#193 – Mysterious Ways by U2
– Based on the title of the album and band, it’s funny (to me, anyway) I associate Achtung Baby and U2 with Southern California. We’re not talking about surf music here kids. This was the group’s move away from possibly taking themselves a little too seriously (according to music critics) and into a more industrial dance-groove that I’ll go ahead and trace back to David Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy (Low, Heroes and Lodger) with producer Brian Eno. I’ve always associated that crunchy sound as coming out of recording sessions in Berlin Germany, where U2 also created tracks for this LP.
It’s also when lead singer Bono created his rock star parody character The Fly, which lasted through a couple albums and tours (Zoo TV). But what does this have to do with Southern California?
That just happens to be the locale where I started grooving on U2.
I call Achtung Baby an album, but there was no vinyl involved with my ownership. I actually had it on cassette. When it came out in late 1991 I was almost a year into my move to Los Angeles from New York City and the song Mysterious Ways could be a theme song for the culture shocking experience. I know the song is about a woman’s mysterious “moves” since the video and live performances featured exotic belly dancers, but after more than a dozen years as a Manhattan resident (east coast as opposed to west coast Manhattan Beach), LA was different enough to be mysterious.
The biggest shock was having to own a car.
I essentially ditched driving after moving to NYC following college and hadn’t been behind the wheel of a car for little more than a handful of times since. Taxis, subways, buses and my feet were the only means of transportation necessary for city life. Car payments, insurance costs, gas prices, parking and road rage were non-existent for me. And if there was a Manhattan traffic jam while sitting the backseat of a taxi or during a subway delay, a quick walk down a couple city blocks would always find a different scenario or route to get me where I wanted to go.
It was never that way in LA. It was all about cars…
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I made the move to the Pacific Coast as a passenger during a cross-country drive by a pal. With a couple suitcases I was dropped off at another pal’s (who happened to be an ex-girlfriend, but we’ll save that saga for a future Dream Song) rented basement apartment in the Hollywood Hills to begin this new adventure.
And the first thing they both brought to my attention was that I was car-less.
There was no walking in Los Angeles unless you were exercising or car-less. And since this was happening in the days pre-LA subway and my employment sights were set on Hollywood, I could either be the healthiest guy on my career path by adding miles and hours to my tired feet every day walking from The Hills, or buy a car.
I opted for motorized transportation.
But I wouldn’t settle for any car like I might have on the east coast. This was Hollywood and my goal was to fit into what I considered Southern California cool. I needed a convertible and with that in mind, I went shopping.
Since I knew nothing about cars, this perception of what I needed to drive (simply based on a coolness factor similar to The Fly) pretty much stamped the word SUCKER on my forehead. In hindsight I can still see the used car dealers I spoke with, who were all typical of the comedy stereotype used car dealers, salivate when I came walking onto their lives.
Did I bring someone with knowledge to look under the car, check the engine and ask all the right mechanical questions?
I was the new kid in town and my close pals were still back in NYC buying subway tokens and hailing cabs. I just wanted to know if the convertible top worked, if it had a cassette deck (did cars have CD players in 1991?) and if I looked Fly sitting behind the wheel.
Within a few days of first discovering my shocking need for a car, I purchased a 1983 used Mustang convertible. The guy that sold it to me probably only stopped salivating long enough to run behind closed doors to pop open a bottle of Champagne and hire an expensive escort for the weekend after I paid in full with cash. Yeah, it had helped the bank account in NYC by never owning a car and never worrying about payments, insurance, gas prices and parking. Now these newly discovered options were staring me in the face along with another cost-fueled stress factor:
I had purchased what they call in comedy terms a lemon.
This piece of crap car broke down on the average of about once a month. I learned more about the different neighborhoods in Los Angeles by waiting for and then riding in tow trucks taking me and my lemon to various garages for repairs. But when it was running, at least the convertible top and cassette deck always worked.
So what does this have to do with Mysterious Ways?
On the positive side of my fish-out-of-water adventure to the west coast, I had landed my dream job in Hollywood. I talk about comedy terms because it was in the comedy industry as a talent coordinator (talent booker in simple terms) that was even more Fly than my pre-conceived expectations. With my first paycheck I went to a flea market off Melrose Avenue and bought a piece of Beatles memorabilia – a framed plaque containing a one inch square of bed sheet slept on by John Lennon at Detroit’s Whittier Hotel in 1964.
I know what you’re thinking… Are you kidding me?
Hey – I saw a 1964 clip of the hotel manager hawking this fan souvenir (for profit) in The Complete Beatles video a few years earlier and my comedic sense wouldn’t allow me to pass it up for only twenty-five bucks. I splurged what was left of my second paycheck on an Achtung Baby cassette.
And believe me when I say splurged. Adding regular repairs to the newly burdening costs of owning a car and renting an apartment in the San Fernando Valley, buying a new cassette was a luxury. Come to think of it, so was eating.
The song that sold me on the cassette was One. When I first heard it I needed to own it. The fact that the entire album was great was a bonus. But like most music fans I had my favorite songs. One was… well, one. Another was Mysterious Ways.
Unlike a CD or with digital music, you couldn’t just punch in a number and play the track you want to hear. With a cassette it meant fast forwarding or rewinding and hoping you stopped near the beginning of the desired song. With both One and Mysterious Ways, I actually had it down to a musical science of mentally counting the seconds of fast forwarding or rewinding until hitting play for another listen.
Yeah, the things we had to do in the old days as music fans…
Mysterious Ways hit this Dream Song List on June 27th. Of course I own a copy – and have even moved up in the techno musical world by long ago ditching the cassette and adding the song to my digital playlist. But I hadn’t heard it in awhile. If you’ve been paying attention at all to any of these past Classic Rocker ramblings, that places it into the subliminal category.
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So even though one of my best Southern California experiences was finally selling that used lemon convertible, Mysterious Ways and the Achtung Baby LP bring back better memories of driving from North Hollywood, into Studio City and through Laurel Canyon to my job in Hollywood. The car top was down, the volume was turned up, the weather was warm and sunny, and I was mentally counting the seconds of fast forward or rewind to hear them over again.
Of course that only happened on the days the car was running and I wasn’t using foot power to find another pay phone (pre-cell folks!) to call the next tow truck driver to give me a lift to the nearest garage. And in hindsight, I’m sure they never missed reading the word SUCKER stamped on my forehead. It was truly an era of mysterious ways for a big city guy in the sprawling Southern California Land of Angels…
Complete with a gyrating belly dancer, here’s a video for Mysterious Ways by U2 performed live during the Zoo TV Tour stop in Sydney, Australia.
To purchase Achtung Baby by U2 with Mysterious Ways visit Amazon.com.
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