Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I haven't read a musician's autobiography in a long time, after I struggled to get through Keith Richards' Life and had to give up on it. I've glanced at a couple since then, but they all seemed to follow the same boring trajectory: fame, fortune, sex and drugs, the latter of which led to a complete bottoming-out, followed by a torturous climb back to sobriety and sanity.
Fortunately, Bruce Springsteen's memoir isn't like that at all.
For one thing, the man can write. (Of course, since he's been writing songs for nearly fifty years, you would automatically think so, but lyrics, which have to rhyme and scan, are very different than prose. Maybe that's why most of this book's chapters are so short--they're mini songs.) I don't know how he'd do with fiction, but the prose in this book is excellent. His voice is sharp, wry, funny, and brutally honest. The heart of this book is his complicated relationship with his father, which weaves through from beginning to end (though towards the end of Douglas Springsteen's life, father and son found some understanding and peace). Then there is Bruce's frank discussion of a life lived with depression, and the fact that he's been in therapy for decades, which obviously contributed to the insights about himself in these pages. I also appreciated that on some subjects (namely the sex part of the rock n'roll equation), he didn't let it all hang out--there's no salacious kissing and telling here, although he is forthright about the failure of his first marriage.
(But the stories about his second wife, Patti Scialfa, and his children, are some of the funniest and most heartwarming in the entire book. This is a bit of a long excerpt, but I just love this.
She also guided me when she thought I was falling short. For years, I'd kept musicians' hours, a midnight rambler; I'd rarely get to bed before four a.m. and often sleep to noon or beyond. In the early days, when the children were up at night, I found it easy to do my part in taking care of them.
After dawn, Patti was on duty. Once they got older, the night shift became unnecessary and the burden tilted unfairly toward the morning hours.
Finally, one day she came to me as I lay in bed around noon and simply said, "You're gonna miss it."
I answered, "Miss what?"
She said, "The kids, the morning, it's the best time, it's when they need you the most. They're different in the morning than at any other time of the day and if you don't get up to see it, well then...you're gonna miss it."
The next morning, mumbling, grumbling, stolid faced, I rolled out of bed at seven a.m. and found my way downstairs. "What do I do?"
She looked at me and said, "Make the pancakes."
Make the pancakes? I'd never made anything but music my entire life. I...I...I...don't know how!
Patti Scialfa sounds like a woman who brooks no nonsense. I'd almost rather sit and talk with her than Bruce.)
Because we don't get the usual rock and roll cliches in these pages, this book has a rare depth. I particularly appreciated the stories of Bruce's political awakenings, encapsulated in the controversy over his song "American Skin (41 Shots)"--sadly prophetic indeed, in the age of Black Lives Matter. There are also fascinating insights about his songwriting; the themes he wanted to tackle with each album, what he wanted to say to his audience and how he constructed his songs to fit. This book is five hundred pages long, but it's well worth the read, whether you're a fan or not.
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