“Born To Run”
By Bruce Springsteen
Simon and Schuster
Now out in paperback, Bruce Springsteens’s autobiography “Born To Run” won’t disappoint the legion of Springsteen acolytes. It’s a largely revealing, consistently diverting and satisfying read.
The story of Springsteen’s growing up in “the bosom of the Catholic Church,” in the Jersey shore town Freehold will intrigue Catholic readers.
Some of them will nod their heads in concord with Springsteen’s descriptions of nuns’ knuckle rapping, being smacked in the head, having his tie yanked and being shut into a dark closet. These experiences, he writes, “left a mean taste in my mouth and estranged me from my religion for good.”
But Catholics will also relate to Springsteen when he writes: “I came to ruefully and bemusedly understand,” he writes, “that once you’re Catholic, you’re always a Catholic. I know somewhere … deep inside … I’m still on the team.”
Springsteen’s heritage helps readers understand the man and musician he became. The name Springsteen is Dutch, but Springsteen’s father Douglas was Irish and mother Adele Italian.
And Springsteen has said his acoustic, more introspective music comes from his Irish side, and his rock music comes from his Italian side.
Veteran fans are well familiar with Springsteen’s concert introductions to songs such as “Independence Day” and “The River,” which recall difficult kitchen table conversations with his brooding father.
While not diminishing Douglas’ dark and troubled nature, Springsteen’s portrait of his dad in these pages is more well rounded and sympathetic than he previously revealed.
As a boy, Springsteen writes, of having to collect his father from local bars, which were “citadels of mystery, filled with mean magic, uncertainty, and the possibility of violence.” The Boss also recalls, when he was older, defending his mother from his drunken, enraged father.
Springsteen “let him have it between his square shoulders.” Beyond his dad’s rage, Springsteen acknowledges there was “a gentleness, timidity, shyness, and dreamy insecurity.”
One of three sisters, who “have screamed, laughed, cried, and danced their way through life’s best and worst,” his mom Adele set her son a better example.
“Joy in your work and a never-say-die thirst for life” are among the numerous things Adele taught Springsteen. “The love I missed from my father, she tried to double up on,” he writes, and purchasing his first electric guitar, she encouraged The Boss’ musical career.
The story of Springsteen’s formative ascent through several band incarnations to signing his first contract with legendary Columbia Records’ producer John Hammond in May 1972 will most interest readers. And it will surprise them to discover the songwriter closely identified with car songs once didn’t know how to drive.
One of “Born To Run’s” more memorable moments occurs when, in his pre- E St. Band days, the unlicensed Springsteen is enlisted to share the driving in a 72-hour drive to a California gig.
While driving his then manager Tinker’s big truck, he was “weaving all over the highway,” Springsteen writes. “We were lucky I didn’t kill us. But by the time we got to California, I knew how to drive, and Tinker had spent many a sleepless hour.”
15 years after that episode, by the time of 1984’s “Born in the USA” tour, Springsteen was a superstar beyond his fervent imagination. Although his life was, on the surface, glamorous, Springsteen, in “Born To Run” most revealingly discusses his mental health struggles.
In 1983, on another cross-country drive, Springsteen writes, “the ambivalence, trouble, and toxic confusion I’d had volcanically bubbling for thirty-two years would reach critical mass.”
Regular psychiatric consultations and prescription meds helped Springsteen manage his dark moods until after his 60th birthday when he says, “I slipped into a depression” that “would last for a year and a half.”
“During these periods, I can be cruel: I run, I dissemble, I disappear, I return, I rarely apologize.” Readers will welcome this candor from someone so prominent on issues, which unfortunately some still consider taboo.
Through the apogee of commercial and critical success and nadir of anxiety and depression, Springsteen remains grounded and relevant and inspirational as an artist because he understands and values music’s power to transform and bind and heal.
His experience playing with the Americana style backing group The Sessions Band testifies to Springsteen’s faith in music’s enduring power. He and the band were headliners at JazzFest, New Orleans’ legendary musical festival in 2006, the first year after Katrina devastated the city.
The band’s playing overcame a skeptical audience unaccustomed to hearing Springsteen play a new style. “There’s a coming together, and a lifting, a fortifying that occurs when people gather and move in time with one another. It’s a beautiful thing.”
“Born To Run” isn’t perfect. Springsteen frequently employs all caps prose, which mars an otherwise laudable work and will annoy and distress readers. Nonetheless, the engaging, thoughtful “Born To Run” proves The Boss of the short piece can also go long and deep.