Bono: Stories of Surrender
“Don’t fear the world, it isn’t there.”
Iris (Hold Me Close), lyrics by Bono and The Edge
“You can’t follow a stadium singer like Bono around the planet without picking up at least a little bit of self-confidence.”
(comment made to the Times on Amsterdam Centraal’s platform 11a at 04:15 on 24 November U2022 while awaiting the train to Schiphol; given the early hour, Matty was pretty well pulled together, all things considered)
The “Writer’s Bloc” Leg
US: 8-13 November U2022 • UK/EU: 16-24 November U2022 • US: 2-6 May U2023
Miles Walked: 93.62
- Nashville, Tennessee, USA — Ryman Auditorium — 9 November U2022
- San Francisco, California, USA — Orpheum Theatre — 12 November U2022
- Manchester, England, UK — O2 Apollo Manchester — 19 November U2022
Intermission: Inhaler — Denver, Colorado, USA — Summit — 27 March U2023
- New York, New York, USA — Beacon Theatre — 3 May U2023
Travels of Surrender
This was a fantastic surprise. Surrender? The book? Knew about the 1 November release date months ago. Pre-ordered a copy (including an “exclusive” 5x7 photo) on 10 May. Not the least bit coincidentally, 10 May is a major day in the Bonoverse.
But the book tour? That was announced on 3 October. The dates: 2-28 November. Only 14 performances in smaller theatrical concert venues. Only seven in North America and only seven in the UK and Europe.
To put that seating capacity in a rough perspective, it’s like having U2 go on a tour that consists entirely of two arena dates: one in North America and one in Europe.
My first thought when I read the announcement email in the wee hours of the morning, still in bed and grappling with the realities of the day ahead: How am I going to make this happen? Denver was not one of the lucky seven cities in the western hemisphere. Already booked for a Halloween weekend stint in Hollywood. Already booked for a mega-trip to Thailand and India over the Christmas and New Year holidays.
But U2’s been a disruptor in my life since ZOO-TV forever changed the way I looked at the world.
Then the lyrics from Where the Streets Have No Name that have been my mantra with an ever-increasing intensity rang out in my head.
“Oh, when I go there
I go there with you
It’s all I can do”
It’s all I can do.
Disruption: The Book Tour
Having seen the band — or now Bono as a solo performer — in 39 cities spread across 19 countries on five continents, it’s safe to say U2’s story has become part of my life story.
Bono’s said if he weren’t a rock star, he’d most likely be a journalist.
The irony. If I weren’t a journalist turned accountant turned software support tech turned software trainer turned tech writer turned web developer turned web tech director, I’d most likely be a rock star.
Looking over those 14 dates, I focused on the Ryman in Nashville. I visited the Ryman in 2018, while in Nashville to see U2 on the e+i tour at the Bridgestone Arena. Seeing a show there would be fantastic.
Of course, across the board, all 14 shows sold out as quickly as the various ticketing systems could process the orders.
Tickets secured for Nashville and San Francisco. I can do this, I told myself. Work in Nashville; it’s a familiar spot now, no need to focus on sightseeing. It’s about making this tour happen in the face of some ambitious, pre-existing vacation plans. A direct flight from Nashville to San Francisco. Piece of cake.
But then the Ryman show floored me. Nashville and San Francisco? Not enough.
The Ryman show was Wednesday; Friday morning I couldn’t bear it and I checked the other dates for any fresh ticket releases. Paris: Sold out. Dublin: Sold out. Not a seat in the house. Glasgow? I could snag a spot, but that’s a daunting turn-around from San Francisco (Saturday night show), back to Denver Sunday night, then Scotland for Thursday’s show. But... wait. Manchester. The following Saturday. And the best seat I could get (aside from that lost front row at the Orpheum).
In the thick of the first two dates, plans were heating up for the third. It reminded me of the wild ride in 2017 on the Joshua Tree anniversary tour. After shows in Miami and Tampa, I popped over to Havana, Cuba, for a visit. While there, I was on a wi-fi timed card, hunkered down at a bar frequented by Ernest Hemingway, as I snagged a spot on the field for the second night in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Thankfully, Bono kept the ticket prices reasonable, starting at $50 and topping out at $250. Much better and more fan-friendly than the nonsense pulled by Bruce Springsteen for his upcoming 2023 tour. Throw in 60,000 miles for round-trip airfare to London and the game was afoot.
Ah. The disruption. It’s created challenges, for sure. Aggressive negotiations with the Bank of Matthattan, for one. But what a great time to be able to do this type of thing. Technology is so close to making all other considerations obsolete; pack the iPhone and iPad and conduct business as usual, with little disruption on the professional front. This was about personal disruption.
And all that effort ultimately paid off with Bono signing one of my copies of Surrender outside the Apollo in Manchester.
During U2 concerts, Bono makes it a point to thank the fans for giving the band a great life. He does it during this show, as well (more about that later).
But, Bono, honestly, thank you for giving me a great life. I can’t imagine it without U2.
The Stories that Bind
I love the element of surprise, so the fact this short tour even happened — on such short notice — was a delight in itself. But, with tickets in hand, the next trick was to avoid all coverage and to arrive at the Ryman with no idea of what to expect.
No photography or recording was allowed during the performances. Phones were sealed in Yondr pouches before entering the auditorium. It was most certainly for the best; in such an environment, an errant camera flash would be distracting to all. And it adds to the show’s mystique. But I also hope Bono releases a recording of one of the performances. This show needs to be captured and shared to audiences that extend beyond the limited theatrical capacity.
My blinders worked; I didn’t even take the bait and read the email U2.com sent regarding the show’s stellar reception.
Walking into the Ryman Auditorium, I was thrilled to see the staging. This was indeed going to be something special. And, as Bono points out at the start of the show, his long-time tour designer, Willie Williams — the genius behind ZOO-TV, the mirror ball lemon, the heart-shaped catwalk and the giant claw — was told to scale back. The result: a couple tables and some chairs. Along with a couple screens.
On those screens would be projected some of Bono's line drawings, some phrases and some facts, as well as the writer’s scribbles.
(After the Ryman show, I walked past the stage and noticed the floor was also decorated with Bono’s writing. Nice touch.)
What unfolds on the stage is a legitimate one-man theatrical production, with Bono joined by a cellist, an Irish harpist and DJ Jacknife Lee.
The Narrative Structure
What Surrender is not is a play-by-play. It’s a creative presentation of the core of the U2 experience and that revolves around several key ingredients: Bono’s strained relationship with his father, Bob; the loss of his mother when he was 14; his wife, Allie; and, of course, Larry, Adam and The Edge. But there’s also a stunning story arc revolving around his voice and Bob’s bias as a full-on talented tenor.
The revelations are fun. Bono met Allie, Larry, Adam and Edge all in the same week! In high school and his entire life sorted. But the dramatic revelations pack a punch, starting with his near-death experience at Christmas 2016, which opens the show. Bono stands on the main dining table as he describes the surgeon’s work. Later, that table would serve as his father’s death bed. It’s that kind of Spartan, artistic presentation.
What a show. From that alarming health scare (at the time, Edge tried to downplay the situation by describing Bono as having had a “brush with humility”), Bono takes a step back and pieces together his life.
It works so very well.
The story of his mom being buried mere yards away from where the band was forming — with Bono never paying her a visit; Bob never uttered her name after her passing. The thought of I Will Follow being at its core a suicide note.
It’s clear much of Surrender is a love note to his high school sweetheart and wife, Allie. In Manchester, after explaining how Allie told him she wanted him to keep a part of that bold-faced boy she fell in love with alive, a woman in the audience shouted out, “Your’re a lucky f#@ker, Bono!” He acknowleged his good fortune with an ear-to-ear smile and, “Yes, I am!”
Then there’s the Sorrento Lounge, actually, an Irish pub, despite the name (a story in itself), where he would meet with his father on occasion and speak very little. His father would ask as a greeting, “Anything strange or startling?”
The Emotional Core
The thrill of it all. Bono weaves deeply personal stories with vibrant renditions of songs pulled from across the U2 catalog. Beautiful Day. Out of Control. Sunday Bloody Sunday. Pride — and the heart-tugging comment that after the song became a hit, his father felt some toward his youngest son. His father started to see where U2’s music was headed. Charity is a good thing. But if there were true justice in the world, there would be no need for charity. It’s an envigorating concept.
As was the case particularly in San Francisco, Bono ends the show and leaves me surrounded by women in tears.
That strong emotional reaction is something to be studied in itself. It’s the release from the intake of so much information and emotion. But most significantly, the show’s big reveal. During the Vertigo tour, Bono would belt out Miss Sarajevo — including the Italian lyrics originally performed by Luciano Pavarotti (the writing of that song figures into Surrender’s narrative) — and it was a showstopper. What a voice.
Now, on this tour, Bono sings Come Back to Sorrento with such force, it’s stunning. He can’t explain it. It’s something transcendent, as if something has spiritually bonded between father and son since Bob’s passing in 2001 (during the Elevation tour).
That voice. The voice that’s become the narrator to my own life.
Three magical nights in three cities in two countries.
And our story continues.
In Nashville and San Francisco, toward the end of the show Bono talks about One and (RED) and how the fans opened his bank account and loaded it with political capital for him to spend. Poverty is a man-made construct that can be put to an end. He then dives into a great commentary on how the world needs America to work. The world is anxiously watching the country evolve into a place for everyone (after all, there is no blood test for being “American”). He makes some powerful, inspiring comments and then shifts into an encore with City of Blinding Lights that concludes the show on an upbeat note.
Given the way U2 changes up shows between North America and the UK and EU (I often consider the European shows as being more sophisticated than the shows in the US), I was expecting that commentary to be replaced with some thoughts on the state of the United Kingdom (one staple in the US and UK is a great story about Priness Diana). But that didn’t happen, at least not in Manchester. Instead, that inspirational closing section was simply cut. And, even more surprisingly, there was no encore with City of Blinding Lights.
In the House
- Allie Hewson
- Chris Rock (sat one section over from me, same row)
- Sir Jony Ive
- Allie Hewson
- Eli Hewson
It took the first two shows to get a handle on the tour and autograph opportunities. Even as averse as I am in trying to set myself up for autographs with the band, this was something special. An autographed copy of Surrender would be something extraordinary.
Before the tour started, there was a tease of Bono appearing at bookstores. That was another avenue, but deciphering the pretty secretive appearances were a stressor I was reluctant to take on while traveling.
In Nashville, word was Bono wasn’t signing anything, just coming out to say “hi.” A video proved that out; I was on one side of the backstage entrance; Bono greeted folks on the other side. But no autographs.
In San Francisco, it was getting chilly come showtime and an immense line of people waited outside the backstage in hopes of meeting Bono, even as the Orpheum’s doors flung open at 18:30 with the enticement of a 10% discount at the bar that lasted ’til 19:00 (a happy half-four, as it were). Given the Nashville experience, I went ahead and sought shelter in the theatre after spending the afternoon being exposed to all sorts of wind and chill on the upper open deck of a hop-on, hop-off bus that included a round-trip across the Golden Gate Bridge while sporting little more than a collared shirt, a T-shirt and jeans.
As it happens, the show started late, with rumors of Bono waiting for special guests to arrive. But fans also showed up saying Bono did indeed do a late meet-and-greet.
All that said, in Manchester, I stumbled into what I can only describe as a vacuum. The right place, the right time. I arrived at the O2 Apollo at 17:00. People were grousing about a group of us late arrivals and how they’d been waiting behind a barrier since 10:00.
The area I was in was moved up against the wall, with the direction to stay on the sidewalk; it was a crushing mass of humanity. Even bigger then Nashville and San Francisco. The body heat of the mass humanity helped and I was willing to wait it out this time.
It was around 20:00 (show time) when the magical moment happened. Bono came out, visibly amazed by the size of the crowd.
Methodically, he moved around the circle of fans, signing books and albums and other gear. He was a fast mover, but he was also diligent to sign as much as possible.
And then, after I shouted out, “Bono, I came from Denver!” all sense of time and space stopped. The audio portion of my life was put on hold. It was as if time stood still, with the exception of my arm reaching out, a copy of Surrender at its end, strategically (conveniently) opened to the signature page. That coincided with a magic marker, in a hand attached to an arm that belonged to Bono, reached out and signed my book.
Whoa. I couldn’t believe it.
The show started late that night.
It wasn’t because Bono was being a diva. It wasn’t because he was waiting for special guests.
The show started late becase of me — and all the other fans — who relished the opportunity to have that special pre-show moment with Bono.
The fact he did that and that he repeatedly acknowledges the fans — me and the people like me — have made his life possible makes me respect the man all the more.
How Long Must We Sing This Song?
Stories of Surrender went from a relatively affordable book tour to a ridiculous Broadway soaker. With a residency at the Beacon in New York running in April and May U2023, ticket prices have soared — and that’s just the silly “Platinum” tickets (which, by the way offers no special perks aside from paying an exorbitant price). Take a look at this screen shot for the 4 May U2023 show. Front row center in the loge could set ya back $1,006 for the seat, plus those stupid fees for the privilege, adding $148.90 to the drubbing, for a total of $1,154.90. That’s one seat, mind you. Face value, direct from Ticketmaster. Not part of the resale market.
Supposedly the artist does indeed set the ticket price, so I would really like to hear from Bono and Bruce Springsteen and see how they justify these prices. Why can’t we simply make resale above face value against the law instead of using scalpers as justification for inflating prices during the initial sale?