Bruce Springsteen proves he’s the Boss with intimate memoir

SHARE Bruce Springsteen proves he’s the Boss with intimate memoir

Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography “Born to Run” takes readers on a riveting ride through the everyman rock star’s deeply lived existence. (Photo by Owen Sweeney/Invision/AP, File)

Anyone who’s attended more than one Bruce Springsteen concert knows that somewhere in the show’s second half, The Boss will wax nostalgic. He’ll call on a memory from his early — not his glory — days, and deliver a touching anecdote about his mom, his dad, or his hometown of Freehold, N.J., before counting the E Street Band into whatever song best captures the story’s emotion. In their way, those brief spoken tributes are every bit as good as the songs.

Now that narrative gift is on glorious display in Springsteen’s new autobiography, Born to Run (Simon & Schuster, 528 pp., four stars), a philosophically rich ramble through a rock ‘n’ roll life that began like many others, in small-town obscurity and near-poverty. By sweating it out on the streets of a runaway American dream, Bruce attained the superstardom he coveted the moment he saw Elvis Presley on The Ed Sullivan Show.


“FUN … it is waiting for you, Mr. and Mrs. Everyday American, and guess what? It is your birthright,” writes Springsteen of that galvanic Elvis moment. Springsteen’s familiar stage voice, his corny carny barker way with action verbs, leaps from the page in assessing what Elvis promised: “The life-blessing, wall-destroying, heart-changing, mind-opening bliss of a freer, more liberated existence.”

Springsteen chased that promise, and while still a teenager he became a working musician, a fierce guitar-slinger who led his early groups, The Castiles and Steel Mill, to crowd-rousing success in the clubs of the Jersey shore. That was before he found his voice as a singer and songwriter, and assembled his multicultural triumph, the E Street Band.

Solitary and self-disciplined, he stubbornly avoided alcohol and drugs, and — ironically, for all his carburetor hymns — never even drove a car until he was in his 20s. Throughout the book, Springsteen pays detailed homage to his bandmates, especially the departed: saxophonist and immortal “Big Man” Clarence Clemons and organist Danny Federici. The Boss still mourns their deaths, amid the new and old members who have kept the band so vital.

Ambivalence rules his recollections. Springsteen’s birthright was far from blissful, although he was doted upon by a grandmother and his mother, Adele, an ultra-competent legal secretary. She held the family together in the deep shadow of a father, Doug, who drank silently and sullenly, often exploding with inarticulate rage (he would be diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic late in life). Doug, Springsteen writes, loved his son but “couldn’t stand me” for siphoning so much of the family’s female affection.

In Springsteen’s telling, this Freudian drama defines much of his journey, and though his relationship with his dad mellows, we learn that an aging Bruce — now 67 — has had to battle his own demons of crippling depression, winning out with the help of therapists, Klonopin and the rock-steadiness of his wife, E Street singer Patti Scialfa and their three children, Evan, Jessica and Sam.

Yet as much as he reveals, he doesn’t kiss and tell or point fingers, and shoulders the full blame for his failed first marriage to actress Julianne Phillips. (“Julianne loved me … but … I was sliding back toward the chasm where rage, fear, distrust, insecurity and a family-patented misogyny made war with my better angels.”)

Reading his intimate look back on a remarkable yet troubled life, it’s safe to say that Bruce’s aesthetic wouldn’t be complete without this long-form Song of Springsteen. It’s the lyric he was born to write.

Matt Damsker , Special for USA TODAY

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