I just finished Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run, his amazing autobiography. I have never read an autobiography. Or a biography. Or just about any non-fiction. Try as I might. Every new year’s I renew my resolution to read outside of my favorite genres. ‘Read non fiction, biography, essays, not just fiction and poetry,’ I command myself. But I don’t listen. I don’t do it. I read novel after novel. And then a bit of poetry, or maybe a magazine, for variation. Then back to novels. Until this year. This book. Blow me away!
Bruce Springsteen.What? A writer? What? I heard an interview with “the Boss,” just after the release of his autobiography Born to Run. And this year, I can proudly say, I kept my resolution. Thank you, Bruce!
I was reluctant, at first as I do not own any Bruce Springsteen or E Street Band music. Not even a ’45 record. While I like rock ‘n roll, a lot: it is music I am happy to find on the radio; I don’t need it on my shelf or phone. I know Springsteen the way I know most great rock ‘n roll. I can sing along or dance along to dozens of hits. But at the end of day, I didn’t think a bit more about it, until now.
I have never been a groupie sort, so to speak, even with my idol, Joni Mitchell. I own just about every album, tape, CD, video — and at one point 8-tracks! — and book she’s ever made, or has been made about her. I follow her website and Facebook page. I have dreamed of meeting her and going to her concerts. And I still don’t think of myself as a groupie because, well, I don’t do groupie. (Though my daughters might argue that point! – But, my dears, I’ve never been to a concert of hers, or driven by her house, or . . .).
Now, thanks to Bruce, I have reason to be a groupie! I have fallen in love with the Boss, I can’t get his songs out of my head, and no, I have not followed him on social media, or even looked at his Facebook page, but I did read his book. Not only did I read his book, I listened to it on CD in my car. It made the day at work go more quickly because I couldn’t wait to hop in, start the engine, and ahhhhh….listen to Bruce all the way home. I found myself doing extra errands on the weekend, tasks that took me across town, and then back again. So I could listen some more.
To those of you who are fans, I know you’re saying, ‘Duh. Where have you been for the last 50 years?’ For those of you who are not fans, you’ve probably stopped reading already, saying, ‘So what else is new, Anne Marie?’ But wait!
This is not a groupie post, well, maybe a little, it’s a book review. Born to Run is a worthwhile read for fan or not fans. In fact, listen to Springsteen as he reads his work if you can. That grovel, those sighs (oh wait, those are mine)! His intonation and exclamation all right there in your ear as you learn his story . . . well, for this listener, it is the next best thing to his music, or for me, even better. I’m a literary sort, what can I say???
When I first heard a radio interview with Springsteen about the book, I noted how impressed the interviewer was with the writing, and I figured she was just doing the groupie thing — I imagined her a bit gaga and dreamy-eyed as she sat across the table from this wonderfully handsome Irish Italian guy. But as the interview progressed, I too was taken by him: this man, this story, his humility, his kindness and graciousness, and smarts. And, yes, that voice. I put a hold on the book that day, ninth in line, worth the wait at the public library.
His is a stunning, all-American-pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps (or guitar strap as it were) and-make-your-dreams-come-true sort of story. A story that should give hope to any American, or not American: follow your dream. Get over, get beyond, get out of all the heavy shit that keeps you down, and go. Go!
While every dreaming artist, young or old, has much to learn from Springsteen’s determination and stubborn will, there is so much more that he teaches that has nothing to do with talent or craft. He tells us again and again, ‘open your eyes.’ Look at your life. It matters. Make it matter. The landscape. The ground. The sky. The people. The self examination – thorough, longing, heart wrenching and glorious – that he practices all his life, and then subsequently examines in his music and this book, is admirable and inspiring. Insightful, confused, honest. Funny. You don’t have to be a famous rock star to care so much about your place on this planet and the people sharing it with you. Go. Go!
Everything the man has done, each song, album, concert, and tour is a conscious, and successful, attempt at telling someone’s story. Explaining someone’s plight. Their victimization or their victimizing. He roots for the underdog like no other. He is Dickensian. He is Faulknerian. He understands the rust belt so distinctly you can smell the metal in his sentences. Springsteen cares deeply about people and places, the ilk of the under privileged, their voice, and the voiceless, and he was given the gift of scribe which he has accepted and cared for as the precious gift it is. He works to preserve the beauty and tragedy of the American story, the voices he portrays. And then he works even harder to deliver it to us. Loudly. Raucously. Often and unforgettably. Rock n’ Roll!
He tells us toward the end of the book that this is not the whole story, and of course, we can see that he has carefully chosen to go into detail, or not, on certain incidents and many lives. But everyone in the cast of characters he does examine, paintstakingly or as a mere mention, the concerts he describes, the studio time, the writing hours, the production and post production, the angst and the celebration, is all handled with full blown love, and volume. Gratitude and charm. He puts himself out there in the book as he does in his songs and his shows. Utterly. Reading or listening to this story is easily as exhausting as a full night of dancing at a rock ‘n roll club. Or, as in my case, in my living room. Go!
This is a man who cares profoundly and tenaciously about every single lyric, note, song, band member, manager. Every country, county, city, intersection and citizen. And, believe it or not, every single member of every audience. His story is his gift and he offers it swaddled as carefully as a baby, even when it’s 50 years old. He meant it when he sang it the first time, and the 12 hundredth. Here, take my baby. And, baby, let’s rock n roll!
As much as he may not reveal, everything that he does includes his own foibles and demons, mistakes and regrets, and it all makes me believe the depth of the gratitude and kindness with which he portrays his story — truly just an America life. Rags to riches, perhaps, but not without humility, patriotism, and pride. The power of his depression and profound strength of his rages are laid out like the highways he travels. Never ending, always adventurous, and too often, demanding a lofty return. He is human. One that cares enough to tell the story. To make it yours. Ours. To make us feel at home in his life, the life of conquering monsters and contradictions, reaching dreams and stars, and then to make our way back into our own lives.
I am grateful to know the man I now know, just a little. And I now love the music. I have been initiated into autobiography and I couldn’t be more glad. The 56-year-old literary type that I am, and it took a crazy rock ‘n roller to introduce me to one of the most important literary forms there is. Go figure. Well what can I say but ‘thanks, Boss!’
I am duly inspired as a writer, an American, a parent, and a friend. The wealth of his life, which he took a while to understand, still stuns him, but the wealth of his gift, a true and compelling all American just-do-it story, is unforgettable in its wrapping, unwrapping, and now owning. Stunning the readers, well, me anyway. Wham. I’m in love.
Bruce, I am so glad that you wrote this. Your fan base that didn’t include a literary-Joni Mitchell-loving type like me, now does. One more to the millions. Hook, line, sinker. I’m yours!
*Photo inspired by this quote: “The jetty my sister and I so gingerly tiptoe out upon in the late-summer dark . . .” Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run.