photo & text by nacrowe
im writing this review having completed the book on election night 2020 still unsure of how we proceed as a nation. we are at a crossroads that very much reflects our where we are as a nation and what we value. it very much feels like the soul of AMERICA is up for grabs, or whatever is left after four years of TRUMP.
its interesting because these are the types of all-or-nothing existential stakes that inform the songwriting perspective of legendary musician and NEW JERSEY's favorite son, BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN as expressed in his autobiography BORN TO RUN (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2016). he is one of those unique songwriters that is able to collapse the personal into the political without diminishing either, in fact their collision empowers the music with a definite edge that marks his best work in the tradition of BOB DYLAN, PETE SINGER, HANK WILLIAMS and others in the FOLK and early COUNTRY narrative traditions. but make no mistake he is also a ROCK AND ROLL lifer, part of a generation that was old enough to be of age for the BRITISH INVASION and appreciate the BLUES forebears that preceded (when they were still alive and touring late career), as well as take not of later revolutions like the PUNKS, HIP HOP and beyond. there is a definite narrative to his music that parallels that of his family, his relationships, his evolving sense of national and masculine identity and his status as an AMERICAN.
what i take from this book is his preternatural ability to self-evaluate and have the confidence and courage to trust his sense of self. that compass doesnt always do him well, flawed as it is by a self-identity plagued and complicated by a childhood marked with a absentee father prone to fits of outburst and isolation. this left a son that was left to believe that love and affection were conditional and needed to be earned. it almost feels like a metaphor for the payoff of performance in general. what i admire is his ability to look inside and write about themes and people he knew, making organic connections with a local NEW JERSEY audience. throughout BORN TO RUN he acknowledges his limitations as a vocalist but such only motivated him to double down on his craft with blue collar workmanlike zeal. his success was earned with blood and sweat.
now full disclosure: i live in NEW JERSEY. i am a child of CALIFORNIA and have lived abroad for more than a decade (NIGERIA, KUWAIT, ALBANIA, MYANMAR, CYPRUS, VENEZUELA and JAPAN), but since the age of twelve the only geographical constant were the summers i spent staying with relatives along the JERSEY SHORE and later relocated to LONG BRANCH and MIDDLETOWN. it just so happens that such are ground-zero for the story of SPRINGSTEEN. i have cousins that have lived in FREEHOLD and SEA BRIGHT and have had coworkers and friends that had apartments in NEPTUNE CITY, BRADLEY BEACH, BELMAR and ASBURY PARK. for me one of the great pleasures of this book, much like reading or learning about local film director KEVIN SMITH, is learning the history of my adopted home of NEW JERSEY.
for me SPRINGSTEEN is a shaman who slips out beyond the ether and through mysterious sets of divinations produces tangible visions of ourselves as a nation, worts and all, set to a melody. it is a service he continues to provide. we are riding copilot with the king, the boss, as he circumnavigates our national psyche and the complicated emotions that abound. he provides a sense of a better future while taking not of the very real NOW.
on election day with a future undetermined his work feels more relevant than ever. everything is up for grabs. all the marbles. just like his music.
this is a phenomenally crafted book that is among the better written autobiographies by a musician that i have ye to come across. there is a lyrical bent to his prose that is deeply personal and right up there with that of LIFE by KEITH RICHARDS (review linked HERE). BORN TO RUN is definitely worth your time and investment, even if you are not an adopted son of NEW JERSEY.