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.
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.
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?
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.