‘I come from a boardwalk town where almost everything is tinged with a bit of fraud. So am I.’ Thus begins the captivating autobiography of Bruce Springsteen. No treacly guitar man’s reminiscence, Born to Run grapples with the trickier paradoxes of family, love, mental illness, and musical success. At turns confessional and unapologetic, sentimental and honest, funny and devastating, Born to Run is a serious effort to tell the story of Springsteen’s life – how a young man from Freehold, New Jersey made himself into one of the great rock and roll musicians of all time.
The opening chapters paint a textured portrait of small-town life in America in the 1950s, a time at once idyllic and idealised. Springsteen, a wonderful storyteller, vividly captures the voices and emotions of particular moments in his early life – retrieving his father from the local bar; restoring discarded radios for resale at his grandfather’s workbench (‘Here ... the resurrection is real’); the welling pride of walking through the law firm where his mother is the head legal secretary.
Yet the hardness and tribalism of his upbringing are never far from the surface. The Springsteen home was not a particularly happy or easy one for the young Bruce. From his mother and grandmother, he was the object of ‘a horrible unforgettable boundary-less love’. His father – an ominous presence – was emotionally hostile and sometimes physically aggressive. ‘I was not my father’s favorite citizen,’ Springsteen notes with dry understatement. Other memories – his father in the kitchen drinking beer after beer in the dark – are haunting. The relationship shadowed Springsteen throughout his life.