In a detailed, revealing and exclusive cover story in the issue that hits UK stores from Tuesday, February 21, the group explore the songs and the circumstances of their 30-year-old masterpiece, an album that grappled with the myths and realities of an America they were just beginning to discover.
“The Joshua Tree seemed to in some ways mirror the changes that were happening in the world during the Thatcher/Reagan period,” reflects U2 bassist Adam Clayton. “It seems like we’ve kind of come full circle and we’re back there with a different cast of characters.”
In 1987, that cast included Arizona Governor Evan Mecham, whose refusal to acknowledge the Martin Luther King Day holiday U2 vocally deplored, prompting death threats against Bono in Tempe, AZ. “The FBI came down,” the singer tells MOJO’s Tom Doyle, “and we were all spoken to: ‘Do you wanna go ahead with the show?’ And we did.”
“It was a matter of conscience for me,” explains Bono. “[Trump’s] threatening of protesters with violence had me on guard, as I’m naturally one of those protesters.”
Bono claims he has already received advances from the new administration, but is still weighing his response.
“I had a messenger from a long-time associate of President Trump come to me and say, ‘Look, we’re not thinking about the past, we’re thinking about the future, and please be ready to work together.’”
30 years ago, U2 were not yet so prized for their political juice, although they were prominent at Live Aid and on Amnesty International’s Conspiracy Of Hope tour, and Bono’s related visits to Africa and Central America were reflected in the songs The Joshua Tree would comprise.
“The trips to Salvador and Nicaragua were really eye-opening,” Bono tells MOJO. “I went with this sort of leftist Christian group who were smuggling people out. But we also went into rebel-backed territory and got a fright when we witnessed, I guess from a distance, the firebombing of rebel territory.”
Corralling the voices of co-producers Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois and Steve Lillywhite plus U2’s then-manager Paul McGuinness, to augment the recollections of the band, MOJO brings the making of The Joshua Tree to life, exploring the creation of U2 favourites including With Or Without You, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For and the tortuous genesis of Where The Streets Have No Name.
“It was a ridiculous saga, that song,” laments Eno. “God, it was terrible. I estimate that 40 per cent of the time was spent on that one song. It became a kind of weird obsession.”
After the recording came the original Joshua Tree tour, where U2’s mounting fame sparked self-destructive jags and tequila madness. With upward-spiralling album and ticket sales came unprecedented attention – both welcome (from Frank Sinatra) and less so (from Michael Jackson). It wasn’t without its dangers. “You become a bit of an asshole,” Clayton confides to MOJO.
If nothing else, re-engaging with The Joshua Tree will remind U2 of a time when, as regards their relationships with the global political, financial and cultural establishments, they were still outside the tent, pissing in.