While putting together a documentary about the history and music of U2, frontman Bono felt it was important to have some laughter in the mix.
So, he and fellow bandmate The Edge enlisted David Letterman to join them on the journey of re-examining their careers and exploring the motivation behind the songs they created.
“The thing that Dave brought is the comedy to the tragedy,” said Bono to an audience at the premiere of the film in downtown Los Angeles. He added, “And our music is just better with him around, I thought. Musically, it was better by him being in the room, kind of taking the piss out of it.”
The Disney+ special, officially entitled Bono & The Edge: A Sort of Homecoming, with Dave Letterman, is directed by Morgan Neville, and is timed to the release of Songs of Surrender which contains a collection of the re-imagining of 40 previously released songs, performed in a stripped down manner.
While the new album does feature the other two members of the band, the film does not, as Bono explained, with a nod to the reasoning for including the long-talk late night host, “If your two good-looking members have gone AWOL, you bring in some really great storytellers,” he said, referencing both Letterman and Neville.
The actual story is that bassist Adam Clayton was off working on another project, while drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. was recovering from a medical issue.
But, instead of cutting up every moment, Letterman serves as an appropriate guide to not only conduct interviews with Bono and The Edge, but to join the duo as they perform their songs in Dublin’s Ambassador theater, surrounded by a cadre of local acoustic musicians.
Letterman also spoke with several Dublin residents about how the city and country have evolved since U2 emerged on the scene in the late ‘70s, tracing how political and religious divisions have lessened over the ensuing 40+ years.
In addition, Letterman, who never been to the area, made his own personal discoveries as he traipsed about Dublin, most notably to a seaside spot known as the Forty Foot, where locals swim year-round, no matter the temperature of the air or water.
This action spurred Bono and The Edge to write a song about Letterman and his experience at the locale, which is seen in production during the film, and closes out the piece.
Speaking about the new Songs of Surrender album, the Edge remarked that, “The fun thing about this project is no one knew about it. No one expected it. So, when we started, we were free to just enjoy the process. Without any pressure of expectation, we could lose ourselves in the songs. Watching Bono sing and get back in touch with these songs was an amazing experience for me.”
Bono added, “There’s a sort of selfish part of this project where we wanted to hear our own songs again, almost as if for the first time. And the question of could they survive without the firepower of a big old rock band at full force, we didn’t know the answer to that.”
He explains that on the album, Mullen, Jr, played a standup (drum) kit while Clayton added some ‘very gentle bass on the recordings,’ but that those sessions weren’t filmed, so they brought in some students and some ‘gifted Irish [folk] musicians for the taped performances. “Hearing the songs through their ears was a whole other experience,” concluded Bono.
Joining in to sing the glory of the project, Letterman added after seeing the film, “Well, … I’ve been in television and this sort of thing since I was 18, and at this stage in my life to have been a part of this… tonight’s the first time I’ve seen it, and what a lovely piece of work. I’m so pleased, so proud. I don’t know how it happened exactly, I don’t know why it happened, but this kind of makes the first 35 years of being in television well worth the effort.” (His math skills, or lack thereof, elicited a chuckle from the audience.)
Bono, after explaining that truly finishing a song is a complicated endeavor, said that at least, the remade songs are ‘finished for this week,’ adding, that the songs, “are our boss. You know, they tell us what to do. You hear people talk about songs as their children, but they’re not. They’re your parents. They tell you what to do, they tell you how to look, what to wear, who to work with. And if you’re smart, you do what they tell you to do.”
‘Bono & The Edge: A Sort of Homecoming, with Dave Letterman’ debuts on Disney+ Friday, March 17th. Songs of Surrender is available the same day.