Review: BORN TO RUN by Bruce Springsteen (Simon & Schuster)

springsteenb-borntorunAn interesting, if not-particularly-revelatory memoir from the Boss

In 2009, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performed at the Super Bowl’s halftime show. The experience was so exhilarating that Bruce decided to write about it. That’s how this extraordinary autobiography began.

Over the past seven years, Bruce Springsteen has privately devoted himself to writing the story of his life, bringing to these pages the same honesty, humor, and originality found in his songs.

He describes growing up Catholic in Freehold, New Jersey, amid the poetry, danger, and darkness that fueled his imagination, leading up to the moment he refers to as “The Big Bang”: seeing Elvis Presley’s debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. He vividly recounts his relentless drive to become a musician, his early days as a bar band king in Asbury Park, and the rise of the E Street Band. With disarming candor, he also tells for the first time the story of the personal struggles that inspired his best work and shows us why the song “Born to Run” reveals more than we previously realized.

Born to Run will be revelatory for anyone who has ever enjoyed Bruce Springsteen, but this book is much more than a legendary rock star’s memoir. This is a book for workers and dreamers, parents and children, lovers and loners, artists, freaks, or anyone who has ever wanted to be baptized in the holy river of rock and roll.

Like many people, I was very eager to get my hands on Born to Run when it came out. I have been listening to Springsteen’s music my whole life, really — Born in the USA was a regular on our family stereo, and was the first album I ever loved. (I used to stage ‘concerts’ of it, using my G.I. Joe figures as stand-ins for the band…) Due to work and other reasons, it took me some time to get around to reading Born to Run, but I eventually got the audiobook. I found it quite interesting… if slightly underwhelming.

I read Peter Ames Carlin’s Bruce last year. Ultimately, I don’t think I got much more information out of Born to Run than I did from Bruce. The truth is, Springsteen has been written about at length by so many people — in books, interviews, features, etc. — and, if you’ve read even a small amount of the longer pieces, then you’ll probably know everything included in Born to Run.

Springsteen’s narration is very good, and it was certainly nice to have him narrate his own memoir. The production is excellent, and it was nice that there are very occasional inclusions of Springsteen’s music.

However, I did find myself zoning out at times while listening. This is not necessarily Springsteen’s fault — as he admits, he has always shied away from the excesses and publicity-seeking side of rock ‘n’ roll stardom. This does match his public persona, and the stories contained within his songs (it was nice, at least, to discover that he does seem to be the guy he professes to be). His confidence comes through in every chapter, but he never comes across as arrogant. He admits to mistakes, albeit briefly, and appears fair in his criticisms of others (there’s no frothing revenge, here). He spends plenty of time discussing the music itself — the influences, his favourite songs, and so forth. It’s a bit music-wonky at times, which I did enjoy.

Thinking about my own Born in the USA daydreaming (as mentioned in my first paragraph), I found this bit in Chapter 12 of Born to Run very relatable:

Before long I began to feel the empowerment the instrument and my work were bringing me. I had a secret… there was something I could do, something I might be good at. I fell asleep at night with dreams of rock ’n’ roll glory in my head. Here’s how one would go: The Stones have a gig at Asbury Park’s Convention Hall but Mick Jagger gets sick. It’s a show they’ve got to make, they need a replacement, but who can replace Mick? Suddenly, a young hero rises, a local kid, right out of the audience. He can “front”: he’s got the voice, the look, the moves, no acne, and he plays a hell of a guitar. The band clicks. Keith is smiling and suddenly, the Stones aren’t in such a rush to get Mick out of his sickbed. How does it end? Always the same… the crowd goes wild.

Overall, then, I’d say this is a good read, if not the most scintillating. His music is far more engaging and moving than his story. The memoir is, as can probably be expected, filled with many Bruce-isms — that lyrical style of writing that echoes many of his songs. Certain sentences are presented and formulated as if they could easily be lines from either existing or future songs. Born to Run is the best book about Springsteen’s career: it’s first-hand, and does include many interesting observations about key moments in the author’s life and career. It’s not as analytical as some Springsteen books are (thankfully — many seem to reach), but there are also certain times when Springsteen offers barely any detail: world tours are often presented as a list of destinations, but no real anecdotes from said tour. It’s almost as if he didn’t go to all of these places.

If you are a fan of the Boss, I would definitely recommend you check it out — especially if you haven’t yet read any books about Springsteen. I just feel that, for the main, I’ve got more out of interviews and long magazine features than I have out of any book-length text on Springsteen.

A cautious recommendation, therefore.

*

Bruce Springsteen‘s Born to Run is out now, published by Simon & Schuster in North America and the UK.

Audiobook received for review from Audible UK.

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