So once again, another tour has passed without Acrobat being played. Is anyone really surprised? To be honest, I actually decided to write this little theory up before the tour ended. Before the last leg of it even began, to be honest. Because I didn't expect Acrobat to be played, despite hearing reports of fans requesting it when meeting the band as those last dates of the tour drew near.
Of course, with Acrobat being the essential "holy grail" of U2 songs, there have been a number of theories for why it hasn't been played, and they all seem to revolve around the technical difficulty of the song (especially the time-signature), but my theory doesn't really address any of that (although I'm sure that has contributed to it not being played, considering the one time it was rehearsed, way back in 1992, it was played acoustically). I'm not going to discuss time-signatures or cymbal crashes or guitar solos. I'm instead going to get into the heart of the song.
Now here's the thing. I don't want U2 to play Acrobat live. That song is so important to me, that unless it was awesome live, I would be crushed. Sure, it has the potentional to take off and be fantastic and overtake Streets as the live song people go to shows to experience, but it also might not, and it's just not a risk I'm willing to take.
That song is sacred to me, and that's where my theory of why it hasn't been played live begins. I watched The Million Dollar Hotel recently, and a quote from it stuck in my mind "When something is sacred, it shouldn't be talked about", which perfectly fit the theory I'd had for months, and prompted me to finally write this entry.
To call Acrobat a deep song would be a vast understatement. Let's think about when it was written. The Achtung Baby sessions were not easy for the band, they fought they (reportedly) almost broke up, they couldn't agree on the new sound the band should take. Bono was surely struggling with the persona the media (and indeed he himself) had painted him with during the Joshua Tree era, and clearly desired to leave it behind. That was the birth of The Fly and U2's new identity. But I can also picture the confusion and paranoia and anger that this song was born out of.
As I mentioned before, this song is very, very important to me. But lyrically it's not quite Bono's best (although it's nowhere near his worst!). What makes the song so great (besides the fantastic music, and this is not a SOTD, so I'm not going to get into it, except to say OMG cymbal crashes! <3), is the emotion with which it's sung, which I must make a point of, as it ties into my overall theory for why the song hasn't been played live.
Looking at the lyrics themselves, they almost don't seem to make a lot of sense, especially at the beginning of the song. It's almost a stream-of-consciousness thing, with little explanation for what's behind the lines. Some U2 song lyrics are just so black and white and clean cut, Acrobat is not one of them. It conveys a feeling without telling a story.
I'm sitting here looking at the lyrics, and trying to decipher them directly, which I've never done before. Before, I'd always been satisfied with my keen grasp on the feeling of the song, without actually thinking about the individual verses. I'll give it a go though. Starting with the first one... 'If you'd just close your eyes, you can feel the enemy', to me that gives a feeling of introspection. The world around you is not the problem, your own feelings and ideas are, change yourself from the inside out. I like it.
And then in the second verse, he's addressing the 'girl' in the song directly, although this song is not about a relationship at all. The girl is merely an abstract character representing anybody that wants to love this song. She also represents Bono a bit too, as I think he's talking to himself a bit in this song. Anyway, he's saying that she used to have fire in her soul, but apparently now she doesn't. Because she's given up on her dreams.
The third verse gets pointed out a lot for its blatant oral sex references. But really, although I'm sure Bono knew how it sounded when he wrote it, I think he was getting at something more: You don't have to just swallow and accept the hand you've been dealt, you can refuse it and dream out loud instead. I like that too. Every other screenname I have (aside from my LJ and my email, both of which I've had since before I got into U2) now contain the phrase 'Dream Out Loud', when I first heard this song (and Zooropa), I clung onto that idea like a liferaft (I even have it written on the outside of my bedroom door). This is part of why the song is so special to me. I refuse to accept that my life can only be what it is, I want to dream out loud and make it be more. I'm not gonna let the bastards grind me down.
It's also necessary to point out that Bono's said that when he was young, his father told him not to dream, because to dream was to be disappointed. But Bono refused that, and he dreamed, and look what he became! And it seems a sort of defiant twist to point out so strongly DREAM OUT LOUD.
Now the song's getting into my favourite section. This is when you really start getting into the paranoia and worry: 'No, nothing makes sense, nothing seems to fit', I've been there, I suspect most people have, and it's a really shitty feeling to be so confused and scared about your life. Depression and anxiety and anger, to put it bluntly, SUCK.
Continuing on with my favourite part, we get into the religion. Starting with 'And I'd join the movement, if there was one I could believe in', and the rest of that verse. I know exactly what Bono's getting at here, because I feel the same way. When you have an undeniable belief in something, but you don't necessarily agree with the rigidness of organized religion. But still, you want it, ''Cause I need it now, to take the cup, to fill it up, to drink it slow, I can't let you go', because you have to have it, because it's already inside you, and you just long for acceptance from above. That whole section is my favourite, favourite part of the song. It brings me to tears. And again, you can hear the longing in Bono's voice.
The 'muttering part', as my friend Hilary calls it, is barely intelligable, but adds a touch more of that paranoia 'What are we gonna do now it's all been said, no new ideas in the house and every book has been read', I can see where that comes from too, especially in the context of the Achtung Baby sessions. What do you do when you run out of inspiration?
And then we get that fantastic solo, and into the outtro of the song. I haven't even yet addressed the line from which the title comes. It almost seems like Bono's pre-empting his wild ZooTV behaviour, but I imagine he's talking more about himself in the last few years. Bono of the late 80s was seen as this messianic rockstar, preaching about everything he could think to preach about. It's obvious he got uncomfortable with that. It sounds like he's calling himself not just an acrobat, but a hypocrite for saying one thing, then acting another.
The rest of the song is frantic but awesome, there are some great lines in there that get back to the core feeling of the song: 'And you can find your own way out', right back to my earlier interpretation of spitting, not swallowing. Also, 'In dreams begin responsibilities' is a great line, it's only four words, but it's making a point that dreams alone don't cut it, you also have to believe in your dreams and be willing to see them through.
Now all in all, my full theory: If this song is this important to me (and so many other fans), it must be even more important to Bono. The themes in the song are close to his heart: Dreaming out loud after being forbidden from his father to do that. Struggling with the public persona the media (and your own behaviour) has created for you. Struggling with your own religious beliefs and expression of them.
Bono's never necessarily struggled away from songs with deep, close meaning. Songs like Gone and Kite are the same way. If Gone had never been played live, I'd say it was for the same reason as Acrobat: Because it's just too close to Bono's heart, and he doesn't want to have to step into those painful shoes every night. But Gone became something more, it became the mourning song for Michael Hutchence, and perhaps became cathartic to sing, much in the way that SYCMIOYO was.
Most of the reasons Acrobat was never played probably do have to do with technical reasons, but I imagine Bono's emotions carried some weight too. Because maybe the song is sacred to him, and as a result, he doesn't think he should talk about, or indeed, sing it.
So there you have it. It took me THIS LONG to get around to writing it. But once I got started, it only took about a half hour to write the majority of it =P