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Sunday, April 14, 2024
The Observer

Bono's moments of surrender

“I was born with an eccentric heart.”

Growing up, I listened to a lot of music, and U2 was always on repeat. My father is one of the biggest U2 fans you will ever meet. In addition to collecting their records, watching their concert films and learning all about their history, my father has seen them live over 50 times, and I have accompanied him to 12 shows since 2009. He has had a number of once-in-a-lifetime experiences, such as being invited to watch a soundcheck at the Los Angeles Sports Arena in 2005 to winning tickets through 106.7 KROQ to see them at the Roxy in LA in 2015. We made a pilgrimage to Death Valley in 2013 in search of the famous Joshua Tree, and this past spring, I made my way to Athlone, Ireland to find Moydrum Castle, which graced the cover of “Unforgettable Fire.” Needless to say, my dad is the reason I love U2 (and good music).  

After years of learning the ins and outs of each album and hearing stories about their history, it turns out there was so much I didn’t know. On Nov. 1, Bono released his memoir, “Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story” and began his 14-city book tour, “Stories of Surrender.” Last Tuesday, my eyes were opened to Bono’s world as he graced the stage at the legendary Chicago Theatre.

Upon entering the venue, our phones were imprisoned in little pouches, and we were gifted a copy of the memoir. The book is a beautiful synthesis of Bono’s illustrations, poetic descriptions and annotated photographs, neatly organized according to 40 U2 songs. Flipping through the pages while waiting for the show to begin, it was clear that each chapter is riddled with song lyrics in conversation with stories of innocence and experience

The show opened with the booming sound of Bono’s voice echoing through the theater. From the void, Bono read an excerpt from his book while visuals were doodled across the screen. As he recited, three musicians graced the stage: a cellist, a harpist (and vocalist) and a drummer. The three-piece band began to play the opening notes of “City of Blinding Lights” as he dramatically appeared from the darkness, followed by a stripped-down version of “Vertigo.” This was something entirely new, and I was excited.

After introducing himself — despite needing no introduction — he was excited to present his story, no matter how frightening or difficult it was for him to express. Like he said many times, “This is a book I wrote me-self,” reminding the audience that this is a memoir about Bono and not exclusively about the band. Even though U2 is a major part of his story, he wanted to tell the tales that often went untold, such as his tumultuous relationship with his father and the lifelong love story he created with his wife, Ali. He sought to unveil all the nuances of his lyrics, breathing a new life into many of our favorite songs.

Unlike traditional book tours, Bono did not just stand in the front and read. Instead, he acted out his life. Through scripted excerpts from the memoir, choreographed movements, personal animated illustrations and highly intentional uses of props, he brought his story to life. In many ways, he relived his story so we could experience it, too.  Bono invited us into his world.

Bono and his accompanying band played about 15 U2 songs, and while this was not the focus of the show, it added an element of vibrancy and dynamism that was necessary to draw connections between his life and the one he tells through his lyrics. Between the intimacy of the venue and the authenticity of his performance, it created a truly memorable experience and an absolutely remarkable production.

“I will sing, sing a new song

I will sing, sing a new song

How long to sing this song?

How long to sing this song?

How long, how long, how long

How long to sing this song?”

Contact Willoughby Thom at