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Location: Anaheim, California, United States

Regular contributor ("Carson City Limits" and other content) for Random Lengths (circulation 56,000) in San Pedro, CA, 2001-present. Manga reviewer: LA Alternative (circulation 150,000), 2005-2006. Some manga reviews also ran in NY Press around this time. Entertainment reporting: Music Connection (circulation 75,000), 1983-1906. Travel writing: Oakland Tribune (1998) and Life After 50 (2006). Other bylines: Goldmine, Star Hits, Los Angeles Reader, Los Angeles Times, Long Beach Press Telegram, Blade, BAM, Daily Breeze, LA Weekly. Specializations include community news reporting, writing reviews (book, theater, concert, film, music), copywriting, resumes, editing, travel writing, publicity, screenwriting, lecturing, and content development. Education: B. A. Theater Arts, UCLA. Post-grad work, Education, Chapman University.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Random Lengths: Standing Where U2 Stood Against the Joshua Tree

Random Lengths has posted (7/7/17) my account of visiting the site where U2 posed against The Joshua Tree.  
Here's the link:
Here's the text should the link fail to work:
In the darkness of the reactionary Reagan era, U2 lit a candle, an unforgettable fire of music that mattered. Throughout the eighties these four white Christian street punks from Dublin—Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen, Jr.--gave us songs that honored Martin Luther King, Jr. and protested American policy in Latin America. They played for famine relief in Africa and organized an entire tour to benefit Amnesty International. 
In 1987 U2 named a history-making rock album after a California desert plant—The Joshua Tree. It gave the world “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” and ten other tracks that U2 fans consider essential.
U2 is currently on tour to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of The Joshua Tree, playing all the songs in order. The album photoshoot is as much a part of rock history as the music. Finding the locations where the iconic pictures were taken is a challenge U2 fans (like me) relish.
The site of the album’s front cover photo is fairly easy to find, being the lookout at familiar Zabriskie Point. (U2’s choice for a location may have been influenced by the film with that title.) The back cover, showing the band members posing with a lone spreading Joshua tree, is more obscure, a random California location.
Bono’s often been coy about the tree’s wherabouts. “I don’t know if we’ll ever find that Joshua tree again,” he told an interviewer during the ‘87 Joshua Tree tour. “I hope that if people do find the Joshua tree, they won’t cut it down and take it home … or bring it to a gig!  Hey, Baaano!  I got yer tree!”
In the same interview he described how they first found the tree, “We just spotted it by the roadside. Anton Corbijn, our photographer, was the first to see it, so he called, “Stop the bus!” and went racing across the desert. … We thought it was a very powerful graphic image.”  
With the help of Melinda Lewis who, like me, spent the eighties as a rock journalist, I pieced together directions from some clippings and blogs, and we drove to the Owens Valley, turning east for several miles along state highway 190. We parked at a turnout—probably the one U2’s bus stopped at—about 1.7 miles before a dirt road that cuts across Lee’s Flat. We found the distinctive mountain ridge seen in the photo to be the north side of the Coso range.
Before GPS became common, some fans resorted to taking the Joshua Tree record album and driving around likely sites in the California desert until they found a mountain ridge and a Joshua tree that looked exactly like the one in the photos. Nowadays the tree’s GPS coordinates can be found online but GPS is just numbers, and finding the tree is an experience.
Unfortunately the tree fell down in 2000 so it can no longer be seen from the road. Joshua trees live for centuries and this specimen, judging by its height of ten to twelve feet, obviously had. On an isolated California desert flat it grew to a distinctive shape sometime before 1900, starred in one of the twentieth century’s great rock photos, and then, its work on earth done, expired with the millennium.
Today Lee’s Flat sports miles of Joshua trees, making finding a fallen one harder. Referring to the Joshua Tree CD I keep in my car, I visually located the distinctive notch in the mountain range. With that as a guide, my eyes moved to the near distance, to a conspicuously vacant spot between two or three Joshua trees, as if something unseen were there—a fallen tree, perhaps. From the turnout, a shallow sandy wash led in that direction, and the sand showed fresh footprints.
The makers of those fresh footprints turned out to be three other U2 fans. Yes, they said, they’d been to the tree.
They pointed to the spot I’d been eyeing, and told me to walk to an odd-looking small white spot, between one very tall single-stalk Joshua and what looked like a smaller double-stalk Joshua (which turned out to be two single-stalk Joshua trees on a line).
Seekers of the tree need to walk through desert sand, so the usual precautions are advised. One source says the tree’s 3500 feet off the road, but I think it’s closer than that. As I walked I noticed stone trail markers, which helped. I followed the wash, over some slight ridges, to a shallow gully that’s visible at the base of the tree in the album photos.
I could see how the fallen tree resembles a cross, with its two main branches sticking out at right angles, and the decaying yucca clusters falling about like a robe. One little-known fact about The Joshua Tree is that it’s wordplay for Christ’s cross. Joshua is a variant of Jesus, and tree is a synonym for cross.
Where U2 stood for the Joshua Tree photo, someone spelled out, “Leave it behind” with rocks.
People do leave things behind here. The whitish landmark proved to be a disintegrating guitar. A silvery sticker-plastered suitcase was tucked under a branch. The fans I spoke with had left their own small wooden plaque with, “We found what we’re looking for,” their names and the date.  
Someone has marked the spot in a more permanent way. An elaborate bronze plaque, less than a yard square, set in cement, preserves for posterity the sight of the tree against the mountain range. It’s where the tree may once have shaded it.
The plaque reads, “Have you found what you’re looking for” with no question mark. There’s no indication of who put it there, but I’d like to think U2 themselves were involved.
I left to go find whatever else my heart was still looking for.


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