Watching Bruce Springsteen perform you wouldn’t imagine that he was someone full of insecurities, anxiety and suffering from depression. But reading ‘Born To Run’, his story from New Jersey schoolboy to international rock star, it’s this that is a constant thread on his journey.
The other, his love of rock n roll.
It wasn’t what I was expecting. But the honest and open way Bruce speaks about his inner demons throughout the book, occurring at various levels of success in his life, was refreshing and surprising.
“Every meaningless thing became the subject of a world-shattering existential crisis filling me with an awful profound foreboding and sadness. All was lost. All… everything… the future was grim… and the only thing that would lift the burden was one-hundred-plus on two wheels or other distressing things.”
It’s hard to listen to someone speak so candidly about the voices in there head, that make them feel so desperate and worthless. Especially when Bruce describes his first show in London, being tortured in his head for the whole performance – but unnoticeable to the adoring crowd and members of his band.
Becoming A Legend
Bruce covers his early childhood and his rocky relationship with his father. Explaining how as he got older and had disagreements with his dad he had to do the arguing for the two of them in his head as his father simply didn’t talk to him.
“We honor our parents by carrying their best forward and laying the rest down. By fighting and taming the demons that laid them low and now reside in us.”
He also tells of getting his first guitar and his endless practicing in his room, determined to make it.
It’s interesting to hear of his refusal to drink and indulge in drugs during his rise to fame, even turning down a chance to go to the playboy mansion. Nothing was going to get in the way of his career.
“No one you have been and no place you have gone ever leaves you. The new parts of you simply jump in the car and go along for the rest of the ride. The success of your journey and your destination all depend on who’s driving.”
The book covers battles with record companies, with Bruce determined to own the rights to all of his own songs, losing friendships along the way.
It also covers the issue of racism in America, brought to the fore with half the members of his E Street Band being black and Bruce seeing it played out first hand.
Bruce described how, as a young man, he went about getting out of being drafted up for service in Vietnam war. Subsequently becoming a big supporter for US Veterans – the inspiration for ‘Born in The USA’.
He also speaks of how the 9/11 terrorist attacks affected him and the songs he released in response to the tragedy.
Down To Earth
In his early years, Bruce focussed on his career, preferring to be on the road than be tied down to one place. His shock at his loss of privacy after he got married and became tabloid fodder showing he still hadn’t strayed too far from his humble beginnings. Bruce wondering what could be so interesting about him that is worth reading about.
Now a Dad to three, he tells how he made sure once he had a family that touring schedules worked with school schedules, especially important as wife Patty was in the industry too.
Bruce recalls introducing his daughter Jessica to a horse for the first time, then taking her to show jumping competitions. Taking pride in her following it to become her career, and being American champion show jumper.
Of being a dutiful dad Bruce tells of taking his daughter to various pop concerts when she was younger, crediting her with keeping him in touch with the current music happenings.
“I once sat next to a lovely woman, who pointed at Jess and said ‘is that your daughter?’, I said Yes. She then pointed to the stage, where an on the cusp of fame Lady Gaga, dressed in a white tutu, was singing her first hit, and said ‘ that’s mine.'”
Inevitably, over such a long career, there have been band members lost along the way. In the early days to the Vietnam war, and more recently to cancer.
The most significant loss being that of saxophonist Clarence Clemons from a stroke in 2011. In one of the most emotional parts of the book Bruce talks of Clarence’s final moments, and being gathered around his hospital bed.
“There is no evidence of the soul except in its sudden absence. A nothingness enters, taking place where something was before.”
For me it was nice to learn of Bruce’s love of British music. The Beatles going to America igniting his passion for rock and roll, his love for the Rolling Stones, and later his appreciation of the punk scene with the Sex Pistols.
“It didn’t take me long to figure it out: I didn’t want to meet the Beatles. I wanted to BE the Beatles.”
Recounting a time when Mick Jagger had asked him to appear with the Stones at one of their New Jersey shows, it’s astounding that someone with so much of his own success and who’d played in stadiums for thousands could still feel so starstruck by his idols.
Bruce remaining totally down to earth and aware of his beginnings, explaining how lucky he is to have made a living from doing what he loves. With such an honest and open account of his life, if you weren’t a fan before, you certainly will be by the time you’ve finished this.
“No, you can’t tell people anything, you’ve got to show ’em.”