Tag Archives: Born to Run

Trouble in the Heartland

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen (Simon & Schuster, $32.50, 528 pages)

“It’s a town full of losers/I’m pulling out of here to win…”  Thunder Road

Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography Born to Run (what else?) is not for the faint of heart.   But, then, neither is his music.

bruce-born-to-run

Springsteen fans have heard many of these tales before, but not directly from The Boss, and not in this format.   The stories of his complex relationship with his father and his battle with depression are quite gripping.   The coming of age tales of his early days trying to break in to the music business are more engaging than his tales of the E Street Band, though many of those are interesting.   (Note for the current generation – there was a day before The Voice).

Springsteen essentially lived as a vagabond for a decade, including after he signed his recording contract with Columbia.   It is hard to believe that after Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town he was not in the clear financially until after The River tour.   This was due to many things – not making much money at first, signing a very one-sided contract, legal fees, and studio time.   It is still rather hard to imagine.

One can hear the song in his prose, and it compels the reader to go back and listen to his records.   Springsteen had a vision.   He put himself on the line until this vision was all he had left; he relentlessly pursued it until it became a reality.   This book reminds us that Springsteen and the E Street Band were singularly unique.   The concert I saw in April of 1984 was the greatest performance I have ever witnessed.

Springsteen impresses with his candor.   Although careful at times, he comes across as genuine and forthright.   Springsteen did not set out to write a fluff book of nostalgia; rather, in his words: “I fought my whole life, studied, played, worked, because I wanted to hear and know the whole story…  I wanted to understand in order to free myself of its most damaging influences, its malevolent forces… and its power.”   This is some undertaking.

Though his personal relationships were often tumultuous, he views the E Street Band as his family.   He professes his love for wife Patti Scialfa.   And he admits that he did not always treat everyone as he could or should have.

Springsteen speaks with reverence of those that have passed.   He writes of the death of organ player Danny Federici – who asked to play “Sandy” on the accordion at his final concert.   He also writes of Clarence “The Big Man” Clemons, who had to sit on his last tour and be helped on and off the stage.   Springsteen may be driven, but one comes to like this book because of his honesty.   If he’s not honest here, he may be the biggest con man of all time.

bruce-born-to-run-back

One thing that does not quite jibe with me is Springsteen’s commentary on drummer Max Weinberg, whom he categorizes as both a great timekeeper and soloist.   I’ve never viewed Weinberg as being in the class of innovative drummers like Keith Moon. But, then, who am I to question The Boss?

Highly recommended.

Dave Moyer

This book was delivered to the reviewer by Santa Claus.

Dave Moyer is an educator, the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel, and a drummer who has yet to be asked to join The Who.

 

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If you loved this book…

Sometimes you read a book and then think, “I wish I could find another book like that!” Well, here’s a visual representation of recommended books for your consideration. Joseph Arellano

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Dead Wake (nook book)

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Becoming Steve Jobs

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The Immortal Life

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The Cancer Chronicles

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How to Be An American Housewife

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Everything I Never Told You (trade paper)

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The Year She Left Us

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Into Thin Air

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David Rosenfelt dog

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Waitin’ On A Sunny Day

Bruce by Peter Ames Carlin (Touchstone, $28.00, 494 pages)

I was living in Los Angeles in the winter of 1975 when a live concert by a then-unknown East Coast band was stereo-cast late one evening by a Metromedia FM radio station.   The group, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, was playing at the Roxy Theatre and for all of Southern California.   The performance began with a song called “Thunder Road,” and the band proceeded to play all of the songs that we would soon come to know as the Born to Run album.   (I saw Springsteen and the E Street Band when they hit San Francisco the following year.)

Fans of Springsteen know that despite all of their digging, not much is known about his personal life.   Peter Ames Carlin, author of the well recommended Paul McCartney: A Life, and of Catch a Wave: The Rise, Fall and Redemption of the Beach Boy’s Brian Wilson, attempts to remedy this in Bruce.   Carlin draws upon numerous interviews to flesh out a picture of a real human being behind the rock legend.

Some will be surprised to see how vulnerable Springsteen is.   He’s a man who often worries about what others think of him, one who has been unsuccessful in numerous personal relationships, one who has experienced a high level of depression and relied upon years of professional counseling, and one who has often sought a geographical solution to his problems (moving from East Coast to West Coast and back, to the South and back to the West before settling back down in New Jersey).   The mature Springsteen is now a family man, with a wife, son and daughter, who has repeatedly stuck his neck out for social causes and for political candidates – notably supporting Barack Obama in the 2008 and 2012 presidential races.

Carlin has an insider’s ear for music and provides a quite satisfying amount of information about Springsteen’s recording sessions over several decades; some of the insights may cause readers to purchase albums or revisit the ones they already own.   Carlin’s best, detailed work comes in reviewing how The Rising album – a work of healing and redemption if there ever was one – was recorded after 9/11.   His analysis is excellent except for the fact that it fails to mention the very best song on the album, “Waitin’ On A Sunny Day.”   (How did that happen?)

“(Springsteen is) an artist fixated on the intimate stories of ordinary folks whose labors make wealthier mens’ dreams come true…”

Bruce provides the insight that Springsteen has crafted his albums in the same manner in which a movie producer crafts a film.   Each album is intended to represent a story, generally about the people left behind in an otherwise prosperous society.   It’s no wonder that Springsteen’s most recent release pleaded for us to take care of our own.

This story of a performer and his unique band of brothers is more satisfying than most musician bios and it makes for a fast read despite its length.   It is, however, likely to have a short shelf life as the “definitive” biography – to quote Publishers Weekly – of The Boss.   As with bios of Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Mick Jagger and other rock notables, there’s certainly more to come

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.  

“There are many things I could and should be doing right now, but I am not…  I am reading and rereading this book.   Why did you do this to me?”   Jon Stewart to Peter Ames Carlin  

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Born to Run

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall (Vintage, $15.95, 304 pages)

This book is guaranteed to appeal to certain subgroups of readers who are absolutely going to love it: old, new and former runners, middle-distance runners, marathoners, long-distance and ultra-marathon runners, and those who gravitate to stories about indigenous tribes like the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico and the American Southwest.   If you’re not a member of one of these groups, the subject matter is unlikely to hold your interest, unless from time to time you pick up a copy of Runner’s World or Marathon and Beyond magazine and find such to be fascinating.

Of course, there have been books – not intended for the general public – that have been huge and surprising successes, such as Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer and The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger.   Yet, I suspect that this tale of world-class ultra-marathoners will remain a specialized taste for most.

This true story is about a magazine editor who gets to observe an almost-secret race between some of this country’s best ultra-marathon runners and a group of “fleet-footed Tarahumara Indians.”   The race itself comes at the book’s conclusion and is not as interesting as the build-up to it.   Instead, the book is at its best when explaining the science of long-distance running, and how and why the skill of running long distances has been essential to human survival and evolution.  

The author explains why there may be an almost instinctual need for some humans to run the 26.2 miles of a marathon, or further.   He is, however, mystified as to why some persons today avoid running altogether.   The section that active runners may enjoy the best is one in which Christopher McDougall fully details the reasons expensive and highly cushioned running shoes – and those sold in the U. S. continue to be more expensive and more cushioned with each quarter of a year that goes by – lead to inevitable injuries.   After finishing this section, many runners (not including this reviewer) will certainly think about hitting the roads in their running flats or rubber sandals or even barefoot.   Fascinating stuff!

Recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   This bestselling book is now available in a trade paper release.   “Inspiring… destined to become a classic.”   Sir Ranulph Fiennes

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On the Road Again

Corn Flakes with John Lennon and Other Tales From a Rock ‘n Roll Life by Robert Hilburn (Rodale; $14.99; 280 pages)

“…the best music doesn’t just fill a void in the listener…  it can also fill a need in the artist.”

“I look at people as ideas.   I don’t see people as people.”   Bob Dylan

The fine long-time music critic for The Los Angeles Times, Bob Hilburn, takes us along on his trips with “the best rock stars” in this engaging account of his years in the music business.   It is mostly a study of personalities, big ones, such as John Lennon, Bob Dylan (“The most important figure in rock…  rock’s most celebrated living figure…  the greatest songwriter”), Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Presley, Neil Young, Bono of U2, Johnny Cash and Janis Joplin.   There are also brief encounters with Elton John, Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger, Joni Mitchell, John Prine, Waylon Jennings, and Jack White.

You might be thinking that you’ll enjoy this memoir if you like these artists, most of whom were blessed with the approval of both Hilburn and Rolling Stone magazine.   You’ll be right in that thought, and also will likely find that it has less charm if these artists are not your cup of Java.   Hilburn makes very clear that he dislikes “superficial artists” (a term coined by Dylan), among whom he includes Rod Stewart, the “cold” Steely Dan, and Madonna.   He writes of the latter that she’s a “sharp cookie” who always provides good quotes for an interviewer, but “I’m not generally a fan of her music.”

So, yes, this is an account of hanging out on the road with the stars of boomer rock and country music.   The true tales from the 1970s are the most interesting ones – when rock was full of excitement and energy – and the telling seems to get tired and pessimistic as we approach present times.   Hilburn, in fact, closes the book with a lot of pessimism about the current music trade’s prospects for survival.

If Hilburn has a fault, it’s an obvious one in that he often gets close to being over the top about those artists, those geniuses, he favors.   Not only does he realize it, but so do some of the artists he’s supported.   For example, at one point he asks Bono if the musician is afraid that the public will become tired of him.   Bono answers, “Look, I’m tired of Bono and I am Bono.”

“Paul’s like a brother.   We’ve gone past all that.”   John Lennon

If there’s a reason to buy this book, now available in trade paperback form, it’s for the touching overview of Hilburn’s days spent with Lennon in New York City just two weeks before the former Beatle’s tragic death.   This Lennon is a man at peace with himself, in love with his life, and ready to forgive and forget.   One very revealing note is when John tells Hilburn that all of the stories about the deep rift between him and Paul McCartney were just that, stories.   John noted that he and Paul were, deep down, brothers still.

Hilburn’s book is a brief for the power of rock ‘n roll.   It may now be an endangered art form, but Hilburn reminds us that, at its best – as when it’s performed by Bruce Springsteen, “rock ‘n roll (can) still be majestic.”

Well recommended.

Take Away:  This is a very entertaining journal of life within the rock ‘n roll circus tent.   However, Hilburn sacrifices a bit of credibility when he refers to Kurt Cobain as one of rock’s great figures and as “the great talent” of the 1990s.   As he admits, “I often had a hard time convincing…  people when it came to Kurt.”   Take what you need from this account and leave the rest.

Joseph Arellano

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Running Long: A Review of Born to Run

Born to run (sm.)This book is guaranteed to appeal to certain subgroups of readers who are absolutely going to love it:  old, new and former runners, middle-distance runners, marathoners, long-distance and ultra-marathon runners, and those who gravitate to stories about indigenous tribes like the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico and the American Southwest.   If you’re not a member of one of these groups, the subject matter is unlikely to hold your interest, unless from time to time you pick up a copy of Runner’s World or Marathon and Beyond magazine and find such to be fascinating.

Of course, there have been books – not intended for the general public – that have been huge and surprising successes, such as Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer and The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger.   Yet, I suspect that this tale of world-class ultra-marathoners will remain a specialized taste for most.

The story is about a magazine editor who gets to observe an almost-secret race between some of this country’s best ultra-marathon runners and a group of “fleet-footed Tarahumara Indians.”   The race itself comes at the book’s conclusion and is not as interesting as the build-up to it.   Instead, the book is at its best when explaining the science of long-distance running, and how and why the skill of running long distances has been essential to human survival and evolution.

The author explains why there may be an almost instinctual need for some humans to run the 26.2 miles of a marathon, or further.   He is, however, mystified as to why some persons today avoid running altogether.   The section that active runners may enjoy the best is one in which Christopher McDougall fully details the reasons why expensive and highly cushioned running shoes – and those sold in the U.S. continue to get more expensive and more cushioned with each quarter of a year that goes by – lead to inevitable injuries.   After finishing this section, many runners will certainly think about hitting the roads in their running flats or rubber sandals or even barefoot.   Fascinating stuff!

Knopf, $24.95, 282 pages

Joseph Arellano

Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.

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