Achtung, Baby (No, Seriously, This Post Is About Achtung, Baby And Is Not A Worn-Out Pun Of Any Sort)

20 years and five days ago, U2's Achtung Baby was released. It changed my entire life. I'd loved U2 up to that point -- they were the first band I ever really got into, and I followed their career from about the time Unforgettable Fire came out until... Well, today, actually. I loved the "old" U2 stuff, but it was when they completely revamped their sound on Achtung Baby that my heart exploded and I fell completely in love with them.

19 years and 364 days ago, I shoplifted U2's Achtung Baby CD from Turtle's Music. I was 14 years old, and my family had just one CD player at the time. It was in the living room (along with the one VCR, which is why I never got to watch the porn I got busted for smuggling -- the story about which was the first I ever wrote as an "author"). I couldn't listen to it when my parents were home, because I only had four CDs at the time (Black Crowes - Shake Your Money Maker, Beastie Boys - License to Ill, Nirvana - Nevermind and RUN DMC - Raising Hell), and they knew which they were -- and they would have wondered where I got the album.

So, whenever my parents were gone and I was still home, I'd rush into the living room to continue making my cassette tape version of the album. Why I never thought to just shoplift the damn cassette, I still can't tell you. I think it's because, even then, I was addicted to the concept of adopting modern technologies when they weren't quite modern yet. At any rate, that dub was created over the span of about two weeks, with all sorts of crazy crackle and pops and strange starts-and-stops all over it. To this day, I can't hear The Fly without hearing in my head, the guitar riff intro starting twice and a slight ghostly echo of itself during the first full minute, because my parents came home one minute into getting that song onto the tape and I had to go back and re-record over that chunk.

(Can't see the video? Click here)

You kids today, with your MP3s and FLACs and ACCs... You have NO IDEA how tough it was growing up to just get music into a portable format. Get off my lawn, the moon landing was faked, etcetera.

That album, above all others, has the most memories attached to it from the greatest span of my life. The first time I ever kissed a girl, on Christmas day the year it came out. The first time I snuck out of my house at 2 AM to cause mischief with my neighborhood buddies, the January after it came out. It was the very first tape I played in my first car, a black Buick Skyhawk I bought for 300 dollars from a guy at my parents church. "One" is in my wedding video. We danced to "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses" during our reception. It played in its entirety about fifteen times during the first ever snowboard trip I took with Mike, because it was the only CD I brought. Not on purpose, of course -- I forgot my disc wallet, and it was still in the portable CD player.

And even though I've seen U2 in concert literally near one hundred times (we toured the nation in 2000-2001 to see the All That You Can't Leave Behind tour, no joke -- and the show at Madison Square Garden just after 9/11 is the single most powerful thing I've ever attended in my life), I'd never seen Ultra Violet -- my absolute favorite U2 track -- live, because when the Achtung Baby tour came to Atlanta in 1991, I was super sick and couldn't go, and when we saw them in Orlando a few weeks later, we had to leave before they played it to get home in time.

So when they played it last year on the No Line On The Horizon tour as part of their encore, I cried. I stood there singing at the top of my voice and cried. It was amazing.

(can't see the video? Click here)

Thanksgiving and Christmas always remind me of that record, and this, its 20th anniversary, has reminded me that I AM OLD. Decrepit, even. I'm growing up. Grey hairs are coming in. I'm having opinions about today's music and laughing at the hairstyles of the kids today.

And yet, something I've began to notice is just how relevant all the music from the 90's through the early 2000's still is today. It's still in rotation on so-called "Alternative" stations on Sirius and cable music channels. You listen to today's music stations, and they still play Nevermind by Nirvana, tons of No Doubt, half of Soundgarden's catalog and almost all of Achtung Baby.

There's plenty to be written about how this generation's identity is a mashed-up amalgam of every identity from the mid 80's until the mid 2000's. And while I do wonder why that is, that's not the point of this post. The point of this post is to reminisce and feel mushy about the 20th anniversary of an album that, despite all the other meanings attached to all the other music I love, stands above the rest in sheer nostalgia.

And something even cooler -- Q Magazine commissioned a 20th anniversary tribute album, titled "AHK-toong BAY-bi Covered", featuring 12 completely amazing covers by today's artists. And it's really quite good. Nine Inch Nails covering Zoo Station is the clear standout on the record (and is embedded below), but I do love Garbage's take on Wild Horses, and even tolerate The Killers take on Ultra Violet.

If you want to hear the whole thing, start here and let the playlist play. The whole thing is free. And as promised, here's Trent Reznor covering Bono. It's fantastic:

(can't see the video? Click here)

At any rate, if you celebrate it, Happy Thanksgiving, and try not to get arrested if you emulate my now-infamous Wal-Mart Prank.