Bruce Springsteen: born to write

With the Boss still in prime stadium-filling form, and with plenty of intimate truths still to give up, his new tome promises more than the average rock memoir

Virtually all rock memoirs follow a similar pattern of rise and fall, before ending with acceptance – brought on by sobriety, spirituality, the death of peers, or just the plain realisation that it’s not worth hating your bandmates any more. Virtually all, too, are at their best in their early pages – covering the early years – when the passion for music still burns bright, when it’s all still fun, when the star is rising, rather than burning out.

The cover of Springsteen’s new memoir
The cover of Springsteen’s new memoir. Photograph: Simon & Schuster UK

Bruce Springsteen’s memoir, Born to Run, out at the end of September, looks as if it might be a little different. For a start, there’s his status: no bass player with a second-rate hair-metal band, he. It’s hard to imagine this will be bathos-laden, often one of the only selling points of lesser rock biogs. His status, too, is current: no one else has spent as long as Springsteen selling out stadiums, year after year, to ecstatic receptions. No one else of his stature seems to feel the need to commune with their flock with such frequency.

Then there are the precedents: among his generation (and his commercial and critical peers), both Bob Dylan and Neil Young have produced books that steered well clear of the traditional rock volume. Dylan told a meandering narrative that avoided many major events, telling the stories less told. Young’s dwelled heavily on his passions – audio fidelity, green motoring – while his relationship with Crosby, Stills and Nash was dismissed with startling brevity.

Less ornery than either of them – in his public image, at least – Springsteen is likely to offer his fans a more straightforward read. The foreword to Born to Run, which he released on his website recently, promises to answer the two questions that occupy the mind of anyone watching someone undeniably great working a stage: how do they do that, and why do they do that?

Why, after 50 years as a musician, after more than 40 playing the song that gives the book its name, does Springsteen still need to hear 90,000 people singing “Tramps like us, baby we were born to run!” back at him? The foreword offered some clues: “DNA, natural ability, study of craft, development of and devotion to an aesthetic philosophy, naked desire for … fame? … love? … admiration? … attention? … women?… sex? … and oh, yeah …. a buck. Then … if you want to take it all the way out to the end of the night, a furious fire in the hole that just … don’t … quit … burning.”

Springsteen in 1975
Communing with the flock … Springsteen in 1975. Photograph: Chris Walter/WireImage

Springsteen has long appeared one of the most knowable of rock stars. So many of his songs, if not autobiographical, have appeared to give direct insights into his childhood, his family, his town, his country. One album, Tunnel of Love, dealt with his disillusionment with his first marriage. Songs are songs: they are a truth, they are not the truth. But it’s not only in the songs: there are books compiling his many interviews. And this rock Charlemagne has his own Einhard, in the form of writer Dave Marsh, who has conveyed his thoughts to the world. Even while writing this book, he cooperated with Peter Ames Carlin on the really very decent biography, Bruce, published in 2012.

So, on the face of it, one really shouldn’t need this book. Don’t we all know about his dad, his struggles, his superstardom and so on? Yes, but we still only know the facts of the legends. Born to Run gives us the chance, at last, to know why Springsteen needed to build those legends.

• Born to Run is published on 27 September by Simon & Schuster.


Michael Hann

The GuardianTramp

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