Reading Born To Run is like experiencing one of Bruce Springsteen’s ecstatic three hour long shows. The book is overwhelming, poignant, entertaining, compelling and painfully honest. The chapters of this autobiography have the length of a pop song, but The Boss has so many interesting stories to tell that he needs more than 500 pages.
In many ways Springsteen (1949) is the opposite of a rock star. It took him a long time to become a household name, first in the US and later in the rest of the world. Bruce is honest about his own qualities: his singing voice is far from perfect (‘About my voice; first of all, I don’t have much one’) and many guitarists play better than he does. His success is due to a lot of practising, making his own decisions (‘Democracy in rock bands is often a ticking time bomb’) and his excellent song-writing skills. Analysing Springsteen’s lyrics tells a lot about growing up in a working-class area in New Jersey during the fifties and the sixties: ‘I turned all the conflicting voices of my childhood into something alive, powerful and light. I am a repairman.’
Conquering the United States meant conquering every stage one by one. Springsteen and his bandmembers travelled by car (Springsteen drove without having a driving licence) from coast to coast. Reading these fascinating stories is like rereading Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. Getting trapped in a snowstorm was a scary experience and Springsteen describes vividly how he experienced this event as if it really meant the end of the world.
Unlike many other rock stars Springsteen never became the victim of drugs or booze. He had seen his father drinking too much and alcohol scared him. It made Springsteen determined to stay sober: ‘Music was going to get me as high as needed to go.’ But no one can control his life completely: Springsteen describes how he inherited his father’s genes which resulted in walking away from people if they came too close, and suffering from serious and long depressions: ‘My depression was spewing like an oil spill over the beautiful turquoise green gulf of my carefully planned existence.’
Apart from counselling and medication Springsteen describes two reasons for not giving up: his wife Patti Scialfa, who is the only one who is capable to confront The Boss with his dark sides without making him run away. The other remedy is: his three and sometimes four hour-long shows: ‘Exposed in front of thousands I have always felt perfectly safe, that’s why you can’t get rid of me.’ Bruce Springsteen’s memoirs show his positive attitude even towards people who harmed him. Making music was the only thing he really wanted to do: ‘I’m glad they paid me for my efforts, but I truly would have done it for free.’ That’s the true spirit!
Bruce Springsteen – Born To Run, memoirs, Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd, 528 pages