Was U2 “the Most Important Band of Your College Years”?

August 21, 2012

At the top of another semester as an instructor of writing and literature, I was meeting with some students that I mentor in our living/learning village (formerly or pejoratively known as “the dorm”) where I work as a “faculty head.” Our village vice-president is a music fan, and he showed up in the epic “Fish Can Fly” t-shirt with Bono’s artwork that we for sale at the Hard Rock café.

I couldn’t help confess my Bono fandom, the number of shows I’ve seen, that I essentially dropped out of a college to follow the Joshua Tree tour in 1987. In fact, I even had a coffee-stained manila folder over on the bookshelf with some ticket stubs and photos of me in U2 gear and climbing-up an actual Joshua tree.

Sometimes I forget the extent to which U2 were the band of “my generation,” of how U2 along with REM helped us make sense of growing up. And despite the critical controversies that surrounded Rattle and Hum and eventually prompted Achtung Baby, these records sound so good in retrospect that the sympathetic Rattle and Hum reclamation and historical revision I’ve advocated before still seem timely and necessary.

Just a few hours after sharing some meeting Bono stories with my students, an article popped up in my Facebook news feed from the popular NPR Music site. Visually tagged with the epic Edge image from Rattle, the piece was titled “What Was The Most Important Band Of Your College Years?” Turns out for blogger Robin Hilton, U2 was it.

In all honesty, U2 was more my high school band. I did drop-out of school the fall after my Joshua Tree jaunt—and had been exploring DIY punk rock, folk, and psychedelia more than U2 when I finally got back in school in the early 1990s. Even though my brother insisted on taking me to the Zoo TV show in Detroit, I kind of sipped-my-90s-U2-from-the-sidelines, not revisiting my U2 fandom full force until the early 00s (or “the oughts”) as part of a mid-life crisis.

But Hilton has an experience I think many people who came of age in the 80s can relate to. He recalls, “But when I really put my mind to it, I realized there was one band poster that hung on every wall of every place I lived those years. It was U2. It was one of those huge posters, too — about six feet high — and featured a crouching Bono, with the rest of the band, looking to be deep in thought, with the words ‘In God’s Country’ written above them.”

No doubt those black-and-white Anton Corbijn shots from the desert most likely adorned many a young-man’s wall in the late-Reagan, early-Bush years. Hilton continues, “That was a reference to a cut from the band’s 1987 masterpiece, The Joshua Tree. It’s probably my favorite U2 album. But the song that always slays me — and the one that seems to perfectly capture the wistfulness with which I now regard my college years — is ‘All I Want Is You,’ the bawl-my-eyes-out closing cut to 1988′s Rattle And Hum.”

What is it about “All I Want Is You”? It remains a U2 live staple after all these years. I was definitely bawling my eyes to it the summer of 2011 when it closed the Nashville show, and I was staring into the sunshine of my fiancé’s smile. A friend interpreted it for us as a centerpiece of our wedding in January 2012.

Hilton reflects, “‘All I Want Is You’ offered me the heartbreakingly beautiful belief that everything could be alright with the right person to love. Nothing else mattered.”

Was U2 your college band? Was U2 your college band in a later period? What U2 songs give you that “nothing else mattered” solace amid the chaos of the world? - Andrew William Smith, Editor 

You can read the original post at NPR Music here: