Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story by Bono

Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story cover link Summary: A memoir framed as a description of 40 songs. 

I am a man of a certain age. One of the first CDs I ever purchased was Rattle and Hum. I had a bootleg VHS version of the Rattle and Hum movie, and I watched it so many times it was warped. I saw the ZooTV tour during my first year in college. I was excited to see the Red Rocks venue because U2 had recorded there. (My kids like Sing 2, which has a Bono character and several U2 songs, and I keep trying to get them to listen to more U2 without much real success so far.)

I cannot fully read this apart from the nostalgia of growing up a U2 fan. I started listening to this as an audiobook because I assumed it would include clips of songs, and I like listening to memoirs in the author’s voice when that makes sense. I eventually also purchased the kindle edition because I wanted to see what additional material might be in the print version that was not in the audiobook. The audiobook and the print text were close but not entirely the same. There were several times when Bono would expand a line or add a sentence that was not in the print version, but nothing was fundamentally different. I noticed two misspelled words in the kindle book that were read correctly. But most important was that because the book is framed using songs, the print version just has a few lines of the song at the start of each chapter, and the audiobook has Bono singing at least those lines, often 1-2 minute sections of the songs. I assume they didn’t put the whole songs in for licensing reasons. 

The main thing in the print version that was not in the audiobook was Bono’s drawing and some photographs. While I looked at them all, I don’t think it was a reason to get the print version, and I think the audiobook version is the one to get if you do audiobooks. I am not a fan of Bono’s interviews on TV. He comes across as a bit too earnest and sometimes too silly. But as a narrator, he had a consistent low rumble to his voice. He read with emotion and felt like he was telling a story. One person I know thought the book felt too self-indulgent and pompous, but he read the book in print, and I think that the tone of the audiobook would have made it hard to have that impression. Much of the book was self-deprecating and making fun of himself.

I am not a fan of highly-produced audiobooks. I think it usually distracts from the book. But in this case, the production appropriately added to the book because it was about the music. There were occasional sound effects, but they had a purpose. Bono did do some voices as he told stories, but they also felt appropriate and not like he was trying to do their voices but trying to tell a story.

As with any memoir, there are stories that are important to the author and less important to the reader. Some memoirs are all about the people they met and worked with in a name-dropping way. But while Bono did drop a lot of names, I felt the purpose in most of those stories.

There was a lot of humor, most with himself as the butt of the joke. And I enjoyed most of it because it felt appropriate and charitable toward everyone in the story. That isn’t to say that he always has it perfect, but I think it is done well overall.

A few years ago, Abby Perry had an article about two people asking for forgiveness after accusations of sexual assault. Generally, the article was about how non-Christians seem to have a better handle on how to ask for forgiveness and take responsibility than many Pastors have done. Bono is well known for being a Christian, and this book contains discussions of faith, scriptural references, and imagery. But I think it is an example of someone that is not known as a “Christian Leader” getting faith right because if there is a theme in the book, it is that while he has tried to live rightly, but he has failed, and he wants to apologize for that and do better. The book is about how he tries to do better, not just move on and ignore the past.

In his interview with Stephen Colbert, at the end of the interview, Colbert gives Bono a list of things he didn’t apologize for but will in his next book. They were funny things like apologizing for “How to Disable an Atomic Bomb,” not including instructions on how to disable an atomic bomb, and apologizing to Adam Clayton and Larry Mullin for having to be in a band with guys named Bono and The Edge. He didn’t know they could just use their regular names. But Colbert gets at this same theme. Bono wants to be a better husband and father, and bandmate. He knows he wasn’t as good of a son as he should have been. He knows he prioritized some things he shouldn’t have and underappreciated how hard some of his friends were trying. But he also embraces grace as a reality. It isn’t just a ‘do better’ book, but a man grappling with human weakness and limitations who, at the same time, can see the level of grace that others have given to him, which makes him want to be a better man.

I do not look to Bono as a theologian or model of Christianity. But there is grace here, even if he isn’t who I want to be. I assume it is a mistake more than a sign of a lack of understanding, but the book had however many people editing it and reading it, and it still he says that it was David who was calmed by music when he had an evil spirit instead of David using music to calm King Saul. It is a minor detail and likely an editing issue, but I don’t look to musicians to be theological leaders. But when I see honest grappling and spiritual insight, I think it is worth acknowledging.

For many books like this, my evaluative point is whether I am ready for the book to be done and for me to move on or whether I was disappointed that it was done. At 20 hours or 500 pages, it probably could have been edited down a little. But still, I did want more, even though it was longer than most memoirs. And I have been listening to U2 albums since I finished. Which I think is a good sign that it was well-written and worth the time.

Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story by Bono Purchase Links: Hardcover, Kindle Edition, Audiobook

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