02 January 2008

Let's Not Forget...

One of my more idealistic arguments against end-of-year lists is that they all seem to place the grandest importance on albums, movies, songs, artists, etc. that have only had to establish their place in our minds for a month or two or three (or 12 at the most)—as a result slightly minimizing and/or abandoning the lasting greatness of artifacts that've maintained their place for a decade or more. I have a hard time believing that we'll all feel the same way about things a few years (or even weeks) down the road. Some things need time. I may adore the new Spoon album right now, but it's only been spinning 'round my noggin for a couple months at this point. What if its charm wears thin? And what if something else I've only given half a chance becomes my album of the quarter century?

With all this running through my mind, I've spent tonight doing a few essential things (mowing down some day-old Kung Pao, bathing the Wilson brothers), a few not-so-essential things (recounting some Christmas cash to see if I really have enough for a new guitar) and procrastinating everything else (work, mostly). To keep spirits up around the upto12 home – and likely spurred by the recent re-release of this classic – I fired up U2's Rattle and Hum.

I've been in love with R+H for more than 15 years (it's been out for 20 and if that doesn't make you feel old, I don't know what will) and after spending the last three weeks reading about the grandeur of bands that haven't been around for 15 months and albums that haven't been listened to 15 times, R+H stands out as something incredible and still unmatched. From the opening bars of Helter Skelter, Bono abuses the audience with every possible aside, rant and sermon. In some ways, it's unthinkable — here's an up-and-coming Irish band, fresh off a huge commercial success, covering the Beatles and Dylan-via-Hendrix (and even sampling Hendrix's Star Spangled Banner later on...), jamming with B.B. King, stammering about the hills of San Salvador and U.S. foreign policy. There's no subtlety within the tracks of R+H; every note seems packed with bombast and brash overstatement.

And somehow, in the midst of it all, it's the details and the almost-under-the-radar moments that drive R+H to its celebrated status: the breath-y "yeah" as Desire kicks off, the fade-out of Van Diemen's Land that leads to the single question from an interviewer (Q: "What would you say has happened between the writing of the Joshua Tree album, the recording of the Joshua Tree album and, uh, the tour and now the new songs?" A: "I don't know."), the Edge letting loose with flourishes of non-solo solos that still blister my ears, Bono's reference to Hill Street Blues in Bullet the Blue Sky...

In the last 10+ years, I've made a hundred mixtapes featuring tracks from R+H and nearly every one of them has included a mash-up of the Bonologues (thanks, Kyality) found on this album. It's just too perfect to have Side B open with Bono asking, "Am I bugging you?" a dozen times (not an easy task in the CD-to-cassette days) with an emphatic "I don't mean to bug ya!" at the end of it all. Another perfect bite: Bono's enunciation of "Ar-tists! A-gainst! A-par-t-heid!"

Yeah, this post is a mess. I'm too emotional about Rattle and Hum to write anything reasonably subjective or convincing, but if you've got it in your iTunes or on CD or on tape or 8-track or vinyl, do me a favor: Put it on, turn it up, sing along. Close your eyes at the crucial turns and the burned-in-your-brain choruses. Think about the trapeze artist and the little person you vaguely remember from the All I Want Is You video. And, remember that some albums should be on your Best Of lists every year—no matter when they were released.

p.s. - If any of you happen to find R+H on vinyl in better-than-average shape, just buy it and send it my way. The used vinyl selection here in the greater SLC metropolis lacks. I'll reimburse your costs, yeah?


kyality said...

We fired up the Rattle on the last leg of our sub-zero trans-Northern Nevada desert road trip, it was awesome. (Now you can put today's red guitar comment in perspective.) So what does this post have to do with bashing end-of-year lists anyway? And didn't you give us R+H on vinyl?

upto12 said...

To address your concerns:

1. Red guitar ordered.

2. I guess end-of-year lists just feel extremely hasty and shortsighted. We might be better served by remembering the albums that still rule after 20 years than proclaiming that our latest music crush is "the greatest ever."

3. Yeah, I gave your R+H on vinyl. And stupidly never picked up a copy for myself.