Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Book Review: "Bruce" by Peter Ames Carlin

When you grow up in central New Jersey, particularly one town away from Freehold as I did, Bruce Springsteen is almost a religion. I had the same Spanish teacher he had in high school, knew all of his songs by heart, danced to Jersey Girl at more sweet 16 parties than I could count, saw concerts on countless tours, and at least once made the "Bruce pilgrimage," stopping by many of the places along his historic rise to legend status.

More than 25 years after moving away from New Jersey, "The Boss" is still a cultural touchstone for me, even though my accent changed a long time ago. Yet my perceptions of Bruce have always been the ones culture presented us—the outspoken political crusader, the fierce protector of his home state, the self-appointed spokesperson for those down on their luck or without luck at all, the muscle-bound troubadour, the brooding and sensitive poet of his generation. Which is why, although I don't traditionally read biographies, I chose to read Peter Ames Carlin's meticulously researched Bruce.

As you'd imagine, a book written with Springsteen's authorization—and complete access to everyone involved with his life, music, and career from the start—paints a fairly well-rounded picture of both the artist and the man. There's much I already knew about the starts and stops along the way of his musical journey, and anyone as obsessed with pop culture as I am certainly followed the stories of his personal life—his marriage to Julianne Phillips, their divorce and his subsequent relationship, marriage, and life with Patti Scialfa.

But while Carlin definitely spotlights the Springsteen you think you know, and certainly includes recollections and endorsements from many in his career that have been acolytes and advocates from the start, he is careful not to paint Springsteen as a saint, but rather a flawed, mercurial, sometimes-cocky-sometimes-insecure man torn between just wanting to make music for his fans and feeling compelled to serve a different purpose. I wasn't aware of his tumultuous relationships with the members of the E Street Band through the years, or the legal troubles he dealt with as his star began to rise, and the personal and psychological demons he's fought throughout his life. And the more I learned and read, the more I understood the passion and inspirations behind his music, which, of course, has led me to listen to it more and more.

This is a long book, and sometimes it moved a little slowly for me. While some insight into Springsteen's ancestry provided depth and insight, I could have done with a little bit less on the generations that preceded him. And given all of the footnotes and all of the names that come through Springsteen's life, sometimes it was difficult to remember who was whom, where they fit in, and why they mattered. But undoubtedly, while Carlin is an admirer of Springsteen the artist and Springsteen the man, he was able to write a more objective account of both than anything I've seen, and write it well.

If you've ever wondered about the man behind the legend, or how he got to where he is, Bruce is the book for you. And even if you're not a huge fan, it's still tremendously interesting and insightful.

No comments:

Post a Comment