree is made of thousands of small fibers and lacks annual growth rings, making it difficult to determine the tree's age. The tree has a shallow root area and top-heavy branch system, but if it survives the rigors of the desert it can live to two hundred years of age. The tallest trees reach about 15 m (49.2 feet) tall.
So my opinion is - it's not that U2 was saying the US was top heavy, slow growing, relatively weak, and metaphorically about to collapse under it's own weight but that it was resilient, beautiful, and majestic in its' own way. And they wanted to pay tribute through their new style of music.
Ironically enough, the original Joshua Tree pictured on the album cover (and below) collapsed and died somewhere around the year 2000. Supporters had always feared that the tree would be vandalized or stolen. But experts believe one branch initially broke off leaving the tree unbalanced. Shortly thereafter, the unbalanced tree strained the weak and shallow root structure and eventually fell due to the disproportionate weight.
The original tree on the cover photos (taken by Anton Corbijn) died around the year 2000
So what, you ask, does any of this have to do with Palm Trees, Cactus, and Snow-Capped Mountains? Well here it is: I recently posted about a trip I took and published a photo of a cactus, snow-capped mountain, and a palm tree. Strange combination maybe? In the post I asked if any one could guess where this photo was taken. A few intrepid readers wagered guesses but no one got if correct. So here's the answer....... (Drum Roll)
And while I was there I took a short drive out to Joshua Tree National Park. I know now why they call it Joshua Tree NP. There are thousands of these trees. Unlike the area in the Mojave desert where I saw an occasional tree, these trees were very concentrated and in all shapes and sizes.
I've uploaded a few of the photos I took for your viewing. These pictures can't portray the actual beauty of the tree or capture the experience of being there but I hope they will help you appreciate their beauty .
For your listening pleasure, I'm streaming U2 - With or Without You - Follow this link to listen