A good friend of mine regularly opens up her personal library to feed my reading habit. This week, she shared Bono’s memoir entitled Surrender: 40 Sings, One Story.
Unlike my friend, my interest in the group U2 and its front man Bono has been rather casual over the years. A couple of songs resonated with me – I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, A Beautiful Day – and I was aware of Bono’s humanitarian efforts. But I wasn’t part of their orbit. Nonetheless, my friend thought I’d enjoy the book.
Wow – did I ever!
First – it’s hard not to be impressed with the band’s accomplishments – 170 million in record sales, 22 Grammy Awards, and the Kennedy Center honors among a gaggle of other accolades. What I hadn’t realized was that these four guys grew up in a rather rough part of Dublin and formed the group when they were in secondary school. That they’ve remained close friends and colleagues after four decades of working together bears witness to something truly special about their union.
Bono’s origin story includes the loss of his mother Iris to an aneurysm when he was just fourteen. His father was left to raise two boys on his own. No one processed their grief aloud though all felt it keenly. “After Iris died, 10 Cedarwood Road stopped being a home. It was just a house.” They simply existed amidst a sea of testosterone and simmering anger.
Bono’s father had a stunning tenor voice with which he mesmerized the town. “For years after Iris died, he would reduce a room of relations to a puddle by breaking into Kris Kristofferson’s For the Good Times.” He never took note of his son’s burgeoning interest in music. Bono had to nurture his own dreams with encouragement from a beautiful girl who crossed his path in September 1973 – Alison Stewart, his future wife.
Bono does not describe himself as being especially gifted at singing, writing, or musicianship, but lays claim to stirring melodies in his head that await expression. In point of fact, he is an exceptional artist who mines life’s experiences for the universal truths that strikes chords in his audience’s hearts. As I read the backstories for his creations, I kept wishing I’d been a fan all these years and could hear the associated melodies. His writing is as authentic and captivating as his poetry. I had to force myself to put the book down when other pressing matters decided to intrude.
Bono became as adept at the business of music as he was making music. The band hired an exceptional manager who deftly navigated the terrain in the band’s favor. They assembled a team of folks to manage their studio recordings and tours; they’ve stayed with the group for years. Of note is the fact that the band remained true to their artistic vision in the face of tremendous pressure to sell out or catch the wave of popular demand. They wanted their music to mean something and to break new ground in the creation of it. Perhaps that’s why they’ve stayed relevant (and together) all these years.
Bono has been front and center on several major campaigns to provide relief and succor to “the least of these.” He lobbied heads of state to grant debt relief to African nations at the start of the new Millennium. He has worked with governments and megadonors to provide solutions for the AIDS crisis in African as well as eradicate malaria and tuberculosis. He and his wife have lived an worked among the poorest of the poor in places like Ethiopia and El Salvador. He is passionate and determined.
Bono is a man of faith. He stands in awe of the scripture for their capacity to navigate the world beyond the physical. He is wary of religion and its various sects and denominations. For Bono, faith is “more like a daily discipline, a daily surrender and rebirth. It’s more likely that church is not a place but a practice, and the practice becomes the place.” For those who wish to experience the divine, Bono says: “God is with the poor and vulnerable, and God is with us if we are with them.”
Finally, Bono is a committed family man. His memoir is as much an enduring love story to his wife as it is a journey through his life’s experiences and reflections. In reading about the family, I found myself wishing I could meet this remarkable woman and the four children that they brought into this world.
I’ve become a fan and will likely get around to enjoying all of U2’s music. Meanwhile, I encourage my readers to make a date with Surrender.