Bruce Springsteen is that rarest of celebrities, one who is respected for what he does and what he represents, not just because or even in spite of his celebrity. He is credited as a spokesman, a symbol of a time and place, a representation of the virtues and worth of the average American--and he has retained and strengthened this position in spite of his immense wealth and obviously exceptional role in life. There is nothing average or working class about Bruce, but yet he remains....Bruce.
Carlin does a good job documenting his family roots and early life, showing us the beginnings that earned Bruce the right to the position he would later claim in his lyrics, music, and lifestyle. Carolina also tells us about the roots of the fractured relationship with his emotionally scarred father that played such a key role in the development of Bruce's intense and sometimes mercurial personality that drove his desire to not just survive the Jersey streets but rise above and beyond them.
The most interesting and fully developed part of this biography covers Bruce's early days after high school struggling to establish his life as a musician in and out of bands playing in basements, a surf board factory where the owner gave Bruce and his band room, equipment and time to practice in between shifts, and tours around Bruce's Jersey shore roots and oddly, Richmond, Virginia. We see the intensity in his personality com through in a clear eyed and almost maniacal focus on writing, playing, and performing music. We also see how that focus affected his personal relationships and relationship with his family. We learn the truth, or at least the founding myth, of Scooter and the Big Man. It is a story as mythic as the music.
When success finally came, it came on those same terms of focus and intensity. For Bruce it was always about the music without compromise. And the success wasn't instant or easy. Even after the first two albums, a small but fervent fan base, and glowing critical reviews, Columbia was ready to drop their young troubadour for the newly signed singer/songwriter Billy Joel because of his expected broader appeal. Put on notice that his next song had to be a hit, Springsteen spent months crafting "Born to Run", which stands beside "Like a Rolling Stone" as one of the greatest and most decorated rock songs of all time.
With his career finally established, Bruce didn't settle for success. From here on the biography focuses more on the music and gets away from the personal account of Bruce's life as his fame grows and he makes hard decisions balancing his relationships and his drive to be not just successful but to be at the top of the music industry. Perhaps because the events are too recent for his sources to open up, or because Carlin chooses to pull his punches, the biography loses some steam from here to the end and becomes basically a critical review of the music and recording process. Clocking in at nearly 500 pages, perhaps length was a consideration as well, but I was still left wanting to know more about the man than his music.
And that is the power of Bruce. So well known through his music, so widely praised for his music, so often covered for his stances and symbolism, the man at the core still stands strong and true enough to intrigue. I want to know more, perhaps, than heaven will allow.
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