Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Joshua Tree, 20 years later

Time flies. Twenty years went by in the blink of an eye. In that time, I graduated high school, college three times, got half-way through my Master's, moved out of my parents' house, traveled to Europe 19 times, had 10 jobs (at least!), fell in love three times, lost my grandparents and became a self-assured thirty-something who remains, to this day, a huge U2 fan.

I can remember awaiting the release of The Joshua Tree in 1987. It was the end of my junior year in high school when the single came out, and I can remember sitting by the radio waiting to hear With or Without You played for the first time on WBCN. I bought the cassette when the album was released and went to my first (of 32, so far) U2 concerts that fall.

The Joshua Tree (and its follow up Achtung! Baby) remains the cornerstone of my music collection, and oddly enough, the soundtrack to my life at the time it came out and I aurally devoured it. In recent years, hearing Where the Streets Have No Name live in concert moves me to tears. There is something about the phenomenal segue from whatever song preceeds it into the haunting sequencer and Larry's gentle cadence-driven intro that gets me every time. Long before Edge ever chimes in with his first notes, I have goosebumps. I'm smitten. It was the first song I heard U2 perform in concert, and the one song I've heard them perform every time since. Thankfully it's a staple, and hopefully it will remain that way. But the rest of the album, both the A-side and the B-side (for those of you who still remember when they ordered songs with the "sides" in mind), is incredibly strong and has withstood the test of time marvelously. It's one of the few albums from the 80s that I can go back to and listen again and again.

So here we are, twenty years later, and U2 has decided to remaster the album "as they intended it to be heard," says U2's manager Paul McGuinness. Now, why they didn't do this the first time around, barring lack of available technology that we probably have easy access to today, I don't know. But in the meantime, I bought JT on CD when album formats went to CD. So I'm already in this for two copies. And to further the additional funding on construction on U2's homes, I bought the $60 super deluxe maxi version today (but on sale for $45!), remastered with "rare" unreleased songs (shockingly, I had actually never heard them before), a DVD of a 1987 Paris show and the much-rumored-to-exist video of Red Hill Mining town. I think that alone is worth the price of admission, but I fell hook, line and sinker for the whole set. Which is why I say, I'm helping to fund a new room on each of U2's homes.

But I think more disturbing than my propensity to blindly throw money at this band like a crack addict looking for her next hit is the harsh realization that this is the first historic box set re-release for which I remember the original. Not only do I remember it, but I lived and breathed it. For years. And still do. That alone is making me feel my years today and realize as I look at their pictures that, as much as they have aged in 20 years, so have I. And that's downright scary.

So on the initial listen, I can't say that with my crappy iPod headphones and the PC CD-player at work I really hear a difference, to be honest. I will have to try it out on a home stereo or maybe even home stereo with headphones to appreciate the difference. And I can't really say the previously unreleased material is that great either. They sound unfinished and/or cut from the album for a very good reason. Which of course, they were. None are the caliber of Spanish Eyes or Silver and Gold or even Luminous Times, three songs which really, in all rights, should have made it on to that album. But there wasn't room on either the A-side or B-side for them.

For now though, opening the collector's edition box and reading the booklet and looking at the photos of the band then, and thinking of where they (and I) have been in the interim, is like being swept by an undertow back through the past. When all things, including their music, were simpler, easier and cost a lot less than $44.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Rome two weeks later, the lasting impressions

Now that I've been home and back at the grind for a bit, I thought I'd look back and see what lasting impressions I have been left with.

The Pantheon is quite possibly the most beautiful building I saw in Rome, or many other places, for that matter. I don't know what it was, but on this trip the Pantheon captivated me. It was my first stop the day I arrived and the last place I saw the night before I left. In a light mist, in bright sun and especially lit at night, it was just beautiful. I can't explain it, but looking at it gave me that feeling that I was truly somewhere special, ancient and mystical.

I saw some amazing art. Nothing in the world can prepare you to see the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo's Moses or "his" hand gripping Prosperina's thigh, as if the marble was really flesh made of butter. I can close my eyes and bring myself back to each place: as Moses' eyes met mine and I swore he was about to speak but for the crowds that came between us; as I turned round the spiral that is Bernini's Rape of Proserpina and saw the hand that held her back and her hand that pushed away; as I was able to stare open-mouthed and wander without a care or bother for another soul, neck craned upwards at the most mind-blowingly beautiful ceiling in the world. And that is not to belittle the Caravaggios and other mounds and mounds of art to be had in the city. These are just the ones that still lull me to sleep, captivate my mind and rock my soul now that I'm home.

And the food...who can beat the most delectable gnocchi in gorgonzola sauce that just melted away in my mouth? Why even try to find better paparadelle alla pesto or bruschetta alla diavolo (with a salami spread). And the red wine, which I have probably mentioned before, was wonderful, even if it was on tap. I won't elaborate on the gelato...what more can be said about Bailey's flavored goodness?

Ruins are cool. To be walking through a neighborhood that seems pretty ordinary and then see the ruins of an ancient theater or a column embedded into an existing facade, that's pretty cool. You don't get that in Boston and I wonder if it ever gets old to Rome's inhabitants.

I'm already feeling the draw to go back. Despite my best efforts to cover as much ground as possible, I left so many stones unturned that I need to go back. But I'd still go back and have my gnocchi, see Moses and the Ceiling, see Proserpina and will her to get away, stumble upon the ruins and live La Dolce Vita, Roman Style.

Loving Kid Nation -- still

I will spare you my complaints about snow, bitter cold and the fact that two weeks ago I was in Rome instead of stuck in a cubicle in downtown Boston. You're welcome. Instead I'll get back to tv...

With the Writer's Strike forcing most of my usual tv viewing into hiatus, I'm still left with Kid Nation. As I mentioned earlier, this is one of the most underrated reality tv shows of recent memory (after, perhaps, The Amazing Race).

I am guessing we are just over halfway through the kids' stay in Bonanza City and now I'm starting to wonder. The town council is forced to read this diary left by the previous inhabitants (who were unsuccessful at getting Bonanza City to work) and the council has to follow the directions left in the diary. I'm a little unclear on this because why would anyone in their right mind follow the guidance from people who have FAILED? Anyhow...

The kids are bored, so they were told to put on a talent show. It got boring picking on kids we didn't like on each team, so the teams were told to swap players. Now hold on just a minute, but some of these kids are in the 13-16 year old age range. I'm wondering why there's been no sexual experimentation here. I mean, according to today's media, they are long overdue. But we're not seeing it. I think that would go a long way to curing boredom and relieving hostilities. I'm just sayin'.

The kids still look pretty unkempt. Emilie looks like she hasn't showered or brushed her hair in, oh, 25 days. It's probably true. There is still some rampant mouth fungus running amok on the kids. One girl, who's been frying potatoes for favors (literally), has burn marks on her face from splattered grease, which she chalks up to "the job." Oy. I'm surprised scurvy and malnutrition have yet to set in since they appear to eat only starches and sweets along with root beer shooters while on camera. Not a balanced diet in the least. And I was horrified to see a recent challenge involved gum-chewing, which is not the most brilliant idea the producers had, what with all the orthodontically supported amongst the kids.

So I have no idea what's to come in the next four weeks. From the trailers, I'm seeing Nazi epithets being hurled, and we've already experienced some violence, idle threats and foul language. I'm hoping for more. This is riveting tv at its finest. You know it's good when your Dear Sister calls during commercial break and says "I hate that bitch, Jordan," and you have to remind her that Jordan's only nine years old!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Blogging from Rome...

Well, not exactly. I wrote this (as in pen on paper) while I was taking the train from Rome to Orvieto:

When you travel alone, you find yourself at times having conversations with yourself, or let's say having more profound thoughts than you might otherwise. I'm starting to notice these now and seeing how much they color my experience in Italy. For example...

Step over the bidet and into the shower. I am in the world's smallest bathroom (no, really) where there is barely room to get one leg past the bidet and into the shower, which, is tightly squeezed into a corner to such an effect that the doors need to be pushed inwards to get in. This is, of course, after you've stepped over the bidet. All of this makes for quite a challenge if you are visually-impaired, which I am without contacts or glasses while I'm in there to do what needs to be done.

While I don't necessarily need said bidet, I have decided that I need a towel warmer. Everywhere. On vacation, at home, at work. I've had them at my disposal in hotels before but have never used one. Apparently the reception desk controls the heat and the towel warmers in this hotel, and the three mornings it was on and I had nice warm towels after I launched myself out of the shower (and over the bidet), it was just heavenly.

My biggest crisis on this trip was hearing myself say aloud "what do you mean it's 1 p.m. and I haven't had any gelato yet?" Yes, I actually said that. And yes, I did drop what I was doing and find the nearest gelateria. In sampling 18 flavors in a week (well off my previous record), I managed to maintain at least a daily intake. But leaving it toward the end of the day becomes risky.

Everything tastes better with Nutella. The first day at this hotel, I was given two croissants for breakfast, so a couple little tubs of Nutella went well with those. Then all of a sudden it was one croissant and one big old hard roll, like a dinner roll. But the Nutella made even the crappy roll taste better. Nutella needs to be a household staple, methinks.

I hate cappucino, but I'm drinking it. My descent into "normal" (aka not macchiato or syrup-enhanced) coffee continues, having begun in Amsterdam (land of "would you like condensed milk for your coffee?"). With not a Starbucks in sight in Italy, I sidle up to a coffee bar and drink about 6 ounces of heaven in a cup. Sigh....

I hate wine, but I'm drinking it. Thanks to Bill and Tony, my eyes have been opened to red wine and I've acquired quite a taste for it, even the "nuovo" (aka 2007) that we were served!

About these relics...ok, I've been to over 10 European countries and have seen religious relics up the wazoo. There're the relics of the three magi, St. Catherine's head, St. Catherine's body (in two different places!), St. John's head, thorns from the crown of thorns (in several different places), pieces of the real cross, pieces of Jesus' crib, St. Peter's finger (or is that Galileo, which would make it not a religious relic?) My point here is, how is it possible that there are this many relics? I would think there's a limit to the number of thorns from that crown, and only limited wood on that cross or crib. How did so much of it get out there? Really?

I think that about covers my confessional for this trip. There are others (mainly about certain hot, young Italian priests worthy of a second look) but I'm afraid to put that into writing, at least in a public forum. Ciao!