Until The End Of The World

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I didn’t buy “Rattle and Hum.” By this time I was burned out by the U2 adoration, by their constant presence in the press, the testimony of Generation X which embraced the band the way their forebears, the baby boomers, embraced the Beatles, and the endless play on MTV. And the reviews were not positive, the backlash had begun, only recently when hit acts are so much smaller have top acts been able to withstand the blowback of being number one. Once you’re on top, people are gunning for you. It’s hard to remove yourself from the fray, and how you react to this is evidence of your character. To bite back in the press shows signs of weakness. To repeat what you’ve done before is punting. but to walk into the wilderness, to try and create something new and different, that takes chutzpah, and that’s what the greats do. And sometimes they’re ahead of not only of the audience, but their bandmates, like Brian Wilson with “Pet Sounds,” but that was a different era.

I was a huge fan of U2’s first album, “Boy.” It came out in the fall of 1980, the same year that radio station in Pasadena, KROQ, decided to retool its format under program director Rick Carroll. The new format maintained the irreverence but now it was a Top Forty station of the alternative, it was the heartbeat of Los Angeles and within a few years the heartbeat of the United States, when its programmers and deejays ended up with prominent positions at MTV.

So previously KROQ had been a free-format station, akin to the late sixties monoliths. It was a club, with a poor signal, and either you were hip to it or you were not, if you believed in the alternative, before that word became a radio format in itself, if you wanted to expand your horizons, KROQ was where you went.

The new KROQ invented alternative. One can say that the first alternative radio was aired on college stations, but those were run by amateurs, and those at KROQ were definitely professionals, worried about advertising, which still drives terrestrial radio. Also college radio stations tended to have weak signals and no formatting, no playlist, and organization can help you ascend the ratings ladder, familiarity can breed contempt, but it can also breed love.

So I first heard “I Will Follow” on KROQ. There was a press buzz. I bought the album and loved it. As bright as the single was, the rest of the album was an exploration, was not bright and sunny, in-your-face, but dark and mysterious. It was great.

But the second LP? “October” was considered to be a dud. There were no good reviews. And there was no airplay, not of any significance in Los Angeles. But “Gloria” did get spins on the nascent MTV, which launched only two months before the LP was released. As for the song being titled “Gloria”… Some songs are so iconic you don’t want to employ their monikers. “Gloria” was a Shadows of Knight hit in the U.S., and by this point, more than a decade later, everybody knew it was a Van Morrison original. But Van is Irish…then again, from Belfast, not Dublin. As for employing famous titles… Does anybody even remember that Katy Perry number that employed the title of the iconic Beach Boys song?

But then U2 retooled. They seemed to realize they’d gone in the wrong direction, and once you lose momentum in the music game it’s hard to regain it, another disappointment would be a stake in the band’s heart.

On “War” the songs were catchy, starting with “New Year’s Day,” the first single. The darkness was excised, the band decided to evidence its power. “New Year’s Day” was a bridge between the seventies and eighties. It had the heaviness and propulsion of seventies rock with modern sounds injected. “New Year’s Day” was the kind of song that got your noggin nodding, you couldn’t sit still, you were immediately locked into the groove. Then came “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” U2 became the biggest band in Los Angeles, almost overnight. “War” was everywhere, even traditional rock stations, as well as the pioneering KROQ.

Now if you refer to U2 lore, the band truly broke through with a performance at Red Rocks wherein Bono ran around the venue with a flag in the fog, and that performance and the video thereof were very powerful, but not news if you lived in Los Angeles, the band was already big, this was at best a cherry on top.

And then the band decided to take a left turn. They turned away from their partner, Steve Lillywhite (who’d they’d ultimately call in again and again as the years passed), but now they worked with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. And everybody was eager for “The Unforgettable Fire,” and “Pride (In the Name of Love)” delivered, it was new and different, yet still U2, all the sounds, especially Edge’s guitar…it ultimately penetrated every hamlet and burg as a result of MTV airplay and its two listen infection. Yes, “Pride (In the Name of Love)” was just different enough to be unable to get it immediately. Kind of like “I Want to Hold Your Hand” if you were around back then. They both sounded completely different from what was on the airwaves, but both took little time to adjust to, to become your favorite.

“Early morning, April 4

A shot rings out in the Memphis sky

Free at last, they took your life

They could not take your pride”

It won’t be long before Martin Luther King is excised from the history books, at least in Texas and Florida. False pride is on parade amongst the ignorant doing their best to hold people back, taking away their freedoms one by one. As for one man who can change the course of history in a good way, we’ve got no MLKs, no one is willing to sacrifice that much.

Except for the more subtle “Bad,” the rest of “The Unforgettable Fire” was not as good as “War.” You didn’t hear as many tracks on the radio. It’s not like you forgot about U2, but they didn’t sit heads and shoulders above their peers, where they’d resided previously.

Then came “The Joshua Tree.”

If you talk to the aforementioned Gen-X’ers, this is the apotheosis, the best album of their generation, to the point where U2 instantly became an oldies act by performing it in its entirety a few years back. In truth, “Joshua Tree” wasn’t as accessible as “War,” but what had been started with Eno and Lanois on “The Unforgettable Fire” had come to fruition, the songs transcended the sounds, and there was more majesty, it was more obvious.

If anything, the real problem with “The Joshua Tree” was it was too successful. I mean if I have to watch the band plying the streets of Las Vegas one more time in the video for “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”… The title actually became employed in jokes, too often with the band as the butt. But having said that, albeit overplayed, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” is one of the great tracks of the eighties, it needed no video, you just had to drop the needle, back when we still bought vinyl, and luxuriate in the sound, the track loped along like a ride on a white stallion in the dark, it both made you smile and set your mind free, you were happy, but not mindlessly so.

U2 had recaptured its mantle as the biggest band in Los Angeles. But now U2 was the biggest band in the land, on the globe. And the band, especially Bono, embraced this. And did we really want to listen to this guy? I mean how experienced was he? And he seemed to have no sense of humor about himself. So he was ripe for taking down. And with the overblown “Rattle and Hum” he and the band were.


In reality, “Rattle and Hum” was just the soundtrack for a movie, nearly a throwaway, but the audience was ready to pounce, they wanted to punch back, tear the band down from its throne, enough already!

Nobody was waiting for a U2 album. And the band was not providing one. They went away. We had a bad taste in our mouth. We expected them to fade away, as most acts did after reaching an unfathomable height.

And by time they deigned to return, music had moved on. Hip-hop had made inroads. Attention was elsewhere.

And then came “The Fly.”

Because of U2’s prior achievements, every rock radio station in the land immediately added the track, and you heard it and scratched your head, HUH? What was this? It certainly wasn’t a one listen smash. As a matter of fact, you didn’t even need to hear it again, didn’t really want to hear it again, it was a button-pusher.

There was no word of mouth. The album came out to little fanfare. Just another band past its peak doing god knows what. And then…

It was Christmas Day, the Clippers were playing the Lakers in the afternoon. My friend John Ellis got tickets, in retrospect amazingly good, just under the basket, well, a few rows back.

And he’d purchased a Q45, back when that was seen as competition for the LS400, before Infiniti fell behind Lexus in the Japanese luxury race.

And by this time, cars had CD players. And I was sitting in the back seat and traffic to a ball game in Los Angeles, anywhere, is always bad. Which meant I had to listen to “Achtung Baby,” because it’s almost impossible to have a conversation between the front and back seats when the music is playing.

I asked John what album this was, because the music didn’t sound like anything I’d heard previously, and when he told me “Achtung Baby,” I laughed on the inside, he was still on the U2 train when I’d been smart enough to get off.

But by time the game was over, I was looking forward to the ride back to the Hollywood Hills, listening to “Achtung Baby.”

Yes, it was Christmas, but there was no “Achtung Baby” buzz. I immediately bought it and was on the tip, almost no one else had, I started testifying about it, and then other people started too, and then…

Well, Keryn Kaplan from the band’s management team insisted I come to the show at the Sports Arena and…

It’s one of the three best shows I’ve ever seen (the other two being the Who performing “Tommy” at the Fillmore East and Prince at Flipper’s roller disco).

I mean I could describe it, but…

At this point most people who care have been exposed, but they have no idea what it was really like unless they were there.

Let’s see, we walked into the building, milled around before the show began, and there were Trabants in the ceiling, and there were TVs everywhere, the tube-type, this was long before flat screens, and then the house lights lowered, the Trabants flipped to reveal spotlights and it was a visual assault, all to an indelible soundtrack.

Word got out, ultimately there was a stadium tour, but the buzz, all the action, began indoors.


Today when people say they’re a movie buff that means they’ve seen all the superhero movies, they know all the directors, like Michael Bay, how have we stooped so low? Then again, we have streaming television.

Anyway, movies used to be religion. Worthy of college study. And the seventies were considered the greatest era since the thirties, still are. You didn’t go to the movies so much for entertainment as soul fulfillment. There was a culture, you could keep up, you discussed them regularly.

And sure, you had to see American movies, but real fans also kept up with the foreign flicks. There was Truffaut and the French New Wave. And if you missed them the first time around, you went to the revival house. You clicked the films off your mental list. We were completists.

Which meant we went to the Fox Venice to see Wim Wenders’s “Kings of the Road.”

I don’t recommend it. Then again, if you could pause it… It was, and probably still is, just five minutes shy of three hours, and at the time such long movies were far from de rigueur. And did I say it was SLOW?

But I got a notch in my belt.

And then I got another when I went to see “The American Friend.” Such that when Wenders’s first American film was released years later, 1984’s “Paris, Texas,” I could say like with “Stripes” and Tito Puente, I’D BEEN WATCHING HIS MOVIES FOR YEARS! Yes, there used to be bragging rights in being there first. Back when the world was comprehensible, when we were all in it together.

Not that Wim Wenders was a household name. And “Wings of Desire” was not as big as “Paris, Texas,” and by time “Until the End of the World” came out in ’91, I was done, I skipped it. Then again, I was broke.

And when I looked at the track listing of “Achtung Baby” and saw #4 was entitled “Until the End of the World” I laughed. I mean this was a cheap shot, naming your song after a Wim Wenders movie. Yes, the album came out months subsequent to the film, and there was no internet to tell me the song was actually written for the film, and there was no ink in the rock press telling me so, at this point the music press was getting dumber and dumber, writers didn’t know who Wim Wenders was, never mind write about him.

Now at this point most people, at least those conscious thirty years ago, know “Mysterious Way” and “One.” But you’ve got to know, once upon a time “Achtung Baby” was brand new, and got little airplay, so when you purchased it, now on CD, vinyl and tape were passé, you were unfamiliar with it. And you know how it is listening to a new album, you’re waiting for it to reveal itself to you. It’s usually one track. Quite often the opener, or the second side opener, back when there used to be two sides, maybe even the side closers. The albums didn’t come with travel guides. I mean sure, if you were the kind who purchased albums as a value proposition, after they already had a few hits, it was different, but for true fans, every album was an adventure.

And I’d like to tell you that “Zoo Station,” the band’s opener, is inviting, but if anything it’s a warning to stay away. Yes, U2 was almost pulling a Neil Young, defying people’s expectations, going rough and scaring away all but those truly interested, willing to spend the time to dig deep.

And the opening of “Even Better Than the Real Thing” is rough and raucous too, more like “The Fly” than “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”

And I don’t remember getting hooked by “One” right away, but “Until the End of the World”…

Sure, there’s the screaming intro, so many of “Achtung Baby”‘s tracks started off scary, off-putting.

But then there was that buzzsaw guitar. Back when guitars were the hooks, before it became beats.

“Until the End of the World” hearkened back to the old, but was still positively new, it was Edge’s guitar, in a more palatable song than “The Fly.” And Bono’s voice, going up and down the notes, the track is hypnotic, and just when you’re starting to fade away, here comes Edge once again to wake you up.

And the instrumental break was like space lasers popping around inside your brain, you were just a pawn in the game, a definitely futuristic one you wanted to participate in.

But you were always brought back by those guitars, and Bono’s exclamations.

All this is to say “Until the End of the World” broke “Achtung Baby” open for me. It got me started. I had to hear it again and again. I started with it and let the CD play thereafter. To the point where I ended up loving “The Fly,” which also depended on an Edge lick, more driving and intense, less hooky, more out there, but therefore you were ultimately levitated even higher.

I peeled the layers of “Achtung Baby” away from the middle, track by track, jumping from one song to another, discovering new favorites, realizing this was definitely not what had come before, this was a revelation, a great leap forward, the biggest band in the land had reclaimed its throne, DID EVERYBODY KNOW?

I’m still not sure they do. They keep talking about “The Joshua Tree.” But the audience certainly did warm up to “Achtung Baby,” the live performances helped.


And then came “Pop.”

Everybody was waiting for the next statement, for their minds to be blown, “Zooropa” was not seen as a real album. But “Pop”…

You see rock is a meat and potatoes format, driven from the bottom up as opposed to the top down. If you appeal only to the top you become a critics’ band, you might even get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but most people don’t know your music, and with the Hall gone pop, and even hip-hop, good luck getting Television into the Hall of Fame, never mind Bad Company. Which is all to say that the audience couldn’t understand “Pop,” U2 had pushed too far. Was Edge gay? There’s no humor in rock, right? I mean maybe there’s Frank Zappa’s “Valley Girl,” but…

In other words, U2 was smart and the audience was dumb. And the audience moved on. They were interested in a new U2 album, but by 1997 hip-hop was firmly established, grunge was even long in the tooth, the public was ready if U2 delivered, but perception amongst the hoi polloi was it did not. The “Discotheque” video turned off more people than it turned on, they were not ready for a new Village People.

One could say the “Discotheque” video, the entire album, was a misstep, but this was not Billy Squier listening to outsiders tell him what to do, ruining his career overnight with one video, this was planned cheekiness, this was humorous intentionally, but once again, most of the audience had no sense of humor.

Then U2 blinked. 2000’s “Beautiful Day” seemed like nothing other than a raw desire to have a hit, to be back atop the charts. Sure, the track was catchy, but the message was obvious, the whole thing stunk, unless you were one of the dumb people who didn’t get “Pop.”

And then…

The entire world blew apart. No one was interested in what U2 had to say, what any rocker of yore had to say, any rocker at all! The internet blew a hole in the traditional music business, and U2 didn’t seem to get the memo. It was still operating on old school rules. The advance publicity, the hype… To a point where the albums were denigrated before they were even released. As for Apple paying them for their new LP and then foisting it upon all its users, what a miscalculation. We live in a pull economy, but Jimmy Iovine, Apple’s “guru,” was too far from the street, to the point where he’s now retreated completely, and the band was so into creating a first when in truth the real first was when Radiohead allowed people to download “In Rainbows” for free, I mean didn’t U2 have enough money?

And then Guy Oseary convinced the band to do the “Joshua Tree” tour, which is even worse than “Beautiful Day,” once you start giving people what they want you’re dead. At least artistically. You don’t see Dylan performing “Blood on the Tracks.” And he keeps releasing new music. Confounding us with standards and… Sure, many have gotten off the train, but you’ve got to give him credit, he’s still exploring, he’s still an artist, when U2 has given up the ghost.

Can U2 reinvent itself? Does anybody even care?

First and foremost they’d have to realize they’re smaller. No one has purchase on the worldwide state of mind, NO ONE! Acts will tell you they do, the old school press will tell you they do, but they don’t.

So are you a celebrity or an artist?

A hit machine or an explorer?

Are your eyes closed or open?

One thing is for sure, with “Achtung Baby” U2 were artists exploring with their eyes open. Which is why it’s legendary, the best album the group ever produced. Will it last until the end of the world? Well, the end of the world seems closer than ever before, so maybe!

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