I’ve written in the past about U2’s relationship with Patti Smith, but I barely scratched the surface of this particular song in that article. It seemed like the appropriate time to give U2’s cover of “Dancing Barefoot” a platform all to itself, since it was a B-side from the Rattle and Hum album that’s celebrating its thirtieth anniversary in 2018. That’s particularly germane to my personal experience with U2, as Rattle and Hum was their most recent album when I became a fan, and, as such, it was the first CD I ever bought. Looking back, it is hard to believe that that amount of time has passed–so many changes in my own life, so many mistakes, and even a few triumphs. But the one constant has been U2. I’ve maintained a close relationship with those four guys for a longer time than any other relationship in my life, excepting my mom, of course.
Speaking of my mom, a few months ago I made a massive sixty-five disc U2 boxed set for her, and the only studio recording that I intentionally left off (IE for a reason other than disc limitations or time constraints) was “Dancing Barefoot.” I didn’t leave it off because I don’t like the song–on the contrary, I’m quite fond of it, especially Edge’s guitar work, and particularly the guitar solo toward the end of the song. The lyrics give a kind of muddled, dream-like sheen to romance, capturing the feeling of confusion, not knowing whether you’re coming or going, that can sometimes accompany new love…especially the forbidden kind. Some of rock’s best moments come when the topic is the forbidden, and this song is no exception. The reason I chose not to include the song was due to a line in the chorus that I felt might deal with another forbidden topic–heroin. It had occurred to me that the word could be “heroine,” but I was making the connection to the 1970’s, when the song was written, during which time there was a heroin epidemic in the United States. Knowing Bono’s feelings on drug use, particularly the use of heroin, I felt that this song could be part of confronting that which had caused so much trouble in the life of his good friend Andy Rowen. I also have a nephew who has had some trouble with heroin, and I thought it might just cut too close to the bone for my mom. Even after reading the lyrics and seeing that Smith (and Bono) were ostensibly singing the word “heroine,” as in a female hero, I still have a suspicion that that word was chosen because of the dual mental images that it might conjure. “Heroine” is a homophone for “heroin,” after all, and rock singers, especially our dear Bono, love lyrics with multiple interpretations.
“Dancing Barefoot” has never been performed live by U2…not even snippeted…and, to be honest, I don’t mind that so much. It might be nice to play at a one-off event, maybe a Patti Smith tribute concert or something, but at a regular U2 concert, I’d much rather hear U2 originals, not covers–even ones that the band owns so completely.