Born to Run Book Review: Bruce Springsteen’s Absorbing Autobiography

I’ve read many autobiographies and Bruce Springsteen’s is one of the best. My Born to Run book review in a nutshell? The book is a true work of art, which surprised me to some extent. Sure, he can write great songs, but to create a richly-nuanced, well-paced memoir of over 500 pages is a different skill altogether. Or is it?

Both must include great characters and a story that drives you to know what happens next.

Springsteen’s autobiography provides these in abundance. First, he introduces young Bruce: a lively, engaging, yet troubled boy who is profoundly shaped by his early experiences.

Unpredictable  Early Years

Young Bruce is both artistically awakened and emotionally challenged by the tensions of his unpredictable family life with a mentally ill father, a repressive yet colorful ethnic upbringing, and the passion that finds expression in the music of his 1960’s youth.

He enters his teen years just as rock-and-roll completely upends American culture. His lifelong musical obsession begins after seeing Elvis’ earth-shattering TV appearances on Ed Sullivan and by the Beatles’ first records released in the US.

Ambition Takes the Wheel

“It didn’t take me long to figure it out,” he writes.  “I didn’t want to meet the Beatles.  I wanted to BE the Beatles.”  From here, Springsteen takes us on an impassioned, sometimes unsettling journey through the years of emotional turmoil and focused artistic development these pivotal events set in motion.

I listened to much of the book in the audio format, which was quite an experience. To hear him tell his story in his own words, in his own voice – he reads the audiobook himself – made me feel very close to this endearing person – a man full of mischievous humor, wonder, and complex feelings he struggles to understand.

Highs and Lows Candidly Revealed

He describes his fears and desires and compulsive musical ambition in a very personal manner. He is honest and revealing, alternating chapters about his musical evolution with those of his struggles with relationships and depression. He lets us see both the highs and lows, etching the details in his warm, self-effacing style.

His complicated friendships with Steve Van Zandt and Clarence Clemons; his relationships with the women in his life, from his mother – the rock of his childhood – and grandmother to his first wife Julianne Phillips; and finally Patty Scialfa, his wife of 26 years, whose strength and courage helped him manage many struggles that had often derailed his relationships in the past.

It is all here.  Enough for the diehard fan to find many new revelations and nuances, but not so much information that casual readers will feel overwhelmed.  And his writing is so engaging and heartfelt that you’ll want to absorb every detail.    In fact, I found myself backing up to read or listen again to many of his stories or descriptions, beautiful in their imagery and feeling.

Young Dreams, Older Vantage

Ultimately, It is the story of every young boy – every young person – in America who is touched by desire and drive and demons, who is broken by life, but also finds hope and triumph within the struggle.   However,  it couldn’t have been written by a young man.   In his 67th year, Bruce offers the wisdom and finely crafted perspective – often amusing and sometimes sorrowful – that comes only with time and living and the courage to ask difficult questions.

For me, his story is epitomized by his iconic relationship with Clarence Clemons, his black saxophone player, and shamanic sideman.   Together they show the power of music to transcend barriers and unite us in strong, resilient bonds that no one can achieve in isolation.

We’re All Part of the Story

Springsteen’s music at its best draws the raw, broken, yet vibrant parts of our lives into a redeeming whole. Young and old, black and white, rich and poor, hopeful and not so hopeful.  He wants us all to feel we are all part of a bigger picture; that we all matter.

The story of the boy from Freehold, NJ, who makes it big yet carries his angels and demons on every step of the journey, Born to Run is an inspiration to all who struggle with the possibilities, pain and sometimes surprising victories of this always unpredictable life.