The story behind the record cover - Joshua Tree (1987) - U2
"Would you like to come with me to U2's Joshua Tree Tour in Dublin?" A female colleague asked me a few years ago. I knew she always had spontaneity in abundance, but I didn't see this one coming. My colleague was a huge U2 fan. She had obtained special tickets through the fan club for the show in Dublin. She was meant to go with her boyfriend, but the relationship had ended. She had once asked the question in a national newspaper: "I'll rate my relationship B, do I have to be satisfied with that?" It was for a section that readers could respond to, something like Agony Aunt. Eventually she concluded that life should be worth more than just B. She wanted more adventure and decided to divorce. Leaving her with the one spare ticket.
I said no to the offer. Rationality prevailed over spontaneity. It was a lot of money (plane ticket, hotel, concert ticket) and we had planned a family gathering for this specific weekend. I wasn't that big a U2 fan. I still am not, but when I see the "Joshua Tree" cover (and hear the music), I do regret not going to Dublin. The photos were taken by my favorite photographer, Anton Corbijn. His photos are fascinating. He has become famous for his pictures of artists and musicians. The photo book "1-2-3-4" is a true showpiece in my bookcase. It contains beautiful photos of Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Depeche Mode and Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones. Anton Corbijn, the shy boy from Strijen near Rotterdam. He started as a photographer with Dutch music magazine Oor in 1972. The camera allowed him to put his shyness aside and take front row at concerts and mingle backstage with the artists. His first photo shoot was for Dutch band Solution.
He forged a special bond with the band members of U2. They were peers and shared the same outlook on life; we live in one world where everyone has equal rights. Corbijn also got along well with the album's producer, Brian Eno. His way of working was a source of inspiration for Corbijn. 'Keep it simple and natural' is Eno's motto. It doesn't have to be perfect. Perfectionism is killing. It is precisely the jagged edge of life that is interesting. This is clearly visible in Corbijn's art. The same applies to the photos on the cover. Corbijn does not try to portray the artists the way the music industry wants, he's merely interested in the artist behind the 'image'. So the guys from U2 could be themselves even though they were the biggest pop stars of the era. The surroundings play an important role in Corbijn's work. He takes most of his pictures outside the studio which are then carefully staged. He mainly works with a grainy ISO 1600 film. The photos of the Joshua Tree were shot spontaneously in the desert. Nothing has been contrived or edited. That makes the photos simple and beautiful at the same time. On the inner and back sleeve, the Joshua Tree is in the background. The tree has since fallen. The idea came from Corbijn himself. He had been to this place before for a photo shoot with musician Captain Beefheart in 1980. He introduced it to singer Bono and he liked the idea. Bono loved the photo of a single tree in the California desert. The other band members agreed. They were recording new songs. And the idea of Anton Corbijn also gave rise to the title of this record.
There is another sad story about this particular album cover. Guus van Hove, a former manager of rock venue 013 in Tilburg, was also a huge U2 fan. He went to America with his wife in 2011 to see the Joshua Tree in real life. Their car broke down in the desert. They were not prepared for that. The extreme heat was fatal to them; they died in the desert. I can only admire such adventures, even if they end badly. My life isn't that exciting: all I do is ordering photo albums every now and then, listening to music and writing stories about album covers. So I'll rate it B.
By Gerrit-Jan Vrielink
Translation: Alex Driessen
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