Written by Bruce Springsteen
Audiobook read by Bruce Springsteen
Published by Simon and Schuster on September 27th 2016
Genres: Nonfiction, Biography & Autobiography, Personal Memoirs, Music
“Writing about yourself is a funny business…But in a project like this, the writer has made one promise, to show the reader his mind. In these pages, I’ve tried to do this.” —Bruce Springsteen, from the pages of Born to Run
In 2009, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performed at the Super Bowl’s halftime show. The experience was so exhilarating that Bruce decided to write about it. That’s how this extraordinary autobiography began.
Over the past seven years, Bruce Springsteen has privately devoted himself to writing the story of his life, bringing to these pages the same honesty, humor, and originality found in his songs.
He describes growing up Catholic in Freehold, New Jersey, amid the poetry, danger, and darkness that fueled his imagination, leading up to the moment he refers to as “The Big Bang”: seeing Elvis Presley’s debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. He vividly recounts his relentless drive to become a musician, his early days as a bar band king in Asbury Park, and the rise of the E Street Band. With disarming candor, he also tells for the first time the story of the personal struggles that inspired his best work, and shows us why the song “Born to Run” reveals more than we previously realized.
Born to Run will be revelatory for anyone who has ever enjoyed Bruce Springsteen, but this book is much more than a legendary rock star’s memoir. This is a book for workers and dreamers, parents and children, lovers and loners, artists, freaks, or anyone who has ever wanted to be baptized in the holy river of rock and roll.
Rarely has a performer told his own story with such force and sweep. Like many of his songs (“Thunder Road,” “Badlands,” “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” “The River,” “Born in the U.S.A.,” “The Rising,” and “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” to name just a few), Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography is written with the lyricism of a singular songwriter and the wisdom of a man who has thought deeply about his experiences.
Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen’s memoir of music, love and New Jersey, was my last audiobook of 2016. It was released two months after the hardcover edition was published. I held out for it because I absolutely wanted to hear this one read by the author. It was also one of the best books I read in any format or genre in 2016. I didn’t get around to writing about Born to Run before 2016 ended. However, I was not about to let that technicality keep it off my year-end “best reads” list.
I’m beginning to think “seeing Bruce Springsteen live” is something that will never get crossed off my bucket list. That was one reason I particularly wanted to read Born to Run as an audio. Springsteen’s not an experienced narrator, but he is a performer, and no one else could possibly deliver his story like he does. It’s a remarkable performance that lasts longer (18 hours) and is much more intimate than one of his marathon concerts (and a lot cheaper, too!).
I’m not sure how interested you’ll be in reading Born to Run if you’re not a Bruce Springsteen fan already, but keep reading, and maybe I’ll sway you.
Born to Ramble
I’ve been a Springsteen fan since high school, where I was pretty much on my own with it. But I vividly remember my friend Donna gifting me with The River at Christmas of our junior year. (The River was a higher-priced double album. Donna was especially generous that Christmas.) I already owned Born to Run (the album) and Darkness on the Edge of Town (which may be my all-time favorite Springsteen album) by then.
A few years later, nearly everyone owned Born in the USA, but not everyone realized that the title song was not a paean to patriotism. They may have figured it out, and moved on, by the time Springsteen began his nearly ten-year break from the E Street Band with Tunnel of Love. The second part of Born to Run (the book), also subtitled “Born to Run,” covers these years of Springsteen’s career–perhaps the most familiar, but neither the start nor the end.
I remember “Born in the USA” coming on the radio in my office once during the 1990s, and a visitor saying “Oh yeah, Bruce Springsteen! Haven’t heard him in a long time. Is he still around?” He was. And he still is. “Musician” is the only job Bruce Springsteen has ever had. Born to Run provides enlightening insights into the songs, albums, and concert tours, and he seems to relish the opportunity to tell these stories outside a musical framework.
A Storyteller’s Story
Nearly every time I read a songwriter’s memoir, I’m reminded that they are storytellers. Springsteen is more of a storyteller than most, and in Born to Run he discusses finding characters to tell his stories. Even in the more introspective, intimate songs he was writing during his break from the E Street Band he was rarely personally revealing. You really won’t learn all that much about who Bruce Springsteen is from forty-plus years’ worth of music. He more than makes up for that in Born to Run.
That said, there are recurring autobiographical elements throughout Springsteen’s songbook, which he expands on in this memoir. A character in Michael Chabon’s novel The Mysteries of Pittsburgh calls Born to Run “the most Catholic album ever made.” Springsteen’s stories of his Irish-Italian Catholic upbringing acknowledge the church’s continuing influence on his worldview despite years of religious inactivity. (This has been my own experience too, for what it’s worth.) It’s also been years since Bruce Springsteen was a blue-collar kid from a dying small town in central New Jersey, but that background will never stop influencing his worldview.
Born to Write
The career stories in Born to Run are interesting and often amusing, but the stories that really resonate here are the quieter ones. Springsteen talks, often with great generosity, about family and friends and complicated relationships. He opens up about health challenges, both physical and emotional, and his ongoing struggle with a possibly genetic tendency to mental illness. These revelations were a big part of early press about Born to Run, and they may be some of the most important writing he’s ever done.
Born to Run made me recognize that Bruce Springsteen has been a short-story writer for a very long time. This book may be his first true long-form work, but it leaves no doubt that he’s a writer, period. He has an authentic voice, a sense of craft, and a great story to tell. Fellow Springsteen fan Beth Kephart has made me attentive to the distinctions between memoir and autobiography. Born to Run is memoir. The Los Angeles Times called it one of the “10 most important books of 2016:”
“Springsteen has written a new canon of rock songs that deeply integrate his own desire, trouble and longing with the larger story of America. This memoir, the first from the 67-year-old, tells of his Catholic upbringing, his youthful ambitions, his adult convictions and his deep commitment to social justice.”
I hope I’ve given you an inkling why it was one of my most important books of 2016.
EDITED TO ADD: Serena at Savvy Verse & Wit was also impressed with Born to Run on audio…and she’s not quite the lifelong Springsteen fan I am. See what she has to say about it!
I come from a boardwalk town where almost everything is tinged with a bit of fraud. So am I. By twenty, no race-car-driving rebel, I was a guitar player on the streets of Asbury Park and already a member in good standing amongst those who “lie” in service of the truth . . . artists, with a small “a.” But I held four clean aces. I had youth, almost a decade of hard-core bar band experience, a good group of homegrown musicians who were attuned to my performance style and a story to tell.
This book is both a continuation of that story and a search into its origins. I’ve taken as my parameters the events in my life I believe shaped that story and my performance work. One of the questions I’m asked over and over again by fans on the street is “How do you do it?” In the following pages I will try to shed a little light on how and, more important, why.
Rock ’n’ Roll Survival Kit
These are some of the elements that will come in handy should you come face-to-face with eighty thousand (or eighty) screaming rock ’n’ roll fans who are waiting for you to do your magic trick. Waiting for you to pull something out of your hat, out of thin air, out of this world, something that before the faithful were gathered here today was just a song-fueled rumor.
I am here to provide proof of life to that ever elusive, never completely believable “us.” That is my magic trick. And like all good magic tricks, it begins with a setup. So . . .