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The Angel That Really Did Fall To Earth...And Stayed.

This Blog Post is a review of Bono's new Autobiography: "Surrender, 40 Songs, One Story". We are pulled into his life with startling honesty as he tells us about his personal search for meaning as he travels along his own pilgrim's way, pausing at the memories of each chapter-song, that are 40 personal prayers to hope.



This is very much a personal review and homage about Bono's book and the reason for it is because I have always loved their music, having been there at the start of U2's career...

Their music has taken on an even deeper resonance for me in the past few years as I found myself sharing my own work of photography and poetry after many years of relative solitude. Sharing work in the present time of modern technology has become easier, but that does not mean that anybody is going to take the trouble to look, read or listen to it! However, as some of you know, I will often include a piece of music with my work that I have chosen to enhance the meaning of my poetry and the photograph that accompanies it. These pieces can be found on my gallery on Flickr at :



And here is my website link as well:



I have always valued U2's catalogue highly and will often be moved deeply, emotionally connected with whatever song I am listening to. Their music is something that you can return to time and time again, finding the understanding that you seek, when no-one else seems to be listening. This is also the sign of good poetry or prose, works that will beg your return.


I return to U2's music often because the lyrics that Bono writes call to your soul with an often wrenching clarity of understanding. When these words are added to the melody an alchemy of spirituality with unflinching realism occurs, uplifting your soul with an instinctive recognition.


For me Bono is like an Angel that has fallen to earth, a sometimes wrathful Angel that will not let you off the hook with his lyrics that often contain barbs. But these barbs are only to get you to listen to his words, to understand that he and the band actually do understand you, with all of our combined frailties and failures. This Angel has a beautiful, beguiling and powerful singing voice to match his lyrics and he is called Bono Vox.


Not many songs and voices can wring emotion out of you in such a manner as Bono seems to effortlessly achieve, but this might be because this Angel has flaws like the rest of us, which enables him to layer his lyrics with the paradoxical situations that many of us live with. He understands that there are no easy answers to life's problems sometimes, but that a good starting point is to be honest about your own feelings.



The first thing that struck me as I started to read Bono's book was how delightfully ramshackle it is, just like many of our own lives are. He moves back and forwards in time within each chapter, each song, as if the song is acting like a prompt to deeper memories. Each song and it's genesis reels out threads that bind his life and the band together, often through difficult times as their own personal lives unfold.


Thoughts do not come in a tidy order, especially memories, where one will inevitably lead to another, chewing up the decades between as we think about events that happened to us during our life. That old adage of time never standing still is painfully true when we look back down the telescope of our lives and wonder where the time went, and so quickly.


And it is always the same, memories will not be forced, they will come often of their own volition or because of some prompt. But it is also true that some memories are so striking, so ingrained and so meaningful to us, that they become our personal totems, things we rely on to remind us of who we actually are.


The Healing Qualities Of Honesty

For Bono and his career so far with the band U2, which has provided the framework for his life, it is a natural choice to link his memories in with the songs, and for those songs to form the chapters of the book. In his book Bono writes with refreshing honesty, recounting the joyful and exciting times of his life but also the sometimes deepest and darkest memories, those that have left the most painful scars on his soul.


This consistent choice of raw honesty is one of the strongest themes of the book, and he does not shy away from it when sharing a memory of an event in his life that must have taken great courage to reveal. This open approach makes you feel that he is right there with you, almost writing it as you are reading it.


The Creative Impulse

Many creative artists have more than one skill at their fingertips and Bono is no exception in this regard. A person who writes lyrics and composes such haunting melodies to them is also a poet. And as we are finding out, Bono is an engaging writer. Bono is also a visual artist, and there are examples of his razor sharp wit evident in his drawings that are also included within each chapter of the book. Even the photographs from the family albums and the many promotional images that were taken over the years in the life of the band have not escaped his attentions, as he displays them as works of art in their own right, pasting them together in such ways that we start to see the many layers of his personality and how it has grown.



I cannot go any further in this Blog Post without mentioning one of the most dominant factors in Bono's life that informed his growing up in the 1960's and 1970's in Ireland. There are two actually, but the one I shall discuss first is what has become known as "The Troubles" or "The Irish Question". As a Brit growing up at roughly the same time in England I have vivid memories of it myself as it continued into the 1980's and into the 1990's as it was constantly on the news, but at least I was viewing it from a relatively safe distance. Little did I know it would result in one of the most dramatic attacks on the government in history, a few miles along the coast from where I lived at the time.


There is no use me saying I could ever comprehend what The Troubles and the convoluted political games that dominated the Irish way of life felt like first hand at this time living in Ireland itself. But the IRA spread its campaign of fear successfully within England so it became impossible to not be aware of it. Sometimes that fear was all too real and delivered onto your doorstep, literally in some cases. I vividly remember the day when the Grand Hotel in Brighton on the South Coast of England was bombed, in the 1980's where Thatcher's government was holding its annual party conference.


I am not going to go into the details of The Troubles here. I am just placing it in context as regards my memories as I was growing up at this time. But there is no doubt that this period of history casts a long shadow and continues to do so. For Bono and the band of U2 it has left its mark on their lives and in Bono's case especially, I would suggest it informed his activism as an adult, always seeking another way that does not involve violence, but rather a path to dialogue, a way for communication to happen.


The losses and emotions in the band members personal lives has given them a unique unenviable understanding into what the suffering of war and terrorism can do, and this has provided the backbone to many of their songs.


A Constant Presence Now With Wings Of Her Own...

The other event in Bono's life that has arguably been even more character moulding than the threat of constant warfare was the loss of his mother when he was just 14. The event couldn't have been more dramatic, as she suffered an aneurism at her own father's funeral, as he was being lowered into the ground. She died a couple of days later in hospital. This loss has shaped Bono's life in so many ways, but he transformed her loss into music.


My personal sense is that with the disruption of living in Ireland at this time and suffering such a tragic loss in his family life he sought a way to keep the pieces of himself together by instinctively pursuing what would end up being the meaning of his existence. Sometimes following instinct is all you can do. But that instinct has meant that the raw honesty in the band's music is something that reaches across all divides and shows a deep personal understanding for all of the terrible losses that we all go through at times in our lives.


Sometimes the most ordinary and banal event in your daily life can become a bittersweet memory. There is a vivid description in the book of what airport meals mean to Bono. And while for some this might cause a grimace for the culinary expertise for Bono it has a whole different meaning. After he lost his mother, his brother used to bring home the 'leftovers' from the spare airport meals from Aer Lingus where his brother worked at the time. While this supplemented the families diet in a much more positive way at the time, it has left Bono with indelible memories. The irony of it now does not escape him as for a large part of his life it has been spent in airports and in-between places as they have travelled across the globe performing the music of U2.


In fact, often these in-between places will feature in the band's videos and promotional material; the airports, the runways, subways, escalators, the backstreets. Even the rooftops. All of these places refer back to his childhood and early teenage memories, sometimes as playgrounds, sometimes as places to hide in. He was trying to find out who he was and what he was going to become after the terrible loss of his mother Iris, and the growing up in the aftermath which resulted in living in a household consisting of three males where affection was implied rather than shown was perhaps why Bono searched for new meanings in his life, where it would sustain him in the future.



There is another factor that has upheld and pushed the band of U2 constantly forwards, always seeking a connection with the audience, hoping to be a force for change. Bono has shared more about his life than ever before in this book, and he discusses the faith that's sustained him all this time, despite the difficulties of his early life. Bono has explored and found out for himself what his faith means to him and how he can apply it to his own life, what it can do to support him and those around him. Bono has his own version of faith and is deeply learned and committed about it, but does not foist it upon anybody else.


A Lifetime Of Dedication...

Bono has always been an intensely private man, protecting his wife and family from too much scrutiny as the years have gone by, but for this book, he has dedicated it to his wife Ali, in recognition that without her he would not be the man he is today. Without Ali and her constant support and presence in his life he would not have been able to concentrate on his career and all the other projects that have come with his activism and charity work. Ali has been with him right from the start of the bands life, and she was there when he badly needed somebody to love him for what he was. Of all people, Ali knows the real Bono.


Ali has been a quiet presence in the background, not comfortable with being in the limelight, and not requiring it either. But in her own way she has worked for her own charitable causes with a steely determination that has dovetailed into Bono's activism over the years. They have always understood each other, shared their strengths. There can be no question of the deep love that Bono has for her, that has only really become publicly evident with this book and the delight in which he finally shares his abiding respect and devotion to her.



All of these life experiences come together to explain why Bono's lyrics and the band's music is so deeply moving, intimate and in some ways transcendent at times. The music is a direct communication of what matters to them all.


You cannot write lyrics or poetry without submerging yourself fully into it and this is what makes a successful poet or songwriter. But added to this is Bono's wonderful ability to hear that melody in his head, knowing that the combination of the lyrics and melody will add up to a work that will cross divides. Bono has also been given the gift of a powerful singing voice, unique and special, and the only conclusion that you can account for this is that it has been given to him so he can share his gift and the messages he is trying to convey to bring people together.



Throughout his life Bono has consistently chosen to push the boundaries of what the band has been trying to say. Sometimes this has caused friction within the band as has his insistence on pursuing the various causes that mean so much to him. But this is a person who has always been willing to always give more of himself, hoping that their music would add weight to their fundamental message of a world where the simplest and most easy thing we can do is to listen to each other and help each other. This is why Bono has spoken to many characters in the past who some have found surprising or even offensive, not necessarily people you would associate with peace or selfless charity. But Bono knew that this is how the world works. Sometimes you have to talk to people you do not like to get the job done.


Driven on by the power of the band's music in bringing people together, Bono has had the nerve to ask for that charity, not for himself, but for others. But Bono has always been at pains to acknowledge that none of the music or its resulting success would have happened if it were not for his other three band members. They are 'four' and U2 would not be the powerhouse it is without these four men making up the numbers.


Never Trust A Book By Its Cover...

Never trust a book by its cover, is the old saying, but in this case Bono has gone that little bit deeper. He is asking you to look beneath the cover to discover the real man contained within. What you find there might surprise you, but just as his trademark sunglasses protect his vision, what we see is not the whole story. There is also an inner vision, one that constantly seeks justice in the world, and one that wields a creative spirituality to reach his goals.



We are carried along in this book by 40 chapters about songs that have a special meaning to Bono and The Edge, Larry and Adam. Bono has poured all of their collective history and memories into these chapters about the songs, it is not just about Bono himself, this book is about all of them and his recognition of the importance of his friends in his life. Bono has put himself aside and surrendered, understanding that he was never going to do anything on his own, no matter what he thought at the time. And this is why Bono has written this book. It is a way of putting the record straight.


These songs have stayed with them and some of them have adapted as they have gone along. Singing live gives them a chance to explore the different meanings of the songs, each performance gives a unique rendition. As time has gone by, the meanings within these songs has got deeper, more poignant and some still have things to say.


One More Time...

With that in mind this collection of 40 songs that has formed the chapters of Bono's book has been released as a new album, "U2 Songs Of Surrender", and I found it quite an immersive experience to read a chapter in the book and then listen to the corresponding song on the new album. You are listening then to Bono's memories, intimately sung to you, the meanings of the lyrics tearing at your soul with both grief and joy.



There is a new exploration into these songs, a quest to understand the journey they have all been on, the emotions that have all experienced and where they all are now. You can hear this in Bono's voice, this willingness to lay bare his own fragility, of finally understanding that in surrendering himself and even his own story he has become more than himself where he does not need to fight battles on his own anymore.


This searing self-analysis of his own character and the understanding that he is but a part of the whole, that his life and achievements have been held up and supported by his family and dearest friends is a humbling experience for him. Each song is a testament to not only love, but humility.



Bono grew up witnessing and living with enough terrorism in his early life to mould his views into a pattern for later life, that terrorism was not the way to bring about effective and lasting change. Terrorism just leaves resentment festering. For lasting change there has to be a dialogue. Words.


Bono's words reach into our hearts and minds because he plumbs the depths of what it is to be human, and that is hardly ever straightforward after all. We are a complex mix of influences and emotions, often formed in our younger years. Bono's early life with the loss of his mother and sometimes difficult family life at this time, which led to regrets of not being closer to his father, lent him a fertile breeding ground for the melancholic moods that he often describes as being part of his soul.


But this melancholy enables his words to reach us with bittersweet lyrics of songs that we recognise immediately, understanding instinctively that he has reached into the heart of the paradox of our own existence; that we sometimes make decisions that are not always rational or we withhold our deepest thoughts back because we think nobody is listening.



There has been a quiet faith that has held the band of U2 together over the years. For Bono, The Edge and Larry it has been the backbone to their lives. I suspect for Adam matters might have been more of a struggle, but the band has in a way, been his family too. There is no mistaking the affection and regard they all have for each other. But that is not to say there have not been difficult times. We learn in Bono's book that the band has nearly split up a number of times. Bono puts this down to his own arrogance at times, but any group of people working this closely together over this length of time are going to have moments where it just becomes impossible to be together all the time.


But somehow they are always drawn back together. It is as if they need each other to function, and in a sense this is true. No other group could make their music sound like them, it would always be different. When these four get together, especially at the composing stage, something wonderful happens. A spirit descends recognising an Angel in their midst. When Bono sings, the world stops and listens. We become united as One.


 

This has been a Blog Post about the Autobiography written by Bono, and the Album that accompanies the book. Details are listed below.


I would like to make clear that all thoughts expressed here are my own, and that hopefully, this has been an enlightening and gentle discussion.


You may be wondering about the Tarot Deck that has been used in the photographs that I took for this Blog. All props are my own as is the Tarot Deck. This is a deck that is from my own collection, but the details I have of it are scarce. It is a Major Arcana deck only, and was published in Germany in 1987, by Aquamarin-Verlag. Known as the Engel Tarot, the beautiful artwork is by an artist called Alois Hanslian. All text is in German. As far as I know, this has become a rare deck.


I felt that the beautiful glowing cards with their deeply spiritual imagery went very well with Bono's book and U2's recent album.


I use the Tarot to unlock my own mind sometimes when I am composing my own poetry. I have always used it as a self-reflective tool, an aid in my spiritual quest. I have used the Tarot from an early age, discovering it when I was about 14. Since then I have built up my own collection, along with many books on the subject.



Details of the Book and Album discussed are as follows:


Surrender, 40 Songs, One Story. By Bono.

Published by Hutchinson Heinemann 2022

ISBN 9781529151787


U2 Songs Of Surrender

An Island Record Release 2022

Island Records Limited 2022

602448147684


Engel Tarot

Alois Hanslian

Published by Aquamarin Verlag 1987

ISBN 3-922936-61-X



 






















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John Hewitt
John Hewitt
24 sept 2023
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Well dear Shelley you have gone the extra mile with this review of Bono's book. Thoroughly comprehensive and clearly shows how Bono's personal faith has been a fundamental driver of all his societal concerns. I really like the way you've interspersed your own photos of the book throughout the review. They are very attractive indeed. I remember an interview Bono did with the bible scholar Eugene Peterson (translator of The Message) where he told Peterson how much his translation had meant to the whole band.

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Shell's Blog
Shell's Blog
24 sept 2023
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Dear John, thank you for your generous comment and thoughts. I remember watching that interview with Eugene Peterson as well; it touched me greatly and it gave me an insight into just how deeply Bono's faith ran. And as you say, how their faith underpins their lives and their cataloge of music as U2.

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Invitado
19 sept 2023
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This is a visually beautiful and thoughtful Blog. Thank you for sharing this work.

A.T.💙

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Shell's Blog
Shell's Blog
21 sept 2023
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Thank you for your lovely and generous comment!

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