True story: in my 1974 graduate dorm at the University Near Here, I was down with the flu. Miserable, unable to do anything, just lying in my tiny thin-mattressed bed listening to the Boston rock station WBCN on my stereo.
But then: on comes a song like nothing I'd heard before. A majestic symphony of drums, guitars, and saxophone. Incandescent lyrics of young love and desperate hopefulness. My heartrate spiked, and I truly believe all the illness was flushed from my body within the four and a half minutes song duration. After it was over, I arose from my bed, feeling fine.
The song was Born to Run. And I had been healed by a guy named Bruce Springsteen.
So I was kind of a natural reader of this book, and I got it as a Christmas gift. Not slim, at 500 pages of main text, and I took my time reading it.
Compared to the other celebrity memoirs I've read, this one falls in between "just the facts in chronological order" (e.g, Clapton) and a consciousness-stream of impressions and interactions (e.g., Dylan's Chronicles). Bruce is big on YELLING IN UPPERCASE sometimes with EXCLAMATION POINTS! And he often overwrites, lapsing into colorful and wacky prose about his artistic influences and opinions. Fine. But I'll also say: sometimes he is, to my ear, exactly on target: when he writes about his parents, or getting stuck in a mountain-pass blizzard while crossing the Rockies on his way to California. You are there with him.
I read these memoirs, I think, because I'm looking for some clue about the secrets of creative genius and talent. So far I've failed, and Bruce's book is not an exception. The common thread seems to be pretty pedestrian: work hard, learn from your musical heroes without copying them, keep your eyes on the prize, practice.
Oh yeah: you also might want to get a good accountant (so you don't get in trouble with the IRS) and have an honest lawyer check on those contracts your manager wants you to sign. Two things Bruce didn't do.
Bruce is relentlessly honest, while being nothing less than gracious to bandmates, family members, managers, etc., even when (maybe especially when) the underlying relationship was contentious. Even though his personal politics are annoyingly left-wing, his professional dealings with his bandmates are hard-nosed; you might call him a benevolent dictator, but the "benevolent" bit is kind of a stretch. (There's a telling and funny anecdote about how he responded to one of the E Streeters asking for a raise.)
One surprising anecdote: Bruce became buddies with fellow Garden Stater Frank Sinatra. Did not see that coming. In fact, he and wife Patti were invited to the Chairman's 80th birthday bash. And there: "Sometime after dinner, we find ourselves around the living room piano with Steve [Lawrence] and Eydie Gorme and Bob Dylan."
Kaboom. As the kids say, "mind = blown". I don't even think of those people living in the same universe.
Given his cheerful public persona, I was also surprised to learn about his psychological problems. He's been on anti-depressants for decades, and in therapy for even longer. I might be reading more into this than I should, but it seems that anti-depressants haven't been good to his creativity. To my ear, there are no recent Springsteen songs that have the spark of Born to Run, Rosalita, or Promised Land.
But that's a quibble. Because, once again: Bruce healed me.