A new documentary, ‘Bono & The Edge, A Sort of Homecoming with David Letterman’, reveals the roots of U2 and its music, writes

Margaret Gardiner



Arena Holdings PTY


U2, the iconic Irish rock band, may never have existed had Bono not been kicked out of Mount Temple Comprehensive High School, he would never have met the band’s guitarist, The Edge, who inspired the creation of the band that would go on to sell 175-million albums, with seminal songs such as Sunday Bloody Sunday, One and Where the Streets Have No Name. This, and so much more, comes to light in a new documentary, Bono & The Edge, A Sort of Homecoming with David Letterman on the Disney+ channel. The film explores the music of the 22-time Grammy winners and the almost 50-year friendship between Bono and The Edge. In flashback footage that includes the turbulent times of The Troubles, when Northern Ireland was at war with itself, we see achingly young photos of the members at 15, as their philosophy was being formed. The exuberance of youth is evident; their cocky confidence is tangible, as if they knew they were destined to be big. These photos are juxtaposed with footage of the band at the height of its popularity, playing to pulsating stadiums of thousands of fans. The live stadium experiences of the band are full of energy and power, so you’d think the pared-down version of these famous songs in the documentary would pale in comparison, but they stir the audience, as the poetry of the lyrics have space to penetrate: “Did I ask too much? More than a lot? You gave me nothin’ now that’s all I’ve got,” from One. Bono’s weathered face reflects the life he’s lived and his voice, whispery and vulnerable, may make you think he’s showing his age. But the thought is banished as he straightens out and uses his voice fully on the powerful refrains. The showman in him understands he should provoke that reaction in his fans: break down their walls and then go into the tender places full throttle. The documentary shows that music is an evolving art. With the perspective of passing time comes insight and Bono isn’t afraid to change the lyrics to fit his new vision. Former late-night host Letterman brings his quirky brand of humour to the documentary. In conversations with Bono and The Edge, Letterman takes you forwards and backwards. One of Bono’s missions is to bring disparate people together, which may have come from the political turbulence that beset his home country. The documentary shows that the inspiration behind most of the songs has always been an intricate weaving of politics and music. Bono calls their style “transcendent, ecstatic music”. Between intimacies shared by Bono and The Edge, Letterman investigates the peculiarities of Northern Irelanders. They talk with strangers and long-time friends. One fan says that as a youngster he went to a concert by The Police in Northern Ireland, but U2, the opening act, had everyone talking after the show. The documentary, directed by Morgan Neville, doesn’t feature band members Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr, and they didn’t attend the premiere. After the premiere in Los Angeles, the documentary’s three stars took to the stage to discuss the experience. “The film allowed us to make some sense of our band and to see our city and country through Dave’s eyes. It gave us the opportunity to see how our county grew up,” said Bono. Letterman, for whom Bono and The Edge wrote a song, also performs in the documentary and emphasised: “The music is the star of this production.” The music is stripped-down versions of some of U2’s best songs, performed almost acoustically, but for the support of local musicians and folk singers, and The Edge’s driving guitar riffs. Bono (born Paul Hewson) explains: “The project gave us back our songs. We wanted to explore whether the songs could survive without the firepower of a big rock band, full force. If the songs are any good, they belong to the people who need them the most. Most songs that last become folk songs, if you’re lucky.” As for tweaking the lyrics, he elaborated from the stage: “Some of the lyrics I was embarrassed about, but got to finish them. David brought the comedy to the tragedy and the music was made better by having him in the room taking the piss out of us.” U2 plans to release Songs of Surrender, an album of 40 re-recorded and reinterpreted offerings from the group’s back catalogue.