This month marks the 20th anniversary of U2’s comeback record All That You Can’t Leave Behind. Released exactly 20 years after their debut LP Boy, this is the album that landed the band back on MTV and Top 40 radio after the commercially underwhelming (but criminally underrated) Pop in 1997. It sent them into the new millennium with incredible momentum, and songs like “Beautiful Day” and “Elevation” are staples of their live act to this day.
“Coming into All That You Can’t Leave Behind, it was very much on our minds that this was a new millennium,” the Edge told Rolling Stone this month. “The title tells you everything. All That You Can’t Leave Behind … you could also parse it as only the things you can’t leave behind, only the things that were essential. After all the opinions of the day had drifted away, what would be left behind by this work? We realized it’s just the songs themselves.”
One of the first songs they wrote for the album was “Kite.” Bono was inspired to write the lyrics after taking his daughters Jordan and Eve to fly a kite on a beach in Killiney, Ireland. “Daddy,” one of them said when the kite crashed into the sand, “can we go home and play with the Playstation?” At the same time, the singer’s father, Bob, was dealing with significant health issues. Bono was facing the loss of his father as he realized that his own kids didn’t need him as much as they did when they were younger. He poured all of these complex emotions into “Kite.”
“In summer I can taste the salt in the sea,” Bono wrote. “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.”
In the chorus, he faces the inevitability of losing his father. “Who’s to know when the time has come around,” he sings. “I don’t wanna see you cry/I know that this is not goodbye.”
Bob Hewson died of cancer on August 21st, 2001. U2 were touring Europe that summer and Bono flew back to Ireland to sleep by his hospital bed at the end of every show. Just days after his death, the band played to more than 80,000 people at Slane Castle in Ireland. The singer dedicated “Kite” to his father. Here’s video of the emotional performance.