“I was twenty-three and I was making a living playing music! Friend, there’s a reason they don’t call it ‘working,’ it’s called PLAYING! I’ve left enough sweat on stages around the world to fill at least one of the seven seas; I’ve driven myself and my band to the limits and over the edge for more than forty years…It’s a life-giving, joyful, sweat-drenched, muscle-aching, voice-blowing, mind-clearing, exhausting, soul-invigorating, cathartic pleasure and privilege every night.”
-Bruce Springsteen (from Born to Run)
George Carlin once repudiated the existence of the “American Dream” in his stand-up routine, adding that it was called a “dream” because one had “to be asleep to believe it.” Granted Horatio Alger-like rags-to-riches stories are rare, but when they do happen, the perpetrators become the underdog heroes we all love to cheer for; a champion for the masses. For as long as I can remember the balladeer for the working people has been Bruce Springsteen. While most singers belt out tunes about love or partying all night long, he spins yarns of people struggling for dignity against a merciless, rigged system; his music connects with the millions who have to battle every day just to eke out a living. How he found his voice, and how an average Joe from Freehold, New Jersey became “The Boss” is the subject of the new autobiography, Born to Run.
The epic 500-plus page tome contains almost eighty chapters and is divided into three sections (or “Books” as the author calls them), titled Growin’ Up, Born to Run, and Living Proof, which cover every aspect of Springsteen’s life: His personal, professional, and philosophical, in intimate, complex detail. He includes the origins of his most popular songs, his search for love and acceptance, and surprisingly enough, his constant battle with depression; from the humorous, to the intriguing, to the tragic.
Springsteen’s writing style is smooth and poetic; the narrative flows like his lyrics (reminiscent of Atlantic City, The River or Jungle Land). It is satisfying to know he can tell a tale as effectively with prose as with his songs. He does not employ any words one has to look up in the dictionary, yet he still is able to paint brilliant images that both moved and entertained me. His analysis is smart and his insight and wisdom are solid. And unlike many other pieces of this genre that I have read in the past, he laughs at himself, discusses and confesses his imperfections, of which he has many (like all of us), is humble, and does not make cheap excuses. Very refreshing.
I especially like how the photographs, which in most auto-bios are usually jammed somewhere in the middle and include phony-baloney record industry publicity pictures, are instead at the end and comprised mostly of old personal snapshots with the captions written by hand, giving it a sort of family album feel.
My only real issues with Born to Run are two things I see often with first-time authors: The abuse of capitals and exclamation points for emphasis (more than 90% of the time Springsteen uses them they are redundant, distracting or both…there is no need to hammer it home with pyrotechnics; this is a memoir, not a Metallica concert), and on more than one occasion he gets caught up in his enthusiasm and chatters on a bit longer than is necessary (someone should have reminded him the book is called Born to Run, not Born to Run On). But as far as faults go, the aforementioned are not the worst things an author can do. (The worst is to be dishonest, and this book is certainly not that!)
Bruce Springsteen has lived “The American Dream” and his life story and experiences are worth sharing and reading; Born to Run answers any question anyone would have about this son of The Garden State. There is something in it for everyone, even if you are not into his music, and I am infinitely glad he was the one to do it (without a ghost writer to boot).
Here I leave you with my favorite Springsteen song. Enjoy.