It was morning. As always, I was rushing to catch my bus to work but stole some time to look up an audio book to listen to on my way there and while working. Work is boring. Traveling to work on public bus can be aggravating. I needed a distraction.
I pulled up my Overdrive app and scrolled through audio books. I couldn’t find any available for books I’ve already read, which is the best way for me to consume audio books because it’s hard for me to remember or focus on new-to-me reads on audio. Then I said fuck it. Let me just download a random one. I pulled up a list of popular audio books and downloaded the one that snagged my attention first — the black and white cover of Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run. I didn’t even know who the dude is, but I knew that a lot of people raved over the book. It could be good, I thought as I popped in my headphones and hopped out the door.
Nonfiction — autobiography, music
In 2009, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performed at the Super Bowl’s halftime show. The experience was so exhilarating that Bruce decided to write about it. That’s how this extraordinary autobiography began.
Over the past seven years, Bruce Springsteen has privately devoted himself to writing the story of his life, bringing to these pages the same honesty, humor, and originality found in his songs.
He describes growing up Catholic in Freehold, New Jersey, amid the poetry, danger, and darkness that fueled his imagination, leading up to the moment he refers to as “The Big Bang”: seeing Elvis Presley’s debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. He vividly recounts his relentless drive to become a musician, his early days as a bar band king in Asbury Park, and the rise of the E Street Band. With disarming candor, he also tells for the first time the story of the personal struggles that inspired his best work, and shows us why the song “Born to Run” reveals more than we previously realized.
Born to Run will be revelatory for anyone who has ever enjoyed Bruce Springsteen, but this book is much more than a legendary rock star’s memoir. This is a book for workers and dreamers, parents and children, lovers and loners, artists, freaks, or anyone who has ever wanted to be baptized in the holy river of rock and roll.
Rarely has a performer told his own story with such force and sweep. Like many of his songs (“Thunder Road,” “Badlands,” “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” “The River,” “Born in the U.S.A.,” “The Rising,” and “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” to name just a few), Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography is written with the lyricism of a singular songwriter and the wisdom of a man who has thought deeply about his experiences. (Goodreads)
This is probably the book that surprised me the most this year. I really didn’t expect to like it or to be so tuned in to what Springsteen was saying that I jotted down quotes and even remembered exactly what I heard — that never happens when I listen to audio books, the exception being the Harry Potter books but that’s because I have those memorized.
I had no idea who Bruce Springsteen was when I downloaded this audio book, but the more I listened to him tell me about his life, the more I liked him, wanted to sample his songs, and felt inspired by him. I was so taken by his autobiography that I started asking everyone I know, “Hey man, you know Bruce Springsteen? He’s so awesome! He wrote this book….” as if Born to Run wasn’t a bestseller and Springsteen a rock star. EVERYONE I approached already knew of him and wondered if I’d bumped my head or something because how could I not have heard of Springsteen before? Well, I hadn’t. But that was remedied over the days I spent listening to Springsteen tell me about his life.
As with the majority of books I consider favorites, I love Born to Run for the writing. It’s hard for me to pay attention to writing when listening to a story, but quality shines through in this audio book. It grabbed my attention and held it. It had rhythm and body and there was no way I could sway away from it. At work, I’d stop what I was doing to quickly grab a pen to jot down phrases and whole passages. Listening to Born to Run made me wish I’d read the physical book instead because of all I was itching to highlight. But I think if I’d read the book I probably would have been bored by it because there were some lulls in the narrative where my attention would dull and, not wanting to miss anything, I’d pause Springsteen and switch to something else.
Springsteen’s voice itself also kept me coming back. I like the raspiness and the cadence of his voice. It was easy to listen to and made me want to keep listening. That coupled with the prose hooked me so that even when I completed the book, I wanted more. I hope he’ll consider narrating more books. Listening to Born to Run made me realize that I prefer that an author narrates his own story. In passages that are filled with emotion, I could hear a change in the inflection of Springsteen’s voice. It became heavier, such as when he spoke about difficult moments in his relationship with his father, making tears prickle at my eyes, or so light that I expected him to start singing. I liked how this made me respond to what I heard. I felt as if I was hanging out with him as he told me about the good ol’ times or taught me a lesson needed to know when pursuing a creative career.
And that’s the thing with this book: It’s not just about Springsteen’s life, it’s about creating art, pursuing a creative life, navigating the music industry, finding value in life even in your lowest moments, appreciating the people who love and care for you, and being socially and politically aware. It’s about those things and much more, so I wouldn’t say this book is only for fans of Bruce Springsteen, though, if you are a fan, you will get loads outta this book. This book is for all artists, whether musician, writer, painter, stylist, or whatever, at all levels — novice to professional to retired. Everyone can get something out of Springsteen’s story. It’s that broadly appealing.
But the fans? I envy you. Not only does Springsteen talk about his life — where he grew up, who his parents are, etc., — he talks about his inspirations, how he started out, his work ethic, how he managed his band, how his style changed, why his style changed, why he wrote a particular song, how he wrote the song, why he used a certain word in a particular song, how he expected/wanted his songs to be received, his mindset when performing, how he navigated the music business, the mistakes he made, what to do to avoid the mistakes he made. The dude includes so much and I loved it! Like, that’s what I want to hear from the people I admire. It was like getting into the dude’s head to see how he functioned when working creatively. I LOVE that!
I didn’t mean to shunt aside the personal and familial stories that he also included in the book. I appreciated those as well because they reveal who he is by showing where he came from and who raised him and how he was raised. Those stories were sometimes emotional, and I could hear the emotion in Springsteen’s voice which made me respond in kind. They also show where a lot of his material for his songs come from. They are just as important as the advice he shares and the parts about his work ethic.
I also appreciated the passages where Springsteen spoke about his mental health and battle with depression. They were sometimes unsettling to me because by that part of the book, couple chapters from the end, I started considering Springsteen as a father figure (those chapters focus mostly on his wife and kids), so I kept picturing my own dad battling the difficulties Springsteen faced due to his mental health. I had to take my time with those chapters.
This one was totally worth the read and I’m glad it was my pick when I randomly chose an audio book. I gained so much from it, though I wasn’t familiar with Bruce Springsteen prior to reading it. It was inspiring, contemplative, funny, stirring, and heartwarming. I consider it a favorite and one of the best books I’ve read this year.
It’s good. It’s worth a read, even if you’re not a Bruce Springsteen fan or have never heard of the guy (he’s very famous but I’m just weird and was hiding under a rock the whole time). I recommend this to Bruce Springsteen fans, of course, artists and other creatives (definitely musicians), and people who just want a good book to read.
Buy | Borrow | Bypass
I say Buy because it’s worth it, but I did Borrow my copy from the library. I intend to Buy myself a physical copy, though, and highlight all the things.
I HIGHLY suggest the audio book.
Quotes from the audio book:
“Integrating the world of thought and reflection with the world of primitive action is not a necessary skill for making great rock ‘n’ roll. Many of the music’s most glorious moments feel as though they were birthed in an explosion of raw talent and creative instinct (some of them even were!). But… if you want to burn bright, hard and long, you will need to depend upon more than your initial instincts. You will need to develop some craft and a creative intelligence that will lead you farther when things get dicey. That’s what’ll help you make crucial sense and powerful music as time passes, giving you the skills that may also keep you alive, creatively and physically.”
“…unless you are very aggressive, very proactive about what you want, what you’ve created can be co-opted and taken from you, whatever the results. It’s nothing personal. You will simply be stripped bare, for better or worse, at the altar of the great marketing gods, who have a dynamic and an agenda guided by the DNA of commerce.”
★ “Meaningless distraction drains you of the energy you should be placing into more serious things or using to simply enjoy the rewards of your labor.”
“Most of my writing is emotionally autobiographical. I’ve learned you’ve got to pull up the things that mean something to you in order for them to mean anything to your audience. That’s where the proof is. That’s how they know you’re not kidding.”
“The one thing I did learn was that we all need a little of our madness. Man cannot live by sobriety alone. We all need help somewhere along the way to relieve us of our daily burdens. It’s why intoxicants have been pursued since the beginning of time. Today I’d simply advise you to choose your methods and materials carefully or not at all, depending upon one’s tolerance, and watch the body parts!”
★ “Trust is a fragile thing. It requires allowing others to see as much of ourselves as we have the courage to reveal.”
“…in clarity lie stability, longevity, respect, understanding, and confidence.”
★ “You need to be adventurous, to listen to your heart and write what it’s telling you, but your creative instinct isn’t infallible. The need to look for direction, input and some guidance, outside of yourself, can be healthy and fruitful.”
★ “You lay claim to your stories; you honor, with your hard work and the best of your talent, their inspirations, and you fight to tell them well from a sense of indebtedness and thankfulness. The ambiguities, the contradictions, the complexities of your choices are always with you in your writing as they are in your life. You learn to live with them. You trust your need to have a dialogue about what you deem important.”
“Your early songs emerge from a moment when you’re writing with no sure prospect of ever being heard. Up until then, it’s been just you and your music. That only happens once.”
★ “We honor our parents by not accepting as the final equation the most troubling characteristics of our relationship. I decided between my father and me that the sum of our troubles would not be the summation of our lives together. In analysis you work to turn the ghosts that haunt you into ancestors who accompany you. That takes hard work and a lot of love, but it’s the way we lessen the burdens our children have to carry.”