Yet Another Springsteen Book, This Time In the Boss' Own Words

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Photo courtesy of SXSW
Bruce Springsteen at SXSW, March 2012
Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters
Edited by Jeff Burger

Even editor Burger himself poses this question in his intro: Does the world really need another book on Bruce Springsteen? Especially in recent times when Boss Books have been flooding the marketplace (and Yours Truly would know, having covered most of them for this column...).

Well, the short answer is... no. But what makes Springsteen on Springsteen different -- and worthy -- is that it's one of the few tomes that mostly lets the artist speak for himself and in his own words.

And it's the only one to cull from such a lengthy period (1973-2012) from interview sources both familiar (newspapers, magazines, features) and not so (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame/SXSW/John Kerry & Barack Obama speeches, transcribed radio/TV interviews, the gay interest magazine The Advocate).

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What's mostly fascinating is how Springsteen -- who comes across in print much better than his sometimes mumbling and disjointed filmed interviews -- evolves over time.

From openly complaining about lack of available funds to pay his band in the struggling days (noting they hadn't received check in three weeks and they had "rent and alimony to pay"), to his swearing he would never play anyplace with a capacity of more than 3,000 seats, the reader can grasp the growth of Springsteen and his worldview as his career takes off and ascends into legendary status.

Though some of these words surely come back to haunt him. Consider this bon mot from the mid-'70s: "Jersey is a dumpy joint. I mean, it's OK, it's home, but every place is a dump."

But then, it's ironic when the New Jersey legislature names "Born to Run" as the state's "Unofficial Youth Rock Anthem" in 1979. Kind of a head-scratching accolade for a song that's about...wanting to get out of New Jersey.

The downside is that some stories are repeated either by Bruce to an interviewer's question or the writer's summation of his career to date (the hoaried story of him jumping over the fence at Graceland to meet Elvis is mentioned at least six times). But give great credit to Burger for allowing the pieces to be read in their most complete form, and sometimes with additional material appearing here for the first time ever.

It's also interesting that more than half of the book contains interviews from the 1990s and forward. Readers will find great insight into Springsteen's mind during the sometimes turbulent (and uncharacteristic) reflections during the eras of the Human Touch/Lucky Town/Ghost of Tom Joad records and tours.

Houston pops up a few times in the narrative, including a KLOL radio interview around his 1974 four-night/seven-show stand at Liberty Hall, a mention of writer Robert Duncan's attending a 1978 show for Creem magazine, and a co-interview with Win Butler of Arcade Fire.

Don't get me wrong, Springsteen on Springsteen is definitely geared toward someone who already knows the finer points of the life and music of Bruce Springsteen. But it is definitely worth making room for on the Boss Bookshelf.

Chicago Review Press, 432 pp., $27.95.


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