Oh, Boy

Oh, Boy

Boy, Stupid boy

It’s a brisk Sunday night here in the Valley and I’m prepping dinner while listening to Boy. I bought this in high school and, admittedly, have not played it nearly as often as I ought have done. I think part of the reason (or, if you prefer, my excuse) is that I bought an Italian pressing of the LP which, despite it still being on the Island label, is rather shoddy. The master seems to have been cut at an absurdly low level. Makes for less satisfying listening.

My inspiration for spinning Boy came from having listened to Achtung Baby last night on the flight back from Maui. Listening on headphones for the first time in a long time, it struck me how rough around the edges that later work is. If you know me, you know I mean that as the highest compliment. I love the mess of it all. The crappy DI acoustic guitar on “One”, the shaky rhythm of Edge’s guitar (sporadically) in “Mysterious Ways.” All that points to a real band making real music. We like that.

The one memory I associate with Boy is a fellow student presenting the lyrics to “The Ocean” in English class as an example of poetry in song lyrics. I do NOT judge this person, by the way. I chose Iron Maiden’s “Children of the Damned.”

Listening to Boy tonight, however, is a good reminder of just what it was that made U2 great. Even in this early post-punk phase, you could hear the ambition. The desire to create something big. That’s not an approach that always works out but in their case, I think War and The Unforgettable Fire were pretty great realizations of that ambition.

Every great record starts with an impulse. Or a series of impulses. The UK in 1980 was a very wild place for music. Punk had died quickly but it gave birth to a whole new generation of people. People who made music for a shockingly diverse array of reasons. As U2 was struggling to keep the beat together to get through “I Will Follow,” Duran Duran was crafting “Planet Earth” during off hours at a Birmingham discotheque, Elvis Costello was trying to Get Happy and AC/DC was getting over the death of their singer by pounding out Back In Black. And that’s just the tip of the 1980 iceberg.

Apparently rock and roll as a landscape is far less fecund than it was some 33 years ago. So be it. That doesn’t stop me from feeling inspired and, damn it all, I think I’m finally ready to make another record of my own. I’ve still got 6 years on My Bloody Valentine, so… that’s something.