Book: Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

Book: Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

Well this has been a long time a coming. Spurred on by the Super Bowl appearance in 2009 – the one that I actually watched as I was in New York at the time. That seemed the epitome of success for the boss and this book started getting written.

It’s written in the same prose as his songs – the Dylan influence – so that gives us fans confidence in its credibility. The first revelation (although I have never felt the need to look it up) is that The River was written for his sister. They are a close family. Indeed, his mother’s daily waking rituals are the sound of both mystery and reassurance and the writer professes to still hear them. Despite sharing her life with a drunk, she seems terribly dignified and sure of herself. This is a lady portrayed as never off sick, well-turned out with her ‘high-heels clicking lightly in the other direction’ to work while Springsteen goes off to school.

All of the family are immortalised reaching back into his Irish/Dutch and Italian New Jersey heritage. Talking of family, of the band members, he talks of Steve Van Zandt as his brother with them living in their own world and feel lucky to have been born just at the right time ‘when the language was being formed and spoken by teenagers across the world’. He talks a lot of Café Wha which I hadn’t heard off until I walked in once February night in 2009 and had my mind blown at how good the house band was. Oddly enough, it made me think of the E-Street band, that’s how tight they were. I had no idea this place in New York’s Village had such heritage.

This was around the time he and has musician pals would set up home in any old place where they could play music 24/7, a lot of time without paying rent. Paying tax was certainly new to him when he signed a contract and thereafter had to pay some. Springsteen delighted in being 23 and making a living playing music, although he started almost 10 years before that. 

They call it playing, not working! 

Bands before the E-Street band include Child and Steel Mill which fitted the blue-collar lyrics that persist to this day. Finally, the actual E-Street band was formed, at The Upstage.

I don’t recall reading where this band name came from. Or in fact, why the author is known as The Boss. Perhaps because these two stories are already such a part of rock’s folklore but confirmation would have been nice.

It was a conscious decision to sign his record deal as solo artist with a backing band. He wanted to be the boss, like his singing heroes; Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison, and definitely to be in ultimate control.

I always knew he stuck to his Jersey roots but didn’t know about the years living in California and doing the whole Hollywood thing. Hanging out with Frank Sinatra and being invited to his dinners and 80th birthday party struck me as a little out of character. It must be a Jersey-boys-stick-together thing. There are a lot of long drives on his bike featured, which he seems to do to this day, with a couple of fellow road trippers. I’m surprised to learn that he didn’t drink in the early days. Maybe something to do with his father’s habit? Springsteen didn’t have a driving licence until later in life too, unusual for American teenagers, especially those needing to go from gig to gig while still a teenager.

The title of this book must have been obvious for decades, long before it was conceived. With Born to Run, Springsteen wanted to make a record that sounded like the ‘last noise on earth’. All influenced by Elvis, Dylan and of course, Phil Spector. Although not so much in this book, he has talked in the past about his respect for girl groups and the Motown sound.

The book goes into meeting the author of the Born on the Fourth of July book which inspired the other most famous song, Born in the USA. That also sparked the efforts to participate in fundraising events and raising the profile of the needs of returning soldiers. 

As parents, you are their audience, they are not yours.

Later in life, we learn of the evening when his son realised what an influence his Dad is. The bass player of one of Evan’s favourite bands revealed a tattoo of a verse of ‘Badlands’ backstage at a gig. 

I’ve always admired how Springsteen has been able to write about the everyman while being a multi-millionaire for decades. He writes about starting to write about social issues as that ‘rich man in a poor man’s shirt left an uneasy taste’ in his mouth. American Skin apparently received a more controversial reaction to a song (more than Born in the USA) as it talked about America’s ongoing race issues.

The Boss talks forlornly of losing Danny Federici and of course, Clarence Clemons, also referred to as his brother, who’s nephew eventually joined the band after his passing. (Although there only through loyalty as he turned up late for his first meeting and showed attitude in my opinion!)

It’s said ‘C – the Big Man’ was still fragile and not immune to racism from time to time through their years together. He claims the idea of bringing him to the photo shoot for the Born to Run album cover.

When you’re on tour, you’re king. When you’re home, you’re not

Probably the biggest surprise is the hint of mental illness that’s said to run through the family, and perhaps with hindsight, evident in his dad. It is wife Patti that has helped him through the post tour lows. Patti and a shrink or two. It does rather solidify the idea that all Americans have a shrink, even the blue colour ones. It’s hard to believe during his sometimes long dark periods when he can’t get out of bed he worries about providing for his family if he can’t work again. I thought it was called playing? Maybe he goes with my theory that work just describes the things you don’t want to do; everything else is play.

Of all the heroes he talks about meeting – Sinatra, Morrison, Dylan, Orbison, McCartney – I’ve never before heard Keith Richards being describe as ‘spectrally beautiful’. I chuckle at that.

While there is a lot about his parents, siblings, oldest friends and Patti, the children, already grown up, are fairly protected in this story. Just a proud mention of son one finishing college and going into music too, primarily in radio and living close to the aforementioned Café Wha? Son two also went to college, to be a writer but dropped out to be a fire fighter and also works with returning veterans. And the only that is a little in the public eye is horse-crazy daughter who rides in the USA team.

What I love about Born to Run the book is the same reason that I, love the track of the same name; it reminds me to strive and do my best every day and to keep living the life I have.

The author is careful to reach deep into his many, rich, American experiences and share those with us. As one who doesn’t feel the need to read every interview/review/article about people whose music I happen to like, I learnt about striving to be the best and about growing up in America.

There’s quite a lot of personal information for an author who professes he hasn’t told us everything. It does feel as though he is still sitting at the bar long after closing, still telling us his story.

He does encourage us to ‘go tell’ our story too.

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