Thursday 24 September 2020

#CBR12 Book 60: "Born to Run" by Bruce Springsteen

Page count: 528 pages
Audio book length: 18 hrs 12 mins
Rating: 4 stars

#CBR12 Bingo: Music

Official book description:
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.

When this book came out in December 2016, it was a natural Christmas present for both my husband and my mother. I always had plans to read it for myself but was in no immediate hurry to do so. Nevertheless, when there was a bingo square devoted to music, it seemed like the perfect book to choose. I listened to the audiobook version, narrated by Springsteen himself, and featuring snippets of some of his most well-known music. Springsteen is an excellent storyteller, as evidenced in much of his lyrics over the years, and I already knew that he could be funny and self-deprecating from interviews I've seen or live shows I've been lucky enough to go to myself. I'd also experienced some of his openness and honesty about his life in the Springsteen on Broadway show, but this book gives you so much more detail about his life and career.

I've been listening to Bruce Springsteen's music since long before I knew what it really was. For all that Norway has fewer than 6 million inhabitants, he really does have a very large following of die-hard fans in this country. My mother is one of them. We would listen to cassette tapes of Springsteen's music in the car on longer journeys (by no means only Springsteen, there was Abba and Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon and a bunch of other artists too), The Boss holds a special place in my mother's heart, and as I've grown older, in mine too.

My husband, the man I've been together with for twenty years at this point, also loves Bruce Springsteen. He's camped outside ticket offices in all kinds of weather many times, which is one of the reasons we've been lucky enough to see Springsteen live almost every time he's toured Norway since we moved back here from Scotland in 2004. Buying concert tickets online is too risky, you see, the systems inevitably crash and get overloaded. Springsteen sells out arenas in Norway in minutes (I think the record is seriously something like 6 minutes for 30 000 tickets) and the best way to be guaranteed tickets is buying in person at the arena ticket office (where they reserve a small amount of the tickets). Springsteen is an amazing live performer, and he has never given less than an absolutely awesome show when he tours.

Bruce Springsteen and Steve van Zandt (who starred in the Norwegian-set and produced drama Lillyhammer for several seasons) were also the only international artists to perform during the 2012 memorial concert for the victims of the 22nd of July 2011 mass shooting. Springsteen and the E-Street Band had done a concert in Oslo the day before and wanted to show their respect to the victims and their families. So it's no wonder he's beloved by his Norwegian fans.

I don't listen to or care about music in the way my husband does. For him, music is absolutely essential and he can't believe how often I can listen to a certain song, yet never seem to pick up specifics from the lyrics. He wrote his Masters' Thesis on the lyrics of Bob Dylan. To me, music is something perfectly nice to have on in the background when I'm reading or doing chores or wandering around, but I might just as well listen to an audio book. Music rarely moves me to tears or gets me emotional, in the way it affects my husband. Hence, I don't really tend to read in-depth artist interviews and the like, and this is the first musician autobiography I've read. Even having seen the Springsteen on Broadway show, where he's very honest about his rather dark childhood and his own struggles with depression, I hadn't realised the extent to these things. 

Things I learned while reading this book: despite being famous for writing about cars and driving, Springsteen didn't learn to drive until he was in his 20s. His father was a paranoid schizophrenic who wasn't diagnosed until late in life. Springsteen has had several really serious bouts of crippling depression, but touring is one of the things that helps him combat them. Springsteen wrote The River, possibly one of my two favourite songs of his (the other being Thunder Road) about his sister Virginia and her husband, who are still happily married to this day. The politicians working to make Born to Run as the official song of New Jersey really haven't listened very well to the lyrics of the song. Springsteen didn't realise that Courtney Cox was an actress hired to be in the Dancing in the Dark video until much later, he just thought she was a fan of his selected to dance on stage with him. Patty Scialfa is clearly an awesome lady. 

I really don't know how this book would work for someone who isn't at least a casual fan of Bruce Springsteen, as I'm not sure you'd care all that much about his life and career if you're not. It's an entertaining and really well-told book, however, and I can very much recommend listening to the audio.

Judging a book by its cover: The cover photo of Springsteen was taken in 1978, a year before I was born. By this point, Springsteen had released four studio albums, including Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town. The car he's sitting on is a Corvette, a car he could well afford, as his career was really starting to take off. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

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