"A performance must be larger than life, but to be worthwhile you must have an element of humanity."
Why October Is My Favorite U2 Album
October 12, 2011
I want to share with you some news about a small and secret club within the U2 community. What we lack in quantity, we make up for with our great passion. We are U2 fans who love the often forgotten album named October.
I fell madly in love with four young Irish lads when I heard their remarkable debut album named Boy. When I saw them perform at the Ritz in New York City, I was blown away by their passion in a live setting. Oh how I waited in anticipation to see what they would do for their sophomore effort!
However, chaos seemed to set in as they went through the process of recording their second album. The band was rushed to finish it. Bono famously lost the lyrics. There was inner turmoil as three of the four members were Christian and contemplated if there was a future in rock 'n' roll as Christians. The fourth member did not know if he would have a place with his friends as a non-Christian.
Like most young men, they had a lot of doubts about their future. Should they give it all up before it all really even started? Two of the four were dealing with the painful loss of their mothers as well. There was no lack of concerns and distractions that they had to deal with at this very impressionable age. Their future as a band seemed to hang from a thin wire. Being the same age as the band members are, I related to so much of this as similar things were going on in my life. My future, my spirituality and my doubts about how and where I fit on the path of life challenged me at this time. In many ways, I lived the making of this album with U2.
October consistently comes in at the bottom of fans' list of favorite albums. I've never quite figured out why. One thing that cannot be argued here is that this is an album of great importance in the timeline of U2's career. It came dangerously close to being the one that split this promising band up before they ever really started. Hence, no October, no Joshua Tree and no Achtung Baby. Its completion represents the bonds that these four men pledged to each other; that they would go forward together. That is why it is so important, but that is not why I love the album.
I love this album because it speaks directly to my heart and soul. It did from the first time I heard it. It is perfect in all of its imperfections, right on down to the cover shot. To me, the image of the four disheveled lads photographed on the docks of Dublin is really the only cover that showed who they truly were at that time in their lives. There was no Anton Corbijn concept art. There were no fancy clothes and oh, those haircuts! I feel the same way when I look at photos of myself from back then. Even the video of "Gloria" is a passionate and gritty performance of the song. There is nothing fancy about the boys jumping and dancing to the song on the docks as their local band played. It was pure magic in its joy and simplicity.
I feel that October and No Line On The Horizon are U2's most overtly spiritual albums. Each contains many biblical references that are also deeply personal. I almost feel like they are complementary bookends, with October representing a boy's view of the future while No Line On The Horizon offers a more mature view. October is a window into the souls of these young men. When I listen to it, I hear the doubts about the future, the pain of losing loved ones, their fears about making mistakes and their collective shout to their faith for strength. It is the one U2 album where I feel the band wears its heart on its sleeve all the way through. We hear and feel exactly what was going on deep inside them. Whether they wanted to or not, they were very transparent in sharing those feelings with us. That is what makes an album stand out to me.
Though it was made quickly and soon became the album that got overlooked as the band created other albums, I will never overlook what I consider to be U2's quiet little masterpiece. When things are rough, I listen to this one and gain great strength from many of the songs. I feel spiritually renewed after listening to songs like "Gloria," "Rejoice," "With A Shout" and especially the joyous "Scarlet." The haunting title song about finding a way to go on is as powerful as a song can be with so few lyrics. It truly has an autumnal feel to it and fits the season perfectly with its piano played by our guitar hero. We've all stumbled, struggled to get up and made things right as we hear in "I Fall Down." This is about a relationship, but it can apply to many things. We've all felt the desire to do something like a fire burning within us as Bono sings so passionately in "Fire." We've all lost loved ones in our lives, which is the theme of the heart- wrenching "Tomorrow," one of Bono's finest vocal performances. We hear and feel the pain of this young boy longing for his mother to come back. The use of bagpipes adds to the mood. I cannot count the number of times I sang that song in the days that followed after the loss of my son. Haven't we all felt those exact emotions? Its finale, "Is That All?" is an unexpected but brilliant choice to end with. It was the question they battled to answer. I had to answer it for myself as well.
I've often thought my age has a lot to do with why I feel such affection for this album, but that is only a small part of it. It is my greatest hope that the legions of intelligent young U2 fans give this album a chance. They are the ones who should really be touched by these songs as I imagine many of them going through the same battles the band did right now. Like No Line On The Horizon, October takes time to really get into your soul. Please take that time. These albums make you work for their rewards. In the end, it is worth the time invested. You won't be sorry.
October was a very brave and mature record for a band so young. Its release is evidence of their commitment to their music, their faith and their friendship. I feel very lucky to have taken my own journey with them.
We are all human, which means we have imperfections. We feel pain, uncertainty, fear and anger. We make mistakes and often look for a higher power to help us through it all. That is the connection I feel with U2 when I listen to this album. For all the turmoil that went on during the making of this album, it magically leaves me in a state of peace each time I hear it.
It will forever hold a special place in my heart.
Happy 30th anniversary, October!
© @U2/Zeitlinger, 2011