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10 Best Revelations From Bono's 'Surrender' Memoir

The U2 singer shares inspiring (and embarrassing) true confessions

spinner image Book cover of U2 frontman Bono's memoir Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story and a photo of Bono looking into the distance
Knopf; John Hewson

At 62, tireless activist and U2 singer Bono serves up his life story in a frank, lively and lyrical memoir, Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story. In 40 chapters, each named after a U2 song and accompanied by Bono’s drawings, he shares intimate tales of loved ones and bandmates, celebrity anecdotes and true confessions.

Here are 10 takeaways.

How Bono got his name

Born Paul David Hewson, he was nicknamed Bono Vox of O'Connell by best friend Derek Rowen, after Dublin's Bonovox hearing-aid shop. "Previously I had been Steinvich von Heisen, and I was grateful when that phase passed." Also, before the band was named U2, it was almost called The Flying Tigers.

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He was a bit of a bad boy

At age 12 he and his friends threw dog poop into their Spanish teacher’s lunchbox: “Some of it might have gone into her hair, and that was very bad.” But the result was very good: He was encouraged to move on to a less repressive school, "remarkable for its time in conservative Ireland. ... You were encouraged to be yourself, to be creative, to wear your own clothes. And there were girls. Also wearing their own clothes.”

He was a child chess champ

His grandfather taught him to play chess when he was around 8. “I thought he was letting me win, but eventually I noticed he wasn’t.” He beat grownups in chess matches. “To be sitting there at age 10, annoying the face off people five times your age, chasing them around a chessboard. That was a whole other order of fun.“

spinner image U2 frontman Bono
Ross Stewart

The impact of his mother Iris's death

His mother Iris suffered a brain aneurysm at her father’s funeral when Bono was 10. He and his brother and father didn't talk about it. “We were three Irish men, and we avoided the pain that we knew would come from thinking and speaking about her. Three men used to shouting at the television now shouting at one another. We live in rage and melancholy, in mystery and melodrama.”

He fell for his wife, Ali Hewson, when he was just a kid​

They first kissed a few months after his mom died, but didn’t go out seriously until the week he joined the band that would become U2, and married in 1982 when he was 22. “Nothing would ever be the same.” They’ve been together ever since.

spinner image A black and white photo of U2 in 1979
(Left to right) U2 members Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr., the Edge and Bono in 1979.
Paul Slattery

U2 thought God wanted them to break their record contract

Bono, Edge and Larry told their manager they were quitting the band out of devotion to a Christian community called Shalom. Their manager replied, “Well, maybe next time you might ask God if it’s okay for your representative on Earth to break a legal contract?” U2 agreed God would not want them to violate the law, and Edge took it as a sign of divine approval. Another hint might be their $175 million in record sales.

spinner image Bono holding a microphone while performing onstage at Live Aid in Wembley Stadium
Bono performing at Live Aid in Wembley Stadium in London on July 13, 1985.
Pete Still/Redferns

How bad hair ruined Live Aid for Bono

Bono finds it "excruciating" to watch U2’s historic 1985 Live Aid performance, a benefit to ease Ethiopian famine. “It’s a little hum­bling that during one of the greatest moments of your life, you’re having a bad hair day. Now, some people would say that I’ve had a bad hair life, but when I am forced to look at footage of U2 play Live Aid, there is only one thing that I can see. The mullet.”

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Bono feared for his family's life

Authorities warned Bono that the IRA might attack his family, and in the 1990s, he learned that a Dublin gangster planned to kidnap his children. The gangster's daughter wrote a book detailing the elaborate plot. “That was the kind of news that messed with your sleep patterns.”

Pop goes the U2

For its Pop album cover, U2 met with artist Jeff Koons, famous for giant stainless steel balloon animals. Koons said in a clipped, academic tone, “I’d like to put four kittens in socks hanging from a washing line. Each of you is represented by a kitten, looking out from a sock, hanging on a washing line.” Bono calls this “a brilliant idea that we didn’t use.”

Bono passed out at Obama's White House

When Bono and his wife Ali had dinner in President Obama’s private quarters at the White House, the singer’s allergy to salicylic acid in the wine made him drowsy. Bono says that Obama — who found him out cold in the Lincoln Bedroom — “doesn’t for a minute believe I have this allergy. He thinks Ali made this up to cover for me. He tells people he can drink me under the table. Rubbish. But he does make a strong martini.”

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