Amy Penwell

The first time I heard “With or Without You” by U2 on the radio, I was in the passenger seat, driving around in Springfield Massachusetts with my older brother Rob. It was 1987. I was 13.

Rarely, at first listen do I fall in love with the albums that change my life forever. This was slightly different. I had been waiting for what seemed to be an immeasurable distance between the live EP “Wide Awake in America” which came out in 85’, Peter Gabriel’s “SO” record in 86’ to this eerie, quiet, drawn out guitar note, steady bass and tambourine build, that was to become an odd regular on the radio.

Remember it was the mid- eighties. A time of really bad glam metal, especially in Western Massachusetts. It was Motley Crue, Poison, Cinderella, Dokken.
Thank God for Daniel Lanois; masterful producer of “So” and (along side Brian Eno)
“The Joshua Tree”. He REALLY helped save my impressionable years. Thank you Daniel.

Though “Boy”, “October”, “War”, “The Unforgettable Fire”, and the “WAIA” EP tided me over, I was getting ……… itchy. “WAIA” had become four songs of sadness, especially the first track “Bad”.

My father had just passed from a massive heart attack just after a wretched separation from my mother, I had switched schools 6 times in a year and a half, and one of my siblings just got out of a psych ward. I had already begun to sneak cigarettes, entered a tumultuous love affair with King alcohol (who kicked my ass from Massachusetts to California), and driven around stoned, listening to Ozzy Osbournes’ “Bark at the Moon” in a Buick Regal. Yes, too much, too fast. I was tired.

“The Joshua Tree” was a life preserver, a harbor, a refuge, and became my life sound track. It transported me. It balanced me. It gave me some sort of force that kept me grounded to the life I so needed escape from. It gave me an example of pioneering through the drone of popular music, being passionate and reserved, and unguarded anywhere, with anyone, and all at the same time. It gave me a standard, and became recorded proof that music could change and heal if created and offered with complete abandon. It aided in recovering, and inviting those parts of me that were hiding in recesses I didn’t know existed. It has given me the courage to choose a marriage type of relationship with writing and music as my path.

These are the things you wish you could say to those who create your life sound tracks. Who affect you in intimate ways, who seem larger than life, but who are really just like you and me; very imperfectly human.

Maybe some day I will. Who knows, maybe I just did. Thanks guys-

1 Comment

  1. Mermaid said,

    June 9, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    It’s amazing how music can define a phase of our lives, buoy our spirits, give us direction and bring us comfort. As one of my profs once said there are times when you feel like every song was written for you and the place you are in at that moment. It was listening to U2’s With or Without You at a concert that helped my husband decide to propose marriage to me 🙂 I listened closely to the words and had to wonder…

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