Warning: long, (pointless, self-indulgent and possibly irritating) post.
Scroll on at your own peril…
I rarely read but do occasionally enjoy immersing myself in a good book.
I’ve had a Marmite relationship (love it or hate it) with the music/media of U2 and Bono ever since I was a teenager in Switzerland and pressed the red button on my cassette player, capturing Sunday, Bloody Sunday and New Year’s Day on one of my mixtapes.
There was a naïve, rebellious patriotic element to it, but I also loved the novel sound of the Edge’s guitar playing. (I have never actually listened to a U2 album, although I did see them in Brisbane ’94.)
When I moved to Ireland in ’84, they had become what I regarded as mainstream middle of the road rock outfit and I did not see what all the fuss was about. I preferred my music more ‘edgy’. My ever-sceptical eye often took a cynical view of Bono’s ‘do-goodery’, as he was simultaneously building up a financial empire and consorting with what I regarded as the dodgy conservative establishment, whilst preaching how we should look after the poor in third world countries.
He reminded me in so many ways of Sir Bob, who wrote the handbook for the Rockstar Saviour. There was another Dublin lad, whose punky music I admired as a Boomtown Rat, as well as ‘Pink’ in The Wall, catching the imagination of the world and setting up Live-aid. He had his detractors, especially as time wore on, but I did enjoy reading his autobiography Is that it? Listening to how he wanted his story to be heard was only fair enough if I was going to have an opinion on his actions.
When I read that Bono had written an autobiography, I put in my request to Mr. Claus.
It’s a fat book of 550-odd pages with some pictures in the centre and I finally closed it the day before yesterday with a feeling of melancholy.
The verdict: Still Marmite, but I’m acquiring a taste for it.
I am invariably melancholic upon finishing a book, but there was more to it than that- abundant food for thought. I’m wary of ex-pat nostalgia, of which there was plenty, reviewing my hometown through emerald glasses.
I was able to relate to Mr. Hewson on multiple levels.
We were both born in Dublin in the 60s to catholic/protestant parents.
We each lost a parent as teenagers.
We both suffer from a Messiah complex (although his is on steroids)
We possess a life-long, firm belief in Jesus/God…
We the love the views from the Vico road over Killiney Bay. (When I was in college, I used to hop on my scooter and take a spin down the road to the road, sit on a bench smoking a pipe, staring at the horizon and contemplating life. That bench is only a couple of hundred yards from Bono’s home)
We share the ability to hold the contradictory ideas of living life in privileged luxury, whilst telling ourselves that we ‘do our bit’ for others less fortunate.
We love music, although he is good at it.
Seven years ago, I learned some Danish whilst translating memoirs my father had written about the lives of his parents. Whilst briefly acknowledging some of their faults, he referred to judging people by the company they keep, going on to describe their relationship with all the movers and shakers of Denmark in the early half of the 20th century.
Mr. Hewson employs the same name-dropping tactics here, albeit in a carpet-bombing fashion.
Personal friendships with Steve Jobs (from whom he bought his Manhattan penthouse), Bill Gates, the Clintons and Obamas, the Blairs, the Pope, all the supermodels of the time, and a countless stream of rock stars, Eno, Bowie, Prince, McCartney, Dylan, just to name a few. Much of this name-dropping is in the context of his life-long ambition to change the world, alleviating poverty and injustice (in between being a rock star and building his business empire). He talks in terms of hundreds of billions of dollars he has helped raise, mainly for African causes.
I viewed this as part of the insecurity he openly acknowledges and frequently refers to throughout the memoir. Ever since the death of his mother and difficult time growing up with his father and brother, he has been seeking security/validation from the world around him.
Although the use of his fame, money, power to promote altruistic causes is laudable, he skims over how easy it is for those with wealth and power to influence policies to whatever their personal wishes might be.
The book is loosely arranged around forty U2 songs, with the inevitable lyrics both at the beginning of each chapter, as well as peppered throughout. I was surprised that I recognised no lyrics at all, apart from the occasional phrase in a hook or chorus. Now, I have tried my hand at writing a song, resulting in doggerel of the finest caliber, but I expected more than the occasional successful turn of phrase- after four decades of songwriting- from the lyricist of one of the world’s top rock acts. I found most of the lyrics bland, non-specific tripe. I accept this is my failure to recognise the art that so many others are able to appreciate.
He goes out of his way to portray almost everyone he mentions in a positive light, even when dealing with unsavoury characters or situations.
The book is well-edited and easy to read, even if I found the ink illustrations and scrawled handwriting at the beginning of each chapter a little hard work.
Winding up, I’d like to thank Bono for helping me overcome my prejudices and develop a taste for Marmite. Despite his stellar success, global admiration, his stable, loving marriage and happy family life, Bono still has not found what he is looking for…
He reminds me and makes me appreciate that I have.
Epilogue: The day after finishing the book I watched the film Rattle and Hum. I was surprised to recognise most of the songs (presumably from radio play) and was able to truly enjoy the performances.
I have Justin and this Community to thank for the ability to appreciate that
View from Killiney towards Dalkey Island, winter solstice, 22 Dec 1994, the morning of my wedding