Tuesday, October 18, 2016

"Born to Run" by Bruce Springsteen

When dh & I heard that Bruce Springsteen was publishing a memoir this fall, there was absolutely no question that we would be heading to the local bookstore the day it went on sale -- waiting for the paperback be damned. ;) 

I've written before about the role Bruce played in dh's & my early relationship, but a brief recap:  I was only dimly aware of who Springsteen was (although I'd heard & loved "Prove it all Night" in high school) when I met dh in October 1981 at a dorm party. His residence nickname was "Bruuuuuce," emblazoned on the back of his official floor T-shirt. I remember visiting friends on his floor & poking my head in the open door of his room to say hello (we all did that in those days).

"Who's the hunk on your wall?" I asked, indicating the poster of a good-looking guy, onstage in a dynamic guitar hero pose, tacked up over his bed. "That's Bruce Springsteen," he explained patiently. Thankfully, he didn't hold my ignorance against me ;) and before long, he was playing me all of Bruce's albums (on cassettes on his boombox)(and before long, I was buying copies for myself). (The poster is somewhere in a box in the depths of my parents' basement... if I ever retrieve it, I'm going to frame it & hang it on the wall of our office. ;)  ) We've seen him twice together (although dh saw him several times in the late 1970s/early 1980s before he met me), once in August 1985 at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto during, shortly after we returned from our honeymoon, and once in 1992 at the SkyDome, sans the E Street Band -- a last-minute bit of luck, when a work friend of dh's couldn't attend and sold his tickets to us at face value. I seriously considered Bruce as a middle name for a boy, should we have had a son.

Anyway -- Sept. 27 rolled around (finally!!) and off to the bookstore we went. (Fortunately for our budget, the book was instantly on sale for 40% off, lol.)

The guy can write. We all knew he could write music, of course, but "Born to Run" is a wonderful book, written in a distinctive voice, chock full of glorious details, personal reflections and a wonderful, wry sense of humour.  I especially loved the early parts of the book where he writes about growing up in a tight-knit but troubled family in Freehold, New Jersey, and his early days as a musician (like many others of his generation, inspired first by Elvis & then by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones).  He delves into his troubled relationship with his father, famously expressed in songs like "Factory," "Adam Raised a Cain" and "Independence Day." He writes about his marriages, including his first marriage to actress Julianne Phillips (he admits he was not a good husband and regrets the way he handled things). As publicized, he writes with brutal honesty about the mental illness that plagued his father and the anxiety and depression that haunt him personally to this day. And yes, there are glimpses of Bruce the proud dad of three children, now in their 20s. (Encouraged by his wife Patti, he started getting up early -- anathema to a rock star! -- to make them breakfast, and concludes that if the rock and roll thing doesn't work out, he could find work as a breakfast chef in a diner somewhere. ;) )  

If you are a Springsteen fan, this is an absolute must-read. Even if you're not, it would probably still be a worthwhile read, because it's such great writing and storytelling.

*** *** ***

ALI notes:

Having read Peter Ames Carlin's "Bruce" some time ago (reviewed here), I already knew the story of Bruce's aunt Virginia (his father's older sister), who was run over while riding her tricycle as a toddler, and the lingering effect her tragic death had on the family for generations to come. 

But Bruce's book did shed new light on some characters I remembered reading about (in Dave Marsh's first book about Springsteen from the early 1980s, also called "Born to Run"):  Tex Vinyard and his wife Marion, who mentored and managed Bruce's teenaged band, the Castiles, in the mid-1960s.

What I didn't realize or remember: Tex and Marion were childless. Bruce and his friends were their "kids."  Writes Bruce:
They were friends of George [Theiss, also a member of the Castiles] who had decided to surrender the fifteen square feet of what was called their dining room to local teenage noisemakers. It was a very informal neighbourhood, black and white separated somewhat by the rug mill but generally hanging around the streets together, with Tex and Marion's tiny apartment seeming to be the hub on some sort of neighborhood teen club. They were in their thirties and childless, so they took in "strays," kids who either didn't have much of a home life or were just looking to get out of the house to someplace less confining and a little more welcoming. Tex was a temperamental, redheaded, comb-overed, loudmouthed, lascivious, pussy-joke-telling factory worker... He was also generous, loving, sweethearted and one of the most giving adults I'd met up to that time. 
Tex and Marion seemed stranded between the teen world and adulthood, so they made a home for themselves and a surrogate parental life somewhere in the middle. They weren't your parents but they weren't your peers either. As we howled away, pushing out the walls of their little home with banging guitars and crashing drums, with the neighbours a mere two inches of drywall away (what tolerance!), they made the rules and set the agenda for what would fly and what would not.... Tex became our manager and Marion the house mother and seamstress to a team of misfit townie rock-'n-rollers.  
Tex was my first surrogate father figure. He was loving in his own twisted way. More important, he was accepting. He cherished and encouraged your talents, took you for who you were and put his time, muscle, money and big black Cadillac, hauling equipment, all in the service of your dreams...   
There were adults like Tex and Marion all across the United States, real unsung heroes of rock-'n-roll who made room in their homes and in their lives to cart the equipment; to buy the guitars; to let out their basements, their garages, for practice sessions;  who'd found a place of understanding between the two combative worlds of teen life and adulthood. They would support and partake in the lives of their children. Without folks like these, the basements, the garages, the Elks clubs, the VFW halls would've been empty, and skinny, dreaming misfits would've had no place to go to learn how to turn into rock-'n-roll heroes. (from Chapter 13, "The Castiles," pp. 68-71)
Just think -- without the support, encouragement, mentorship and management provided by this  childless couple, would young Bruce Springsteen have become Bruce Springsteen, international rock superstar? Something to ponder...

(OK, the "stranded between the teen world and adulthood" line made me wince a little, but I'll forgive him... ;)  )

This was book #18 that I've read so far in 2016.


  1. I love hearing about people like Tex and Marion. Although we eventually had a child, during the years of trying one of the things I worried about was being viewed as "useless" in some way. I actively looked for childless people who made a difference - and found many! My own great uncle, who lost a child to stillbirth but guided and entertained my mother and aunt whose own father was distant and bad-tempered - and who, although he died when I was very young, I remember with great fondness. My "honorary grandmother" who lived round the corner, who never married or had children but taught thousands to read (including me). My co-teacher who lost her fiancé in an accident and never met someone else and who specialises in mentoring troubled children and children who have suffered grief. To this day, I hold in my heart the knowledge that there are many parents who barely have an effect on their own children, never mind anyone else's, while there are childless people who have a huge positive influence on hundreds, thousands - whole generations - of children.

  2. I love Bruce Springsteen. But since I lost a dear friend of mine, Maria, I love him even more, since I know Bruce Springsteen was her favourite singer.

    Yes, I will read his biography as well.

    Thank you for Tex and Marion's story. Yes, the line "stranded between the teen world and adulthood" made me wince a little, but forgive him too ;)

    PS: I am listining to some Bruce music on youtube. I don't know why I don't listen to him more often, he is awesome.

  3. "Born To Run" might be my favourite song ever. He is also singing it straight at me (it has my name in it - confession, my name is not 'Different' - I think she was his backing singer or girlfriend at the time). Never tire of it.

  4. Even as a Jersey girl, there's a lot I don't know about Bruce. ;) Thinking about his mentors, though: my English teachers, also childless, were my home when I didn't feel like I had a home in high school, and without them, I don't know that I'd be who I am today, either. There is a post in me about this somewhere, but I want to make sure I tell my story, not theirs, so I need some more time to sort it out.

    (Thanks, BTW, speaking of home, for coming back even though I've been away so long.)