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'Bruce' Reveals How Springsteen's Past Shaped his Art

  • Richard Paul

Musician Bruce Springsteen stands on stage at the Stand Up for Heroes event at Madison Square Garden, Nov. 7, 2013, in New York.

Musician Bruce Springsteen stands on stage at the Stand Up for Heroes event at Madison Square Garden, Nov. 7, 2013, in New York.

There have been many books written about Bruce Springsteen since he first became a sensation in 1975. But there’s something unusual about the new book “Bruce” by Peter Ames Carlin. Unlike the others, Carlin wrote his book with The Boss’s cooperation.

“He and his family really opened up - I mean - besides Bruce, he opened the door to his mom and his sisters and his cousins and aunts,” he said.


​That access gives readers a brand-new look at the demons that haunted and drove Springsteen - and new insight into how those struggles touched his life and shaped his art. Most important, Carlin says, are revelations about the psychiatric problems that plagued Springsteen’s father, Douglas. For example, Carlin says, there’s a reason for all the discord and anger in songs such as “Adam Raised a Cain.”

"A lot of that goes back to how chaotic his family was, as a result of his father," he said. "But the fact that they were really a hop skip and a jump from the poverty line for most of his childhood - that also informs his sociocultural perspective. His perspective on society and politics is about protecting the people who are the most disenfranchised, because that's how he felt - entirely disenfranchised, both from his father and from the society around him.”

Of course the book’s not all psycho-drama. Carlin was also able to pull together and then confirm some classic stories from Springsteen’s life. Like the night 19-year-old Bruce waited backstage at a Janis Joplin concert in New Jersey trying to arrange a date with the singer.

“She came on stage and caught a glance at Bruce and all of her lights seemed to ignite. And by the end of the show, she was - Bruce sort of noticed her ardor and blew out the door as fast as he could and took off into the night because I think he sensed that, at 19 years old, he could not handle the tornado of Janis Joplin,” Carlin said.

Carlin also reveals that shortly after “Born To Run” made Springsteen’s band the biggest act in rock, “They were bankrupt. They were more bankrupt than they were before,” Carlin said.

Springsteen was suing his manager at the time. The lawsuit sapped his creative energy and drained all his finances. During those days, Springsteen, the international rock star would stand in line outside the club he used to play at on New Jersey’s Atlantic Shore.

“At the Stone Pony, he would just line up with everybody else," Carlin said. "And the owner of the club told me that he saw Bruce at the end of the line sort of digging into his pockets for change so he can make the $2 cover charge.”

Carlin also got Springsteen to explain why, for so many years after he became famous, he refused to write songs with mass, popular appeal.

“He thought, ‘You know, enough of that.’ He didn't want to get into that trap like Michael Jackson fell into of even after you have created this huge, smash that is magnitudes bigger than anything you have done before, he didn't want to get stuck in the groove of trying to re-create that, or be bigger and better the next time out,” he said.

Carlin says he learned the myth of Bruce Springsteen - the artist who never abandoned his working class roots and who, despite his wealth, still sides with the little guy - is no myth at all.

“When he gets up in the morning, and goes to - stumbles to the mirror, the guy he sees in the mirror is still the same loser - lower working-class kid - that the other kids taunted because he was so weird,” he said.

The frayed, rundown glamour of the New Jersey beaches where he blossomed as a musician, and the struggle of the people who live there, are still part of Bruce Springsteen. And it’s still part of his music.
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