Bookshot #176: Surrender

This is not your typical autobiography. Bono structures it around forty songs from over the course of

U2's career in music and it's sort of linear, in a way, but he also jumps around a bit here and there.

Let's start out with what I didn't know:

I didn't actually know Bono's real name-- Paul David Hewson and the fact that he was born to a Catholic father and a Protestant mother in a time of sectarian violence in Ireland. That was really interesting to find out and suddenly 'Bloody Sunday' from War hits a little different-- something he talks about in the chapters where they're working to follow up their second album, October with what turned out to be War. 

The fact that he lost his mother at the age of fourteen- and in a pretty traumatic way- she had a cerebral aneurysm at her father's funeral-  turned out to have a major impact on his life and sort of started him on a lifelong quest to find that sense of family again- even though as he's growing up and meeting his bandmates and his wife, Ali while he was at school he sort of found his own family along the way and made his own as well eventually having four kids. (That was actually a really interesting question that I had moving through the early chapters-- like, I knew that he had written 'The Sweetest Thing' for his wife, Ali-- and I'm pretty sure she's in the music video as well, I want to say?- but I didn't know how they had been together-- well done there, by the way, and it's not clear as you go through the book that they were going to have children together at first. Until they do. So that was kind of an interesting question to wonder about.)

The longevity of U2 is talked about a lot-- and Bono, to his credit, doesn't shy away from taking accountability for his ego getting in the way of things or causing conflict with his bandmates. They nearly broke up a couple of times-- probably most seriously in the early stretch of their career, but despite some valleys in creativity and just generally trying to keep it fresh and interesting and make music they all actually like. (They kept their first manager, Paul McGuiness around until 2013- which also might have to do a lot with their success over the years.)

I should have guessed this, but it still came as kind of a surprise, though I'm not entirely sure why- but Bono is deeply, devoutly religious and I believe with the exception of Adam Clayton, they all are. They actually met at a non-denominational school and sort of attended an off-beat, non-denominational faith community for a while as well. Again, the influence of religion in their music immediately comes into focus once you learn then-- though really, 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For' is a gigantic red flag waving this around and could honestly work quite well on a Christian music station, so it fits. It all fits really, really well- and he talks about his faith journey and prayer and finding that quiet place inside that lets him connect with the divine in really simple, moving terms.

His activism emerges in the latter half of the book and while it's probably his activism that makes people roll their eyes at him the most, it's actually refreshing how focused it actually was/is. He (at least in the book- I don't know how it comes across in real life) is willing to at least talk to absolutely anyone in service of a greater goal-- so debt reduction in the 90s was his big thing, but with the 2000 election as he pivoted to AIDS relief/prevention a Republican administration under George W. Bush meant that all the contact his organization had built up under the previous administration were gone and replaced by folks who didn't exactly spin up U2 on their iPods at the time- but you know what? He kept talking and kept lobbying and kept pushing all the way up to Condoleeza Rice and what eventually resulted was the birth of PEPFAR, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

(Just as a mild tangent: I know people like to roll their eyes at 'compassionate conservatism', especially these days, but even back when W was in office, PEPFAR is Bush's real legacy and it's overlooked. Yes, Iraq and Afghanistan and the whole War on Terror business wasn't good and I disagreed with a lot of it, but for real-- PEPFAR turned out to be so big and so huge and so successful, we're looking at eradicating AIDS by 2030. That's insane and if you want a counterbalance to a lot of the bad of the Bush Administration, PEPFAR comes pretty close to doing just that.)

He freely admits that he has learned that he could use a good edit throughout the writing process and I'd agree with that-- if there's a fault to this book, I think it's that his inner songwriter tends to force its way out now and again and sometimes he gets wax a little too lyrical and metaphorical for my taste, but at the end of the day if you've listened to any albums by U2 or are the least bit familiar with their work, it's not unexpected or jarring. It's Bono, this is who he is- or at least, what he presents to the world through his music.

Overall: I would call this a must-read if you like U2s music. It's fascinating, it's well-written, and it gives a ton of insight into the band, their development, their creative process, and how they crafted their albums and stayed together over the years. It can... wax lyrical in parts, but not in an obnoxious way. My Grade: *** out of ****


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