I just recently finished reading my first book of the year, Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run. It’s quite the lengthy tome, and if you’re familiar with his music (particularly his early epic-length songs like the one above), you’ll feel right at home with his life story. His long-format musical storytelling fits right in with his literary storytelling.
I’ve mentioned it here before, but one of the most common threads I see in a lot of music biographies is the musician’s moment of how the hell did I get here?, especially when they’re put in an unexpected situation. In Johnny Marr’s book Set the Boy Free, his moment was when he was jamming and talking personally with Paul McCartney about the breakup of the Smiths (Macca’s words of wisdom for him: “That’s bands for you.”). For Bruce, it was the moment he was on the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame stage, with Mick Jagger on one side and George Harrison on the other, singing ‘I Saw Her Standing There’. And the most interesting part of that tale thread is that, more often than not, they didn’t climb up their Marshall stack and yell ‘Top of the World, Ma!’. They just smiled and laughed stupidly at their incredible stroke of luck, and kept doing the only thing they know how to do best, and that’s play music.
Bruce Springsteen has always been the Champion of the Working Man sort of singer, and Born to Run makes sure you know that. A sizable portion of the book — at least half –is dedicated to repeated returns to New Jersey to see old friends, visiting his sisters and parents, and bringing up three kids. He may not be the Troubadour that people make him out to be, and he frequently reminds the reader that that’s not his aim, to be the next Pete Seeger or Bob Dylan. He’s just a storyteller who knows how to tell a good story about the blue collar man and woman, the people he grew up with and still connects with to this day.
[If I had one complaint, his writing does hint just a tiny bit at being a newbie, as I can see some of the usual writing habits that nag us all when we start out. He relies on hyphenated phrases, ellipses and ALL CAPS more than he should. That said, however, I’m not going to shoot him down for it. I’m just as bad in my rough drafts.]
It’s definitely a fun read, though. Well worth picking up!
Side note: I chose the above music and title, as it’s one of my favorite early Bruce tracks from his second album. It’s a lovely piece, and I used “Mad Dog’s Promenade” as the name of my radio show my sophomore year in college. I also put that there to note that there’s more to Bruce than just the hits we all know, and he’s one hell of a solid musician and songwriter…the deep cuts from his albums are often just as fascinating and imaginative.