Book Review: "Born to Run"

It should come as no surprise to Bruce Springsteen fans that the 67-year-old rockstar is a master storyteller. After all, his hit songs, such as “Born in the USA” and “The River,” tell the stories of everyday Americans overcoming obstacles that many individuals face in life. Springsteen’s new autobiography “Born to Run” helps to shed light on the musicians own story, including the moment he knew he wanted to play rock and roll and and the road he traveled to become known as ‘The Boss.’

This autobiography has everything you would think a rockstar bio should have; sex, partying, and, of course, rock’n’roll. Along with these things, however, the book also gives perspective on race issues, Vietnam, and everyone’s dream of leaving their hometown.

Springsteen points out that his hometown of Freehold, New Jersey had issues with race relations that would “later turn into rioting and shootings.” About the Vietnam War, in which Springsteen lost several friends, Springsteen goes into detail about when he got his draft card and how he got out of deployment. However, in his book, he poses the question: “who went in my place?”

For fans of Springsteen, these passages, along with many others, show the connection between Springsteen’s experiences growing up in New Jersey to the music that he is famous for. “My Hometown” and “Born in the USA” discuss a town plagued by racial injustice and the mistreatment of Vietnam veterans, respectively. The stories that Springsteen so vividly tells give a significant backstory to many of the songs he has written throughout his six decade career.

On a more personal note, Springsteen opens up about his relationship with his parents and siblings. Several songs, including “Independance Day” from the 1980 album The River, paint a picture of a turbulent relationship between father and son. “It was a shame. He loved me but he couldn’t stand me.” Springsteen describes the barriers that stood between him and his father, including generational differences and his father’s battle with alcoholism and mental illness.

Springsteen takes this opportunity to discuss his family history of mental illness, including his own battle with depression, which he refers to as “the prize in the Cracker Jack box in our family.”

Despite all of the troubles that took place in his house as a young man, Springsteen speaks admiringly about his mother, Adele, throughout the book. As the woman who encouraged his music by buying him his first guitar, Springsteen explains the 90 year old matriarch as passing down the credo “work, faith, family.”

Beyond his family, Springsteen goes into great detail to explain how he discovered music and eventually broke into the business. Starting from the time he was a young man in Jersey, Springsteen’s stories of playing night clubs before becoming one of the most respected men in rock’n’roll give music fans an inside look into the music business, warts and all.

These stories are what makes this book great. It is easy to forget that struggles can lead to excellence. It is easy to overlook the fact that seemingly small moments in one’s life can have a tremendous effect. Seeing Elvis perform on the Ed Sullivan show led Springsteen to pick up a guitar, an instrument he wouldn’t master until years later. Along the way, Springsteen describes meeting Steven Van Zandt, Nils Lofgren, his wife and bandmate Patti Scalfia, and the late Clarence Clemons, just a few members of the band that would eventually skyrocket Springsteen into stardom in the E Street Band.

Are all of the stories included in the 510 page autobiography necessary to understand the big picture? No. However, the anecdotes that Springsteen shares with readers makes The Boss relatable to and familiar with the everyday, middle class Americans that made him go from a local musician in Jersey to playing Madison Square Garden and headlining the 2009 Super Bowl halftime show.

For music fans, “Born to Run” is a must-read. It is not often that readers get such an honest and insightful look at one of rock’s biggest icons. Up there with Keith Richards’ 2010 memoir “Life,” “Born to Run” is one of the best rock autobiographies to hit the shelves in a long time.