‘She Was Never Going to Be “Just” My Wife’

For Bono, there was one obvious answer when it came to choosing who would be the very first person to read the first draft of his new memoir Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story.

Who else but Ali Hewson, his wife of 40 years, would come equipped with the same memories as the U2 rocker, ready and willing to offer a forgotten experience here or a clarification there?

“A shared life gives you a shared memory,” Bono, 62, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “Ali will remember things I’ve half-remembered and remind me of conversations I’ve almost forgotten. She’s been in all the important scenes in my life since I was a teenager and she’ll often have a better view of my life than I do. She’s my witness. I’m hers. That hurts sometimes.”

The high school sweethearts married in 1982 and share daughters Jordan, 33, and Eve, 31, and sons Elijah, 23, and John, 21. Their decades-long romance is chronicled in Surrender (out Nov. 1), which breaks Bono’s life down into chapters reflecting on and titled after 40 different U2 songs.

“I was nervous, she’s an extremely private person, and I was taken aback when she hardly wanted any changes except spellings,” Bono (born Paul Hewson) says. “She wrecked my head about some of the spellings.”

Bono and Ali Hewson attend the Dior Homme Menswear Fall/Winter 2017-2018 show as part of Paris Fashion Week on January 21, 2017 in Paris, France.

Vanni Bassetti/Getty Bono, Ali Hewson

The memoir also covers other facets of Bono’s life with poignant reflection, including the formation of U2 with schoolmates the Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. in 1976, his extensive charitable efforts, a 2016 health scare in which a blister on his aorta nearly burst, and the shock of learning in 2000 that his cousin Scott Rankin was actually his half-brother, the result of a secret affair between his father Bob and the wife of his mother Iris’s brother.

Though the Irish rocker is used to channeling his thoughts into song, crafting lengthier sentences — and doing it solo — was an adjustment, especially as Bono says his ideas for lyrics or melodies typically evolve into more fully fleshed out ideas “from the alchemy of the band together in the studio.”

For more on Bono, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.

“When you are writing songs, you can impersonate another musician’s approach, even unconsciously, which unfortunately is not an option when writing a memoir,” he says. “There’s no escape. You’re doing it alone, and you have no sound, only language. That was daunting at first. But I really enjoyed the luxury of being able to write long sentences and whole paragraphs. Maybe a little too much looking at the length of the book!”

He also notes the Surrender works not only “as a single arc from beginning to end, [but] it also works as 40 short stories for people who may only dip in and out.”

As he took the time to reflect on his past for the book, Bono looked inward, and says the introspection inspired some sage advice he’d offer to his younger self.



Ross Stewart

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“Naïveté is not a negative. A more black-and-white view of the world has its attractions,” he says. “The short answer? Don’t second guess yourself so much.”

Here, select excerpts from Surrender detail Bono’s journey to fatherhood, the creation of “With or Without You” and more.

Chapter 1 — “Lights of Home”

In one of the chambers of my heart, where most people have three doors, I have two. Two swinging doors, which at Christmas 2016 were coming off their hinges. So, here I am. Mount Sinai Hospital. New York City. Blood and brains are what’s required right now, if I’m to continue to sing my life and live it. I know it’s not going to feel like a good day when I wake up after these eight hours of surgery, but I also know that waking up is better than the alternative.

Chapter 16 — “With or Without You”

Ali would have been happier with a life that was simpler than the one we’ve ended up with, and it wasn’t long into our marriage that I began to sense she was becoming distant from the life we ​​were living. Though not demanding in any selfish way, Ali had never been “just” my girlfriend, and now she was never going to be “just” my wife. Neither of us knew what the word “wife” meant anyhow, nor had any sense of how valuable this relationship was going to be for each of us. We were up for the ride, but there were air pockets from the beginning, like, say, my immaturity. Married at twenty-two going on eighteen. She was also realizing that there were three other men in her marriage. Men whom she was more than fond of, but men who were taking her man away, not just in his wild imaginings, but physically, all over the world.

Torn between domesticity and rock stardom, he composed a U2 classic for his wife: “With or Without You.”

We wanted a sound that no one had heard before, and we got it. Except for one thing. We overshot the runway and landed in a place called saccharine. It became that dreadful thing that a real group of artists could never own up to. An ugly pop song. We abandoned “With or Without You.” The person who pulled it out of the trash was [Irish musician] Gavin Friday, more indie than all of us and equal in sedition to the art insurrectionist that is Brian Eno. The song that became one of our most well known opens with a whisper, slowly building to the opera of a big chorus, which only happens once at the end.

Ali and bond in New York

Ali and bond in New York

Courtesy Hewson Family Archive Bono and Ali Hewson

Chapter 17 — “Desire”

Ali and I were starting to accept that our marriage could handle the challenges we would face as the band became increasingly popular. Kids were a different matter. Even after six years of marriage, at 28 I was not sure I could be so ambidextrous as to be band leader and father. I was frightened of such responsibilities and of blowing them. As Ali and I walked back from Quincy [Jones]’s one night, an invisible switch got flicked. We were talking about kids and how the conventional life is not the only route to parenting, how people who live in their imagination can also live in the real world of parent-teacher meetings, school drops, and being there for birthdays. A month later and Ali was pregnant.

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Chapter 18 — “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses”

I hope I have been a good parent, but others will have the better view. I’m not proud of the times when I wasn’t a good parent, when I lost my temper, when I couldn’t control my anger. The girls have seen that. The boys are more rarely. Was that going back to my father and my relationship with him? I was conscious that I did not want the kind of relationship with my kids that I’d had with my father and maybe it was the silliness that saved me. These were happy years in our family and dropping the kids off at [school] before heading out to walk Killiney Hill or the beach with Ali was about as good a way to start the day as I could imagine.

Chapter 37 — “Love Is Bigger Than Anything in its Way”

Since this disclosure [that he’s Bono’s half-brother] Scott and I have become even closer. He’s smart, sincere. At peace with his past and present. He told me lately that he does n’t want to be part of any fabrication of facts for his children or by them. He wants his kids to be comfortable with their dual Rankin/Hewson identity. I now honor that. It’s probably much harder for Scott and his family having a noisy name attached to their quiet one. I know his discretion had him protect my family’s privacy as much as his own, which was hard at times.

From Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story by Bono. Copyright © 2022 by Bono. Reprinted by permission of Knopf.

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