Beautiful girl

Today our granddaughter, AbbyAnn Grace Wade, was dedicated in an Easter morning service at Third Street Baptist Church in Arkadelphia. It was a beautiful little service and she (and her mom!) were as lovely as ever. I am very proud of and thankful for them. No. 1 Grandson Drake continues to be my best bud; he spent a good 10 minutes snuggling with me today prior to the service. It’s all about the grandkids!

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FAMILY

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“Try the chocolate”

Looks yummy, doesn’t it? To me, it looks like a big bowl of death. (Google Images – the real thing would kill me)

I suffer from probably one of the most vexing allergies known to man – the peanut allergy.

Recently, while eating at a local pizzeria, I learned two valuable lessons: once an allergy sufferer, always an allergy sufferer, and, my peanut allergy is as bad today as it ever was.

I first learned I have this condition when I was young, say two or three years old. This was in the early 1970s, when peanut allergies were not as commonly known, or widely feared, as they are today. Back then, the allergy basically turned you into a freak show. “No peanut butter?! What kind of extraterrestrial kid is this? Everybody eats peanut butter!”

The popular, protein-filled snack was certainly a staple in our house. My dad could eat peanut butter for breakfast, lunch and dinner. He loved everything from the “gourmet” peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich to the rare and somewhat frowned-upon sardine-and-peanut-butter sandwich. He would have spread Peter Pan on a steak if there hadn’t been at least a 3% chance of Mom divorcing him over it. So, for me to turn up with an allergy to his favorite food did not exactly contribute to warm-and-fuzzy feelings. In fact, I’m sure it only added to his general dislike of me.

I had various skin tests conducted when I was little, and this was how my reaction to the product was discovered. Peanut butter then became the enemy of the household (Dad’s addiction notwithstanding.) No one could have it anywhere near me, elsewise I would contract one, or all, of the following symptoms:

Asthma; shortness of breath; rash; vomiting (if ingested); swelling of the mucus-membrane areas such as mouth and eyes; itchy skin; throat constriction; redness, and, quite possibly, if untreated, death. Obviously I never died, but as a child I did suffer from most of these, depending on the level of exposure. For me, peanut butter equaled a dire emergency. I’ve never even tasted the stuff. People tell me it’s to die for; I take that quite literally.

Attending public schools was not easy for me thanks to peanut butter. The cafeteria regularly made peanut butter cookies and other forbidden goodies. Of course, I was the only kid in school with a life-threatening allergy of any kind; this just happened to be the worst one imaginable. On peanut-butter cookie day, which was at least three times a month, I would be culled out of the lunch line and made to eat with the teachers. Why? So that “peanut breath or touch” would not accidentally send me to the hospital. Third graders, you see, are not as conscientious about people with allergies as (most) adults are. The only solution to the problem was to segregate me by putting me with the grownups. This, as you might imagine, made me something of an oddity among my peers. Why the hell’s Dan sitting with Mrs. Gordon? I got plenty of weird looks. Trying to explain to your fellow 9-year-olds that “it’s only a peanut allergy” is not the most effective means of deflecting unwanted attention. The teachers certainly made no effort to help me; they talked and gossiped as if nothing at the end of the table were amiss. Hell, they ate peanut butter cookies, too. I guess the only upside was that the decision to separate me from my fellow diners did prevent accidents from happening.

And, yes, my allergy was exactly that sensitive. I could blow up from the slightest contact. The school was only doing what it could in an age when allergies were paid less attention by state and federal overseers. I mean, God forbid, anyone should ask the cafeteria to stop with the cookies, already!

Fortunately, I never had a truly problematic episode with peanut butter, only a few minor incidents here and there. As I got older, I was able to take more control over my surroundings and food choices, and peanut butter became less of an issue. By the time I graduated high school, it was no bother at all.

As the decades have gone by, I began to suspect I might have have outgrown the allergy. After all, I’d been surrounded by family members who loved the stuff, and my daughter has no aversion to peanut butter whatsoever – she loves it as much as my dad ever did.

Yesterday, I got a rude awakening.

The waitress came by and offered me and my wife a slice of chocolate dessert pie. They generally do a good job at this place of making the distinction between “chocolate” and “peanut butter,” and since she made no mention of PB, I said, sure, why not. She dropped a slice on my plate and my wife and I went on about our conversation. I took a bite of pie.

The pie bit back.

My mouth suddenly felt loaded with fire ants. I knew something horrible was wrong – some mistake had been made. I took a good look at the pie and saw the light-brown/orangey tinge of … you guessed it … Jif or Reese’s or whatever they use. It was pure peanut butter with only a thin layer of chocolate.

I indicated the problem to my wife, and instant panic hit our table. I had a mouthful of killer peanut butter. It was no joke and definitely for real. The reaction was happening. I quickly expectorated the bite into a napkin, but some had inexorably gone down my throat. Now what?

“Epi-pen!” you say. Well, I have one of those … I’m looking at it as I type this … but I did not have it on me at lunch yesterday. What the hell good is it, then? Well, that’s a great question, but not one I was prepared to argue about yesterday.

This is similar to the life-saving device I have, only I found this image on Google. We heard some interesting stories about the epi-pen from our attending ER physician. You can use it, but you should still go to the hospital, afterward, if for no other reason than medical observation.

My first thought was, mouth rinse, so I hurried to the men’s room. Of course, it was occupied. So I had to wait about twenty seconds. The manager himself finally emerged. Unwilling and, really, unable to speak, I hurried in after him and held my mouth under the cold tap. Bits of nasty peanut butter ran out. The feeling of fire ants remained. Oh, shit.

We had a brief conversation with the manager at our table. He was understandably concerned, but really, it was nobody’s fault but mine. I should have exercised reasonable suspicion about the pie. Our waitress did admit that she said chocolate and not peanut butter, but at that moment, what were we going to do? I had to get some antihistamine into me, pronto.

I took a Benadryl in the car, but my mucus membranes were by then feeling the impact. I was constantly expectorating, and my throat felt scratchy, like it had an ant in it. I knew that was a sign of constriction. We would go right past the hospital on our drive home; I made the decision to stop at the ER.

They got me into a nurse’s station fairly quickly, and after the usual 1,001 questions about my medical history, moved me into an examination room. In short order, I received a second Benadryl and a steroid injection. I normally sleep like a baby after just one Benadryl, but two will knock me out, no questions asked. After about twenty minutes, I felt a lessening of the symptoms … and an unmistakable drowsiness.

My wife found it pretty amusing that I would fall asleep so easily, but the nursing staff wanted me to stay awhile for observation, and I rolled right over on the examining table and went to sleep. It was a hard, dreamless sleep, the kind that leaves you wanting only more sleep. They finally discharged me around 3:00 p.m.; I showed no more symptoms. I do not remember the trip home. I staggered to the recliner, fell in, and awoke around 9:30 p.m. Christa had cleaned the house, cooked dinner and brought the kids home. I was aware of none of it.

Fortunately, I’m at work today, feeling fine, and very appreciative of the prompt medical care and expertise that saved us from having a really bad day. The takeaway here is that I am as sensitive as ever to this allergy. I’ll be enjoying mac and cheese and mashed potatoes for the next few days, just to keep it safe. Oh, and I’ll keep the epi-pen just a little handier from now on.

I still haven’t found what I’m shopping for

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I’m a collector – I love collecting hard copies of movies, books, albums, even pictures … it’s my background, my childhood. I was raised to buy the things that I loved. Note that I said things – not digital downloads. I might have moved into the 21st century along with everyone else, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still require the printed page or the physically recorded album in my hands. Sadly – tragically – it appears that all of that is going away.

Here’s a funny fact: chances are excellent that I can walk into any entertainment store (Books a Million, FYE, etc.) at random and find the music I want on vinyl, but NOT on CD or in any other format. Twenty years ago, the vinyl format was dead – and had been for a long, long time, so long that even then, I could not recall the last album I bought on vinyl.

Records – the kind you played on a turntable, that got scratched and skipped, that were packaged in BEAUTIFUL, ARTISTIC slipcases and paper envelopes – you know, actual music – were my delivery system of choice as a kid. I bought Star Wars soundtracks, Loony Tunes, and finally pop-music albums on vinyl and played the shit out of them. (Not to get too far afield in the realm of pop-culture “remember when,” but I also bought those book-and-record sets, which were printed stories accompanied by recorded words and music. Those were the best, Jerry, the best!)

Then one morning I awoke and you could no longer buy vinyl at my local Walmart. They had been replaced – in one fell stroke – with …. can you guess? … the cassette tape. (I won’t even mention eight-tracks.) Yes, all my vinyl had to be replaced with cassettes, which I will admit, were handier and somehow sounded better. (I don’t know that they actually did sound better; I never performed any scientific audio testing … maybe that was only wishful thinking on my part. Scratches, however, were gone, and tapes just sounded cleaner and more modern.) I doubt that I went around missing vinyl albums; I made the transition just fine. This was in the early-to-mid-80s; by 1990, formats changed again.

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I’ve always said that when a new device makes it into Walmart, it’s no longer a niche, experimental, “cool” concept, but a commodity with a ready audience – and the price for it drops dramatically. Compact discs certainly fit that description. In 1987, I remember reading with envy about Sting’s latest album on CD and the crystal-clear fidelity of the format. How I wanted a CD player! But how and where to buy one? I had no idea – only rich people owned CDs. Then I bought U2’s “Achtung Baby” on CD, and everything changed – I was no longer a tape man. All my cassettes went out the window; out with the old, in with the new!

All of that is preface to this: recently, I traveled to the megalopolis of Dallas, Texas, on a shopping excursion that was basically meant for our girls but into which I was able to squeeze one quick run for myself. This was to the ultimate shoppers’ paradise, Grapevine Mills, the largest indoor mall in North Texas. What was I in search of? Any and everything – no particular target purchase. I just wanted to “go look.”

VIRGIN

Grapevine Mills was once home to the biggest music, record and book store I’ve ever seen: Virgin Megastore. My first visit was in late 1999; the sheer size and scope of the place was mind-blowing to a small-town Arkansas boy like me. I found new copies of books I’d spent years searching for (Amazon was a resource back then but not as commonly used). And music, and movies on DVD? Fugeddaboudit! Virgin had everything! It was the coolest store I’d ever been in. (And so was the branch in Mockingbird Station in downtown Dallas, to which you could ride DART.)

Well, guess what, boys and girls? Virgin Megastore no longer exists. The economy and good-old-fashioned corporate incompetence (in a shifting market) killed it. That Valhalla-like store in Grapevine has been gone for at least a decade. I knew I would not be able to browse its shelves, but the Internet told me that a BAM and an FYW could still be found among its hundreds of shops. Good enough.

The BAM I found in Grapevine Mills was a thundering disappointment – small, cramped, rather sloppy, and filled with all the usual BAM products – the same, worn-out remaindered bins, the same, fire-sale titles, the same FIVE TONS of manga and Marvel and DC graphic novels. I have a nose for these things, and I knew in ten seconds that I would find NOTHING worth purchasing in this particular BAM. For this I traveled about 1,000 miles?

Further down the “street,” I found FYE, AKA, For Your Entertainment, with which I had passing familiarity. (There’s an outlet in nearby Hot Springs, Ark.) Wow! Talk about another letdown! This store was jam-packed with all kinds of CRAP ranging from more Batman/Superman/Giant Bleeding Asshole comic books, to action figures no one wants, to posters and plastic vomit and 25M marked-down DVDs I can find at Target for even LESS. There were few customers and the clerk looked bored. The lighting was terrible and the merchandise was jammed helter-skelter into the center of the floor. The walls were reserved for – get this – BOBBLE HEADS, yes, those annoying little “toys” that never seem to sell very well, representing all your “favorite characters” from your “favorite shows and movies.” Bobble heads have taken over America’s entertainment stores. Thing is, NO ONE IS BUYING THEM. I think that about 10 years ago, about a billion of them were manufactured, and they have been DUMPED into stores like FYE because, well, what are we gonna do with them?

RECORD

My intention had been to shop for some CDs, since you can hardly find CDs anymore, unless you use the nemesis of stores like Virgin and FYE, and that is Amazon. However, the CD selections at both BAM and FYE SUCKED. They each consisted of one pathetic bin in which handfuls of overpriced ($14.99-20.00) CDs jostled for attention against all kinds of other, unrelated crap. I browsed quickly but came away empty-handed. The simple truth is, I don’t have to pay those kinds of prices for music, which is exactly why the CD and DVD business is in its present condition – digital products have overwhelmed the hard copies from a price perspective. I can cherry-pick the songs I want, for $1.99 each, from iTunes.

I don’t mean to launch a diatribe against the digital music business. I’m still pissed, for example, that Garth Brooks has yet to release his music to iTunes, so that I can cherry-pick his songs (which is precisely the reason he hasn’t released to iTunes – he values the albums over the individual songs, though another reason is that he’s so rich he doesn’t need iTunes). But it makes me sad that a cool shopping experience has been raped by the bargain-bin industry, left to incompetently-managed stores that are depressing to walk into because there is such an overabundance of sheer junk.

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Walk through any high-end mall in America (or, OK, Dallas), and you’ll find any number of stores catering to clothes shoppers; those stores will be as beautiful and thoughtfully-arranged as any art museum in New York. Yet stores for book purchasers, music lovers, etc., have been pushed off to the shadows, down next to Great American Cookie Co. and across the way from Condom Sense. All because, well, that kind of product doesn’t move anymore. It’s no longer the American crack-cocaine it once was. People can buy that shit over their phone. But there are still consumers out there who want that browsing experience. Has the market for entertainment fallen so far, so fast, that you feel almost like you have to wear a raincoat and a ski mask to shop for it?

(By the way, those high-end clothiers aren’t doing any better financially – Macy’s and about a dozen other big-name companies are closing stores left and right. Why? Because people can buy the same clothes cheaper over the Internet, from mom-and-pop sellers! Talk about karma.)

Such a walk will reveal another fact: American corporate culture has completely devalued and de-emphasized the written word. You can’t find books anymore and no one reads anything that isn’t on a screen the size of an index card. We’re sold everything else – shoes, jewelry, baseball caps, exotic soaps, framed memes, ersatz artwork, and sugary junk – but not the written word. In the age of Trump, when anti-intellectualism and a distrust of reading has reached an all-time high, the distribution of books should be valued more highly than ever. (There’s a reason 1984 is once again a best-seller – where you can find it.)

So … as far as books and music, Grapevine Mills is out for me. Yes, it sells lots of clothes and shoes and tchotchkes, but I find those anywhere – especially online. Why go back? Why mix and mingle with the hordes when I can buy from home, in the comfort of my underwear? Why travel to a store, park, wrestle with the elements, and get exercise when I can find anything I’ve ever wanted on Amazon or iTunes? This the exact mindset that killed Virgin Megastore and will eventually kill Grapevine Mills; ironically, the mindset of bringing Virgin, etc., back from the dead, will be the only thing that stops malls from going the way of the pterodactyls.

I come back to the vinyl record. Extraordinarily, both BAM and FYE boasted more albums on vinyl than on CD. People, as it turns out, do like the hard copy – they like covers and liner notes. They will buy records as long as they think they’re cool. Think about that. The zombie that was “wax” is now back in a big way. What can that mean for the rest of analog entertainment? There’s an old saying that may prove true in retail: what once was old, is new again.

RECORDS

 

 

The Vacated Campus

It’s Spring Break!

There’s no one on the mall! …

No one in class. …

No one on the stairs. …

No one in the tower. …

No one at the pond. … except for these two guys sitting in a tree …

… who didn’t like me taking their picture …

There’s no traffic. …

… some cows …

… and no one on the field! Happy Spring Break!

 

 

On Safari

Saturday, March 18, was what the song refers to as a “beautiful day,” and so with nothing else on the household agenda, I decided to get out and collect some safari images from around Magnolia.

I’d been wanting to photograph this line of covered antique cars for a long time and finally got my chance, nailing this image of an old Plymouth, its protective covering ripped and torn by the elements.

The sky lends an ominous note to this image of South Jackson Street. Crayton’s BBQ and a nearby, lime-colored laundromat make for an interesting corner of Magnolia, which I tried capturing in a few images.

The Jackson Street “Washateria.” No other structure in Magnolia looks quite like this one.

I tried capturing two interesting signs in one image. Directly across the street: the BBQ restaurant and the laundromat.

Speaks for itself; I applied a Photoshop action (“Classically Beautiful”) to stylize the image. I think it works.

Plenty o’ …

Stylized image of a brick wall, using a Photoshop filter called paint daubs. For a photo taken in a forgotten corner of Magnolia, I figured it was fine to get a little creative.

 

 

Pages turning like the years

Cave Passages and Dark Life, two non-fiction adventure-science books by my friend Mike Taylor, have had a tremendous impact on my writing life.

Cave Passages and Dark Life, Mike Taylor’s non-fiction books of exploration and adventure, have had a tremendous impact on my writing life.

I was pleased to find in the mail today a book I ordered online, one I haven’t read in years. Cave Passages: Roaming the Underground Wilderness is by my friend and journalism mentor Mike Taylor, who teaches JOU and a variety of other writing courses (as well as advises the campus newspaper) at my alma mater, Henderson State University. Mike is one of the most talented and skilled writers I know, and he’s also that rarest kind of writer: the published kind, as his two books, Cave Passages (1996) and Dark Life (1999) can attest.

I first met Mike in 1991, the first day of class in … Mass Media, I believe it was. It was my first day at Henderson and Mike’s, too. I was seated on the front row of class; I didn’t really know anybody. I’d moved into a house my uncle had generously loaned me, rent-free, for the school year, and I was … well, on my own. I’d spent two years as a general assignments reporter at the newspaper in Hope, Ark., I’d won a couple of statewide newspaper prizes, and I thought I was pretty big shit. What I needed, though, was more than a co-worker and more than a friend. I needed a mentor. Enter Mike.

He swept into class wearing a gray blazer and tan slacks, his hair slicked back yet windblown, as mine often is. He had a stack of books under his arm and a cup of coffee in his hand. (“Coffee” quickly became his nickname among us Gen-X punks in the newsroom.) I instantly knew, in that strange way that happens only once or twice a decade, that he would become one of the most influential people in my life.

I decided to walk up and introduce myself at the end of class. (I had a rather high opinion of myself.) Mike had just finished lecturing on inverted pyramids and such like, and how they should be avoided in writing. I, having just completed two tours of duty in what they call the “real world,” knew better – the inverted pyramid was indispensable for getting one’s point across without bogging an article down in … so-forth and so-on. We had a debate right there after class, then agreed to go to lunch and talk about it some more. I don’t think a day went by for at least the next three years that I didn’t have a conversation with Mike about writing, art, journalism, newspapers, magazines, travel, adventure, movies, music, or women.

Mike quickly became mentor, pal and father-figure to a bunch of us mere boys who wrote and edited the student paper. We’d have late-night bull sessions while putting out the weekly paper, hang out at lunch, etc. Mike owned (as he still does) a vast library of books on travel, caving, etc., and he did his best to share these with me and inspire an even deeper love of literature (fiction and non-) than I already possessed. He had no interest in seeing me continue my career in newspapers – he wanted me to become a freelancer for magazines.

I could understand why, though I never followed through. The money was (generally) better (if spottier), and the travel and writing opportunities were spectacular. He’d been to China, Jamaica, Asia, Hawaii, and written about all these places. Even after he started teaching at Henderson, he continued his writing career on the side, generating these two books less than 10 years into his tenure. He was more than a teacher, more than a storyteller. He was, and is, a craftsman and an artist – if you don’t have the patience to fashion a story, what good is there in having one to tell? He understands nuance and style, pacing and tone, and to read one of his stories is to plunge into a master class in the nuts-and-bolts of writing.

Mike always says to add a human touch to the most technically difficult of stories, and so in Cave Passages we get a paragraph where he and some photographers tour a remote cave in China and then climb out, singing a Monty Python tune. They trek to a nearby village for some pepper omelets. What kind of omelets? Pepper omelets. It’s the little details that sell a story.

He can also tie a physical description together with a scene of deep personal reflection, describing even a handful of pebbles with such precision that, well, you’re there, looking at those pebbles right alongside him. That is a hallmark of Mike’s: you forget you’re reading.

I’ve been trying to recapture or re-gather books that were lost to me over the years by relocation or other nefarious means. This is actually the third or fourth copy of Cave Passages I’ve owned, but I’m determined not to have to buy any more. This one hits too close to home; I was around when Mike was writing it, and it’s a huge part of my personal connection with Henderson State.

Dark Life, his second book, means even more to me, because I’m named in it. During the spring of 1999, Mike asked me, incredibly, to proof his manuscript of the book while it was in draft stage. He was making corrections and sending them off to his editor at Scribner. It was a great privilege helping him, and I got not only one but two mentions in the acknowledgements.

I reordered Cave Passages via Amazon, but Dark Life (my first copy of which I sold to a book store in Dallas about 15 years ago) came back to me a different route. My wife, a biology professor at Southern Arkansas University, inherited a copy of the book from a retiring mentor of hers. I showed her my name in the book, which was on her shelf, and we marveled over the coincidence. Today it sits on my shelf in Communications, next to its brother. I have no plans to part with them.

The Joshua Tree turns 30

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U2 will be playing its seminal album, The Joshua Tree, in several live concerts around the country beginning in May. It’s the first time the band has “looked back,” and while I hope the boys won’t be turning into a jukebox-nostalgia group, endlessly cranking out “the classics” for an increasingly graying (and irrelevant) audience of fogies like me, it is time for Bono, Edge, Larry and Adam to pay this album its full due.

That means playing the never-performed-live “Red Hill Mining Town” and the rarely performed “One Tree Hill” (played mostly for audiences in New Zealand), “Exit” and “Mothers of the Disappeared.” From a musical standpoint, the shows will be unique in U2 lore, and should be interesting, to say the least.

The Joshua Tree turns 30 in March – an unbelievable milestone. (Yes, all classic albums do eventually attain a certain age, but still, 30? Wow.) I remember the night the first single, “With or Without You,” debuted on my local radio station (I forget the call sign, though I listened every single day). I remember buying the cassette at my local Wal-Mart. I still remember my initial reactions to the song and the album. I still listen to both, this very day, partly out of nostalgia, partly because they represent “go-to” music for me. Bored? Depressed? Tired? Need a lift? Go to The Joshua Tree.

I wasn’t a big U2 fan when The Joshua Tree hit stores in March 1987. I was 17 years old and in my AC/DC phase (also Van Halen, Foreigner, Dire Straits, The Police, Springsteen and Duran Duran). I’d heard some U2 songs but the four Irishmen were by no means my heroes. I’d seen Live Aid in 1985, when Bono leapt from the stage into the thronging masses below, until then the most famous moment in the band’s career. I’d heard “New Year’s Day” a few times on the radio but hadn’t yet heard “Gloria” or “I Will Follow.” I was a casual listener. U2 still had to sell me.

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“With or Without You” wasn’t an easy sell. I thought the weird, droning song was unique, sure, and kind of memorable, but I hadn’t recognized it yet for the rock-and-roll monster it was. That didn’t happen until after I bought the cassette. For one whole weekend in 1987, I played nothing but The Joshua Tree, over and over, a phenomenon that spilled over into the summer months and extended into the winter. It became my favorite album without my becoming aware of it. It simply was the music I wanted to hear, the voice I wanted to listen to, telling stories I couldn’t quite understand but that seemed awfully important.

I didn’t know that U2 was considered a “political” band, and in fact, I still don’t quite agree with that label. (If anything, they’re a spiritual group, with rock trappings and a social conscience.) What struck me about The Joshua Tree was how damned catchy it was, from beginning to end. I’d never heard anything like the slow-burn opening of “Where the Streets Have No Name,” which built, layer upon layer, into a driving, cinematic steed of a song. The bassline on “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” hooked me immediately. By the third song, “WOWY,” I was enveloped in the icy, propulsive sheen of the thing, entranced by Bono’s plaintive vocals and the ringing tones of Edge’s Fender/Les Paul attack. No other U2 album, before or since, can top The Joshua Tree’s opening trio – arguably the three most important songs on any record.

There’s so much more to talk about, but I’ll limit myself to the last two songs on Side A, “Bullet the Blue Sky” and “Running to Stand Still.” “Bullet” is a smashing rock-and-roll caper of a song, about a maniac who holds the fate of the world in his hands (my interpretation – Bono actually says it’s about El Salvador and the Reagan Administration’s interference in that country’s political affairs). “Running” is a campfire tale of heroin addiction in an infamous part of Dublin, a sequel, of sorts, to “Bad” on The Unforgettable Fire (1984). The contrast of the two songs, crushed together as they are, is probably the album’s most stunning moment.

Bono recently called the record “operatic,” and it is that, though you can say the same for all U2 albums. (Bono himself is more opera singer than traditional rock vocalist. You can’t put him in the same category as David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar.) The real star of the show is The Edge, whose guitar-playing was never more precise, emotional, or awe-inspiring. He found riffs and solos that live on to this day – the first four songs on the album are still concert staples, still a good way of livening up crowds bored with such contemporary releases as No Line on the Horizon or Songs of Innocence.  When the band fires up “Streets,” it really is like God just walked into the room. You can’t help but cheer, and feel a kind of gratitude to the band.

The band will play Dallas in late May, and I’d love to see the show, but I’ll probably have to count myself out. No doubt the performance will live forever on YouTube, and I’m sure the band will release a DVD. Still, it would be fun to see the band play nothing but this album – no “Vertigo,” no “One,” no “Sunday Bloody Sunday” – which has a kind of new life in today’s supercharged (and super-gloomy) political atmosphere. The album was always about America and still is. I think the band is worried about America right now, and for good reason. I certainly am. There’s no better time to celebrate The Joshua Tree, to look back on what it was, and to think about what it still means.