Running from birth
I’m not going to write a formal review of the Springsteen autobiography, there are hundreds of those available pretty much anywhere you care to look. I do need to say something, however, about how deeply I was affected by reading it.
Born to Run is a magnificent book. I’ve read more than my fair share of works on the subject of Bruce Springsteen – many of them very good indeed – but all pale in comparison to this first-hand account of the life (and more importantly the mindset) of one of Rocks greatest legends.
It’s being described in the superficial mainstream media as a “tell-all” which serves only to trivialize what is, in fact, a masterful and lyrical account of the life of a proverbial everyman who broke the mold (though, certainly not without consequences) and escaped the stifling confines of his blue collar world. In doing so he also had a not inconsiderable hand in shaping the way America sees itself.
So what did I personally get out of the book?
There are certain events that occurred in Springsteen’s life that mirror aspects of my own. We both had fathers who were emotionally withholding and borderline abusive. How we differ is in the way we allowed this to shape the men we became.
Springsteen used his father’s internalized voice as the engine room and driver of his creative life. His desire to prove wrong his father’s poor opinion of him propelled the young musician – like some anxious skyrocket – into the stratospheric world of fame and success.
That is not what I did.
I too internalized my father’s voice (stepfather to be exact, my real father having abandoned us when I was small). However, for whatever reason, I was never able to turn that negative energy into rocket fuel. Instead, I pushed the voice down until I could barely even make it out and tried to get on with my life.
Ignored is not the same as negated, however, and the black energy would manifest as acts of self-sabotage whenever I came close to anything like success.
It was fascinating to read Springsteen’s account of his own trajectory, his single-minded pursuit of uncompromising greatness exemplified in the marathon concerts fueled by white hot anxiety and flat out fear. His fear literally made him fearless and that fearless determination to achieve launched one of the greatest musical careers of all time.
The soaring brilliance of this accomplishment cannot be overstated. I’ve been to his hometown, it is a place with almost no propensity for greatness. To have escaped the gravitational pull of Freehold, New Jersey and then used that very same gravity to slingshot his music into the orbit of the great American legends (Dylan, Elvis, James Brown) was a labor that Hercules himself might have considered a smidge ambitious.
As I implied at the beginning, these things tend to exact a cost. For Springsteen, the cost of the long-delayed reckoning with his haunted past was an emotional breakdown and subsequent epic bouts of clinical depression.
This is another point of intersection between Springsteen’s life and my own. I too suffered a breakdown followed by several years of crippling depression. I found my way through those trials (and if I could have just five minutes with the Boss, I’d impress upon him just what a boon acupuncture can be in treating deep-seated depression) and became a better person for having made the journey.
It gave me a feeling, not unlike assuagement to realise that even people of Bruce Springsteen’s stature are no more immune to these tidal forces than are we lesser folk. And to see him write so openly about it (much as I try to do here) was extremely heartening. It’s so important for people going through difficult times to see that others have walked that path before them.
So that’s what I took away with me from Born to Run. My hero has feet of clay (which is the way I tend to like ’em) but a generous heart and spirit (though that clearly was not always the case). I was happy to discover that the man is not so very different (a little more human perhaps) to the impression we all have of him.