Suit and tie comes up to me
His face red
Like a rose on a thorn bush
Like all the colours of a royal flush
And he’s peeling off those dollar bills
— “Bullet the Blue Sky,” 1987
U2’s angry, angst-driven anthem was meant to be a stinging political commentary on President Ronald Reagan’s ‘80s foreign policy, and the band’s seminal work, The Joshua Tree, was, by extension, an explorative essay about Americana, with Nevada’s desert plain serving as its cinematic lyrical leitmotif.
But today, still infatuated with America as an idea, U2 has substituted Donald Trump for Ronald Reagan, and the inspiration for the band’s newly announced tour, commemorating the 30th anniversary of the album, is really an elaborate ruse of anti-Trumpism, not a trip through the wires of celebratory nostalgia.
Fans should be prepared.
The Joshua Tree Tour 2017 (stopping in Greater Boston at Gillette Stadium on June 25) seems steeped in sentimentalism — with the band even having re-created a photo based upon the iconic album cover — given the original recording’s massive popularity and youthful idealism. But guitarist The Edge, in a recent Rolling Stone interview, provides fair warning and the reasoning behind this surprise tour: “The election [happened] and suddenly the world changed … The Trump election. It’s like a pendulum has suddenly just taken a huge swing in the other direction.”
Meaning, evidently, the wrong direction.
He further explained that “things have kind of come full circle, if you want. That record was written in the mid-‘80s, during the Reagan-Thatcher era of British and U.S. politics. It was a period when there was a lot of unrest. Thatcher was in the throes of trying to put down the miners’ strike; there was all kinds of shenanigans going on in Central America. It feels like we’re right back there in a way.”
And The Edge added that while this tour is “not really about nostalgia,” the songs “have a new meaning and a new resonance today that they didn’t have three years ago, four years ago.” That was under President Obama’s America of “safe-spaces” and universal health care. (The band played at a pre-inaugural concert in Washington, D.C., eight years ago, heralding his election.) Trump’s America, by contrast, is now a dangerous netherworld, as U2 sees it.
Two U2 shows in 2016 offer a kinetic prelude to shows coming this spring.
Last fall, before the election, performances at the iHeartRadio Music Festival and Dreamforce, in Las Vegas and San Francisco, respectively, were infused with vitriolic rants about Trump and the kind of degenerated America one should expect under his leadership.
During the song “Desire” at the iHeart show, with a video backdrop of Trump speaking, Bono asks those in attendance, “Are you ready to gamble the American Dream?” And if they were to vote for Trump they would, he admonished, lose “everything.”
James P. Freeman, an occasional contributor, is a writer and in financial services. This piece first ran in The New Boston Post.