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"Don't spend too much on the box and the wrapping paper. No matter how big the occasion, your loved ones just want what's inside." — Bono, on what's he learned from being in U2

U2 in the USA: 'Joshua Tree' Helped the Band Conquer America

The Los Angeles Daily News
Stardom didn't come in an instant for Ireland's premiere rock band, U2. For six years, the band inch-wormed toward the top of the pop heap, encouraged by rave reviews and a ferociously loyal following.

But the band's fortunes changed dramatically with The Joshua Tree, a moody masterwork with a heavy blues influence. The disc has sold 3 million copies so far and is one of the nation's top dozen albums after more than nine months on Billboard magazine's pop albums chart.

Although other bands have sold more copies -- Whitney Houston has sold 4 million copies of her latest in considerably less time -- U2 has managed to hit a nerve with Joshua's rousing spirituality.

"I think Joshua Tree captures a spirit that maybe hadn't been paid much attention to in music -- a spirit of yearning, of searching for something real," bassist Adam Clayton said in a recent interview.

"I certainly hope its effects will be felt for a very long time."

Although U2 has long been a favorite in Europe, The Joshua Tree is the group's breakthrough hit in the United States.

Clayton admitted the band had been determined to conquer America, and that goal kept them going through some uncertain times.

"You have to imagine that you will make it, or you can't get up in morning," Clayton said. "There's no point in doing this unless you want to get to the top. We've worked very hard for this."

As one might imagine, Clayton's memory is something of a blur in the wake of virtually constant touring. But some images remain clear, such as Bob Dylan's appearance on stage last spring at a Los Angeles performance.

"He came down to the show, and just kind of arrived on stage," Clayton recalled. "We did 'I Shall Be Released' and 'Knockin' on Heaven's Door.' It was great meeting him, and we hope to meet him again.

"It's rare to meet people who have been through what we're going through now. And Bob was very supportive," Clayton added.

"Of course, there are a lot of decisions that no one can advise you on, but I find it amazing to have such good friends if we do need help."

Clayton and his bandmates -- vocalist Paul "Bono" Hewson, guitarist Dave "the Edge" Evans and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. -- might be in need of spiritual help because of their phenomenal success.

The group this year has graduated from the relative intimacy of arena shows to the relative anonymity of large stadiums.

Playing coliseums seemingly goes against U2's intimate, humanist stance. In fact, some have accused the band of greed and opportunism. But Clayton defends the move.

"As with any gathering, no matter what size, whether it's a sermon on a mount or some type of Nazi thing, the audience makes the occasion," Clayton said.

"If they are committed to making the show work and upholding the atmosphere, then I think it's successful.

"We've been placed in a tricky situation. The alternative to playing stadiums is arenas. That tends to drives up ticket price, so you don't get the people who really want to see the show. Besides, a week of arenas doesn't seem like rock and roll to me. That's theater."

And how would Clayton react to paying $20 to watch a group perform in a football stadium?

"As long as they stood up there and told me about their life, then I wouldn't mind," the bassist said. "As long as they make music that's true to themselves and tell you about themselves, fine.

"It's confusing to me, this feeling that mass communication is based on visuals. I agree that visuals are the most immediate form of communication -- like an ad with a pretty girl in it.

"But I would hate to see that seeping into rock 'n' roll. Music is about sound, and I think most people want to hear us and understand why we're playing stadiums."

Clayton said the decision to play coliseums was not made casually.

"It's a serious commitment having to face 80,000 people a night," Clayton said. "You just can't go out there with a hangover. You (mess) up on a little thing, and the whole thing starts to snowball.

"But with this album, we realized that there were a lot of people we hadn't played to who wanted to see us. There were whole states that we missed. This time around we were committed to playing in front of as many people as possible."

Some outside projects have kept the band busy. The band recorded "Merry Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" for Jimmy Iovine's star-studded A Very Special Christmas album. Another song for an album tribute to Woody Guthrie was recently recorded.

But despite these projects, Clayton said the band has halted doing any other activities until the tour concludes.

"Very often you find that you do too much extracurricular stuff, and then you get into the studio and find you're empty," Clayton said.

"We have been really protecting ourselves by not doing too many things on the side."

One project the band is working on is a film documentary on the Joshua Tree tour, directed by Steven Spielberg-protege Phil Joanou.

"We have a lot of people coming to see U2 who don't get the best seats in the house, and the scalper situation makes things even worse," Clayton explained.

"A concert film lets everyone have the best seat in the house, and you get it for $5 or $6. We hope it helps introduce everyone to U2."

Clayton admitted that the band has had its difficult moments on this tour but, overall, morale is good.

"It is trying, three months of this sort of intense work," Clayton said. "But we're lucky in that this is happening to us while we're very young. A lot of acts never get a hit like this. It gives us a lot more time to play with.

"Who knows what will happen after this? We'll make that decision after this is over. All I know is that we're on a roll and we're going to do what we can to keep it rolling. There hasn't been a lot to complain about."

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