I’d two thoughts while trying to listen to Songs of Surrender, the baffling re-recordings of forty of U2’s songs, or, rather, while skipping through just to the songs that I actually know.
The first thought was that these revisitations are pretty terrible, and I’m utterly confused as to why they exist. There’s nothing especially inspired in the noodling around, and for much of it Bono seems to be way too self-consciously making sure to sing at a different pace or rhythm than in the original recordings, as if that’s somehow interesting enough in and of itself. It isn’t.
The second thought was remembering that Achtung Baby came out during the four months I lived at the Lawson YMCA in Chicago.
Writing those words, I had to go check that this possibly could be correct, but it definitely wasn’t Rattle and Hum (I was in college or on a break from it) and it definitely wasn’t Zooropa (I’m pretty sure I was back in upstate New York). Achtung Baby, though, came out in November 1991 and for the life of me I can’t remember being in Chicago, of all places, essentially in the winter, of all seasons.
What clinches it, though, is that my time in Chicago also included the release of Barton Fink, which came out in August 1991. This suggests that my four months there in fact were August through November.
There really are only six things I remember about those four months living at the Lawson YMCA.
Going to see Barton Fink, exiting the theater feeling like I didn’t know where I was, and returning “home” to a dingy-ish SRO with narrow hallways that only could make me think of a shotgun-wielding John Goodman yelling, “I’ll show you the life of the mind!”
Having in my possession, while I was there, a manual typewriter, which certainly did little to lesson the weirdness of having seen Barton Fink and returned to a dingy-ish SRO.
Somehow ending up in a weekly chess game with a resident a few floors down from me, when I don’t really play chess, like, at all.
Visiting the Billy Goat Tavern based entirely on it being the origin of Saturday Night Live’s infamous cheeseburger sketch, although the fact that it also had served as a Third Place for reporters helped.
It only occurred to me while writing this, but I also remember going to get Prince’s Diamonds and Pearls while I was in Chicago, and the weird thing about this was it makes me wonder if I’m wrong that I bought Achtung Baby in Chicago at all.
Going to get Achtung Baby, unless, per the above, I’ve completely botched what few memories of Chicago I have, but there’s no question my brain wants me to believe that I was still living there for its release.
Living at the Lawson YMCA in Chicago for four months in 1991 was something of an unplanned thing, as what I’d been doing up until that point was riding Greyhound from the east coast, on one of those plans where you can ten tickets to use over a given period of time.
The only other stop I even remember is a side trip to Port Sanilac, Michigan, where someone I knew from college lived. The only things I remember about that part of the trip are the amount of Boone’s Farm we drank, and going to see the Kevin Costner version of Robin Hood which only prompted my friend and I to imagine instead a version that was about Marian.
Achtung Baby effectively was my last U2 album. I came to U2 with Unforgettable Fire, and I sort of retroactively consider it, War, and Joshua Tree to be my canon U2 triptych. Achtung Baby sort of stands as the weird, unexpected bastard stepchild that I love somewhat irrationally.
Anyway, there’s no connective tissue here, just a memory ramble randomly and incidentally prompted by listening to a terrible album of U2 covering its own songs in mostly inexplicable ways.
It makes a certain, if unexpected, amount of sense that “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” is the only reimagining on Songs of Surrender that I can stand. Once upon a time, prior instances of my homepage talked a bit about slack, as defined, specifically, by the Oxford English Dictionary.
In critical path analysis, the amount of time by which a particular event may be delayed without delaying the achievement of the overall objective
By this definition, I’d claimed, I considered myself a slacker. What I’ve never determined, discovered, or defined was that overall objective.