Book Reviews

Book Review- Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story by Bono

I’ve been a fan of U2 since they first appeared in a club called Malibu on Long Island in 1981. Yeah, I had a fake ID back then – didn’t everybody? Over the years I’ve enjoyed their music immensely and seen them several more times live. At times, Bono seemed to descend into the absurd (such as when he testified before Congress that they should send comedians to the warfront) but both the music and his intentions always seemed good.

When I heard Bono was penning an autobiography, I was immediately interested. Would it be way out there (like the testimony above)? Would he be totally full of himself? After reading Steven Van Zant’s autobiography, I was expecting something similar and was ready to cringe at all of the self-adulation. I’m pleased to say that overall it was much better than I expected.

Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story isn’t a conventional autobiography. Bono attempts to narrate his life by using various U2 songs. The effect is somewhat disjointed and comes across more as a train of thought than a cohesive story of his life. There’s plenty here to read through, though, and overall I enjoyed it.

For example, the song I Will Follow is a reflection of his mother’s death. It happened when he was 14, and left a gaping hole in his family. Bono, his brother, and his father never really talked about what losing his mother meant to them, as it wasn’t felt that men would express those emotions. He sees himself in the words:

A boy tries hard to be a man
His mother takes him by his hand
If he stops to think, he starts to cry
Oh, why?

The song Even Better Than the Real Thing focuses on the low point in the band for the bass player, Adam Clayton. The excesses of rock & roll really got to him, and the band actually had to perform a show in Sydney without him

Give me one more chance
And you’ll be satisfied
Give me two more chances
You won’t be denied

Well, my heart is where it’s always been
My head is somewhere in between
Give me one more chance
Let me be your lover tonight

The deeper meaning behind many of the songs is explained in the book along with it being Bono’s autobiography. It’s a different structure that made me pause and take my time reading it, rather than blast through it quickly.

It’s amazing that these four men from Dubin, Ireland have stood the test of time while other bands have come and gone. There are precious few artists still performing with their original lineup in this day and age. It wasn’t always easy, though. Bono is honest and details the many times the band nearly broke up and blames himself for most of them. He’s not one to point fingers and is self-deprecating and brutally honest about his own faults. The worry I had about this being an egotistical account of his life was unfounded.

I made a lot of highlights in this book because Bono’s deep faith and faith journey mirror a lot of my own. Much of what he dislikes about modern religion is the same way I feel. He isn’t afraid to ask questions or challenge his beliefs.

We need less to be told how to live our lives and more to see people living inspirational lives.

Early on, he talked about how the four of them pray together before a performance, even with them having radically different beliefs.

The band talked for hours about the state of our country and what Christ would make of the religion begun in his name. Not much, we thought. Christianity seemed to have become the enemy of the radical Jesus of Nazareth.

There’s a certain bond between them that has kept them together, even though at times the drive to create threatened to tear them apart. Some of that probably has to do with a shared experience as well as faith in each other. Praying just for guidance and strength can be something powerful, even if you’re not entirely convinced there’s a higher being up there directing you.

Of course, there’s more to Bono than just U2. One thing that’s very important to him is family. He’s been married 40 years to his wife, Ali. I once heard another musician refer to their marriage in a derogatory way, implying the only reason he hadn’t divorced her and married a supermodel was due to his Roman Catholic faith. After reading Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story, it’s quite apparent that is not the case. She’s truly his soulmate and the guiding force in his life. And writing a hit song because you forgot your wife’s birthday is a uniquely Bono thing for sure. He’s not afraid to list his faults and show his appreciation for her.

Blue-eyed boy meets a brown-eyed girl
Oh oh oh, the sweetest thing
You can sew it up but you still see the tear
Oh oh oh, the sweetest thing
Baby’s got blue skies up ahead
And in this I’m a rain cloud
Oh this is a stormy kind of love
Oh oh oh, the sweetest thing

Bono has also done a lot of work around the world. Some I was aware of and some I wasn’t. He tends to take on too much and spread himself thin, so to speak. This has caused fractures in the band as well as at home at times. He’s honest about his faults and doesn’t try to excuse his failings. It’s refreshing to read about his mistakes and the fact that he owns them. I found this unusual in a celebrity autobiography. The only other one I read that came close was Bruce Springsteen’s. He talks about his meetings with Springsteen and other musicians and never has a bad word to say about anyone except himself, really. His friendship with Michael Hutchence and the devastation both he and Ali felt over his death is talked about, including the injury Michael suffered that might have contributed to his death. I’d heard about that in interviews with friends and family, but Bono makes it clear that it changed his friend.

I highly recommend Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story. It will clear up a lot of misconceptions about Bono and it’s a great read. He’s a human being with faults who is trying his best in the world. Isn’t that all any of us can be expected to do?

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