If you grew up in the ‘70s or ‘80s, particularly if you went to high school in New Jersey at that time, then you will understand why I HAD to read this book. Bruce Springsteen wrote the soundtrack to my youth.
To this day, whenever I hear one of his songs, I have specific physical memories. For years, I shot baskets in the driveway to a cassette player cranking out Born to Run. The screen door slamming in “Thunder Road” meant the tape had just started and I could take several hundred free throws before I’d have to turn the tape over or, more likely, rewind it. His songs told stories that I could listen to endlessly, and I did. I didn’t know what “the darkness on the edge of town” meant, but it called to me. On bus rides to games and when senior teammates drove me home, we shouted that “tramps like us, baby, we were BORN TO RUN!!!” Maybe we knew what we were saying, maybe we didn’t. Just like maybe we knew where we were going and maybe we didn’t. Sometimes we were blinded by the light, sometimes we felt lost in the flood. And of course, we were always, always, growin’ up. As the years passed, Bruce’s albums, one by one, became part of our journey.
What I didn’t realize until I read Peter Ames Carlin’s comprehensive biography is something that in retrospect makes perfect sense now, which is how purposefully Bruce created his albums. He wanted each one to present a unified collection of stories, and he would write song after song after song, setting aside dozens and eventually hundreds that were good but not exactly the right fit. Without question, his patience and perseverance were as important to his success as his poetic inclinations and vocal talents. And those who believe that it takes at least 10,000 hours of practice to become really good at something will find evidence for that theory here. Growing up, other than going to school, mainly all Bruce did was play his guitar.
Any biographer’s biggest challenge is to decide what to include and what to leave out. BRUCE is nearly 500 pages long, and perhaps a few details could have been omitted to trim it back a bit. But still, I couldn’t stop gobbling it up.
I needed to know what HE was doing when the rest of us were living our lives.