Malcolm Alsop reviews Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

Posted 13th December 2016

1,2,3,4 …well how else can you start a review of Bruce Spingsteen’s autobiography?

For years now the man they call ‘the Boss’ has given listeners broad hints as to his background and his politics in songs such as ‘the River’ and ‘Ghost of Tom Joad’. We now know that the former was written for his sister and brother-in-law. Escape, usually in cars, is a common motif in Mr.Springsteen’s music so it comes as something of a surprise to learn that he couldn’t really drive until his early twenties and even then was considered a danger behind the wheel.

The early part of this autobiography (sadly not as long as one of his concerts) deals with his childhood in Freehold, New Jersey and then takes us chronologically more or less up to date.  Mr. Springsteen is almost brutally honest about his early relationship with his father “I learned many a rough lesson from my father. An inner yearning for isolation, for the world on your terms or not at all” throwing an interesting light on such songs as ‘Independence Day’ and also making a later amusing account of a fishing trip into something a rather moving partial reconciliation. Whereas, “My mother stood behind my wildest dreams, accepted me at face value for who I truly was…”

He writes entertainingly about his early days playing in “bar bands” up and down what is known as the eastern seaboard of the U.S.A. and his time as a “surf punk” and even in those early days building up up a significant following, though he never really manages to crack California. It came as a surprise to this reviewer that Mr.Springsteen has suffered from depression, a condition for which he is still taking medication and again he is brutally honest about how it affected him and his relationships. His admission that “I was always a little embarrassed of love…of showing my open heart…” will, I think, come as a shock to anyone who has witnessed a live performance by Bruce Springsteen.

In the latter part of this book, although he deals with success and worldwide fame, Mr.Springsteen also writes movingly about his family and is, again, honest about the break-up of his first marriage. His love for his three children and Patti Scialfa, his wife of over twenty-five years is, again, handled honestly and movingly but without sentimentality.

Autobiograhies tend to be bought and read by those who know something about their subjects and I would not expect anyone to purchase this out of idle speculation. The main readers will be those who are already fans of Bruce Springsteen’s music and hope to gain further insights into his life. In this they will not be disappointed, particularly in the early sections.

Overall, however, this is actually a book about belonging, about family, about love.