Bono memoir Surrender book review

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In the book journalist Bill Flanagan wrote after he embedded with Irish rock band U2 during their most fertile creative period, 1995’s “U2 at the End of the World”, Flanagan joked about why James Joyce had to leave Ireland to write “Ulysses”: For if he had stayed, he would talked It.

I found myself recalling this fragment from a book I read a quarter of a century ago as I made my way through Bono’s “Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story,” the fascinating (and sometimes insane) discursive memoir from the lightning bolt U2 frontman, a 62-year-old rock star almost as notorious for his talking as he is for his singing. The man with the eternal face and soaring voice is also, as you probably know, an agitator who has devoted at least as many of his 21st-century hours to AIDS, debt relief and anti-poverty campaigns as he has to music.

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That successful second career is one reason why someone who isn’t a rabid U2 fan might find value in his book. Celebrity do-gooders will and should be met with skepticism, but it’s hard to name anyone who has progressed so successfully from exciting but largely ineffective public denunciations of social ills to the boring, unsexy, year-to-year administration-over-administration work to build relationships with people who hold the levers of power. Even when, especially when, those people are George W. Bush or Rupert Murdoch.

“You don’t have to agree on everything if the one thing you do agree on is important enough,” writes Bono, a lesson he got from one of his singer/agitator mentors, Harry Belafonte. Love the guy, hate him or just wish he’d shut up – familiar emotions even to a U2 fan as wearily devoted as your humble reviewer – you can’t tell his activism is of the lapel-pin variety.

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He’s annoyed people, not always for honorable reasons, at least since jumping into the audience during U2’s set at Live Aid in 1985. And when he found out that the fortune raised by that star-studded charity concert was barely enough to the weekly interest his African nation beneficiaries paid their Western debtors, he changed his strategy. His self-deprecating (really!) account of how, over the course of a two-year lobbying effort, he and his partners got the 43rd president to ask Congress for a historic $15 billion commitment to fight AIDS in Africa—and how he stayed. of criticism of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq into the bargain – make up two of the book’s most engaging chapters. (In a moment when it seemed the Bush administration would not deliver, George Soros accused Bono of “selling out for a plate of lentils.”

But that’s not what most readers will be here for. Nor will they expect or find much “Hammer of the Gods”-style debauchery in the memories of a guy who’s been in a band with the same three guys for 45 years and married to his high school sweetheart for 40; both relationships on which he reflects with candor and humility. Like the memoirs of his pals Elvis Costello and Bruce Springsteen, “Surrender is more introspective than cheesy or score-defining, and proof that the tunesmith who wrote it also speaks fluent prose.

Much of it is familiar, too, because the writer shared many of his anecdotes — even the same phrases — in concert introductions to songs like “Iris,” about the mother who died suddenly when he was 14, and “Sometimes You Can” t Make It on Your Own,” about the father who slowly died when Bono was 41. His story about falling asleep with a whiskey on his lap at Frank Sinatra’s house and fearing he peed his pants in front of the Chairman is a road. -tested staples of his set list. But did you hear the one about Bono wandering off while he and his wife were drinking with Barack and Michelle at the White House, and the president found him in the Lincoln Bedroom? I didn’t.

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There were already many tiles in the U2 mosaic: The documentary “From the Sky Down” retold their origin story as they looked back on the troubled birth of their seminal 1991 album, “Achtung Baby.” The 2015 Innocence + Experience Tour – a roadshow built around the “Songs of Innocence” album that unexpectedly materialized on your iPhone last September, a digital hack for which Bono alone takes responsibility, by the way, and even exonerates his accomplices/bandmates . Tim Cook, CEO of Apple – also had a very open autobiographical narrative. Then there are the four long-running Rolling Stone interviews that Bono conducted from roughly 1987-2017. This is not a man who has ever been reticent when it comes to talking about himself.

Paradoxically, a 560-page memoir is a safe space in which no one can ultimately accuse him of long-windedness. Or at least, he didn’t have to meet the eyes of U2 drummer Larry Mullen Jr. feeling bored in the back of his skull as the timekeeper puts down his drumsticks, having realized that the singer he recruited for his band in 1976 has once again launched into another vagrant song intro.

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Well, what about those songs? Any fan familiar with U2’s catalog will realize that the 40 tunes that provide titles for the book’s 40 chapters are not arranged chronologically. This is because the story these chapters tell is not a linear one. Beginning with an account of critical heart surgery Bono underwent in 2016, the book bounces and weaves between subjects and eras, guided by thematic links more than by temporal signposts.

The deftness with which Bono switches from the mysteries of songwriting to dissertations about, say, what he learned when Mikhail Gorbachev came to his Dublin home for Sunday dinner is erratic. There is more than a hint of the literary ambition you might expect from a man who once co-wrote a song with Salman Rushdie. Bono knows a joke, and he is well aware of his unfortunate habit of a serious discussion of almost any topic is not music in a TED Talk.

That doesn’t mean he can always stop himself from doing it or that he even tries. It does mean that the book is a representative self-portrait, not an aspirational one. Bono does not consciously describe himself when he speaks of “around the filthy in messianic,” but he can be. The phrasing is smooth, but still pretty good. Whoever thought of that should try being a songwriter.

Chris Klimek works for Smithsonian magazine and co-hosts the podcast “A Degree Absolute!”

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