The Best Music in My Lifetime Came When I Was 14

I assure you I will have a year end conclusion to my Best Albums of 2006 series which will feature a couple of albums from December among the Top 100 albums of 2006.

The title of this post is something that isn’t only true for me, but true for many people from many generations. I spent a week this summer on a houseboat with several members of the class of ’62 and ’63 and their favorite music still plays like the soundtrack to American Graffiti. I can’t say I’m that different as songs that I discovered at 13, 14, 15 still get heavy rotation on iTunes.
When I was an early teen, U2 officially became my favorite band and in nearly 20 years, that hasn’t changed. I always credit The Mad Fishicist with my U2 fanaticism. I had heard a few U2 songs over the years that had been played on the radio and my sister got The Joshua Tree (on cassette) for Christmas. I’ve spent countless amounts of money over the years on U2, so I feel no shame in admitting that I “dubbed” The Joshua Tree and when I had listened to the tape so much that it wore out, I made another copy. I think eventually I ended up absorbing the copy originally gifted to my sister. I hope she can find it in her heart to forgive me. It’s been so long, the memory is pretty vague, but I remember The Mad Fishicist making a suggestion that I rent Lost Boys and Rattle and Hum together. I’m certain now looking back on it, that it was just the influence of The Chindo spewing out of him, but regardless of that I did what he said and rented the two movies. Neither of them were the type of movies that I grew up watching. A vampire movie and a concert documentary, I’m sure my folks were worried at the time. My life was permanently changed. The feeling that I got when I watched Rattle and Hum at 14 is a feeling that I have only felt to that degree a handful of times since. I felt inspired, I felt elated, I felt awakened. I wanted to play guitar like the Edge, I wanted to sing like Bono, I wanted to play bass like Adam Clayton, and I wanted to look like Larry Mullen. Maybe the most important lesson I learned is that Music and Politics can mix and that “Rock and Roll Stops the Traffic.” Maybe the most remarkable thing about Rattle and Hum is those guys taking on the world with their music and they were just ~27. Some of that has changed in 18 years, but in a way much of the dreams that were awakened during the first viewing of Rattle and Hum still ring true today. I still get chills at a number of points in the movie. Still to this day, I’ve never seen Rattle and Hum the big screen….big screen TV’s yes, but not in a theater.
After seeing Rattle and Hum and begging for the Rattle and Hum album (again on tape), I discovered that there was a lot of their music that came before R+H that I needed to have. Boy, October, War, and The Unforgettable Fire came soon after that. I couldn’t get enough. It didn’t hurt my enthusiasm to have The Mad Fishicist quiz me on lyrics in Oceanography class when we should have been dissecting oysters. I’m not exaggerating when I say that life changed with Rattle and Hum.
For Christmas I got U2 by U2. It took me back to those discovery years. I sat there yesterday mesmerized by familiar stories and new ones I hadn’t heard. If you’re not familiar the book consists of autobiography, biography by the other members, and pictures both from press clippings but also the band’s personal photographs. It’s a must have and makes a wonderful coffee table book. I’ve only read two chapters, so I’m reading about the very early times before they were a band. In all of their memoirish tales, they mention the music that they started to hear when they were 14-15 and how it shaped their life. My teen years in the middle class white bread suburbs of Portland, don’t compare at all with the early 70’s in Dublin, but like Lennon, Dylan and Bowie, U2 were my awakening that there was a big world out there and I wanted to be part of it. I haven’t come close to changing the world, but when I do, you better believe my memoirs will include a chapter on U2 when I was 14.

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