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40 Songs, One Story

by Bono

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2022
ISBN: 978-0-525-52104-4
Publisher: Knopf

The U2 frontman considers his life through the lenses of faith, family, activism, and, occasionally, music.

It’s not that Bono avoids discussing his world-famous band. He writes wittily about meeting future band mates (and wife) in school in Dublin and how he first encountered guitarist The Edge watching him play music from Yes’ album Close to the Edge. “Progressive rock remains one of the few things that divide us,” he writes. Bono is candid about the band’s missteps, both musical (the 1997 album, Pop) and ethical (force-feeding its 2014 album, Songs of Innocence, to every Apple iTunes customer). At nearly every turn, the author spends less time on band details than he does wrestling with the ethical implications of his successes and failures. Dedicating each of the book’s 40 chapters to a U2 song gives him a useful framing device for such ruminations: “Bad” deals with the loss of a friend to heroin, “Iris (Hold Me Close)” with the death of his mother when he was 14, “One” about the band’s own struggles. Considering Bono’s onstage penchant for sanctimony, his tone is usually more self-deprecating, especially when discussing his efforts to address AIDS in Africa and find the “top-line melodies” that would persuade politicians to release funding. He concedes being imperfect at the job; after a weak negotiation with then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, he recalls being berated by George Soros, who tells him he “sold out for a plate of lentils.” There’s little in the way of band gossip, and the author has a lyricist’s knack for leaving matters open to interpretation, which at times feels more evasive and frustrating than revealing. But he also evades the standard-issue rock-star confessional mode, and his story reveals a lifelong effort of stumbling toward integrity, “to overcome myself, to get beyond who I have been, to renew myself. I’m not sure I can make it.”

Chatty and self-regarding but pleasantly free of outright narcissism. A no-brainer for U2’s legions of fans.