In celebration of the 20th anniversary release of Achtung Baby, here is an excerpt from my memoir about the day I bought the album.
With a mouth full of Novocaine, I walked into Rose Records on Achtung Baby’s release day, close to mid-afternoon. One side of Jamie’s store was plastered in photos of U2 while the other was covered with a displaced Garth Brooks promo poster from an earlier fall release. The wall of U2 graphics was mind blowing. Square images, of highly stylized photographs, covered the space in a mosaic pattern, mimicking the new U2 album cover. The subject of each square, measuring roughly 15 inches by 15 inches, was like a small vignette. One had all four U2 members dressed in drag while another had a profile shot of Bono in black and white with a half-nude woman, standing behind him. I was overwhelmed in the transformation, as the creative team behind brand U2 had left behind their 80s ideals of decorating album covers, except for the October album, with a stark black and white image.
I cannot believe it’s been twenty years since I sauntered into Rose Records to purchase Achtung Baby from my pal, Phyllis Jones. It seems as though a lifetime has passed by since that fateful day in 1991, but in others it hasn’t. I can still remember the weather. The overcast sky hung low. There was dampness in the air. All the trees had given up their leaves in preparation for winter. As for me, life was good albeit I was still working retail and I had issues with my career. Luckily, nothing disastrous in my life had happened. It would be a year and a half before my stepfather would pass away and Mom was quite a ways away from being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. So, I can say I was in a good spot. More importantly, hope was in the air as a new U2 release was tucked under my arm as I left the record store.
By 1991, I had been a U2 fan for close to a decade, but I was leery about where the band was going. I think we all were. We didn’t know if the band of the 80s would put up the white flag of surrender and call it a day, much like their discussion, which is circumventing in the press as we speak. I was afraid of what would happen if there was no U2, but I had faith in the powers that be as the music world was changing as well. In just a few short weeks of U2’s most ambitious release to date, Hair Metal would be long gone and replaced by crafty lyrics of personal demonism in Nirvana’s Nevermind album, which already blanketed the radio waves. U2 was waiting in the wings with their new metamorphosis. It was given a name, Achtung Baby .
The play of that harsh German word, Achtung, that we grandchildren of WWII knew well against the solemnest of things, a baby, was hard to wrap your head around. It was grabbing. It was provoking. We all wanted to tear into it. However, we did it with skepticism. U2’s first release from the album, The Fly, scared the shit out of older fans. They ran away, like a disappointed children not getting what they wanted, saying that this was the death of their beloved Sunday Bloody Sunday band. In spite of this, I got in the ring and took that Rose Records’ bag home, which sheathed my newly minted disc.
I threw my coat on my director’s chair and shoved the disc into my CD player. I turned off all the lights and sunk into my futon. The stereo was arm’s length away from me, just in case I heard a tune and wanted to go back or hit fast forward to get to the end of the song. I can say in all honesty that I wasn’t converted the first time around, but I was close. I actually knew what to expect because I had heard their cover of Cole Porter’s Night and Day, from the Red Hot +Blue album. Therefore, I wasn’t completely overwhelmed. Well, slightly.
The Rose Records’ store in downtown Evanston, where I bought this classic disc, is long gone, but the memory of walking into that store that day still remains with me. Achtung Baby was a turning point for U2, but as I’ve pondered what is being released in the deluxe set these past few months, I’m a little underwhelmed. I was hoping for more content from those stolen studio tapes from Hansa. Maybe there wasn’t enough there.
Or as my pal close to Midnight Oil told me a few months back, “some of the stuff should have stayed on the cutting room floor and should never see the light of day.” I agree to some extent. However, Achtung Baby and it’s accompanying tour, ZOO TV, revolutionized music and live performance. It’s sad that we fans couldn’t get one more nugget out of the band. If it were up to me, I would have added two more discs, which would include the whole concert from their live radio simulcast of their Royal Dublin Stadium show in 1993, but it’s not. I may have to wait another 30 years for the 50th anniversary box set, hoping there will be new material. I expect to still have my hearing at age 73.