I’ve written in the past about that magical year at boarding school when I was first introduced to and became interested in U2. One memory I have of that time is that the CD of The Unforgettable Fire that I had access to was scratched so that the beginning of “Indian Summer Sky” skipped. For the longest time, I didn’t realize that the resulting sounds were due to a defect. I thought that that was simply how the song was recorded. Even now, all these years later, I can still conjure up the memory of the rhythmic clicking and skipping that came out of the speakers of my little CD player at that point. I feel like “Indian Summer Sky” is kind of overlooked at times, while it is actually one of the better tracks on The Unforgettable Fire. It comes off like a middle ground between the straightforward rock of the War album and the more ethereal, new age-y sounds that populate the rest of the song’s album. To my ears, it sounds like a basic rock track, circa 1984, with all the ambiance and spaciness that goes with that territory.
The best thing about “Indian Summer Sky” is the rhythm track, particularly the drums. Although I have never seen any video of this song that focused on Larry for any appreciable length of time, I can easily picture in my head his body rocking back and forth, with his hand coming down on the snare in the unique way that he has. I also appreciate the melody to this song…it is beautiful but strident, perfect for an up-tempo rock song from one of the world’s best melodic craftsmen. Even people who don’t like U2 will, on occasion, admit that Bono writes some lovely melodies, and it is songs like “Indian Summer Sky” that give rise to that reputation.
The lyrics to “Indian Summer Sky” are a little bit of an enigma to me. To be honest, there is a lot of the song where I really have no idea what Bono is trying to say. There’s a focus on nature in some of the verses, where Bono sings about the light of a blue sky and moving toward it. There is also a somewhat depressing section that has Bono singing about “los[ing]…the spark that set the flame.” I am not sure if Bono is singing here about his artistic flame, the flame of his Christianity, the fire of his passion for Ali, or something else entirely, but it makes me a little bit sad to consider him going through that experience of loss.
Contrary to popular belief, “Indian Summer Sky” has actually been performed live by the band, a total of nine times. All of these performances came around the end of 1984 or the beginning of 1985, and they were all in Europen so no performances of the song in the United States. I get the band’s thinking…this is an upbeat track from what was then their most recent album, so it should have been a great number to show off to live audiences. With that in mind, I wonder why the song was performed so few times, and why it has never been revisited. If I had to guess, I would say that Bono is probably not a big fan of this lyric, and so he doesn’t like performing the song. That’s just a guess, though. Maybe someone needs to remix the song so that the intro sounds like a skipping CD, then the band could revive the song as they have done in the past with songs like “Even Better Than the Real Thing,” and “New Year’s Day.”