- - Tuesday, November 8, 2016



By Bruce Springsteen

Simon & Schuster, $32.50, 528 pages

On Sept. 1, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played a four-hour concert at Washington’s Nationals Park. A few nights later in Philadelphia, he topped that with a personal best of four hours and three minutes. These marathon shows have been part of Springsteen lore for many years. At the age of 67, he continues his pull-out-all the-stops showmanship.

To shed light on his life, his music and many other personal subjects, Mr. Springsteen has released his memoir, “Born to Run.” The title is taken from the rousing title song on his most revered album. The 508-page autobiography is divided into three books and 79 chapters.

Much of Mr. Springsteen’s public life has been written about in other books and countless news articles. Readers are given a treat by experiencing these things in Mr. Springsteen’s own words. His prose, like his songs, has a rhythm that keeps the reader engaged. His use of ellipses, all caps and profanity highlight his enthusiasm and authenticity of expression.

Bruce Springsteen was raised in Freehold, N.J. His extended family of grandparents, Italian aunts and Irish uncles lived within a block of his house. The family’s Catholic parish, St. Rose of Lima, was on the same block.

“Before my grammar school education [at St. Rose] was over, I’d have my knuckles classically rapped, my tie pulled ‘til I choked, be struck in the head, shut into a dark closet, and stuffed into a trash can and told this is where I belong.” Ironically, he notes, “This was the world where I found the beginning of my songs. In Catholicism there existed poetry, darkness that reflected my imagination.” Today, Mr. Springsteen does not actively practice his Catholic faith, but says he is “still on the team.”

The early chapters that chronicle Mr. Springsteen’s upward climb in the music business are among the most revealing. His early band, The Castiles, played the Elks lodge, trailer park openings, even the Marlboro Psychiatric Hospital. At that gig, the patients sang along to the band’s rendition of The Animals’ “We Gotta Get Out of this Place.”

After a decade of playing in bars and clubs on the East Coast, and two futile road trips to San Francisco to be discovered, Mr. Springsteen was signed to CBS Records by longtime executive, John Hammond. For the fateful audition in Mr. Hammond’s office, Mr. Springsteen borrowed an acoustic guitar without the case and carried it from his home on the Jersey Shore to New York City.

The early part of his recording career started slowly. His first two albums, “Greetings from Asbury Park” and “The Wild, the Innocent and The E Street Shuffle” were hailed by critics, but were commercial flops. Mr. Springsteen was elated when his manager told him that his debut album sold 23,000 copies, and recalls the first time he heard one of his songs on the radio of a passing car.

His third album would be his last unless it was a hit. He poured all of his creative energy into making “Born to Run” a magnum opus, including spending six months crafting the sound and lyrics of the title song. The release of the “Born to Run” album, followed by a major tour, ignited a media frenzy that landed Mr. Springsteen simultaneously on the covers of Time and Newsweek. The cover photo of his memoir shows Mr. Springsteen leaning against the Corvette he purchased following the success of the album. He was a success, but not yet a superstar, and he had far more to prove.

This book contains Mr. Springsteen’s observations about many of his personal and working relationships. He delves deeply into the conflicted relationship he had with his father, and his father’s struggles with mental illness. “He loved me, but he couldn’t stand me,” Mr. Springsteen writes. He also opens up about his failed marriage to actress Julianne Phillips, as well as the happy life he built with his second wife and bandmate, Patti Scialfa, with whom he has three children.

The vaunted E Street Band has been backing Mr. Springsteen since the 1970s., and he gives them a great deal of credit for his success. In 1989, he dissolved the band in favor of working with other musicians. The public and the band were stunned. In 1999, the band re-formed for a reunion tour and have been recording and touring together ever since. Mr. Springsteen finds kind words for Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez, his former drummer who was asked to leave the band due to his wild temper. He also tells of the personal hurt he felt following the deaths of keyboardist Danny Federici and saxophonist Clarence Clemons.

“Born to Run” will please the most hardcore Bruce Springsteen fan. It is also critical to understanding one of rock’s most introspective figures. Experiencing Mr. Springsteen’s life in “Born to Run” is a road trip and a concert in one. It leaves the reader wanting and hoping for more. Those looking for lurid details of the drug-fueled rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle will have to look elsewhere. Mr. Springsteen’s vision and commitment to the craft that spurred his musical success shines through in an honest memoir.

Kevin P. McVicker is vice president with Shirley & Banister Public Affairs in Alexandria, Va.

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