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Born to Run


Born to Run

According to Bruce Springsteen, the New Jersey cultural deity and author of BORN TO RUN, he and the E Street Band have the second most cultish, clannish fanbase in all of rock and roll, behind only the Grateful Dead. Many of his fans feel like they know him personally because they have poured over decades of old interviews and concert recordings and know his life story very well. They need not look far because his whole story can be found right in his lyrics: his struggles with his father depicted in “Adam Raised a Cain” and “Independence Day,” his youthful longing for something more in “Thunder Road” and “Badlands,” what it was like growing up in his hometown in, well, “Growin’ Up” and “My Hometown,” and so on. With so much already known about his life, why would Springsteen spend years authoring a 500-page memoir?

The reason that BORN TO RUN is a must-read for every music fan, even those who have encyclopedic knowledge of his life and music already, is because the man who appears onstage and on his album covers --- “the Boss,” performing four-hour concerts with a bottomless well of energy, always in command with singular authority over his audience and band --- is only a character played by an artist who, in his own words, “is tinged with a bit of a fraud.” Springsteen has spent three decades in therapy for the depression, anxiety and uneasiness that he sings about so regularly, usually portraying it just as adolescent restlessness. He needs his audience as much or more than they need him because being on the road or getting lost in endless hours of solitary songwriting is how he “self-medicates” and deals with his demons (along with an occasional Klonopin).

"BORN TO RUN is honest and extraordinarily humble for a rock star’s memoir, and it reaffirms the authenticity that makes Springsteen beloved by millions around the world."

It is hard to imagine a rock star who has ascended to the top tier of the rock hierarchy --- where stars need only one name, like Elvis, Dylan, Jimi, John and Paul --- for his image personifying working class America’s indefatigable will as much as his musicianship reaching the lows he regularly arrives at. But in BORN TO RUN, readers get to see the full, unfiltered Boss on display, with his depression serving as an understandable and almost necessary yin to his publicly invulnerable yang. It is a side of Springsteen that has never been publicly explored in-depth before, but it is crucial to understanding what motivates the artist and informs his work.

While it may be commonplace for celebrities to enlist the help of a ghostwriter when putting together their memoirs, BORN TO RUN is clearly the work of the Boss and the Boss alone. The same voice fans hear between songs at a Springsteen concert --- the one that explains the political subtext of the upcoming song, or shares a quick anecdote about an awkward teenage bumbling that inspired his next tune --- is the one readers find in BORN TO RUN. It reads at times like an unedited transcript of a story Springsteen spoke out loud extemporaneously, with liberal use of ALL CAPS and EXCLAMATION POINTS that fill his prose with the idiosyncratic, uncontrollably enthusiastic style that has become his trademark. At other times, he performs deep, thoughtful psychoanalyses of himself, interpreting his own predilections and weaknesses as manifestations of his father’s influence and DNA. Just as Springsteen’s concerts oscillate between the light and the dark, bouncing directly from a joyful, rocking tune like “I’m a Rocker” that gets the crowd dancing to a cynical dirge like “Fade Away” at times, BORN TO RUN seesaws at an unpredictable and exciting rhythm.

With multiple detailed biographies of Springsteen already published, the information about his life contained in BORN TO RUN is not exactly revelatory. For a reader looking for a compendium of important dates, record sales figures and other Springsteen trivia to chew on, a biography like Peter Carlin’s BRUCE would be a better fit. At times Springsteen leaves out interesting and perhaps vital information --- like the fact that his first band, Steel Mill, was invited to Woodstock, which would have completely changed his career trajectory had his manager let him play --- either out of a lack of personal interest or modesty. But for the vast majority of readers who are more curious about learning about Springsteen --- the brother, son, father and husband --- or are fans of the raconteur singer-songwriter and are interested in hearing more of his stories in his own voice, BORN TO RUN is a perfect read. He fills in all the gaps between his autobiographical songs, helping to create a discernible continuity between them, even across decades, that brings listeners closer to the Boss.

BORN TO RUN is honest and extraordinarily humble for a rock star’s memoir, and it reaffirms the authenticity that makes Springsteen beloved by millions around the world.

Reviewed by Rob Bentlyewski on September 30, 2016

Born to Run
by Bruce Springsteen

  • Publication Date: September 5, 2017
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 150114152X
  • ISBN-13: 9781501141522