Some Thoughts On The Bruce Springsteen Autobiography
Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography “Born To Run” was published in September 2016 and I bought it on release and was finished with it some four months later, too late to review, plus it is so boring treading in the same bike lanes as everybody else when it comes to the Boss. The thing abut consensus, especially as it applies to “Born To Run,” is that it tends to be correct, if a little overblown. The Bible (and I mean the New Testament ), a book it resembles, got more mixed reviews than “Born To Run”. Here is a not uncommon pull quote, off the “LA Times” no less. “It’s alternately brutally honest, philosophically deep, stabbingly funny and, perhaps most important, refreshingly humble.” Back up, it is not brutally honest, it is not philosophically deep, and even if people of good faith may disagree on the first two descriptions, it isn’t remotely close to humble.
Bruce’s version of his life is that of a working class child of the 60s who fought with his deeply disappointed father, worked very hard for very long, and was rewarded with rock stardom. And then worked very hard not to become his father.
My version of Bruce’s life goes like that a hard working catholic lad release some classic rock albums between the mid70s and the mid-80s and lived on em ever since.
Bruce’s problem is he tussles with honesty versus niceness. he wants to be nice, his instincts are towards kindness, but call it depression, call it the gimme of fame: whatever, he is still a nasty piece of work. In the tear and tearing sound of fame, he stumbles between not wanting to buy a new car and owning a mansion, and he tries to add the mix into a fatal mélange of power and execution, that is how he got involved in politics when it was quite literally the last thing he and we needed. As he shills for the Kerry’s and the Clinton, his blue collar instinct goes up in flames. Never more so than on album he marks out as a masterpiece, Wrecking Ball. He claims, though out his career, on stuff like The Ghost Of Tom Joad, a natural empathy for those less fortunate, but he misses the story on Wrecking Ball. from opening track, the bathetic “We Take Care Of Our Own” through yet another American song, the jig is up “American Land,” nothing has the sting of experience. he doesn’t grasp what is going on.
Early Bruce, say through Clarence joining the band, is a typical atypical story of hippies doing it their way. Once Clarence joins, its a rough ride to superstardom, with bruce, as big as whiner as David Cassidy in his own way, chasing fame with his whole heart while denying what he wants. That confusion may be what he believes, or what he remembers, he has been going to a therapist for decades so who can tell? But reality isn’t memory and this has the wariness of hued visions. By the time he is grown up, you wonder where bragging rights end?
I thought it was great but also annoying (Grade: A), I respect that Springsteen isn’t attempting to portray himself as a rock god per se, but rather he revels in his humanity and tears apart his persona to show how he rebuilt himself. Similar to the autobiography, the heart of the matter is Springsteen’s difficult relationship with his father, and how effected his life till he came full circle. The years mellowed his dad but at the beginning he was a glowering, towering vision of rage at the life he had been given.
In his earliest work, Bruce was a voice for working class men (and to a lesser degree) women, and he had the power not just of truth but also the beauty of a sound that fulfilled the dreams of a promised land. His writing about writing those songs is stellar, a spotlight on the difficulties in embracing your roots even as you pass by them. Bruce not only knew what he wanted but he fought long and hard, especially himself, to get it. That hard work paid off with Born To Run and Darkness On The Edge Of Town. They were back to back masterpieces of the American experience with a melodic gift that took you from doo wop to Sun Sessions through British Explosion and Motown soul, to his own unique sound. He has never improved on them and why should he?
And while he explains what he did and how he did it, he gets lost later on in his career, after the skills had left him. Not only was he out of his depth writing about South American immigrants, despite all his scholarship, he was also, and much more importantly, incapable of writing the music to bring them to life. Put it this way, the realness of Steinbeck’s “Tortilla Flats” does not extend to Tom Joad. And this problem extended all over, from The Rising to Wrecking Ball, Bruce keeps telling us they are great and they aren’t. “My City Of Ruins” may well be great but that doesn’t make “Mary’s Place” any less dingy. Remember when Bruce replaced “Tenth avenue Freeze out” with it in concert? How did that work out?”
Once you get to the finishing end, Bruce doles out his attention to his familie and close friends like introducing the band during “Tenth Avenue Freeze out”: it’s a little degrading, sometimes uplifting, always self-serving in ways he means it to be. Bruce is at his worse when discussing his farm, where, yet again, he doesn’t discuss the tax breaks. This man pays $5k in property taxes for a farm a quarter the size of Central Park. I hope Bruce never joins the “show your taxes” chorus.
Yet, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Sometimes his writing is just terrific and always he fools himself first, if his opinion fools anyone at all.