Bruce Springsteen has always spoken from his heart & soul through his music. Fans have remained very loyal to him through the years, and his legendary live shows are often compared to religious experiences which showcase the transformative power of rock & roll. While previous books have been published about him, there hasn’t been a biography that featured the artist’s input & cooperation; until now. Peter Ames Carlin’s Bruce (2012) is an in-depth look into the life & music of the man known as “The Boss.” Carlin, who’s also written books on Brian Wilson & Paul McCartney, was given full access to Springsteen, his family & his fellow musicians, in order to tell a more comprehensive version of Bruce’s story.
What emerges is a fascinating portrait of Bruce, from his humble beginnings in Freehold, New Jersey to the heights of his 80s superstardom and beyond. Some of the most intriguing parts of the book concern Bruce’s childhood, his family & his formative years. Springsteen has always told stories about growing up in his lyrics and song introductions while playing live, but here you get to read about it in tales from Bruce & the people who knew him. There’s also a detailed account of his rise to the top, as he knocks around in several Jersey based bands, playing up & down the East Coast, before the group that later became known as The E Street Band comes together.
Carlin does an excellent job showing us how Bruce’s creative process works, and the artist’s own self doubts about his musical output. The sections detailing the production of some of the albums we now regard as classics are fascinating reading. From the interviews & stories the author has compiled, it’s obvious that just about everyone who worked with Bruce during the early years knew he was going to be a star, it was just a matter of showcasing his talents properly. It’s a great version of the classic rags to riches saga, although there are a lot of bumps on the road along the way. The first half of the book is full of behind the scenes stories & names that will be familiar to Springsteen fans & music aficionados.
What’s also different about the book is that it paints a truly well rounded portrait of its subject. Reportedly, once he was given access to Springsteen & his inner circle, all Bruce asked of the author was that he be honest in his portrayal. Carlin doesn’t shy away from the more prickly sides of his subject, either professionally or personally. In the second half of the book, covering the “superstar” years to the present day, band members are completely forthright about their hurt feelings when Bruce disbanded the E Street Band in 1989, in order to move in a different musical direction. And yet, the band joined together again in 1999, and have been recording & touring ever since. The bond between the group is truly amazing; the losses of Danny Federici in 2008 & Clarence Clemons in 2011 and their toll on the E Street family are touchingly portrayed by Carlin.
Another interesting facet of the story is the development of Bruce's political side, which came along a bit later than most people realize. While he did support causes like help for Vietnam Veterans & the 1979 “No Nukes” concerts, it took a while for him to fully speak out politically & publicly support candidates. There’s also some detail about Bruce’s love life, up to & including his marriage to Patti Scialfa. One wishes there was more coverage regarding Bruce’s output with other artists (such as his work on the Gary U.S. Bonds comeback albums in the early 80s) but this is about as complete a portrait of the artist, his life & music as we’re likely to see. With detailed coverage of his journey to the top, and incisive looks at classic records like 1978’s Darkness On The Edge Of Town and solo projects like 1982’s Nebraska, if you’re a casual Springsteen fan or one of the faithful, Bruce is a rewarding reading experience.