Songs for Someone: Bono and Ali 40 Years
Original Story by Aaron J. Sams (2022-08-19)
Note on date: For many years the accepted date for the wedding was August 21, 1982, which was a Saturday. Celebrations around the 40th anniversary revealed that the date was August 31, 1982 instead. This is the date Eve Hewson wished her parents a Happy Anniversary, the date included in Bono’s memoir Surrender, and is the date Bono referenced from stage on August 31, 2018.
Alison Stewart married Paul Hewson 40 years ago this week. They’ve been together since the 1970s, and the couple now have four children. Fourty years together as husband and wife. Bono shared during the 2016 Glamour Women of the Year Awards. “It just so happens it was this afternoon [in 1976] I walked her to her bus – isn’t that mad?” That ceremony was held on November 15, 2016 putting the start of Bono and Ali’s dating as November 15, 2016, just weeks after U2 formed. Ali would have been just 15, Bono 16 at the time. They’ve been together ever since, and were married in August 1982.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary we’re going to take a look at a few songs that have looked at Bono’s love over the years. This isn’t every song inspired by Ali, or with possible references to Ali. But it does include some of our favourites.
The Joshua Tree B-Sides
There are references to Ali throughout the B-sides that accompanied The Joshua Tree singles.
“Spanish Eyes” wasn’t finished in time to include on The Joshua Tree but was released as a B-side, and still gets played in concert. It was written for Ali, and is usually dedicated to her in concert. Legends in Ireland say that the dark-haired, dark-eyed Irish are descendants of the Spanish traders who settled in Ireland. Bono has often referred to Ali’s “Spanish eyes”.
“Sweetest Thing” was written for Ali when Bono missed her birthday in 1986. The song, re-recorded in 1998 was released as a single to promote The Best of 1980-1990, U2’s first collection of hits. A video to accompany the song, filmed by Kevin Godley, featured Bono and Ali riding in a carriage, while a street carnival breaks out around them, including banners saying, “I’m Sorry”, Boyzone, boxer Steve Collins, and more. Proceeds from the single were given to The Children of Chernobyl.
“Luminous Times (Hold On to Love)” may have many layers in the song, but it is hard not to see some references to Ali within. “She comes like carnival, she is the big wheel, she turned my head around.”
All I Want is You
“All I Want is You” plays over the final credits of Rattle and Hum and ends with strings provided by Van Dyke Parks. Bono speaking about the song often brings up his wife Ali. It’s not a surprise she inspired the lyrics. This performance at Slane Castle in 2001 was dedicated to her.
In A Little While
The lyrics include references to Ali and how Bono was teased he was robbing the cradle when they started dating because she was younger. Spanish eyes are once again mentioned, “And I’ve know her since, since she was a little girl, with Spanish eyes”.
Song for Someone
Bono told Dave Fanning that “Song for Someone” is about “The awkwardness of falling in love and sex”. He’s shared that the song is reflective on his relationship with Ali. And when U2 issued it as a single, it’s Ali that appeared on the cover. When writing Songs of Innocence Bono was looking back on his earliest experiences when the band was being formed, when his relationship with his wife was starting.
Songs of Experience
Songs of Experience was approached as a series of letters by Bono, written to his loved ones. There are letters to family, to friends, to fans, and even some to Ali.
“You’re the Best Thing About Me” is a letter to Ali. The title came from Irish writer Eamon Dunphy, who out having a drink with Bono shared that he thought Ali was the best thing about Bono. Dunphy remembers, “We were just out having a drink. It was really nothing serious, but he remembered it – it must have been 10 or 15 years ago. She’s a wonderful girl. So that’s all I said.” But Bono didn’t argue that she was the best thing about him, he agreed, and put it to song. Nightly in concert, as he was removing his Macphisto make up in the lead in to this song, Bono would often compose additional letters to Ali while looking into the mirror.
“Landlady” is another song for Ali. At times in the earliest days of the band it was Ali who helped keep Bono afloat, sharing in the lyrics “when I was broke it was you who always paid the rent.” Bono shared about the song, “I just don’t want to write her an obnoxious, sentimental song – she deserves better than that.”
“13 (There is A Light)” is the 13th and final song on the album. The song borrows musically and lyrically from “Song for Someone”, written for Ali but with a twist. “13” is addressed to his kids, with Bono revealing “the idea was to write for the teenage girl that you fell in love with, and then for her children.”
As we mentioned these aren’t the only songs which touch on Bono and Ali’s relationship. There’s pieces of it in other songs. A glimpse of their lives can be seen in “Promenade” where the spiral staircase is one in their own home, “Two Hearts Beat as One” was started during their honeymoon in Jamaica. There’s bits and pieces throughout, maybe even a few that haven’t jumped out yet.
40 years together is quite an accomplishment for anyone. Our team here wish Bono and Ali a happy anniversary this weekend. We hope you enjoyed a few of the tunes we picked to celebrate. While we’ve attempted to ensure they should work for everyone, region restrictions may make some of the above videos unavailable. Apologies in advance if that is the case.