BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: BORN TO RUN
To Bruce Springsteen fans, the man, the ‘Boss’, is an inspirational force: his live performances are parties, where he leads his gang of loyal friends (the E Street Band) in a thrilling melee of sheer enjoyment. He’s loving it, they’re loving it, it’s infectious and so they, the audience love it too.
Can there be a better man, a happier man, a more fulfilled man alive? It’s inspirational, not just because of sheer entertainment being shared, in a symbiotic embrace, but because of the integrity of the message his songs convey of values, loyalty, redemption, respect and responsibility (both personal and collectively).
Those reading his memoir will be looking for answers, either to learn how to be this kind of wonderfully unflawed and fulfilled person, or to see the veil pulled away to find it is, after all, too good to be true, that it’s all a dazzling mirage invented by a ruthless, single-minded and ambitious artist.
The chronology of Springsteen’s life is already an open enough book, his musical canon charting an upward course from streetwise cocky young punks, through small town characters eking out lives filled with promise and disappointment trying to break free, to more rounded, mature subjects who work hard, fail, are failed by others, but always seeking to be fulfilled by whatever small victories life may offer.
His own life has been charted through biographies, interviews, media interest and, to an extent, a mythology that has used both the music and the reality as a skeleton on which to flesh itself out.
So much is known. The question then, was would the real Bruce Springsteen be revealed by Bruce Springsteen? The answer is a cautious yes. Using the dual sequences of his personal life and his musical life he reveals very little that is not known in simple factual terms. What he does instead is carefully, gently, remove the myth-flesh from the skeleton and rebuild the body with tissue that comes from the only person who knows what it’s like to be Bruce Springsteen.
Naturally – it is, after all, an autobiography – he remains firmly at the centre of events. However, there is little self-aggrandisement; events are related from the perspective of where he fits and sits in regard to them, but the role he has in them is not necessarily one that is itself important. It is important only in how it played a part in developing who he was or would become.
Recognition of his confidence in his talent and ability is not humbled or modestly downplayed, but the influence, help and importance of those who have been key to his successes is graciously told.
Not least, the part his father played throughout. Long recognised publicly as a spectre looming menacingly, awkwardly, and aggressively over him, there is a yearning, tender and ultimately redemptive gradual revealing of their undoubtedly strained relationship, whilst covertly recognising the significance of its importance in shaping who he is.
And that’s where those questions begin to be answered: he is not the unflawed, fulfilled person we thought (or hoped) he is. Yet neither is he an unpleasant, arrogant and ruthless individual that others may have hoped for. His lifestyle and life have perhaps created a more needy, self-centred and selfish person than the myth would have us believe, but he does not shy away from telling us this. Nor does he baulk at revealing the connection he fears exists between his father’s mental health issues, and his own, and the picture of a clinically depressed, bullying Bruce Springsteen may not sit comfortably with fans that need him to fulfil their own fantasy of a perfectly formed god. Credit then, to him, for trying to portray himself as realistically as he felt able.
This is an absorbing and enjoyable read. His prose style is captivating; both relaxed, as if he is just simply chatting to you over a beer, and at times wonderfully poetic. He is not afraid to tell you how driven, flawed, selfish and mono-minded he is, exposing a less attractive side than the ‘theatre’ (his word) of his live persona.
And yet, he is inclusive, because, as he more than once explains, none of this happens without you, and he means, YOU! Whichever one of ‘you’ is reading the book right now. You end feeling that you know more of him than you ever did, but that still, you don’t know him at all, and that, had you been his friend for the past 40 years, you wouldn’t know him any better than the reader does.
It’s a bit like the best of his music: bad things are out there, they will meet you, challenge you. Things don’t always work out, the things you believe will make you happy don’t necessarily do so and you have to look for hope, redemption, contentment, wherever it may be. In your friends, family, your work. You must examine who you are and where you fit into it all in order for it to feel real.
Born to Run is published by Simon & Schuster (£20)