Book that might change your tune on Bono…

Book that might change your tune on Bono…: U2 singer’s memoir details him throwing drum kit at crowd and receiving a jar of honey from Steve Jobs

  • Bono’s memoir, Surrender, outlines the rock star and philanthropist’s history 
  • He details lifting up his bandmate’s drum kit and throwing it into the audience  
  • The singer also mentions getting a jar honey from his friend Steve Jobs



by Bono (Hutchinson Heinemann, £25, 564pp)

Even Edge, U2’s brilliantly inventive but usually unflappably cool guitarist (real name David Howell Evans), finds Bono maddening at times. So much so, indeed, that on tour in the States, he once gave his lead singer a good thump. What had St Bono done to deserve this?

‘I actually lifted up Larry’s drum kit and threw it into the crowd,’ confesses the singer, and in cold fury, Edge ‘caught me one on the side of the head’. It is with such anecdotes and memories that Bono’s autobiography has landed — all 564 pages of it. Perhaps he was worried that the world hadn’t yet heard enough from him and needed more. But it’s not just Bono here. We also get Bono with George W. Bush. Bono receiving a jar of honey from his friend Steve Jobs, ‘from our own garden’. Bono with the Pope, Bono with Princess Diana, Bono with Volodymyr Zelensky.

There’s Bono taking a phone call from George Soros. Bono on stage with Salman Rushdie. Bono addressing a meeting inside the Pentagon, with U.S. defence secretary Robert Gates, and a ‘phalanx of generals’. What? Why? He never quite explains.

Bono’s memoir, Surrender, outlines the rock star and philanthropist’s history. Pictured in 2006 with Barack Obama

Then, of course, there’s ‘a late dinner at 10 Downing Street’ with Tony Blair. It can only be a matter of time before Bono is having supper with Rishi.

Bono is now a rock star with enormous political clout and he very much likes it that way. He has campaigned against poverty and disease in the developing world, and persuaded Western leaders to hand over billions.

In one scene here, Bono, net worth an estimated $700 million, has a private meeting with Barack Obama, net worth about $70 million, and persuades him to give more aid to Africa. Obama promptly does so.

It isn’t his money of course, it’s the American taxpayers’. It’s two very rich men agreeing to redistribute the wealth of some often fairly poor people in the U.S. to even poorer people in Africa. The net worth of the average American without a High School diploma is a shockingly low $20,780.

At one point Bono describes how he worked on a project in Ethiopia ‘helping to explain basic ideas around health and nutrition’.

To imply that the Ethiopians, without Bono’s intervention, would lack such ‘basic ideas’ is gob-smackingly insulting. Homo sapiens lived quite happily in East Africa for a hundred thousand years or more before the U2 frontman arrived to save them. How on earth did they get by?

All the do-gooding seemed even worse when it was revealed that U2 had moved their business affairs from Ireland to the Netherlands to avoid tax (for which they are widely detested in Ireland, incidentally).

Bono (pictured in 2018, with Pope Francis) also shares stories behind the famous faces he’s met

There is also the ‘poetic’ prose style that the reader has to wade through at times: ‘The liminal is the place to be. The bleeding edge. The demilitarized zones of the psyche, the gray ones of the heart. No-man’s-land is yes-man’s-land. Albums are travelogues. Geographically, philosophically, sexually.’ Clear?

Yet for all this, the earlier parts of the book are an engaging read, vividly evoking growing up in Dublin, family, friends and the tragedy of his mother’s death. It was a painfully dramatic death as well: she suffered a stroke on the singer’s 14th birthday in 1974 at his grandfather’s funeral. ‘She collapsed at the side of the grave as her own father was being lowered into the ground.’

Surely this was one of the wounds that drove his ambition when he and his schoolmates formed U2. We follow the early struggles and small successes. And some of those early songs still sound great, especially from the Joshua Tree album of 1987.

We should also remember that when they sang the rousing Sunday Bloody Sunday, Bono said vehemently it was ‘not a pro-IRA song’, for which he received death threats, but never backed down.

And he continues to scorn them in the book: ‘Unelected combatants deciding if a pub in Belfast or Manchester was a ‘legitimate target’. Or if a parade of World War II veterans could be blown to bits with no warning.’

He is interesting on his devout Christian faith too, shared by all members of the band except the likeably hedonistic posh-boy and bass-player, Adam Clayton.

The singer (pictured at the Graham Norton show earlier this year) also mentions getting a jar honey from his friend Steve Jobs

Their Christianity is of the Bible-based evangelical type, unusual in Catholic Ireland. And although he evidently likes a drink, he hasn’t taken drugs, he says, since ‘sniffing some Lady Esquire shoe polish when I was 15’.

Other things can be offered in defence of this self-described ‘Irish loudmouth.’ The band are still together after all these years, their egos never big enough to drive them apart, as so often happens in rock music.

And Bono is still married to his school sweetheart Alison. ‘We were standing at the bus stop on the Howth Road, waiting for the 31a,’ when he first asked her for a date. Such long-term loves and loyalties tell you a lot.

Perhaps the best thing you can say about this vast autobiography is that it isn’t all annoying. There are even one or two funny moments.

My favourite is when he’s in a Dublin pub with Edge, ‘describing the transformative facts of ‘regional integration’ and some of the finer details of the stock exchange in Ghana. ‘Well, we need to get you back to the studio as fast as possible,’ says Edge, lifting a pint of Guinness to his lips. ‘The poetry is just pouring out of you.’ ‘

Now that’s one cool lead guitarist.

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