No secret at all, 1

After seeing U2 in Glasgow I posted that the spiritual highlight of the show for me was "The Fly," mostly due to the astounding visual presentation, and I tried to talk about it from memory. Having now seen it again, and having now received a substantial portion of at least one night's text thanks to the skills of a French fan, I think my initial take was a little off. So I wanted to repost a reading of it, and have decided I want first to comment on how different presentations have highlighted or downplayed possible themes in the song. It's going to be best to do this in stages, of which there will be three; this is number one.

Textually, the song is essentially, in its lyricist's words, "a phone call from hell, except the guy likes it there." Or as I often call it in workshops, a rockin' little number about apostasy -- the fear of, and fascination with, "fall[ing] from the sheer face of love," set in a frame of apocalyptic music/language which reveal the violent consequences of personal betrayals. (And of course there's more than one "love" in the implications, but what else is new.) The text ends, as the underworld pay phone is about to cut the narrator off, with a wonderful pun: "I'm running out of change." We're left to imagine that through what the narrator thought were small, understandable choices but turned out to be cosmically significant ones, he's shocked to discover that he's already passed the point where repentance would have been possible -- although another song on Achtung Baby, Until the End of the World, treats the question of how late one can repent with a more hopeful answer. (It isn't hard to imagine why these questions fit with U2's Zoo era.)

On its ZooTV tour performances, however, "The Fly" didn't really exploit those lyrical themes apart from creating an apocalyptically stunning experience. The text's terror of falling was mostly sublimated to the goal of exalting the stereotypical rockstar image of someone who would of course "like it there." But it also had several other tasks in the set: it needed first to introduce the character Bono would be playing, second to build the theme of media's effect on us, and third to deliver a massive opening slap in the face to U2's audience -- visual input too overwhelming to process, full of messages whose meaning couldn't be harmonized even if you had had time to read them. Every performance of "The Fly" since has in some way echoed this presentation.

"The Fly" disappeared for Popmart, but was reinvented for Elevation with a bittersweet fall-from-heaven opening and simpler visuals that highlighted more of the lyrics' subtleties. While I didn't believe the guy liked it there in this version, I did believe that we were orbiting apocalypse, hell and fear (as we watched, for example, Bono being pursued around the heart by...?) And I suppose they figured they'd better have a slogan or two for the traditionalists: "Love Me," for one, which I found quite poignant whoever's voice it was supposed to be (several possibilities, of course).

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