You may know Bono as the lead of one of the greatest rock bands of all time, U2, but the rock star is so much more than that. The 62-year-old Irishman is activist in the fight against AIDS and campaigns for Africa while being a 22-time Grammy Award-winning artist.
A man known for his social justice philanthropy and unique voice, Bono kick-started the night at the New Yorker Festival on Friday (Sept. 7) with a performance of “With or Without You,” “City of Blinding Lights,” and “Vertigo.”
Then ahead of the release of his debut book, Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story, in November, Bono chatted with renowned New Yorker journalist David Remnick to discuss the upcoming memoir about his life. He spoke of the loss of his mother, how he came up with the name of the book, his bandmates reading the book, U2 almost breaking up and more.
Here are six major takeaways from the conversation between Bono and Remnick ahead of his memoir release.
Losing his mother made him turn to music
For his upcoming memoir, Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story, Bono recalls his mother, Iris Hewson, dying from a brain aneurysm four days after collapsing at the funeral of her father, Gags Rankin, in 1974. The U2 frontman, who was just 14 years old, turned to music to cope with the heartbreaking death.
“It turned into a gift. This wound in me just turned into this opening where I had to fill the hole with music, and it’s a very unscientific theory I have. But, I do think that in someone you love passing, there’s sometimes a gift,” he said.
The meaning behind the name ‘Surrender’
The 62-year-old noted that “surrender” is an essential word for him that doesn’t come naturally.
“I still find it hard to surrender to my bandmates,” the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame artist said. “As an older person, it gets even harder to surrender to my wife, to surrender to my maker. I’m a defiant character, but I’m working on that, David. That’s why I wrote the book.”
Did his band members see the book ahead of time?
Bono revealed that bandmate Adam Clayton had a few things to say about his upcoming book. “He thought I have drawn him a little bit as a caricature,” Bono said.
When Remnick asked him if he was right, Bono replied: “For a few reasons. Maybe I didn’t want to fill in some details because I thought that might be too personal for him. It was my memoir.”
“And he also was saying, ‘It’s not enough about music, Bono.’ And I said, ‘Well, you know, it’s not just a music memoir. I wanted to give people a view that my life as an artist, my life as an activist, my life as a hooligan, my life as a husband, my life as a father [are] all the same to me. It was all part of the same creative canvas,'” Bono continued.
“It’s not a traditional rock and roll memoir in that sense,” he said. “And it’s a love story; it’s a pilgrimage. The pilgrim’s lack of progress would be a better title.”
U2 almost broke up because of a spiritual crisis
During the conversatio, Remnick asked Bono about when David “The Edge” Evans, lead guitarist and backing vocalist of U2, was having a spiritual crisis and was about to leave the group.
Bono replied that the pair were in a non-denominational school (Edge and Bono went to school together at Mount Temple Comprehensive School). They weren’t pushing religion down their throats, yet they had profound faith.
“We meet this — I suppose you call them first-century radical Christians, kind of punks. And you know, they didn’t need many material things. They were very strict in that sense,” said Bono. “And we first thought they accepted us for being who we were. After a while, they started to get in on us. ‘Maybe this music thing is — you should just put that down. And if the world is broken, really, and it’s really broken. And if you want to be part of the fixing of it, maybe music is something you should just put away and sing these praise songs.'”
Bono continued that he and The Edge started believing these people, and that his fellow bandmate felt terrible. “He rings me up and says, ‘I don’t think I can resolve this.’ I said, ‘Well, yes, I’m having some problems with this, too. I want to be useful. I want to be useful in my life, and I want to be useful to the world. The world is, you know, f—.'”
Larry Mullen Jr., drummer and co-founder of U2, also was on board with The Edge and Bono. The fourth band member, Clayton, then introduced the group to a “quite posh manager” named Paul McGuinness. The band just had success with their debut album, Boy. “We go and tell him that it was all over. So, he was sitting there, and we walked in, and Paul said, ‘So, you’ve been speaking to God?’ And we’re like, ‘Yeah. Yeah.’ ‘And God has told you that you don’t want to be in the band? Like, you want to break up the band?’ ‘Well, in a manner of speaking, yes.’ ‘Okay. So you’ve been speaking to God, and how’s God on legal contracts? Because I’ve signed a legal contract here.’ And we were, just completely, ‘Oh, maybe we didn’t hear that right,'” Bono recounted the story as the crowd burst into laughter.
The band returned to the road, but The Edge was still not resolved. Bono then got married to his wife, Ali Hewson. With the two away on a Jamaica trip, The Edge began to write a song he believed would solve the problem, and that song was called “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” Bono noted that you could hear the Jamaican influence at the beginning of the track thanks to the late and great Bob Marley.
“That’s the reason why Chris Blackwell [founder of Island Records] didn’t throw us off Island Records because we’d made a mad religious album. It wasn’t mad at all, but people were calling it mad,” said Bono. “It’s because he said he was used to dealing with Bob Marley. And Bob Marley wanted to sing to God. Bob Marley wanted to sing to girls. Bob Marley wanted to sing to the world around him and protest it. So there it was, a three-cord strand that became U2, and that started with Edge on ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday.'”
Writing the book was therapeutic
When asked if writing Surrender was therapeutic for him, Bono said that the gift he received from writing this memoir was “time on my own.”
“And it gave me a reason to shut up and listen,” he continued. “Also, I’m such a shy typist that when I talk, I talk too quickly, and I sort of throw the paint at the canvas. So when I’m writing and typing, I have to slow down my thoughts, and they make more sense of me, and I make more sense of them.”
The secret behind 40 years of marriage
The secret behind Bono and Ali’s 40-year-marriage is pretty simple: friendship.
“Friendship can outpace romantic love, sometimes. And friendship is what myself and Ali have,” said Bono. “But I don’t want to give you the impression that everything was easy for us. But any time either of us got lost, the other would be there to get the other home. And I’m so grateful,” he concluded.
Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story is set to release on Nov. 1.
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