U2101 – The Fly

1394319982I know that a lot of you are probably groaning to yourselves after reading the title up there “The Fly?!? Oh, man! I hate that stupid song!” while just as many of you (I’m looking at you here, Joe) are jumping up and down with joy. My first experience with the song came right after Christmas break, 1991, when my room-mate at boarding school, the guy who introduced me to U2, returned bearing some new tune-age. He was telling me about how much of a departure from their previous sound the record represented as he put the disc into his CD player, and he made particular note of one song that sounded “Satanic”. I think about that comment a lot, and the only thing I can imagine that he might have meant was “The Fly”, with it’s abrasive guitar sound that might have made him think of black death metal. I know, it’s a stretch, right? I can’t come up bono_zoo_tv_fly_glasses_u2with anything else, though, and it is indicative of the big change that resulted from U2 “dreaming it all up again”. While not “Satanic”, per se, “The Fly” is…well, it’s different. It’s modern sounding – some might even say “post-modern”. It is a rockin’ song, but it’s also a little weird, with those falsetto vocals on the chorus and that wild organ. As an adult with a lot more musical knowledge under my belt, it’s a lot easier to label the song as “industrial”, rather than “heavy metal”. Musically, it’s not so much dense, which I find to be a hallmark of a lot of metal music, as it is abrasive. That’s what the band were going for though, I think. It’s a wake-up call for their audience as much as it was for the band members themselves. It’s a call to arms, intellectually. It’s a notice that whatever safety or comfort there might have been in the band’s music before has been stripped away and replaced by this sharp slap in the face. The band weren’t going to make their message so obvious anymore. Listeners needed to pay attention. They needed to think. This isn’t pop music, this is rock ‘n’ roll, and it’s anything but safe.

bono-zoo-tvLyrically, the song is, in many ways, a great example of everything that the ZooTV tour was all about. There’s wisdom in those lyrics, but there’s BS as well, and nobody’s telling which is which. The line in the chorus about love, shining “like a burning star, falling from the sky” used to make me think of pretty little specks of light twinkling romantically in the night sky, but then one night – about 15 years ago, I think – I was thinking about how stars are really nothing like the nursery rhyme fodder that they appear to be from here. Stars are violent. Stars are dangerous balls of burning gas hurtling through space, and I love that mental image, as it contrasts with the sweetness of the falsetto voice that’s singing it. It’s a great subversion, and it’s all about (like much of Achtung Baby) a romance in ruins.

Of course, we can’t talk about “The Fly”, the song, without talking about “The Fly”, the character. Played by Bono, the character appears in the song’s music video as well as all of the song’s live performances from the ZooTV tour. The character represents a kind of rock star jackass, full of his own wisdom. It’s tempting to blow him off entirely, but if you’re paying close attention, you can learn a lot from him. What not to do, if nothing else, but there’s a nugget of wisdom, of beauty, in there too. He didn’t become the big mega-star that he is by accident, after all, and there remains a reminder of who he used to be that got him to where he is in the first place that’s still worthwhile. I think that the character of The Fly provided Bono with a little bit of an escape, an opportunity to enjoy a little bit of the excess that he was so afraid of without getting lost in it. It was also a chance to be the good guy that he really wanted to be without hanging himself out there on the cross of earnestness that had made the end of the previous decade so unbearable.

resizer.php“The Fly” appeared at every show of the ZooTV tour, and then was packed away for Pop*Mart, seemingly never to be heard from again, belonging to the Zoo era and everything that made that tour what it was. Surprisingly, (and awesomely) “The Fly” was resurrected for the Elevation tour, and hasn’t been forgotten since. I’ll never forget, one night back in early 2001, before the Elevation tour had started, some fans were online, chatting in one of the internet’s many forums – maybe Interference, or one of the others. It was so long ago now, and so many have come and gone, it’s hard to keep straight – but anyway, a guest user logged in and out of the blue asked if anyone thought that “The Fly” would appear on the upcoming tour. The consensus was that it would not, and the reason given was mostly what I described above – the song was too entwined with the Zoo tour to ever appear again. That scene was in the past, and the band – always desiring to move forward – would have no desire to revisit it. After this conversation, the guest user who had asked the question left, and we went on to talk about our favorite pair of Fly glasses or something else equally mundane. I have no proof, of course, and I doubt that I’ll ever know for sure, but I’ve always wondered whether or not that guest user was a member of the band, feeling out fans while working out set-lists. Whatever the case, I’d be surprised if, even now, we’ve seen the last of “The Fly”.

"U2101 - The Fly", 5 out of 5 based on 4 ratings.

Ever since I realized as a kid, while poring over the liner notes of the Bob Marley - Songs of Freedom boxed set, that writing about music was a viable career choice, one of my greatest desires has been to write about U2. The band has been a major part of my life for as long as I can remember, and I'm thrilled to have this opportunity to contribute a little something to the fantastic online community that's been built around the band.

Home Forums U2101 – The Fly

This topic contains 16 replies, has 7 voices, and was last updated by  Chris 3 months, 3 weeks ago.

Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 17 total)
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  • #10063

    broadsword
    Moderator

    I know that a lot of you are probably groaning to yourselves after reading the title up there “The Fly?!? Oh, man! I hate that stupid song!” while jus
    [See the full post at: U2101 - The Fly]

    #10064

    Chris
    Participant

    WOw ! Thumbs Up ! This song bears such heaviness I can’t even think straight about it ! How ironic..you didn’t think it will ever be played again and the best live version of the fly has been played during the Elevation tour, specifically in Boston ! Over to you Joe, to tell us more about that night !!!!! Achtung Leeny !!!!

    #10065

    Chris
    Participant

    Needless to say I absolutely LOVE this song…We need more songs with this atmosphere on the new record !!!

    #10066

    joepit
    Moderator

    Quite simply, The Fly epitomizes U2. For this listener, it is U2’s best song off their best CD. It F*CKING ROCKS! From Edge’s guitar to Bono’s lyrics, it’s a masterpiece throughout. It has everything, rage, sorrow and most importantly the hope of redemption. The premise of a phone call from hell to a friend trying to get him to “rearrange” his priorities, life, mistakes, etc.is simply brilliant! The Fly from the Elevation tour from Boston is the best live version of any U2 song….period.

    Cue Leeny’s ridiculous rebuttal in 5…4…3…

    #10067

    Chris
    Participant

    I totally agree with Joe ! It’s U2 at its’ deepest and most intense U2ness !!! When you think of the feeling called “U2″ you think of Achtung Baby and, in turn, of The Fly !!!

    #10075

    Leeny
    Participant

    Joe, There’s a fly in my soup.
    I’m quite sure it has drowned.

    #10076

    Leeny
    Participant

    That was my ridiculous rebuttal. Sorry it was late.

    In all seriousness I have never found the redemption in this song that you hear,Joe. I hear the longing for redemption, even the potential for redemption…but for me this song, or I guess the whole album, never quite realizes the redemption it so desperately seeks. It’s like the band was stuck in a moment it couldn’t yet get out of.

    #10078

    joepit
    Moderator

    The redemption is the person on the other end of the phone call. It was too late for the friend on hell, so he’s telling him to “rearrange” his priorities.

    #10079

    SPun2U
    Key Master

    Joe, it’s a lost cause.

    #10080

    joepit
    Moderator

    Spun, there’s a lot of things I’d like to rearrange, but I think you’re right.

    #10081

    Chris
    Participant

    …I’m running outta change.

    #10107

    sbdowling
    Participant

    Love The Fly. We need more Edge like this!!

    #10109

    Pam
    Participant

    For me it was an adventure to hear The Fly for the first time on the radio sometime in October 1991. Without any announcement, the song began with its heavy rhythmic guitar notes and I had no idea who played that song. Its sound was so dark and mysterious, but when Bono began to sing I recognised him even though his voice was different and breathy in some way. I reacted fast and recorded it on a cassette. With its enormous energy and heaviness, this piece was truly a slap in the face offering a new and exciting musical experience. Like a bit of light coming through the darkness, the line about love shining like a burning star creates an interesting contrast to the gloomy character of the whole track. Joshua, for me that line also came across as a romantic moment, so it´s interesting to read your thoughts about stars being dangerous balls of burning gas. This is a great way to interpret those words! As The Fly Bono presented himself as a rockstar and at the same time this character gave him the chance to escape and hide from the madness of super stardom. The Fly is truly a fascinating and very intense masterpiece of music!

    #10118

    Leeny
    Participant

    I get that, Joe, but I don’t get the sense that the receiver of the message heeds the warning. And I keep thinking of the rich man and Lazarus where the rich man asks that Lazarus be sent back to warn his brothers, and Abraham says no…If they wouldn’t listen to the prophets, they won’t listen even if someone were to come back from the dead. The message of warning ultimately fails, and THAT failure is what I hear from AB. I find it depressing if I listen to it too much.

    #10125

    joepit
    Moderator

    You’re right Leeny, but like most U2 songs is up to your interpretation. That’s why thru need a Fly sequel.

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