Monday, July 31, 2017

Born to Run

Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen

Considering the fan base in this house, it was pretty certain we were going to read this autobiography of Bruce Springsteen’s.

Born to Run chronicles the 65+ years of Springsteen’s life to date, starting with his rather odd childhood in Freehold, New Jersey. Born as many were in that neighbourhood, to a mix of Irish and Italian blood and seeped in Catholicism; he had a completely overprotective and controlling grandmother, a mother who had to give way, and a complicated relationship with his mentally unwell, alcohol laden and distant father. It was a working class life, with real poverty and grind, yet joy and happiness at times as well.

Inspired by Elvis and the Beatles; he wanted to play guitar and be in a band from very early on.
“…we’d been born at exactly the right moment. We were teenagers in the sixties, when rock and radio had their golden age, when the best pop music was also the most popular, when a new language was being formed and spoken to young people all across the world, when it remained an alien dialect to most parents, when it defined a community of souls wrapped in the ecstasy and confusions of their time but connected in a blood brotherhoods by the disciples; voice of their local deejay” (p429)
By his mid-teens he was doing exactly that. Self-taught, unable to read music, but persistent in learning, practicing and copying, he would play for hours and hours to perfect a song. A succession of band groups followed, with him ending up lead singer.
“I was twenty-three and I was making a living playing music! Friends, there’s a reason they don’t call it “working”, it’s called PLAYING … It’s a life-giving, joyful, sweat-drenched, muscle-aching, voice-blowing, mind-clearing, exhausting, soul-invigorating, cathartic pleasure and privilege every night” (p186)
He charts the formation of various bands and their members, including the definitive E Street Band. Numerous songs are explained along the way including the classics Born to Run, Born in the USA and the Ghost of Tom Joad. I would often go back and listen to the songs again to hear what he was explaining. Sadly for me (!), there’s no explanation of who Wendy is in Born to Run, but what was interesting was how both that song and Born in the USA were defining songs of his career and led to super-stardom:
“Onstage, this music swept over my audience with joyful abandon. We had hit after hit and in 1985, along with Madonna, Prince, Michael Jackson and the stars of disco, I was a bona fide mainstream radio “superstar”… Born in the USA changed my life, gave me my largest audience, forced me to think harder about the way I presented my music, and set me briefly at the centre of the pop world.” (p317)
Each album is chronicled and enabled me to appreciate the overarching theme developed for each. I came late to the fan club, not until The Rising album, released after September 11, and I enjoyed reading the story behind that and the later albums. Telling the story of people’s lives was often the impetus for songs, and many reflect on working class realities, the American way of life, struggles for war veterans and race inequality.

He is honest about his relationship with band members and management, including his missteps and idiosyncrasies. He honestly chronicles his first brief marriage and his failings in it. After this it becomes patently clear that his wife Patti is his true partner, confidante and love:
“We could fight, surprise, disappoint, raise up, bring down, withhold, surrender, hurt, heal, fight again, love, refit, then go at it one more time. We were both broken in a lot of ways but we hoped, with work, our broken pieces might fit together in a way that would create something workable, wonderful. They did.” (p372)
He speaks with love and affection for each of his three children and the way they have made their way in the world, creating names for themselves in their own area (his daughter is a champion show jumper).
“Making life fills you with humility, balls, arrogance, a mighty manliness, confidence, terror, joy, dread, love, and sense of calm and reckless adventure. Isn’t anything possible now? … The endorphin high of birth will fade, but its trace remains with you forever, its fingerprints indelible proof of love’s presence and daily grandeur… Whatever the morrow brings, these things, these people, will be with you always” (p368-9)
In the final chapters, he grieves the loss of band members, including saxophonist Clarence Clemons. He opens up about episodes of depression, both in his thirties and, more debilitating, in his sixties. He attributes years of speaking to his doctor as the heart of the book.

Too often, autobiographies are written too early (eg most political and showbusiness tomes). Here, you are glad he has waited to this age (67) to write the book, and took seven years doing so. His writing is poetic and lyrical at times, which shouldn’t be surprising considering the number of great lyrics he’s written over the years. Even so, it was more descriptive, overflowing with emotion, and had more insight and self-analysis than I was expecting. The most poignant and returned-to theme throughout is his relationship with his father, it overrides the book, his music and clearly his life:
“We honour our parents by not accepting as the final equation the most troubling characteristics of our relationship. I decided between my father and me that the sum of our troubles would not be the summation of our lives together. In analysis you work to turn the ghosts that haunt you into ancestors who accompany you. That takes hard work and a lot of love, but it’s the way we lessen the burdens our children have to carry.” (p503)
This is not just the story of a rock and roll life, although as that it’s a good read. But it’s much more – the analysis of a life through the lens of the people that raise us, the opportunities that we are both given and that we take, and the chance we have to write a new script for ourselves and those who come after us. A very enjoyable and informative read.

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