An Abridged List of Enduring Wants by Nina Sudhakar
1. I want to run
Joshua Tree came out two years after I was born, a time before memory that nonetheless imprints itself on one’s consciousness. It played in the background throughout my early childhood, until I started school and grew old enough to understand music and develop my own tastes. These turned, unsurprisingly to U2.
The album that had existed nearly as long as I had was about America. No — it was about a foreigner’s vision of America, a vast and mythical place. A country as it was imagined, not as it actually was. As the first-generation child of immigrants, I knew in my bones the place Bono was singing about. However far I ran from my parents, experiencing a childhood for which they had no reference points, we always agreed on music.
When I was seven, my parents took me to my first concert. It was U2, of course. Such events are not usually a place for children, but my parents knew I would never forgive them if they went without me. I hand-wrote a letter to Bono on a piece of lined notebook paper, telling him how much I loved the band’s music. My parents folded up the note and passed it off to a grumpy roadie. I still like to think Bono read it.
2. I want to hide
Even though we owned Joshua Tree on CD, my parents were used to record players. They assumed every album had an internal logic and listened to songs in their proper sequence. Perhaps this is why I grew to love “Where the Streets Have No Name” so much — because it came first, because even if my listening was interrupted, I would almost always hear those first several minutes at the very least. I quickly latched on to the song, which spoke to me in a way the next few tracks — the hymn-like doubt of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” the longing, lovestruck refrain of “With or Without You,” the angry, howling tone of “Bullet the Blue Sky” — did not.
I remember, when my brother and I were younger, we unearthed my parents’ American visa papers, and stamped at the top in huge letters was the word “ALIEN.” We teased them relentlessly, tickled at the idea of officials labelling them extraterrestrial. We didn’t know this label would also attach to us, even though we had been born in America. It’s almost hard to imagine now, but this was years before Gwen Stefani started wearing bindis, long before Hindu gods got put on fashionable tank tops, long before yoga got turned into a form of exercise, long before the turmeric craze. Back then, we were the only brown kids in our school and therefore curiosities, visitors from a strange and outlandish place no one could imagine even though we lived a few blocks away.
What refuge, then, but music? I had the chords and lyrics my parents had carried across oceans and the ones they’d picked up along the way. I had rock that felt both timeless and of my time specifically. After school, I’d come home and instant message my friends, tell them yes, I’d listened to Jagged Little Pill and CrazySexyCool and agreed they were the best things I’d ever heard. In the background, I watched our VHS copy of “Rattle and Hum,” fast-forwarding to the performance of “Where the Streets Have No Name,” that foggy, backlit opening where the band is visible only in faceless silhouette.
3. I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside
When asked about the meaning of “Where the Streets Have No Name,” Bono has said he wrote it in response to Belfast’s geography, where knowing the street a person lived on could tell you, with near certainty, that person’s religion and income. The song expresses a dream of a place beyond easy identification, where existence is not preceded by labeling, where all of us are allowed to defy categorization and the boxes we are herded into.
Who among us would not want to live in such a place?
4. I want to reach out and touch the flame
All of this must have been subconscious, of course. In childhood the song was simply the Edge’s sprinting riff and Bono’s breathless voice, the lyrics I heard on the surface and understood viscerally. Much as stadium rock gets derided now, there is something undeniably uplifting about power chords paired with a soaring chorus.
I never stopped listening to Joshua Tree; in fact, it’s one of the only albums I still listen to all the way through. I always repeat “Where the Streets Have No Name” a few times, as I am wont to do, and notice how the other songs have gained an urgency I could never have recognized without entering adulthood. But I hear in every note of that first song the idealism and longing of my earliest years, that nostalgic time before getting jaded, before selling out, before relinquishing a utopia of nameless streets — that time when anything I wanted might still be possible, when everything I sensed about the world did not have to come true.
About the Author:
Nina Sudhakar is a writer, poet and lawyer. She is the author of Matriarchetypes (forthcoming), which won the 2017 Bird’s Thumb Poetry Chapbook Contest. Her work is forthcoming or has appeared in Ecotone, Arcturus, and WhiskeyPaper; for more, see www.ninasudhakar.com.