Bruce: New Springsteen Book Is the Boss of Them All

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Photo courtesy of SXSW
Bruce Springsteen at SXSW, March 2012
Bruce
By Peter Ames Carlin
Touchstone Books, 512 pp., $28.

Let me start by saying that Carlin -- who has also penned books on Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney -- has written the definitive Springsteen straight-bio here with Bruce, an engaging, thorough, and compelling look at the man and his music.

Nothing against Dave Marsh's Two Hearts (a bit hagiographic and now out of date) or Marc Dolan's recent, masterful Bruce Springsteen and the Promise of Rock and Roll (which includes more sociological/cultural-impact analysis). But Bruce has...well, Bruce himself.

Carlin writes in the afterword that he had been working on the book for about a year and a half --with word getting around Bruce's camp -- when he got a call from manager/guard dog Jon Landau.

And though not an authorized biography, Springsteen ended up giving hours and hours of interviews to Carlin, which opened up the door for the author to speak with many others in the form of current and former band members (including Clarence Clemons, just shortly before his death), friends, business associates, and Bruce's own family, including his octogenarian mother.

The stories and anecdotes they offer --often at odds with Springsteen's own memory--bring the narrative alive. And Bruce does the best of job of any book at documenting the performer's early years and struggles. In fact, the book closes in on the halfway mark even before the Born to Run record shoots the artist to incredible fame.

Bruce also goes a long way to repairing -- or at least explaining -- the role that original manager Mike Appel (also interviewed) played in launching the musician. A relationship that ended in lawsuits and bitter recrimination between he and Bruce before a recent tentative patch.

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Even first wife Julianne Phillips, who has been notoriously tight-lipped about her marriage -- and the tabloidy sex scandal that publicly ended it -- for more than two decades offers a fresh, if unrevealing statement.

There are plenty of little nuggets that even hardcore fans will find new. Like Bruce almost played a side stage at Woodstock... but instead honored a previously scheduled gig. Janis Joplin wanted to fuck the young musician... but he ran away, nervous.

And Springsteen who, like his father (a troubled relationship worth its own book), has struggled with depression and nihilism over the years, admits that he has been in therapy for decades and began taking antidepressant medication in 2003. And he loves it.

Anyone who has seen his discography/tour schedule of the past decade can only wonder about the connection between a content Bruce and a productive Bruce.

Still, while admiring of his art, Bruce can also take issue with the often beatification of its subject, in particular his sometimes cruel, narcissistic, and overlording behavior that goes against his good-guy-all-the-time image. "He can be selfless and selfish in equal measures," Carlin writes.

But then again... he is The Boss. A nickname he first took on not for musical accomplishments, but for cutthroat games of Monopoly he played with friends and band members in their salad days.

Springsteen -- in fairness not alone in this -- would often make up rules on the fly and even outright cheat to claw his way to victory: Probably claiming "Boardwalk" for his own. And creating an empire in the process.




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