Surrender is an autobiography of sorts, but it’s more than that. As the sub title suggests (40 songs, one story) it is more an episodic adventure through the lives and plot of the Irish classic group, U2. Each of the 40 songs traverse the albums, the performances, the family dynamics and the immense success that Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jnr have managed to achieve and maintain.
Bono has a strong faith, and references to the bible are common throughout the text. But it’s not preachy, rather his love for religiosity underpins his decisions and his activism. Like him or loathe him, Bono has made a name for himself as someone who gets things done. Over his career this moves from success in front of hundreds of thousands of rock n roll loving fans around the world from the stage of places like Live Aid or Hollywood Bowl, through to presidents and key people on the world stage of politics.
These songs were the soundscape of the 80s and 90s. Hits like One and Pride (In the name of love) have changed music’s understanding of itself, but - as with many of the stories from rock stars in their often overindulgent memoirs - they are real. They have meaning, they have purpose. Many of the songs written by Bono are about his wife of 40 years, Ali. For example, when Bono was jetting off around the place in the height of U2’s success, he forgot to get in touch with Ali for her birthday. As you can imagine this caused a level of frustration. In return, Bono wrote The Sweetest Thing and managed to smooth over some of the ever-bubbling issues.
In regard to Ali, there is a poignant moment later in the plot (when Bono is working on the Jubilee pledge of all first world countries forgave the third world country’s debt in January 2000 with then President of America, Bill Clinton) when Bono says he is just a father building a business to put food on his children’s table; while concurrently Ali is telling their children that their father is out putting food on other childrens’ tables. There are moments of clarity for Bono that come through consistently in the text. Like bolts of lightning Bono seems to realise that what he does to his family makes it troublesome for his wife.
Without a doubt, Bono has made an impact in both music and political worlds. His relationship with his father, the man to whom he credits his singing ability, is a conflict that is never far away from the stories of the songs, and his own political views and musicianship make Bono strive for better. For his father, Bono will always be Paul Hewson, and not the rock star that Bono wants the world to see. And in that, Bono has struggled.
The boys of U2 have managed to maintain their status as rock legends in the face of changing landscapes in the music industry. They did rock n roll when the 80s were more into synthesisers and drum machines. They did it again in the 90s and the 2000s when most were into thumping bass lines, and DJs with hip hop artists lyrically shifting the social discourse. Their internal position to be steadfast in the face of this change has meant that they are still performing 40 years after they started. And that, like any 40 year relationship, is worth recognising and paying attention to.
The latter part of the text is very much about the political side of the rock star, but there is the constant lyricism of one of the greatest song writers alive today. It’s a joy to read, and consistently punches above its weight as a writing style. His penchant for rhythm in music, also works very well on the page when discussing everything from With or Without You or his love for funding the AIDS epidemic.
Reviewer: Chris Reed