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U2 - The Joshua Tree

My first ever CD.

The late eighties.

Following on from 1984 and my sense of being born a second time to a whole new world of possibility through art and self expression, straight out of the alienation I experienced from the school system, I found myself right at home, completely engaged and inspired at Preston TAFE doing a 2 year advanced certificate in Performing Arts. 

It felt like an oasis in the desert of what had been a very trying time in my family life.

Mum had moved with my brother up to Queensland, to start a new life and help create some distance for him, from the sad and very scary world of drugs and criminality with which he had entangled himself.

I got my driver's license on the day of my birthday and dad had helped me get loan to purchase a 'Holden Commodore' - what a great car they were - I felt like the King of the Mountain.

But unfortunately that same day I got a phone call from my mum informing me that my big brother, whom I always looked up to as being the toughest and coolest guy around, had been diagnosed with testicular cancer, which may've been caused by a violent bashing he'd received for not paying his bills to some very nefarious thugs. 

It sure sucked the joy out those 18th birthday celebrations let me tell you. 

There was a lot for me to process.

I used to lay in a hot bath by candlelight and listen to U2's 'The Joshua Tree' and cry and heal simultaneously. 

Paul fought the good fight but lost his battle 3 years later.

Still to this day he remains one of my greatest heroes and biggest influences on my life. 

He was such a beautiful guy.

Grief is life long there's no doubt, it's kind of like pregnancy in reverse, the contractions of intense pain get further and further apart over time.

But you gotta keep going and life moves on and back in 88, Paul was still alive, there was still hope and my life was opening up to me in a whole new way. 

I moved into my first share house in North Fitzroy with 2 of my great mates Dave Houston and Guy Richards. Dave was studying acting at VCA at the time and Guy was studying with me at Preston, so the house was always full of actors and creative types. 

These guys were a great influence on me at the time, sure they were bad influences at times too, we threw  parties in that house that were so big and wild and legendary that it took years to clean up afterwards. I think I'm still cleaning. People were sitting on the roof, coz there was no more space in the house or either of the yards. It was chaos. Cigarette butts swimming in dregs of stubbies, ashtrays full of wine - students!

We'd all read that incredibly inspiring book 'Improvisation and the theatre' by Keith Johnson, and had learnt to live life by saying 'Yes and.....' 

Or to quote Johnson directly, "There are people who prefer to say 'YES' and there are people who prefer to say 'NO'. Those who say yes are rewarded by the adventures they have, and those who say no are rewarded by the safety they attain."

It was adventure we were seeking and art in itself is most certainly an adventure. 

I felt so free and so deeply engaged and purposeful in my studies as a result. I was reading and learning about great thinkers and artists such as Samuel Beckett, Mike Leigh, David Hare, Tom Stoppard, Sam Shepard, Jack Hibberd and The Pram Factory. 

Their ideas were given context, and my mind was set on fire.

Education was now an adventure, I never missed a singe day of school. Everyday I woke up, I couldn't wait to get back to class and continue to examine the works and the minds of the greats and classics. 

Our teachers were so inspiring. We were all so deeply engaged. We created Political Theatre together, we pushed the boundaries, we discovered ourselves and our voices. 

And more than that we became friends for life.

There was so much good music being played at all those parties, they were the anthems of our new found artistic freedom.  

'The Violent Femmes', 'Joy Division', 'REM', 'Talking Heads', 'The Cure', 'The Smiths' and 'The Pixies' all hold the emotional memory of the late 80's for me, even though some of those bands were most certainly from earlier periods.

But no single album encapsulates the whole depth of the experience more so than 'The Joshua Tree' by U2.

It's a perfect album to completely immerse yourself in. 

Turn out the lights, light a candle, clean out the old bath tub, (which was outside in actual fact at our North Fitzroy abode), fill it up, lay back and go on that ever cathartic inner journey of self honesty and letting go; and of dreaming your visions onto that ever expansive empty canvass that is 'The Joshua Tree'. 

As legend has it the album was almost called, 'The two America's'. Bono and the guys loved much of what America had on offer, but it was The Reagan years and US domestic and foreign policy was something very far from the beauty of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Walt Whitman, Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski, B.B King, Billie Holiday, Yosemite, The Grand Canyon and Joshua Tree National Park. 

From that epic opening track with that galloping musical build to Bono's voice full of yearning .... " I want to run, I want to hide, I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside, I want to reach out and touch the flame where the streets have no name" and it goes searching and yearning 'I still haven't found what I'm looking for' and 'With or without you' - this album is hauntingly beautiful. 

Bono's vocal soaring the heart to new heights and falling to great depths of longing.

The Edge masterful as ever with his epic delays and unique style. 

A rock solid rhythm section in Adam and Larry ever supportive. 

Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois at the reigns - it all just seems to work. It doesn't feel like anyone of them are trying at all. Just some kind of pure simplicity, some kind of being state, an eternal outpouring and connectedness such as you feel out there whenever visiting Joshua Tree National Park. 

It feels like such a spiritual place. 

I'd always wanted to visit there because of this album and like our own red centre and like this U2 masterpiece - it's timeless!!!!!

Absolutely timeless. 

I've sat in my car during peak hour on Hoddle Street in Melbourne and thought, "What are we all doing here?" 

but when you sit in such a timeless space as The Joshua Tree National Park or in a bath tub with this wonderful U2 album, and you have the time to actually reflect on all the mess that is love and life and loss and heartbreak and disappointment and death and striving and failing and falling, you actually feel rejuvenated and refreshed enough to keep going, to keep loving, and to keep trying regardless.

It's a beautiful homage to resilience and nature itself, it's a storm of tears in the desert heat, it's life born from emptiness, it's the Yucca brevifolia in the Mojave desert. It's the Joshua Tree. It's poetry in nature.

Here's my favourite track, 'Running to stand still'.

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