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Rattle And Hum at 25: @U2 Staff Memories
October 08, 2013
This month marks the 25th anniversary of the Rattle And Hum album and film. Throughout the month, @U2 will be celebrating the anniversary with a series of features. It begins with this collection of memories from some of our staff members about seeing/hearing the movie and/or album for the first time.
My dad took my brother and me to see Rattle And Hum at the Milford Fourplex in Milford, Conn. on a cold and wet October day. I was 12; my brother was 10. I can remember everything about it. It changed my life. Not in an instantaneous way, but more like an eye adjusting to a sudden bright light.
In the film, Larry Mullen, Jr. jokes that Rattle And Hum is a "musical journey," but I think that he's right. It's an exploration of landscapes and cultures in the midst of big noises in big rooms. Following the common thread that links cultures across great distances. Music connecting people from Dublin to New York City, Memphis, Denver and Tempe. Seeing and hearing it in that theater made me fall in love with the big concert experience as well as the thrill of traveling to new places.
About 15 years later, I made the pilgrimage to Graceland. While I wouldn't consider myself a big Elvis fan, I felt like it was a place that I needed to see. I enjoyed learning about the King, his house, and imagining what it must have been like when he lived there, but wasn't until we reached the backyard that my knees buckled. I saw the familiar carport with the white chains and posts and thought, "That's where Larry sat on Elvis' Harley." I was transported back to that seat in the Milford Fourplex where I first felt the thrill of sound and discovery.
Initially, I wanted to like Rattle And Hum more than I actually did. However, a handful of songs did impress right off the bat. I remember hearing "All I Want Is You" for the first time and immediately being captivated by how The Edge effectively created an entire guitar section with his one instrument. And "Desire" is a perfect example of U2 getting their "American experiment" right. It's a three-chord firecracker that sounds like it was transcribed from a religious revival deep in the American south. But it's performed by four Irish guys in cowboy boots!
Despite those highlights, I didn't understand at the time why U2 would stray from their proven formula. It took me a while to really appreciate the album, not just for the music, but also for what it represents. It's the biggest band in the world experimenting and not getting the expected results. They were beginning to push themselves out of their comfort zone. Perhaps on some level, they know they would have to eventually do something different in order to avoid stagnation. Without the negative reception from both critics and fans alike leading to the perceived failure of Rattle And Hum, U2 might never have felt the need to "dream it all up again." In the long run, the album didn't fail. It did exactly what it was supposed to do: provide the impetus for what would become one of the greatest and most successful transformations in rock history.
Rattle And Hum was the first U2 album I bought, and also the first videotape I watched. I never had the opportunity to see it in theaters, so this was the next best thing. I do remember seeing news footage of the movie premiere in O'Connell Street and the impromptu performance on the balcony of the Gresham Hotel and wishing I was there!
I was delighted when my Dad bought a VCR, so I rented a copy of Rattle And Hum from my local video store. I was hooked from the start and eager to know more about this band and their music. Favorite musical moments for me were "Silver & Gold" -- particularly the line "Okay Edge, play the blues" for some strange reason -- "Exit" and "Sunday Bloody Sunday." Bono's anger at the Enniskillen bombings was very powerful. There were even some humorous moments: Larry and Adam messing around while Phil Joanou tried to interview them and, perhaps my favorite scene, when Bono tried to use his charm with the employee at Graceland so that Larry could get his photo taken on one of Elvis' Harleys!
I watched it as often as I could after that, and in recent years I've watched it again. It was a little dated, perhaps, and I'm older now, but it still took me back to being 15 years old and watching it for the first time!
I love Rattle And Hum. I have such fantastic memories of it being released, the excitement of listening to the album and then knowing that just a few weeks later the film would be released at movie theaters. The concept of the album was great for me -- a souvenir of live songs from the recent Joshua Tree tour, mixed with new tracks mostly recorded during that time on the road. No other band had done that to my knowledge ... another first, another innovation. And all within eighteen months of releasing the majestic The Joshua Tree!
The band was already huge at this point in 1988, but the release of the film took it to another level. In the late '80s, bands didn't release films. The delight of being able to go to the movie theater to see the film was indescribable. The change from black and white to color for "Streets" was stunning. I enjoyed it so much that I actually went eight times in total!
What made it even better for me was the Lovetown tour in late 1989, where I went to all four of the Dublin shows. My favorite opening song to any U2 concert still remains "God Part II" for the 1st show. It took me completely by surprise, and watching Bono walking the stage menacingly has stuck in my mind ever since.
So, happy 25th birthday Rattle And Hum. Thank you for the memories, thank you for the great songs and images.
Before the Joshua Tree tour, I had seen U2 in small venues during the War and Unforgettable Fire tours. The success of The Joshua Tree propelled U2 to arenas and stadiums. My live experience changed fast, becoming understandably less intimate. Rattle And Hum compensated me for that by bringing some intimacy -- ironically, in a big screen environment.
I saw Rattle And Hum twice in the cinemas. It wasn't a conscious decision at the time, but I saw it in a small, independent cinema and also in one of the large chain theatres. Whilst each was very different (the chain cinema was empty, bar me and a friend), the starkness of the black-and-white compared to the color footage -- plus all that great music -- was such a buzz to watch. My main recollection was wondering when the video would be released!
My film highlight then remains as it is today: "With or Without You." There is a point during the film that the camera angle captures U2 "in the zone." The floor lighting captures them individually and for that moment it's an amazingly intimate scene amongst the vastness of Sun Devil Stadium. Larry's drumming is immense, Adam's bass playing effortless and Edge conjures up magic on the infinite guitar as he drives the song to conclusion. And just when it couldn't get any better Bono chimes in with the "shine like stars" segment. Breathtaking!
My friend Tim called to share urgent news: "We got the new U2 album." We were both U2 fans, and also DJs for the Pepperdine University campus radio station. I was getting ready for my first class of the day, but his call changed that plan. I left my books in my dorm room and hiked up to the radio station offices. Classes could wait a day.
Tim and I locked ourselves in one of the production studios and put record 1, side A on the turntable. We sat there listening for hours, painstakingly reading through every word of the lyrics printed inside -- on high-quality cardboard sleeves, not the crappy paper sleeves I was familiar with. We read every word of the liner notes. We held the album like it was fine china, passing it back and forth the way moms and dads hold a baby. And the smell? Forget new cars, you couldn't beat the new album smell, especially Rattle And Hum's.
We must've listened to the whole album 4-5 times from start to finish that day. I was mesmerized. And soooo ready for the movie, which was just a matter of weeks away (and every bit as mesmerizing). Never mind the critics; this was a great time to be a U2 fan.
© @U2, 2013.