From a house on a hill a sacred light shines
I walk through these rooms but none of them are mine
Down empty hallways I went from door to door
Searching for my beautiful reward
Searching for my beautiful reward
Springsteen, My beautiful reward
As the entire world must know by now, Springsteen has released his much-anticipated autobiography Born to Run and, as expected, it’s a massive hit. No real surprise there. What I personally wasn’t expecting was just how good it has turned out to be. This isn’t really a review because, well, I haven’t actually finished it yet (it’s a big tome) but what I’ve read so far has been truly wonderful and remarkably poetic.
Many books have been produced about the life and music of this unique and brilliant man but all of the information came second hand and much of it was contradictory. This is the man himself writing about his life as he experienced it and to say it fills in the gaps is an understatement.
I was particularly interested in his early life in Freehold NJ and this book does not disappoint on that score. You get a warts and all journey through the low rent streets of the unlikely town that birthed a legend. And it’s all seen from the perspective of an alienated teen who had a burning need to get the hell out of Dodge. A teen who just had to show the world what he’d been hiding under that awkward, acne riddled, and insecure exterior his whole young and unexceptional life. It’s great stuff.
Glad I was that Jersey girl and I had had the opportunity to visit Freehold before I sat down to read this book. His descriptions of home life – the very real seeds of so much of his music – were all the more vivid for my having visited the town and particularly the house on South Street. I could see so many of the scenes he describes playing out before my eyes simply because I know the places where they took place.
He writes about the first time he ever played in front of an actual audience and sang lead (on the Beatles’ twist and shout). That took place here at the Freehold Elks Lodge. It was an unexceptional beginning for such a stellar career (as is so often the case with such stories).
He writes about a bullet coming through the glass of his front door one Saturday night just moments after he’d walked past to go up to bed.
Other writers have mentioned this as some sort of mysterious, unexplained event but here we get the Springsteen take that it was probably tied to his father’s involvement in a labour dispute at his factory job.
Then there is his love-hate relationship with the nuns of St Rose of Lima, the Catholic school he attended just up the road from his house. Again, I had the chance to visit this place and so his recounting of the time he spent at that torturous institution is that much more vivid.
To be sure, most people are probably more interested in the later periods of his life when he had already become a bona fide rock god but I’ve always been interested in the how and the where of these things. What propelled the pimply faced Bruce out of a life of mundane isolation onto the international stage? How did this barely educated boy become such a prolifically talented and erudite storyteller?
And make no mistake, this is very good writing. The same remarkable talent that produced songs like The River and Jungleland is very much in evidence between these pages. I think anyone with even a vague interest in Bruce will probably read this book. I know I’ll be reading it more than a few times. It’s brutally honest much of the time and full of the self-examination we’ve come to expect from Mr. Springsteen over the years.
If you think you know the story already, I’m fairly confident you’re quite mistaken. This book rips the band-aids off old wounds, exposing a Bruce that has hitherto only been hinted at.
I’ll have more to say on this subject once I’ve delved deeper.
Words and images are my own.