I've been a ferocious devourer of biographies for as long as I can remember knowing how to read. As a highly aware and curious—but isolated—child, I sought out companionship and mentorship in the pages of memoirs; published and unpublished, in any format, from a litany of authors—famous, infamous, and largely unknown. Of particular interest to me are biographies of people who have made their impact through creative pursuits, of course. I've long looked to these asynchronous mentorship sessions to provide me with clues about how I can realize my own creative potential. There was no blueprint for what I wanted to do, so I drafted my own with points and lines culled from other people's life stories. While my biographical reading list easily runs into the thousands of titles, and I've taken something useful away from all of them, there are a handful that have earned their way into my personal canon of creative scripture. Within the first fifty pages of Surrender, Bono's 'we-moir' canonized itself as such. I'm not alone in having lost track of U2 during their overexposed years, and I'm not alone in never ceasing to love the band or their body of work, despite that overexposure. They, like Depeche Mode, The Cure, PIL, and Duran Duran, are integral in my formation not only as a Creative, but as a person—that's how much the music has impacted me. I'm not fanatical about these bands; I'm a brand loyalist for them. As is the case with many of the artists mentioned above, every note and lyric of U2's catalogue, up through the Pop album, is indelibly embossed in my brain to the point where I can call up a specific moment in a specific song in my thoughts at will and pause it to listen to the layers, the orchestration, the timbre of Bono's (or Edge's) voice, Larry's snare or timbale hit, Adam's bass pulse, or the nuances of Lillywhite, Eno, Lanois' and Flood's production direction. I HAVE STUDIED THIS STUFF FOR FORTY YEARS, WITH EVERY ERG OF MY INNATE ASPY OBSESSIVENESS. Over the course of my studies, I've speculated about the meaning of lyrics, opined about the ways in which a particular creative decision was arrived at and executed, and generally formed narratives about the art, as you do when you're a music geek. What a fantabulous gift, then, to be able to sidle up to Bono through the mechanism of this book and understand where I was right and wrong! (Mostly right.) 😃 Few books have made me jump off of the sofa and shout to an empty room at four o'clock in the morning, 'YESSSSSSSSS!'
This one did. Inspiring...incredibly. Funny, insightful, down to earth and humane...definitely. More than that, reading this felt like some vindication for me; not only about the opinions I've long held about songs I've been listening to for four decades, but about a particular creative and cosmic approach to life. See, I can admit to you that I wanted to be Bono; the sensitive-yet-rugged poet with an ability to win hearts and minds to a cause nobler than just liking a pop song. I wanted my bands to be U2; a collection of friends who engaged in a musical collaboration for years on end. I'm sure that desire wasn't uncommon across Gen Xers who grew up listening to the same stuff I did. What may be less common is that I had the temerity—the audacity—to believe I, and we, could be something even remotely similar. (Interestingly, I recently met another woman who wanted to be Bono and threw a lot of talent and effort at it; I'm looking forward to hearing more of her story.) I believed it so fervently that I spent ten years of my life pursuing that goal, and I...we...got further than a lot of people might have even dreamed of. There are stories I will tell someday, as my own gift, which will underscore just how far we went. For now, take it on good faith that the person writing this walked the walk from age Nineteen to age Twenty-Nine, and had some utterly remarkable and rare experiences in doing so. And take it on good faith that I understand why I am not Bono and why my bands were not U2: our songs weren't accessible enough, we were up against a music industry that still considered being female-fronted a 'genre', my priorities were wrong, I found being female a confusing distraction, it took me a lot longer to develop my creative-as-business savvy than it did Bono, and ultimately, we weren't working at a time or a place that history now understands to be a watershed in music history. U2 enjoyed that fertile ground, as did all the other bands I previously mentioned. While both moments were transitions, the transitional moment of Los Angeles in Y2K was nothing like the transitional moment of London in 1979. The former was a quizzical and insecure vacuum, the latter a confident bushel brimming over with the ripest fruit and zeitgeist. It's taken me another two decades to unpack, confront, make peace with, and find the actionable takeaways in my experience of trying to be like Bono and U2. I had done all that, and was already content with where I am and what I've learned, but reading this book felt like my graduation moment. The moment of vindication, validation, and understanding of why U2's creative output made such a profound impact on me that I spent ten very difficult, tumultuous, exciting and exhilarating years trying to walk in their footsteps. I wouldn't have ever enjoyed that had Bono not decided to tell his story.
What a gift. Obviously, someone as accomplished as Bono has a lot of useful things to say, but returning to my original thesis, so does everyone who has LIVED. We've all learned so much in the minutes, hours, days, years that have brought us to TODAY; we've all been challenged, we've all had to figure things out for ourselves, and we've all had to draft our own blueprints because the architecture of life does not arrive with a set. I spent a lot of time after 'the band years' feeling like my story was meaningless and unworthy of sharing because I didn't meet my all goals during that time (noting that I did meet a lot of them)—because I didn't become something like Bono. I was embarrassed about it and shamed in some ways because I acutely understand how upside-down my priorities were.
Every artist is a cannibal Every poet is a thief All kill their inspiration And sing about the grief - U2, The Fly (Thank you, Bono, for writing my Twenty-Five-year-old-self in those lyrics.) I'm so glad I've moved on from that. The glory of growing older is in forgiving oneself. Speaking of growing older, I must share this passage, which follows Bono's hagiography of his late friend, another musical hero, Michael Hutchence: I still hate the death cult that loves to raise its head in rock 'n' roll. It was in the mid-1990s that I wrote "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" about how, if you don't die on a cross at thirty-three, people start asking for their money back. It's not completely untrue. Chrissie Hynde, one of my very favorite singers, a performer who made the intimacy of her recordings more punk than punk rock, a lyricist who can so deftly deliver the heaviest of heavyweight punches, once said to me, "Bono, we don't want to die stupid, choking on our own vomit, falling asleep in a swimming pool." I, too, admire my idols more for the lines on their faces, for the bumps and bruises, the cuts and scar tissues. Every year that goes by that I have Bob Dylan in my life, I admire him more. And although she's a lot younger, same goes for Chrissie Hynde. Now we've lost Johnny Cash, Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, and B.B. King, but not before we discovered them discovering their older selves. - Bono, Surrender Taxiing on the tarmac of Fifty, I've been taken with that idea of 'discovering people discovering their older selves' for a few years now; with the idea that perhaps not all great art is made by Twenty-Five-year-olds as we've been told, and that none of us really has the expiration date that the media mythology would have us believe we do. (I've come to believe the only expiration date is on stagnation.) If I were Twenty-Five today, I would be pissed off that anyone was putting pressure on me to realize all my potential, like, NOW. When I first arrived in Hollywood, some industry schmuck asked how old I was (exactly Twenty-Five at the time), and he told me I should tell people I was Twenty-Three. I laughed in his face and exclaimed, 'You mean to tell me that's still a thing?') Like Bono, I like it when my creative heroes have some lines on their faces. I like them to see them work out for themselves how to be an artist in Midlife and beyond, playing with the (sometimes quiet) epiphanies that brings. My dear friend and musical hero, Matt Jaffe, is making great art in his Twenties, and I am so jazzed to see what he does with every decade going forward. Saint Bowie set the bar for that, making art from his deathbed about making art from his deathbed, and in practically every moment leading up to that denouement. If only Robin Williams had stuck around to do the same. Again, the glory of growing older is forgiving oneself. As a Creative, one of the thresholds you have to cross is forgiving yourself for not making THE GREATEST ART in your youth...unless, of course, like Bono, you did. Even then, there's the threshold of HOW WILL I LIVE UP TO WHAT I DID IN MY YOUTH? I now believe that there can be even richer art to be made once you strike the vein of silver perspective that lies beyond Forty. The colors of life get more saturated; the graphics come into sharper focus. I've forgiven myself for so much, and the freedom found in that is already transmuting into work I simply couldn't have created when I only had a quarter of a century's worth of experience under my belt. Neither age is better for creating good work; they're just different, and both ages present stories worth being told.
Which brings me to this:
Reading this book led me to understand that my experience in music has not been a failed attempt at being Bono; it's been a successful attempt at learning how to be me.
It's been said by people far more accomplished than I that even the smallest of our actions and words have impact. I believe it. And at this point in my life, I believe there is no more impactful legacy a person can leave the rest of us than to tell their story; to share their blueprint. Tell yours. Please. You don't have to be Bono to unlock asynchronous understanding and connection in someone else's mind, and in so doing, make a difference in someone's life. Just a few words can have tremendous impact. We have more vehicles to tell stories than ever before. USE THEM. TELL YOURS. I WILL FOLLOW.
One of the moments that made me shout 'YESSSS!' and throw the book in exculpatory joy came in reading Bono quoting John Lydon's line, anger is an energy, which I have quoted repeatedly like a novena since I first heard it. In the same sequence of thought, Bono relates that I Will Follow (1980) was his attempt at being John Lydon and PiL, having heard Public Image (1978), and wanting to sound like THAT:
WELL, OF COURSE I Will Follow WAS U2'S ATTEMPT AT WRITING Public Image! But until I read that, it hadn't occurred to me that teenaged Bono would have been just as influenced by John Lydon as teenaged me was. U2 helped continue what PiL, Joy Division, and The Clash began, defining and refining the angular, spartan shape that became Post Punk. In my brand loyalist-mind, all those artists arose from Apollo's brow fully formed, but of course that wasn't the case. They influenced each other, as we all do. So how funny then to realize that Bono became Bono, in part, by attempting to be John Lydon, and I became me, in part, by attempting to be Bono and John Lydon. We—all of us—all of humanity—we have ALL drafted our own blueprints with points and lines culled from the stories lived and writ by others. Again, tell your story. Someone will take notice and use it to create part of their own.