Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Thought On Music (And Film)

Our cable company just added a bunch of HD channels, like 15 or something, and when I was surfing through them a few nights ago I happily stumbled on U2's Rattle and Hum. Phil Joanou’s little “let's follow Bono, Edge and the other guys around America with cameras while they revel in the glory of The Joshua Tree” production does not hold up to further review. Plodding, self-important and borderline ludicrous at times, I’m not sure it held up back when it was released, either, except for hardcore fans of the band, and I place myself in that group.

But the film, and one scene in particular, takes me back to a moment and time in my life I will never forget. I had just graduated from college and taken a job reporting for a small weekly newspaper in my hometown. One of the important and enviable tasks assigned to me was visiting the local police precinct on Sunday nights and reviewing the “blotter,” the list and significant details of every single call officers had responded to over the course of the week, to try to get a thread on anything we hadn't heard about that might be newsworthy. It was as glamorous and fulfilling as it sounds.

On one of those Sunday nights, I got a big cup of coffee from 7-11 and decided to catch Rattle and Hum before my appointed task. Law enforcement is a 24-hour operation, obviously, and the Desk Sergeant was relatively cool, so it didn’t much matter when I showed up there. I found a multiplex, settled in and watched the movie. I had seen the band on the same tour in London the year before, while studying abroad, which made it even more exciting and familiar. The first half was OK, I remember being a little disappointed by it being in black and white, and then the words

Tempe, Arizona

came up on the screen. Cut to a concert stage against a red backdrop, members of the band file in, take their places and start playing the lead-in to “Where The Streets Have No Name,” a collection of insanely great notes that just about made me want to jump out of my skin when I first heard them on my Sony Walkman, wandering around Edinburgh, Scotland, on the day The Joshua Tree was released in the spring of 1987. Then Bono strides onscreen and shouts, “Hello!” And, just as the song is about to really kick in and the fans who fill the outdoor venue scream back at the greeting, Joanou goes to a sweeping overhead helicopter shot of the stadium, full color, stage lights blaring out. I got chills, legitimate chills, as I sat in the theater on a random Sunday in the late 1980s, and I got the same chills when I saw it again the other night.

Twenty years ago, I left that sublime moment to go sit in a police precinct and spend hours poring over the details of hundreds of 911 calls, in the hopes of finding something interesting to write about – a job I can barely imagine today, as glad as I am for having done it back then. The night ended in the room I grew up in, in my parents’ house, where I was living right after college. This time around I watched in my own home, Gwen by my side, our daughters sleeping upstairs. And the reaction was exactly the same, while so much else had changed. The song and that aerial shot cut across 20 years like they weren’t even there, like they didn't exist. I guess that’s the power of music, and film.


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