Born to Run – Bruce Springsteen
I’m a Springsteen fan. But not a super fan. I like large swaths of his music, think four of his albums are pretty amazing, and appreciate his role in American rock music. But I’m not deeply aware of his story, can’t quote his lyrics beyond his biggest hits, and have never seen him live. But I heard from several friends who were casual fans like me that this was a good book. It’s been on my To Read list for years and I decided to pick it up as my time killer around our move.
It is a really interesting book. It checks in at right around 500 pages, which would seem like enough to go into great detail about The Boss’ life. And he really shares, from his earliest childhood memories to where he was in his life when the book was published. He talks relationships. He talks about his own issues with mental health later in his life. He talks about his rise from ambitious band leader on the Jersey shore to one of the biggest stars on the planet. And he talks about his music.
But what I found fascinating about the book was how he only shares so much, letting the breadth of the book disguise its lack of depth.
The one area where this bothered me was in his discussions of his albums. He rolls through his career chronologically, and each time he comes to an album, it gets four, five, six pages and then he moves on. Perhaps he figures he’s spoken enough about his albums over the years, or there are enough other resources for people who really want to know about the nuts and bolts of Darkness on the Edge of Town, for example. I found it odd, though, for a musician who is known for putting great care into his lyrics and music in order to convey the exact message he wanted to share would just provide quick overviews of his most important works. This was highlighted when I tried to sync what I was listening to to where he was in his career. I’d start the chapter and begin listening to the album at the same time and when I was ready for the next chapter, I’d only be three or four songs into the album.
This is true for his discussions of his relationships, too. He provides just enough interesting anecdotes to give the impression you have a deep understanding of his interactions with his first manager, his first wife, or one of his bandmates. But, again, there are never any deep dives.
Those observations may make it seem like I didn’t like the book. That’s not the case; I enjoyed it quite a bit. Springsteen is arguably the most important American rock artist ever, and fan or not, depth or not, I think his story is important for any music fan to understand. I also don’t have a problem with Springsteen holding back. That’s his prerogative as the author. I know I would not want to share all the gory details of my personal life if I was famous and there was an audience for my memoir.
He also managed to avoid all the rock biography cliches. This isn’t a tell-all that brags about his debauchery over the years. Nor is it a sterile, saccharine ghostwritten account that is the literary version of cotton candy. In a very Bruce manner, he wrote a unique autobiography that is worth the time needed to get through it, even if it left me wanting.
The World Made Straight – Ron Rash
This comes from my list of Nick Hornby recommendations I’m still working through. It takes place in the hill country of western North Carolina in the late 1970s and centers on Travis Shelton, a teenager who stumbles into a hidden marijuana field owned by the county’s biggest dealers and the ramifications of his find.
Rash brings in some Civil War history, a few nice supporting characters, and does his best to build toward a twisty ending.
I found the book lacked suspense and some of Rash’s choices confusing. There were several awkward transitions that made me wonder if I had drifted off for a few moments and missed a paragraph or two. I forget why Hornby liked this so much, but it was a miss for me.
- The last one is a huge bummer. While I could still see him, I really wish I had seen him in his prime. ↩