If you write for style, you really need to read Bruce Springsteen’s memoir. In fact, you should listen to it on audio as narrated by the man himself. Even when he’s writing prose, he’s writing a song. This one just happens to be an epic poem in free verse.
What’s brilliant is that he paints himself and those around him warts and all. And even at his worst or theirs, he genuinely loves a band called E Street, loves his wife Patty (whom he thinks has more patience than Job dealing with his bouts of depression as heavily as him), and even loves his dad, who was not the most loving dad growing up.
Springsteen’s story is very much what you hear in his music. This is a man who stands on the same level as The Who or Clapton, yet is humbled when asked by the Rolling Stones to come out and sing “Tumbling Dice” at a New Jersey show. He’s a guy who could easily have lived out his life in LA (The Northridge quake convinced him and Patty Scialfa to rethink that idea), yet chooses, even in his California years, to remain near his hometown of Freehold, New Jersey. Not in New York. Not in near New York. But in the rural environs around Freehold and Asbury Park.
There is good and bad in this book. Springsteen freely admits he ruined his marriage to Julianne Phillips, a very sweet woman by his description who deserved better. At the same time, he recounts his falling out with original manager and producer Mike Appel, then recommends Mike’s book, Down Thunder Road. Now that’s classy.
But what comes through is the music. Even when he’s not playing, he’s playing. And there’s a reason he loves “Little Steven” Van Zandt and misses the Big Man, Clarence Clemons, something fierce. E Street is nothing without Bruce, but E Street is also its own entity. Bruce is merely the leader and the front man. Not a democracy, but clearly a family, even those who left the band. Unlike, say Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (probably the most comparable band to the heart-stoppin’, pants droppin’, booty shakin’, history makin’, earthquakin’, love makin’, viagra-takin’, legendary E Street Band!), where leaving is a bad thing – Ron Flair’s original exit was not happy, and Stan Lynch is not really welcome at band functions – once an E Streeter, always an E Streeter. Maybe the Foo Fighters come closest, with Franz Stahl having the Foos open for him after they fired him and Pat Smear returning after a decade.
Springsteen is a storyteller. It’s in his lyrics, and it’s in this book. I was not a fan of Kerouac’s On the Road, but listening to Springsteen talk about his childhood in images Stephen King would envy, I hear the full potential of what Kerouac was doing. This is a very honest book by a man who pulls no punches with himself. Whereas a lot of rockers will leave a trail of burned enemies in their memoirs, Springsteen welcomes those who hurt him, rejoices in his redemption and/or theirs, and acknowledges that the bad times are just as important as the good. How else can a man with everything he could ever want take the teeth of “Churchill’s black dog” out of his ass and turn in performance after performance?
This is why Springsteen is in the Rock Hall, and he shows why the E Street Band eventually followed him. On their own.