I have spent more than a year avoiding writing about one of the most expressed emotions I have seen escalate daily… and I am not going to engage now. I have always been more of an optimistic person, and people who know me get tired of me saying 2 phrases. Both are aspirational, and convey a real sense that I really do want to bring to every conversation. They are a direct antidote to that other thing that has been circulating and now has taken on a fever pitch in all areas of life… but there I go again. Let’s spend the week on better things – let’s talk about Joy!
War’s release now had U2 touring the world, but also worried that their hard-hitting political lyrics and music would leave them another “shill, sloganeering arena-rock band”. They also wanted to overtly change their sound, and engaged Brian Eno to be their producer for the next album. Eno’s had changed music in the previous decade with his groundbreaking work in Roxy Music and then in his own solo career. It was called “ambient music” and was trying to be more authentic to the feel and acoustics…which I always found ironic as it is known for being also “electronic”. He had also collaborated with Daniel Lanois – another early producer of ambient/electronic music.
They also sought out a new studio, to compliment their new sound. Most of their early work was done in Dublin at Windham Lane Studios, but there was no room large enough for them all to be together to play at the same time, and to capture the Joy that was clearly present when they played live. Their manager hunted around Ireland, and found Slane Castle. The building’s owner offered to lease it to the group for less than half the cost of another hall, and also offered lodging and to feed the band and crew from the restaurant on-premises. The castle’s Gothic ballroom, which was originally built for music and had a 30-foot high domed ceiling, also attracted the band, as they were looking to capture the natural acoustics of a room in their recording.
Bono had already been engaged with Edge and had a few songs put together before they headed out to Slane, and the time there was mostly filled with fantastic live energy, and the music has a spirit that feels very different than War. The title of the album came from where the tour ended – Hiroshima, and while there is still a lot of politics in the music, it has a softer and more natural feel to it… I guess you would call it “ambient” 😉
If you are interested in what the phrases are, I will spin them out this week, along with a few others I picked up along the way, that make work more human. I am literally watching a special about making Matzo – bread, water, and salt – in New York. It is a business that is 100 years old, and could easily be automated and moved to New Jersey, or even offshore. It would make more money for the owners – who are the 5th generation of making it… and as such, they are slowly weaving that story into their approach to business. And… the looks on their faces – particularly as they talk about the Joy of working side by side with their father, their grandfather, using their Great-Grandfather’s equipment…
One of the phrases came to me working with a young woman who realized she was not doing what she wanted to be doing, but also was struck by the emotion that is circulating now. The negative voices were winning… until a phrase that I am sure I had used before came out late one night “What could possibly go wrong?”. It was a joke, and the most important thing it did in that moment is got us both to laugh… and then, to realize, ok – what COULD possibly go wrong… and if that actually did happen, it actually wasn’t that bad. She pulled up stakes, moved east, and is still pursuing that dream.
So that is what I want to talk about this week – Joy. It is what permeates U2 music from this point forward. Not sugary sweet, not blind to the issues around us, and willing to take some risks and talk about things we need to pay attention to. If you haven’t thought lately about Joy in your work, come along for the ride this week. I will give you a few bumper stickers that might help, and along the way some of the best music recorded. Why? Joy. The Unforgettable Fire.