The Meaning Behind U2’s Song of Impermanence “Kite”

A slightly deeper cut off of U2‘s 2000 album All That You Can’t Leave Behind, “Kite” was the culmination of several personal events within Bono’s life that centers around the fragility of life and, ultimately, mortality.

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The Meaning

Though never released as a single, “Kite” was one of the more deeply personal tracks on the album for singer Bono. The idea for the song first came to Bono after he was flying kites with his two daughters on Killiney Hill overlooking Dublin Bay.

Not used to flying kites, he eventually crashed theirs and went home to play video games with his daughters instead.

The event made Bono remember a time when his own father, Bob Hewson, who was dying of cancer at the time, had a similar experience trying to get a kite to fly with him when he was younger. This memory also prompted more thoughts of his own life and mortality and some of the lyrics for “Kite.”

Something is about to give
I can feel it coming
I think I know what it means
I’m not afraid to die
I’m not afraid to live
And when I’m flat on my back
I hope to feel like I did

And hardness, it sets in
You need some protection
The thinner the skin

“This song is about letting go of somebody you don’t want to let go of,” said Bono during a 2001 show in Boston.

‘Last of the Opera Star’

Just several hours after Bono’s father died on August 21, 2001, U2 dedicated “Kite” to him during their concert at Earl’s Court Arena in London.

When performed live, the lyric last of the rock stars was changed to last of the opera stars, to reflect Bob Hewson’s past career as an opera singer.

As he was writing the song, with help from The Edge, Bono was also realizing that his daughters may not need him one day — I want you to know / That you don’t need me anymore.

“I wasn’t sure of my own well-being,” said Bono. “I just wanted to have some songs that would, in a way, tell my kids something about who their father was.”

I want you to know
That you don’t need me anymore
I want you to know
You don’t need anyone or anything at all

Who’s to say where the wind will take you?
Who’s to say what it is will break you?
I don’t know which way the wind will blow
Who’s to know when the time’s come around?
Don’t want to see you cry
I know that this is not goodbye

When U2 was recording “Kite,” Bono’s voice also returned after suffering from some vocal issues due to allergies for several years when he hit a higher note on the line I’m a man / I’m not a child.

In summer, I can taste the salt in the sea
There’s a kite blowing out of control on a breeze
I wonder what’s gonna happen to you
You wonder what has happened to me

I’m a man, I’m not a child
A man who sees
The shadow behind your eyes

The “Gift” of “Kite”

“Kite” was one of those songs that came together as a “gift,” through sheer improvisation, The Edge recently told American Songwriter.

“I just prepared the string arrangement, which I felt really lent itself to different chord progressions and changes,” said The Edge. “I just laid it against a click track and Adam and Larry and myself started playing over it, and Bono came out, and on the microphone, the four of us, we basically, the four of us, developed all of the sections that became that final song. We had to do a bit of editing, but it was a lot of improvisation that basically became the basis of that tune.”

The Edge added, “Capturing those magic moments is a key part of making a U2 album. … It’s like capturing lightning. Sometimes it will just happen for us, and we will hit on something really raw and interesting, that will eventually get worked into a song,”

Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images for MTV

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