Just as Bruce Springsteen winds down a frenzied period of back-to-back album and tour marathon - despite the death of Springsteen's cousin/assistant tour manager earlier this week in Kansas City, he and the E Street Band, as well as special guests Sam Moore (Sam & Dave) and Darlene Love, are scheduled to play a concert commemorating the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 25th anniversary at Madison Square Garden Thursday evening - the Boss-related library is expanding, with three new releases. Here are mini-reviews of each.
Big Man: Real Life and Tall Tales
By Clarence Clemons and Don Reo
E Street sax man Clarence Clemons' autobiography is notable immediately for its odd structure. The narrative is split into three parts: his recollections, those of Reo, and the "Tall Tales" of stories which he notes up from are part fact and plenty fiction. The Boss, understandably, pops up all throughout the book, and the best parts recount the salad days of the struggling pre-superstar years. Clemons' personal love for the man is evident.
Houston appears twice, but not because of Liberty Hall. Once, Clemons remembers a "300-lb. stripper" getting onstage to take it all off at an early gig, and then for the emergency eye surgery he had done the morning after "The Rising" tour stop, with a visiting doctor popping the Big Man's Big Eye right out of its socket in the hospital for a quick prognosis.
Clemons' biggest revelation is not about sex, drugs or rock and roll, but movies. Finally revealing a secret he promised Robert DeNiro that he'd keep for 25 years: the future goodfella swiped the "You talkin' to me?" line and sequence in Taxi Driver
from one of Springsteen's onstage banters with an audience. And as for "Hungry Heart," one of Springsteen's most successful singles? Dashed off in a 10-minute writing session as an afterthought.
is of course essential Springsteen fans, but still disappointingly light on detail and substance, particularly musical. With both the future of the group and Clemons' fragile health (which he addresses frankly) in question, even the most looming presence on the block doesn't know if it will it be the end of the road for E Street.
The Light in Darkness
Edited by Lawrence Kirsch
Though Born to Run
is the critical/fan favorite and Born in the U.S.A.
his commercial peak, a smaller group of fans, Get Lit included, believe Darkness on the Edge of Town
is the pinnacle of Bruce's studio records.
Released after the conclusion of a lawsuit with former manager Mike Appel, which prevented Springsteen from releasing any new music for three years, it featured ten stark tales of workingman's blues ("Factory," "The Promised Land"), romantic desperation ("Candy's Room," "Prove It All Night"), familial conflict ("Adam Raised a Cain") and just the tiny shred of joy ("Racing in the Street"). Born to Run II
, this wasn't.
Just has he did with the incredible self-published coffee-table effort For You
, Kirsch puts together a fine work combining fan remembrances and around 200 mostly never-before-seen photographs, this time focusing in the 1978 Darkness
record and tour. (Note: It stopped on December 8 at the Summit, but there is no photo or text about that date).
While its concentration on a very specific chapter of Bruce's career is enticing for this who love it, there is by natural result a sometimes disappointing tinge of uniformity to the fan remembrances, with many repeating the same information and memories. But if you love the starkness of Darkness
, it's a worthwhile library addition.
Runaway Dream: Born to Run and Bruce Springsteen's American Vision
By Louis P. Masur
When the then-24-year-old Springsteen began writing the songs that would appear on Born to Run
, he was a young artist with everything on the line. After two critically lauded - but middling-selling - records, it was make-or-break-time.
"I was born, grew old, and died making that album," he would reflect years later, adding separately, "I wanted to make the greatest rock and roll record ever made." And he knew fulfilling that goal would take time, spending an inordinate six months on recording the title track alone.
Thirty years later, we know it was time well spent, and there's no denying the impact that Born to Run
had on both rock music and Springsteen's career. Here, Masur offers a briskly written, intelligent and comprehensive look at the seminal effort from the writing and recording through its release and impact, as well as its place in the Springsteen canon.
And though he draws quotes and information mostly from previous sources and covers much of the same material as the Wings for Wheels documentary, Runaway Dream is as punchy and powerful as the horns in "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out."
Big Man: Grand Central, 384 pp., $26.99.
The Light In Darkness: www.thelightindarkness.com, 212 pp., $40.
Runaway Dream: Bloomsbury, 256 pp., $23.