Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Bruce Books Review: Which Springsteen biography is worthy for your collection?

In the past few years there have been plenty of books released about the career and life of Bruce Springsteen. 
Together with documentaries such as Springsteen & I and a website through which he shares more and more personal photos and videos, fans have been able to take a constant stream of details from both his life and that of the E Street Band. 

When interviewed in Perth earlier this year Springsteen even told the media that with social media and the internet he had learned to appreciate an openness with the public that he might previously have shied away from, because the details would be ‘out there anyway’.
As the Springsteen travelled the world with warnings about the steel in his stories turning into rust with the Wrecking Ball tour in 2012 and 2013, three books in particular that detailed the life of the rock icon and The E Street Band were released.
All with varying levels of access to Springsteen, the band and people who helped shaped the legacy of all things E Street.
Although fans need little introduction to the most well-known chapters of Springsteen’s life – the early days of Steel Mill, the misinterpretation of Born In The USA, the breaking up and reunion of the E Street Band etc... – each of these books provide a unique perspective on the man and his music.

– Peter Ames Carlin

This book needs little introduction. Carlin had a great access to Springsteen, his friends and family that he even got a good selection of photographs from across the generations.
Starting with the family history, Bruce really goes into what inspires and drives the man and where he came from.
It’s most memorable chapters are those that detailed how Springsteen developed through his teenage years into a musician and songwriter. Anecdotes of a motorcycle crash and leg injury that resulted in a haircut and a way out of the military draft, to the first encounters of those who would later shape his destiny are all in there.
More importantly you don’t have to be a super fan to enjoy the read. As the title suggests it’s about the person behind the music and a story of a boy who wanted a guitar for Christmas and once scaled the wall of Graceland to try and see Elvis, and how he became one of the biggest rock stars on the planet.
At times the book is a gripping read, even if you know what album was about to be formed by the chaos that seemed to surround Springsteen at several times.
If it’s an approachable, engaging book on Springsteen and his life you’re looking for – this is the one you want.

Bruce Springsteen and The Promise of Rock ‘n’ Roll 
 – Marc Dolan

Dolan’s book takes the life story of Springsteen and delves deeper into the analysis of his music and live performances than you could probably expect.
Throughout the chapters details upon details of how each album was formed by Springsteen and the pressures that influenced his mood at the time are all explored. 
 Through news archives, interviews, bootlegs and every other possible source of information is raided and presented with a keen eye for what any fan could want to know.
Despite its huge wealth of information about outtakes, performances and attitudes across the years you do get the feeling that there’s still plenty out there to hear – the book kind of acts like the Tracks boxset. It’s a generous helping to fill a fan’s appetite but those totally hooked know there is a wealth of recordings – and stories behind them – still out there waiting to be heard.
What this book does really well is take you into the shaping of many of Springsteen’s albums and how the reaction to them would shape the musician and band. Exploring the influences, both personal and musical, that shaped Springsteen’s work, Dolan’s writing helps provide even huge fans with a new outlook on several albums.
If there is an album you might shy away from in your collection – Tunnel Of Love and Devils and Dust for example – the insights and analysis of the song writing and production, and the personal and political themes that lie behind them, give them a whole new perception.
This book will have you reaching for an album to re-listen and re-evaluate your opinion of it before you even finish the chapter you’re on.

E Street Shuffle: 
The Glory Days of Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band 
– Clinton Heylin

A book that focusses strongly on the rise of The E Street Band, Heylin’s contribution is one that offers a detailed history lesson into the players that shaped the early years of Springsteen’s career.
It’s a complex and informative account of how the band formed and developed to their first album and beyond, but one that is probably best appreciated by those who want to know every detail of Springsteen’s career – whether it’s really all that interesting or not.
Where this book excels is the paragraphs of direct quotes from Springsteen and others that break up the chapters. Adding more than just a sense of authenticity, but a new voice altogether – which at times is really needed.
Particularly in the case of Springsteen’s legal battle with Mike Appel and the firing of drummer Vini Lopez. Even bandmates Steve Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren and contemporaries such as David Bowie get a few sentences in.
As Heylin mentions in the afterword the book has a heavy focus on the days leading up to the release of Darkness On The Edge of Town and everything that shaped the album. (The highly accomplished author says it was 2010’s re-release with The Promise­ documentary and all the trimmings that inspired him to get back to an E Street book.)
There’s a lot of detail which at times seems to hold back the story of how the band developed to take on stadiums across the world. But with that comes the reality of just how much work, time and people were involved in the early years of The E Street Band and how far they came when the time arrived for a reunion.

And one for the road…

Big Man 
– Clarence Clemons & Don Reo

Part written by Clemons, part written by his friend Reo, Big Man is a unique biography that every Springsteen fan should read.
It not only allows Clemons to tell a new view on the E Street Band, but also adds to the legends and stories that have emerged from 40 years of music.
Published in 2009 it is quite simply one of the most fun books you can read, and one that Clemons himself admitted had a few grey areas where stories from the road became so embellished that he’d forgotten whether they were true or not.
Regardless, the style of the book – clearly labelled short chapters written by Clemons and Reo – make it one you can dive into again and again.
While offering a great biography of the Big Man, it also adds brilliant stories of Clemons’ career and his thoughts on the worldwide fame of Springsteen and the E Street Band.
Some notable tales include the time he bumped into Muhammad Ali, when he and Springsteen gave a waitress supposedly named after the song Rosalita a free car, and how he felt about not actually making the album cover of Born To Run. But being folded over to the back.
The details may not always be accurate, but the voice is clear, warm and exciting throughout.
Not just a great Springsteen-related book, but one my all-time favourite reads.

Got a better suggestion? Let me know below... 


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