U2 - Rattle and Hum
I spent years listening to Christian music in my youth because anything else was going to compell me to do drugs or commit suicide. I generally assumed homeless or mentally ill people had achieved their status by overdosing on KISS. Since there wasn’t much to rebel with in that oppressive circle, I chose the metal version of Christ’s music. Whitecross, Bride, Messiah Prophet, and yes, even Stryper. Honestly, it wasn’t very good. There were some standouts over the years but the lyrics were all the same and lacked originality. Steve Taylor helped look past the ‘O’Jesus, you are so wonderful’ stanzas to things that pertain to life that happen right outside the door. The last album I can really recall that I thought rose above the Christian rock genre was Whiteheart’s Freedom, but again that was musically over lyrically. Plastic ripped off cassette after cassette searching for those words that would let me know. I got it once off a Whitecross album and kept chasing the dragon and rarely found it.
Television in the background during dinner was a common thing in the house. We would watch Brady Bunch or Little House on the Prairie and the littany of commercials in between. There was this very distinct sounding guitar build and I would run from the dining room table to catch the commercial on TV. A red background with silhouettes of band members entering the stage and the guitar gaining speed and then the drum kicks in. The crowd cheers and a deep voice announces Rattle and Hum by U2 coming to theatres November 4th and then it cuts before the ponytail in the cowboy hat can sing. What was he about to sing? What did he sound like?
And I wanted to be in that moment. I was knee deep in Christian music but I was on the cusp of change and that commercial pushed me over.
I cut my neighbors grass every weekend and instead of getting my usual ten dollars I proposed the Rattle and Hum album. They obliged, but recognizing that it was a double album it would be two weekends worth of cutting. Ugh. Two weekends of waiting. Two weekends of running to the television at the first pluck of the chord. Two weekends of wondering.
All of this suspense based on a snippet of music of a band I nver knew.
So when that second Saturday arrived, I put out my sweaty hand to retrieve the plastic wrapped dark jacket cassette and ran home to my stereo.
I popped it in. I was so used to metal and loud screaming voices that the initial sounds of the songs confused me. It was all foreign. The album didn’t open with that song I liked. I kept fast forwarding but didn’t know any of the songs so I got lost as to whether I had actually fast forwarded, was still on same song or had launched myself right past a song. But I pressed buttons for at least 30 minutes without any luck. It wasn’t there. IT WASN’T THERE! And the singer’s voice changed progression and rhythm’s seemed a bit off and would instantly switch. It was a mess to me.
So I set it aside. I was upset. No song. And I was out $20. The cassette eventually got lost with the rest of the tapes. The song on the TV began to piss me off. I knew they probably were not even going to play the song in the film. Not that I would even be allowed to go see it. But my heart fell right into that opening despite my confused mind. I would buy more cassettes of Christian music and felt even more lost and jaded by what i was hearing.
About a year later the basketball team I was on headed to a late night game and I made arrangements with one of my teammates to trade cassettes. I was listening to even more obscure music and it was getting worse. I mentioned I had the Rattle and Hum album and he was ready to give me several tapes for it. I have no idea what I traded for.
On the tired ride back from the game he was slouched with his back to the wall of the bus, knees up and reading the jacket with some taped up headphones on. It was a long ride and he had already switched cassette sides.
“Hey man, did you listen to this album much?”
“No. not really?”
“Have you heard this song? It’s amazing.”
“No. What song?”
He snapped off and handed me half of the earphone and within 30 seconds I knew I had made a mistake.This building bass line and the drum pounding. The guitar was completely missing. This wasn’t anywhere near that red screened commercial. This was pure emotion not only in words but the way the music played. That voice was breaking and crying from the soul. I couldn’t tell if he was angry or hurt. Was he singing about a girl? A parent? Did he lose someone? It was a lot to take in at once in that cold dark bus. I was trying to process it.
Like a needle in a vein/Like someone to blame/Like a thought unchained/Like a runaway train/I need your love
I asked him to rewind it, waited patiently and when that button clicked I held my hand to my other ear and pressed the headphone in to the other.
Like faith needs a doubt/Like a freeway out/I need your love
I took that line with me when I walked off that bus. My dad was waiting for me outside and I was quiet the ride back to the house. The drumbeat pounding in my heart. I needed to cut more grass. And soon.