I Will Begin Again

This is the middle entry of a three-part series. You can find Part 1 here.

I didn’t go by myself to Cut Corner Records that early evening Saturday in February 1984.

I was hanging out by myself in the dorm room when a freshman swung by. I’ll call him M, which isn’t related to his name. We didn’t know each other that well but had certainly hung out from time to time in the cafeteria the previous fall. A genuinely funny guy, M was a denizen of the Fine Arts building, his academic interests quite different from mine. He took me up on the offer to tag along on my quest for vinyl. Heaven only knows now what we talked about, but the conversation was in part subtext; to an extent each of us was sizing up the other.

Some number of days after this foray, M and my former girlfriend began dating.

From a distance, I’d been getting vibes that something of the sort was possibly developing. I’d never thought of it this way until recently, but it occurs to me now that M sought me out the night after the Billy Joel concert to confirm that she and I weren’t exploring a restart. Assured by whatever I said and/or however I said it, he soon moved forward in gauging her interest. Who knows at this point if that’s what was going on, though? I’m not going to try to find out.

This plot twist probably didn’t help my frame of mind, but, since there wasn’t anything to do except deal with life as it was, I continued climbing out of my hole. By this point my reputation as the Eeyore of Transy was hardening among those in my social network (not unjustifiably, I realize). One way I tried to move beyond that was by getting a t-shirt made at a shop in a local mall. The front was a transfer, a drawing of colorful hot air balloons; the back screamed, “I’M HAPPY!” I think I wore it on three occasions over the rest of the semester, which may have been two times too many.

Regardless, during March I became much more often than not a close approximation of okay to be around. M and my ex continued as a couple through the rest of the school year but not much longer than that, IIRC.

The other LP I’d purchased on 2/11/84 was U2’s War. In the comments below I’ll address how it had landed on my radar, but just like Marshall Crenshaw, it was an A+ selection—it remains, easily, my favorite album from Bono and the boys. There’s no reason to delay any further discussing how I feel about its songs.

10. “The Refugee”
The one that I might not miss if it weren’t here. Maybe just a little too screamy for my tastes?

9. “Drowning Man”
And the tough choices begin in earnest.

It’s clearly a Christian piece, with God or Jesus reaching out to a lost soul in trouble, trying to reassure, I suppose even save. It’s moving, and the haunting electric violin line only amplifies its power.

8. “Sunday Bloody Sunday”
Putting this iconic song so low speaks (I hope) to the quality of the competition. One of my first exposures to U2 came from MTV, Bono skipping around the stage at Red Rocks, marching forth with a white flag to plant at the front of the stage.

7. “ ’40’ ”
A suitable closing track, inspired by Psalm 40, of course. (As it happens, today is the 40th anniversary of War’s release, a happy accident.) I will say that the version on Under a Blood Red Sky, with its audience participation at the end, is better.

6. “Red Light”
There aren’t many contributions on those early U2 albums from outside the band. Roping in the Coconuts (of Kid Creole and… fame, who happened to be touring in Ireland during War’s recording) for three songs, including “Red Light,” worked out exquisitely. Equally inspired here was the addition of a searing trumpet solo.

5. “Two Hearts Beat as One”
The second single released here in the States, it Bubbled Under for four weeks in July 1983, reaching #101. The frenzied, repeated “I can’t stop the dance/Maybe this is my last chance” at the end is yet another true highlight on the album.

4. “Seconds”
I don’t know why it’s only now that I’m realizing that the Edge is doing lead vocals here—it never did quite sound the same as other songs on the album. Nuclear anxiety was certainly the order of the day when “Seconds” was written.

3. “Like A Song…”
The energy and passion astound.  I attend church regularly, though in many regards I don’t consider myself particularly religious. Nonetheless, “A new heart is what I need/Oh God, make it bleed” feels like the message I should be hearing as I advance beyond middle age.

2. “Surrender”
Maybe this was the beginning of the distinctive, hypnotic Edge sound? The atmosphere he creates here, from the opening, on through the bridge (Bono’s “TO-NIGHT!” at its end? Magnifico.) and into the fadeout perhaps hints at what’s on the horizon for the band.

1. “New Year’s Day”
Here’s another time that the first song you hear from an album winds up being your favorite. While references to “the chosen few” have always—ALWAYS—made me very uncomfortable, I can’t shake my affinity for this tune; the piano part, simple as it is, plays a big role in that. Would only reach #53 on the Hot 100 in May 1983.

While by early 1984 I’d heard “New Year’s Day” and the live version of “11 O’Clock Tick Tock” on the radio and seen “Sunday Bloody Sunday” on MTV, I was ultimately moved to purchase War via a review I’d come across in a magazine that belonged to James. He had grown up in a Southern Baptist church; with that came involvement in summer mission trips and ongoing exposure to (and I presume enjoyment of) contemporary Christian music. I have no idea now the name of the magazine, but it was an Evangelical publication of some type. Perhaps I was restless one weekend afternoon during my extended January funk and decided to thumb through it. The music review section naturally attracted my attention. Their pick for Christian Album of the Year for 1983? You guessed it. The reviewer went out of his/her way, maybe multiple times, to reassure the reader that War really was a Christian album. It should be clear by now that I don’t disagree, and even if the CCM scene never appealed to me, the review added enough intrigue to what I already possessed to put War on my “to add” list.

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