THE Bruce Springsteen who emerges from the pages of Born To Run, the singer’s hugely anticipated new memoir, is an enigmatic everyman.
Across the past 40 years, the world has formed a clear view of Springsteen as a blue-collar laureate, his songs infused with the grime and romance of the All-American small town.
However, Born To Run suggests that, actually, we don’t know Springsteen at all. Far from the straight-forward jeans-and-white-tee rocker the book reveals him to be deeply complex and contradictory — an artist whose career was driven at least in part by the desire to escape family demons that, in the end, caught up with him anyway.
For Irish fans, there is much here to tuck into. Springsteen worried that his 1985 Slane Concert — at that point his biggest ever show — would result in serious injury. Backstage during the intermission he told his manager Jon Landau that he wanted to quit his entire European tour: how could he go on stage every night, knowing he was putting his audience in jeopardy? (He was mollified as he realised the Irish crowd had a code of honour, helping stricken comrades to their feet if they went down)
He also writes proudly of his Irish roots and how they defined his childhood and shaped him as a man. What comes through most powerfully, though, is Springsteen’s ambivalence towards fame and success – and his determination not to be changed by celebrity.
In particular, he experienced pangs throughout the recording of his 1985 blockbuster Born In The USA. Did he really want to be so famous he was unable to walk down the street uninterrupted?
“I was always of two minds about big records and the chance of engaging a mass audience,” he said, recounting the recording of ‘Dancing In The Dark’, his global number one. “You should be. There’s risk. Was the effort of seeing worth the exposure, the discomfort of the spotlight, and the amount of life that’d be handed over?”
Born To Run is most gripping when Springsteen writes about his difficult relationship with his father, Doug, a taciturn and angry man who believed the world was conspiring constantly against him.
“My father had neither the inclination , the money nor the health for a normal married life,” Springsteen recalls. “I never saw the inside of a restaurant until I was well into my twenties and by then I was intimidated by any high school maitre de at the local diner… My father was a misanthrope who shunned most of human kind. At the tavern, I’d often find him sitting solitarily at the end of the bar.”
While Springsteen set out to be everything his father was not, ultimately he could not outrun his heritage. He talks painfully of his difficult interactions with his own children, whom he kept at arms length until his wife, Patti Scialfa intervened.
“Over the years I’d subtly send signals of my unavailability, of my internal resistance to inclusion upon my time by family members…Patti saw all this and called me on it. For a long time I’d felt the greatest sin a family member could commit was interrupting me while I was working on a song. I felt music was fleeting and once you let it slip through your hands, it was gone. Through Patti I learned that the [children’s] requests came first and how to stop what I was doing and listen to them.”
Springsteen’s struggles with mental health are touched on. In his early sixties depression struck him like a freight train, and two years, from his most recent incident he honestly cannot predict if the darkness will return.
It is another part of his past that he continues to live with — a reminder that, though he may be an iconic rocker, under it all, he’s also regular guy trying to make his way through an often cruel and uncaring world.
Born to Run is published Thursday
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