U2's Joshua Tree: 25 Years In God's Country

By Cathleen Falsani 3-09-2012
U2 album photo from The Joshua Tree by Anton Corbijn
U2 album photo from The Joshua Tree by Anton Corbijn with the Joshua tree in the background.

Desert sky
Dream beneath the desert sky
The rivers run, but soon run dry
We need new dreams tonight

~ from "In God's Country" by U2

On March 9, 1987, U2 released The Joshua Tree, its fifth studio album and one that would catapult the Irish rock quartet from popularity to international superstardom.

Twenty-five years later, today The Joshua Tree is one of the most bestselling albums in history — with more than 25 million copies sold — and is considered to be among the best rock albums of all time.

Upon it's release in 1987, Rolling Stone Magazine critic Anthony DeCurtis wrote:

"The wild beauty, cultural richness, spiritual vacancy and ferocious violence of America are explored to compelling effect in virtually every aspect of The Joshua Tree — in the title and the cover art, the blues and country borrowings evident in the music ... Indeed, Bono says that 'dismantling the mythology of America' is an important part of The Joshua Tree's artistic objective."

The Joshua Tree also happens to be my favorite record, the one I've played more than any other and have worn out on at least three different audio media (vinyl, cassette tape and CD) since I waited in line to purchase the LP the day it went on sale when I was a 16-year-old junior in high school. (God bless my longsuffering parents.)

Its spiritual and socio-political heft has, for me at least, only grown more powerful over the years. As I listened to it again today, the soul-shaking music and lyrics sounded even fresher in our current nervous times than they did to my teenage ears in the twilight of the Reagan era.

"I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For"


Perhaps as iconic as the songs on the album itself — "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," "Where The Streets Have No Name," "With or Without You," "In God's Country," etc. — are the black-and-white photos of the bandmembers Bono, The Edge, Larry Mullen Jr., and Adam Clayton taken in the California high desert by photographer Anton Corbijn.

Corbijn, U2's longtime shooter, immortalized a scruffy-if-fresh-faced band in the barren backdrop of the Mojave desert. A single tree in particular — a yucca palm (Yucca brevifolia) or Joshua tree located in the middle of Death Valley National Park. The trees are unique in that their trunks are comprised of thousands of fibers and therefore contain no growth rings. It is believed that many Joshua trees live hundreds if not a thousands of years.

The yucca trees got their colloquial name from Mormon settlers in the 19th century who thought their outstretched, arm-like branches resembled the biblical character Joshua reaching his hands heavenward in prayer. When Bono reportedly learned that story of the Joshua tree name's provenance, he was pleased about the spiritual significance and persuaded his bandmates they should name their album after it.

The Joshua tree that's pictured in the original album artwork died (presumably of old age) and fell in 2000. But that hasn't stopped scores of U2 fans from all over the world making the pilgrimage to the way-off-the-beaten-track desert locale to pay their respects to the famous fallen tree. There's even a bronze plaque at the site that reads, "Have you found what you're looking for?"

@U2 Staff's Pilgrimage to the Joshua Tree


Happy anniversary to The Joshua Tree and U2, who created it "from the sky down."

"From inaccessible mountain range by way of desert untrod by human foot to the ends of the unknown seas, the breath of the everlasting creative spirit is felt, rejoicing over every speck of dust that hearkens to it and lives."

~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Cathleen Falsani is Web Editor and Director of New Media for Sojourners. Follow Cathleen on Twitter @GodGrrl.

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