The U2 singer appeared on stage at the Beacon Theatre to rapturous applause before launching into a condensed version of “City of Blinding Lights,” backed by a trio of musicians.
“It is preposterous to think that others are interested in your story…this has all been a bit surreal,” Bono said, adding that he found it a bit strange to be performing without his U2 bandmates. “I have their permission,” he assured.
Notable attendees included U2 guitarist the Edge, former president Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary Clinton.
The book – Bono’s first – covers nearly every aspect of his life and career, beginning with his childhood in Dublin, through the formation and global success of U2, as well as the band’s ongoing philanthropic work. It is loosely organized around 40 of U2’s songs, including hits like “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “One” and “Beautiful Day.”
“When I started to write this book, I was hoping to draw in detail what I’d previously only sketched in songs,” he said in an earlier press release. “The people, places and possibilities in my life.”
Bono’s performance – a half stage play, half musical show that included readings from the book, stripped down renditions of songs and projected illustrations drawn by the singer himself — began with his 2016 heart surgery that took place in New York City, an anecdote to emphasize his literal and metaphoric “eccentric heart.”
The show then worked its way chronologically, starting with the death of his mother at age 14 and the beginning of his lifelong struggle to earn his father’s approval. “I tried to impress him,” Bono said as he sat in a chair next to an empty one, recreating conversations he had with his father over the years. He joked that there are two methods for encouraging a child to become a global rock star. One is the “Italian method,” in which parents shower praise on their son or daughter, the other is to ignore them entirely, the “Irish method.”
Thanks to his older brother, Bono found inspiration in the music of the Ramones, who wrote “songs so simple even I might be able to write [them.]” Eventually, the singer met his future U2 bandmates. In recalling his first impressions of each member, Bono described the Edge as “this boy who would buy a guitar the same shape as his head” and bassist Adam Clayton as “a sort of posh Sid Vicious.” The origins of various U2 hits were briefly described, like “I Will Follow” (“the song that will save my fucking life”), and “Sunday Bloody Sunday” (“not just a song; a map, a way forward in the world”).
“This is my story,” Bono said at one point, “and I’m stuck with it.”
At the beginning of Bono’s performance, he said that his memoir was, in many ways, “the story of how [his wife] Alison Stewart saved me from myself.” The couple has been married for 40 years, and they met the same week that U2 had their first band rehearsal. “I’m still a boy,” he said toward the end of the show, “but I’m more of a man because of this woman.” He also thanked the audience, both the one sitting before him in New York City and the rest of his fans around the world, for supporting U2 over the years. “You can have fun and change the world,” he said.
At the conclusion of the show, Bono emphasized his belief in the United States. “We all need America to work,” he said. “America is a song yet to be finished…a song still being written.”
The book tour, which is now sold out, will continue through various major U.S. cities before heading overseas for a string of dates in the U.K. and Europe.
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U2 don’t inspire weak reactions in people. There are passionate U2 fans, and passionate U2 haters, and very little in between.