Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen
|Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen|
|Reviewer: Lesley Mason|
|Summary: A rare insight into the life and mind of one of the most successful rock stars ever. Poetic, lyrical, brutally honest. Not the whole story, by his own admission, but enough to generate a deeper understanding of both the man and his work.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 528||Date: September 2016|
|Publisher: Simon and Schuster UK|
|External links: Author's website|
No you haven't stumbled into a music review from the 1970s, I'm talking about The Boss's autobiography. Lots of books have been written about Springsteen by folk who knew him, worked with him and by others who have only read the cuttings. Over the last seven years he has been going about – not putting the record straight, exactly – but telling it from his own perspective. As he puts it: Writing about yourself is a funny business. By his own admission, it isn't the whole truth, discretion holds him back but in a project like this, the writer has made one promise, to show the reader his mind. In these pages, I've tried to do this.
Tried, and succeeded.
Ah, but is he happy? This is the question I always ask when I look at someone rich and famous, or someone living the life I might aspire to. Reading the lines of this book, and between the lines, in Bruce's case the answer, is no. He isn't and hasn't been, mostly. Looking at the few pictures included, get past his very early childhood and the only ones where he looks truly blessed are those where either he's on stage or he's with his wife Patti. For our sake, I'm glad about the former – that drive, that passion of his, that need to perform has given me personally some of the best parties of my life – for his, I'm glad about the latter. The thing about soul mates is that they will take an awful lot of crap from us, but they also know when and how to not only draw the line, but to enforce it. That is what Patti did and does for Bruce. This woman is not a rescuer. She is a strong and talented woman, who happens to love a less strong equally talented man. Love might not conquer all, but as this strikingly honest account shows, it certainly helps.
With all rock star stories the question has to be: is this one for the fans only? No. In fact, the insight it brings, especially if read while listening to the associated CD, might bring a few more people to the music who aren't there already. Even if the music doesn't appeal, it offers a rare insight into the mind of a poet, a musician and a rock star. Bruce Springsteen is all of those things.
Cards on the table: I'm a fan. Since one late night sitting on my parents' floor with my mates watching him on (I think) The Old Grey Whistle Test, I finally got what those friends had been trying to tell me for some time. I sulked when my boyfriend opted for Bruce at Wembley over my graduation, even though we'd both seen him in Newcastle a couple of weeks earlier. I've seen him play 5 or 6 times since then… and my face lights up with pleasure just thinking about those gigs. His music is what I turn to when I need to step out of this world, when I want to believe in better places, more romantic ones, slightly unreal ones, sometimes ones full of joy, sometimes others that show me that my pain is by comparison not worth the ink.
I know what the man meant when, as related in the book, he called across the freeway in the aftermath of 9/11 Bruce, we need you. Of course, I can also understand what that does to a man.
There are no tricks in the book. It is simply the chronological tale of one man's life story. It starts with his childhood, part Irish, part Italian, entirely Catholic in Freehold New Jersey, takes us through his bar-band days in Asbury Park, the birth, growing pains, and into the age of death and reformation of the E-street Band. He takes us on tour, which honours the fan who can say I was at that one, but mostly he takes us behind the scenes, into the recording studios and on the tour buses, into the friendships and bust-ups, through the naivety and ambition, the successes and failures of becoming The Boss. I don't think he mentions that epithet. I suspect he doesn't like it. I read in someone else's version of events that – much as the fans have adopted it in adoration – it wasn't originally meant as a compliment. One thing is clear, Bruce says it himself often in these pages, my band, my rules. He does have a need to be in charge.
Like many with that driving force, he finds that it comes with the result that others eventually let you be, then require you to be, they hand off responsibility to you and expect you to deal with all the problems. That becomes a burden. There is a darkness, not just on the edge of town, but in the man's soul…maybe in all our souls, maybe some of us don't prod it enough to suffer from it. Bruce is a poet. He prods. He suffers. Those that want to would probably come up with some medicalisation of the way his brain works – for me it is the way all artists' brains seem to work: periods of intensity, joy and pain. For him the pain was sufficient, eventually, to send him to the medics and that seems like a sensible course of action given the potential alternatives.
If I had stopped to think about it, I would probably have worked out that the joy I have seen him share when he's on stage doesn't come easy, but he does make it look so easy. The songs are so perfect, that I'm baffled and apologetic that it comes as a surprise to me that he worked so hard at the craft behind them. I'm astonished (yes, I know, sorry!) that he researches his songs the way a novelist researches their books. For me that was the charm of this book. Not the what happened when, the flourishing and floundering of relationships, but the insight into the mind that he promised us, the insight into the real hard sweat work that goes into everything he does. He tells us he's never done more than a few weeks real work in his life. Don't believe it. Read the book.
Somewhere there is a firefighter called Sam putting his life on the line day in day out the way those guys do. This particular Sam doesn't have to do anything remotely that selfless, because his surname is Springsteen and the Boss is his dad. He has a brother making his own way in the music industry, and a world class equestrian for a sister. Bruce, if you can't be as proud as you should be of anything else in your life, be proud of that.
For insights into another of the great rock poets check out Still on the Road: Songs of Bob Dylan, 1974-2008 by Clinton Heylin
You could get a free audio download of Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen with a 30-day Audible free trial at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen at Amazon.com.
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