The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world














It’s always very interesting when you get a biography ‘written with the cooperation’ of the artist themselves and it always leads you to ask a number of questions not least of which being: does that mean we are getting a very much artist driven book (complete with editorial control) or are we getting a sanitized version of events (with the artist’s memory periodically failing, or remembering things different to generally accepted ‘truths’).




This is seemingly neither of the above, rather an attempt at taking a fresh look at Springsteen the American cultural icon; seemingly with a good deal of free reign on the part of the author.




There is no point debating the significance of Bruce Springsteen to American music and so to read the first biography in 25 years to offer Bruce’s cooperation, as well as the input of significant figures from his family, band and longtime manager producer Jon Landau there was always going to be every chance we got something special: and we do.




Perhaps the most interesting thing for the reader is that writer Carlin manages to take a fresh look at established Springsteen mythology and in doing so turns up some interesting takes on established stories and at times even makes you take a step back and revisit your opinion of the subject. It is a very compelling read and a vivid portrait of a man who has long ceased having anything to prove.




As a casual fan of ‘The Boss’ (the origin of that name is actually revealed in the preface) it’s the setting the scene that takes place in the first few chapters of the book that offers up some of the most interesting material. From the family history to the first taste of the Beatles to the nascent early bands, passing up an opportunity to play Woodstock and life in the coffee houses it’s an almost tangible air of dust and decay that Carlin manages to evoke.




Where the book starts to really fly is during the ‘Born to Run’ era and it’s here also that you get that feeling that Carlin has pretty much license to paint Bruce as he sees him and we get a moody, sometimes obtuse and unreasonable man who treats some of those in his life with less than the greatest of respect. And as a tale of a flawed man a huge talent it’s a take on Bruce that you probably haven’t seen before and it makes the book even more intriguing.




Overall probably the most impressive aspect of the book is the fact that it does contain new material, even a few quotes from Bruce’s first wife who seems to be about the only person not to have given the author a full interview. It is that coupled with the authors interesting admission that Springsteen had told him all he wanted from him was an ‘honest account of his life’.  



There’s some choice and timely incidents that just show you how times have changed (if not prejudices) as Bruce misses his high school graduation because he refused to have his shoulder length hair cut. There are also great stories of Bruce’s early bands and their struggles and fights culminating in commentary around the dissolution of the E Street Band in 1989. I’m guessing for the casual reader and the avid fan alike it’s these stories and Carlin’s wonderful prose that give the book most of its appeal. The oft repeated take on Bruce’s first meeting with the recently departed Clarence Clemons for example is a classic piece of Springsteen mythology that Bruce insists is true. Bruce fleeing from an attentive Janis Joplin is another classic.




As well as those chestnuts we get Clarence Clemons final interview and other telling comments from ex band members like the surprise at the small amount on offer to them for the 1999 reunion tour.




Stories aside, where Bruce succeeds best is in the treatment of the man himself, a man who despite his conflicts and contradictions has become one of the absolute icons of music. There may be a weighting towards his early career – ‘Born in The USA’ onwards comprises only about a third of the book but I assume that’s by design given the opportunity to revisit the established story given the unprecedented access.  What we see in ‘Bruce’ is a fresh perspective from the author and that is what makes it so enjoyable a read, the mother-son and mother-father relationships that are at the heart of Bruce the man are echoed throughout his career and go a long way to explain some of Springsteen’s reevaluations of his opinions and positions over the years.




This isn’t one just for the fans, it’s a tale of an ordinary man from an ordinary town that made it. But all the same it’s the tale of a man like us and how he fights to stay grounded despite his fortune and fame.




By Mark Diggins