Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Getting to know Bruce Springsteen...

In the mid 1980s, I was an adolescent and Bruce Springsteen was at the top of his fame with the release of his album, Born In The USA.  I'm not sure why, but in 1986, I asked my dad to buy me Springsteen's Live 1975-85 box set on cassette.  My dad obliged, and I used to listen to those tapes over and over again as I rode my bike to and from the barn where I boarded my horse, Rusty.  It got to the point at which I had all of the songs memorized, along with the stories Springsteen would sometimes tell before launching into a number.

As the years passed, I stopped listening to Springsteen as much.  I still admired his voice, though... not so much his singing voice, but the messages he conveyed through his music.  He always seemed like a very down to Earth kind of guy.  It also helped that I had a teacher in high school who knew Springsteen when he was just like everybody else, growing up in Freehold, New Jersey.  They had attended the same school and back then, he was just a greasy guy who played in local bands.  No one knew that one day, he'd be a superstar.

I suppose it was those memories that got me to read Springsteen's recently released life story, Born to Run.  I have spent a couple of weeks reading about Springsteen's Catholic upbringing in New Jersey and his colorful Irish and Italian family, as well as the origin of his famous last name (it's Dutch).  I read about how, as a young guy, he hustled in New Jersey and, curiously enough, Richmond, Virginia, earning gigs and making a name for himself with his music.  He wrote of being really poor and doing all he could to survive and I can tell that he's never forgotten those days.

Born to Run is a very personal book, with many insights into Springsteen's life so far.  The writing is very strong.  There were times when I had to stop for a moment because Springsteen used an interesting word that threw me for a loop.  Although he comes across as this working class guy who grew up with very hardcore American ideals, he's also fabulously deep and intelligent.  If he hadn't been a musician, Springsteen definitely could have been a writer.  He's very generous with his thoughts and expresses them beautifully.

I think my favorite part of Springsteen's story was when he wrote about learning to ride horses.  He grew up poor and eventually got his thrills riding motorcycles.  Many years later, his daughter Jessica would get her first pony and eventually go on to become a world class equestrienne.  Bruce's wife, Patti Scialfa, loved horses.  They bought a farm in New Jersey and bought a couple of steeds.  Suddenly, Springsteen was learning how to ride!  And his stories about learning how to ride are pretty funny, especially if you've spent any time around horses.  I grew up riding horses and Springsteen's music was a theme for me during those years, so it was pretty cool to read about how he eventually came to love riding.

Another aspect of Born to Run that struck me was how much Springsteen respects his wife, Patti Scialfa.  She joined the E Street Band in 1984, just days before the Born In The USA tour began.  Scialfa had fiery red hair and a voice for torch songs that clearly touched Springsteen deeply.  He refers to hearing her sing "Tell Him" by The Exciters and how her voice grabbed him.  Many years later, after they had been married for awhile, Springsteen watched his wife informally entertain Frank Sinatra at a party.  They all sat around the piano while Scialfa sang and I could almost witness the admiration Springsteen has for Scialfa as she delivered music to 'ol blue eyes himself.  Springsteen writes that Frank Sinatra had some very interesting friends, most of whom were not in the business of rock and roll.  Sinatra had befriended Springsteen, not as a musician or a star, but as a fellow New Jersey boy.  When I think of Springsteen's humble origins and where life has taken him, it gives me some hope and wonder for my own future.

All in all, I found Born to Run a very enjoyable read.  As much as I liked Springsteen before I read his story, reading his book made me appreciate him all the more.  He comes across as a very normal, decent, passionate guy who happened to make it very big in a business where staying power is not always the norm and narcissism is the order of the day.  I appreciate how generous he is with his story... you get over 500 pages of Springsteen tales and they're all written beautifully.  If I were rating Born to Run on Epinions, I would for sure give it five stars.

Highly recommended!

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