Finally, Bruce has left the TBR shelf and landed in my hands, and the front shelf has shifted round and is no longer bookended (as my friend Dave finally noticed) by two “Born to Run”s. This was a read that started off a bit over-busy but ended up festooned with post-it flags and wept over in parts – one of the best rock (auto)biographies I’ve read. It’s the last of my January 2017 buys, bought with birthday/Christmas book tokens after the rush of incoming books had settled down for the time being last year.

Bruce Springsteen – “Born to Run”

(27 January 2017)

This autobiography is clearly a true autobiography, written by Mr Springsteen and not ghosted (maybe I’m wrong there, but I doubt it). I was surprised to see an acknowledgement in the back for help getting the longhand writing onto the computer, as it read like it was dictated … and with this style of writing, the audio book must be amazing!

I didn’t get massively into the over-enthusiastic telling of the early days, but then, as he got into the young days of his first bands and his political awakening, it got better and better – so raw and honest and obviously deeply felt. The political aspect was something I was really only aware of in his post 9/11 album, The Rising, and with a small p in terms of his telling of the lives of working class people, but in fact his political activism and support of charities and organisations goes way back and stretches forward, something I hugely respect him for.

The book is honest about the way Bruce’s unconventional upbringing and especially relationship with his father affected his young life and has affected his whole adult life, and he’s open about his father’s struggles with mental health issues and his own anxiety and depression – this was much talked about when the book came out and it leaves a lasting impression and gives a depth to the book as it’s something that could so easily be tidied away and not talked about. He talks naturally about both therapy and drug interventions being useful tools, and also living simply, being open about it, contemplating nature and being with his family helping, and I think this is far more useful than bandwagon jumping self-help books.

The details on the local and world music scenes and their interaction is fascinating, for example the Beatles’ work leading to local bands ditching their instrumental tracks and starting to sing and write their own material. The way the early days and venues worked was really interesting.

Springsteen is a man of contradictions – he’s risk-averse and spends a lot of energy trying to get crowds to just bloomin’ well sit DOWN in European venues and at festivals, yet he drives across America without being able to drive (and it’s not clear just when he does get his licence); he dodges the draft but works hard helping establish and support a Vietnam veterans’ association; he’s a rock’n’roll star who gets into alcohol late, never touches drugs and forbids himself to visit the Playboy Mansion because it wouldn’t be authentic (then berates himself for this, very disarmingly); he is humble and thinks he sounds worse on tape than he expects, but admits he’s egocentric and leads his band in a very different way to most. He’s very clear that he had natural talent but had to work extremely hard to succeed, and this work ethic and his contradictions are what lead to the restraint and control in his work but commitment to putting on amazing shows that the fans love.

He’s obviously extremely fond of the various members of the E Street Band and their reunion and the inevitable loss of some of the members is told beautifully, as is his relationship with his wife Patti and his children. I love how he acknowledges Patti for helping him to be a better person and a better father, and the lengths he went to to protect them from the bombardment of his fans, even pretending to them that he was actually Barney the Purple Dinosaur (bless!).

Springsteen is in it for the long haul, not interested in flaring up and dying down. Even when he meets his idols, he’s hard-working and respectful. These aspects of his personality that shine through plus the satisfying detail on the albums and important shows make this an extremely good read and a book I will keep and revisit.

I’m currently reading Cathy Kelly’s “Between Sisters” for Reading Ireland but haven’t got very far so far, and I’ve finished Rolf Potts’ excellent “Souvenirs” which I will be reviewing for Shiny New Books.

In other Shiny News, I have done a more serious review of Lucy Mangan’s “Bookworm” for them which is quite different from my personal one published here – do pop over and have a look!