I don't remember the exact terms used in speaking of the song, but to my knowledge (and I've done considerable research on this subject) the idea for the Fly as well as the character stemmed from William Golding's "Lord of the Flies." In case you don't know, The Lord of the Flies is Baal, a predicessor to the modern version of Satan. His minions, obviously, are Flies. So Bono created this rock n roll star devil's minion (well, rock n roll is the devil's music) and sings a song about a man who is on the edge of sanity, who knows all the answers but not the questions. He sings about the contradictions and confusions in life. Bono himself has said that "The Fly is like a phone call from hell... but the guy likes it there." The "stars are falling from the sky" is the same line basically from "One Tree Hill": "I'll see you again when the stars fall from the sky," meaning, it's judgement day, and this character in The Fly is being shown the truths of the world before his judgement. The universe exploding because of one man's lie could be a reference to his own universe exploding, or it could be a reference to Judas' betrayal. "Look I've gotta go, yeah I'm running out of change" is the phone call part (he's at a pay phone) and the "There's a lot of things, if I could I'd rearrange" is his regrets on how his life was lived, because now, after he's learned the truths of the universe, it appears he's going to be judged badly. Or perhaps the judgement has already been levvied, and he didn't come out in the plus.
KimKat KimKatU2aol.com (contributed before the 20:th of February 1998)
In the song The Fly, there is the phone call from the figure who knows the ins and outs of the devil's realm and chooses the last day - the day of judgement - to disclose this information to a guy through a 25 cent telephone call. What kind of resolution can this give the receiver of the phone call in a temporal, dark world where a man will beg / a man will crawl / on the sheer face of love / like a fly on a wall?
Even poetic and artistic inspiration are infected with this grief of a contradictory system in our world. For example, a conscience is to keep us from doing bad things, yet it is a pest precisely because of man's nature and greedy desires in the same way that ambition - which should furnace and complement success - actually destroys and shortens success because of infectuous power (see Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien) or pride.
This idea is expressed in the second reprise A man will rise / A man will fall / From the sheer face of love / Like a fly from the wall. Some of the grandest leaders in our world felt his triumph chewed by a tragic flaw that led to his fall (see Shakespeare for one). But the greatest signifier of contradiction, one could say, in this song is the world Love which is sung in a gospel voice during the chorus (itself a contrast to the low voice throughout), a word that in U2's Elevation tour was plastered in white lights on a contrasting background of black during the performance of this song.
This contrast of love with every lie and selfish ambition in the world is starkly represented in The Fly. The resolution of the song is not in the song itself, but is given into the hands of the (active) listener, a burning star ... fallin' from the sky, who, feeling the pressure of one last moment to hear and consider the world's judgement - shown askewed - can take the time to evaluate his alignment with the ways of the world, to seek something other, to choose to conform or to choose to carve his own route with love's help. He is given into the moment of the reciever of the phone in the song who experiences a desperation for a way out of the condemnation of the world without much time to change his life - but the listener, ah, he has the time, but feels the necessary pressure now thanks to U2.
Domenica Newell faithmaidenhotmail.com ( 2:nd of October 2002)
To add to what KimKat has already expounded upon here; It is no secret that Bono is a great admirer and fan of christian writer, C.S. Lewis, and became particularly interested in "The Screwtape Letters" before and during the Achtung sessions of the band. The reference to a connection of the "Lord Of The Flies" and the "The Fly" can easily be associated with the relationship between Screwtape (The affectionate Uncle and one of Satans advisers in Hell) and "The Fly" being the nephew and demon on earth who is working to secure the damnation of a young man who faces temptation just as the rest of us do. The premise of this book is the illustration and mocking of the pathetic methods that Satan and Evil in general use to try and conquer the soul of a human being on earth. This "mocking" of Satan became an essential theme to the satirical Zoo TV Mr. Macphisto character and many of the lyrics and videos during this Era for U2. In the "Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me" video Macphisto can be seen as well as Bono reading the Screwtape Letters. In "The Fly" the mentioned phone call in the song can be thought of just as the letters of communication in the Screwtape Letters to Wormwood. The lyrics, It's no secret that a friend is someone who lets you help It's no secret that a liar won't believe anyone else They say a secret is something you tell one other person So I'm telling you...child are a definite connection to the deceit coming from both Screwtape onto Wormwood and from Wormwood onto "the patient" being the young man on earth. These are all connections that were touched upon in the book, "Walk On, The Spiritual Journey Of U2". Now I see a definite connection here to what KimKat already touched upon with "Lord Of The Flies:. The universe exploded 'cause of one man's lie ... that of Screwtape or The Lord Of The Flies or Satan himself.
Ian Kelly iankelly134gmail.com (15th of September 2006)
I listen to The Fly almost eveyday. I keep coming across the same imagery of the song when I listen to it. About an eternal being undergoing catharsis over a payphone to another unknown individual listening in who is mortal. Basically he is letting loose very non-specifically upon his listener all the lessons that he has learned while walking the Earth for as long as he has. He has seen a vast spectrum of human action from evil to good. "The fly on the wall" sums up the scale of the grand and terrible events that he has been witness to. Ultimately, and in traditional Bono fashion, he emphasizes that it is the good (love) that ultimately prevails. This is a throwback to the I Corinthians 13 poem about how there are three things that last forever (faith/hope/love) but that the greatest of all is love.
Shashank Mishra shashmishragmail.com (26th of April 2009)