It’s Bruce season around here. My SiriusXM Channel is tuned to “E Street Radio,” and my iPhone is just shuffling through old Bruce concerts. Why? Well, the Boss is coming back through the U.S. as part of his High Hopes tour. Just about two weeks to the first show. I’m slated to go in Columbus and Cincinnati, and if someone wants to squeeze in a trip to Pittsburgh, well, I’m in.
I thought it was a good time to finally read through Peter Ames Carlin’s “Bruce,” the first biography in recent history that Springsteen has cooperated with. Which basically means he gave a few interviews. I liked the biography quite a bit, and though I think my credibility on this next statement is shaky, I’ll say it anyway: I think I would have liked it even if I weren’t a fan of his music.
The reason is that Springsteen is as compelling a figure as any politician or business leader whose biography also commands attention. Modest roots, long odds, incredible influence on culture, rock and roll, and even politics, and a personal life that’s interesting and flawed enough to make for a good story. The biography that I kept comparing this to as I read it was Issacson’s bio of Steve Jobs.
Both were incredibly driven to success, to the point where their own relationships suffered. Both had a demand for perfection. Both could be visionary and also incredibly petty, showing off tempters and bad behavior. Bruce split with Appel. Jobs split with Apple (see what I did there?). Bruce broke up the band, and in a way, it feels similar to Jobs being broken up with some of his early influencers, like Wosniak. Both wrestled personal demons. And both produced a product (computers/music) that already has had lasting influence on their respective industries. Long after both are gone, their “products” will remain.
At times you really like Bruce. Other times, his indifference to the feelings of others make you cringe. Sometimes it feels like a bio of a politician–daddy issues driving a son to unattainable goals. Overall, the author is fair to the subject, pointing out the good with the bad. Yet underlying all of it is the author’s deep respect for Springsteen and his contributions to music history. Carlin snarks on reviewers who slighted a Bruce album, and he seems to delight a bit too much in describing how George Will and Ronald Reagan misinterpreted Springsteen’s lyrics.
I kept finding myself reaching for my earphones while reading this book. I finished the chapters on the making of “Born to Run,” and just HAD to listen to the album start to finish. The biography gives me even greater appreciation for that record (hard to do given the fact it’s in my top five). Descriptions of other songs (even some rare cuts) have already cost me on iTunes. Some of the album reviews were overkill, but I enjoyed hearing about his method for recording and writing.
This is a strong biography with an fair assessment of the subject. I think if you like bios of business figures or even elected officials, you’ll enjoy this just as much. Far better than the Springsteen reader “Racing in the Streets,” that I reviewed a couple of years ago.
Thanks for reading.