Maybe we ain't that young anymore

Published 2019-09-22
By Karsten Stanley Andersen

Bruce, you’re 70? How did this happen? When I first got to know you, you were in your 30’s and I was a teenager. My own 30’s are but a distant memory. And you, you are 70. That means, in a blink of an eye, I too will be 70. I don’t even want to think about where you will be… I mean, you did say you'd live forever, right? On the backstreets until the end.

Seriously, there is no denying it, you and I ain’t that young anymore. It’s quite likely that our best times together are behind us. I can’t expect you to move me the way you did 20 years ago, and you can’t expect me to devote myself so completely to you and your music the way I used to. And yet, that last album of yours – Western Stars – wasn’t half-bad. I’m a little embarrassed to tell you this, but my expectations for that album weren’t all that high. I mean, you had been sitting on it for years. Would you do that with something you were really excited about? So, I figured, if you are not excited about it, why should I be?

Well, no matter how you feel about it yourself, I think it’s brilliant. Maybe because, once again, that guy you are writing about… is me. The guy whose greatest achievements are long past, but who’s telling himself, day after day, year after year, that you could do it again, any time, if only…. If I could just… if things were just a little different. Something about that album hit home with me. It did what art is supposed to: it gave me new insight in myself, and with insight comes the motivation and inspiration to maybe do something about whatever it is that needs fixing or improving.

Of course, Western Stars wasn’t the first time one of your albums did that to me. When I finally “got” the Darkness album (I hate to say it, but it took me a while), it became my go-to album for whenever I needed a boost. Human Touch (don’t believe those who say it’s terrible… it’s not) got me through a horrible heartbreak. And Tunnel of Love… man, where do I begin? If love came with an instruction book, this would be it.

You know, I love just about all your albums, but we both know that your strongest impact comes from your stage performance. Just an example: turn back time to 2012, a huge stadium in Gothenburg, Sweden. I wrote about that concert in what I consider one of my best pieces of writing. You probably didn’t read it though. Anyway, you played “Lost in the Flood”, “Saint in the City”, “Frankie” – perhaps my favorite song – and one I was sure I would never hear you sing with me there. And Clarence’s spirit hovered over us as Jake played the “Jungleland” solo for the first time. But it was so much more than individual songs or moments. Something happened that night. 60,000 people knew it. You must have felt it too. I’m not sure what it was, but I can still summon it just by closing my eyes and thinking back.

That night was extraordinary even for you. But I don’t want you to think that only extraordinary nights like that will do it. I have never left disappointed after seeing you live. More often than I can count, I leave with a feeling of having witnessed something that can’t possibly be topped. Remember that night in Copenhagen in 1999 when it rained so hard all night, we thought we’d never get dry again, but you still took us all the way? Or when your “Man in Black” upgraded me to the first row at a Joad Tour show in Germany? Or when I almost blacked-out way back in 1992 due to the heat inside the arena? Not to mention my very first show, more than 30 years ago, that just left me completely and utterly shell-shocked? I’d never, ever experienced the all-consuming, mind-blowing force of nature that was you. It felt like I was in a daze for months, and it changed me forever.

I could go on listing memories of all those times we were together at everything from windy soccer fields in obscure European cities, to world-famous arenas like Madison Square Garden, not to mention our latest encounter at the Walter Kerr Theater on Broadway. But it’s not just the concerts that I think back on, on this day. So many of the milestones of my life are somehow connected to you. One of the things that you do is that you bring people together. Even hopeless introverts like me are filled with an undeniable urge to connect to other people who “get it”. Hell, after seeing that first show back in 1988, I put a pen pal ad in Backstreets (this was before the internet, of course), because I needed… something… someone. It led to a number of friends that I wrote to for years, some of whom I’m in touch with to this day, a disastrous long-distance love affair (hence the aforementioned heartbreak), exciting travels, visits from far away, and altogether, many life lessons that I don’t know how I would have gotten otherwise.

Soon, more people that I met on the road while following you – on “fan busses” moving down the Autobahn to your next show, in ticket lines, in groups of fellow crazy stalkers outside your hotel (yeah, I used to be one of them) – were added to my growing list of Bruce friends. My twenties were spent hanging out with a few of them, watching shaky bootleg videos till 6 in the morning, talking about your music, about whether you’d ever reunite the E Street Band, about how you were the best guitarist in the world, and about life in general.

To make a long story short, because this shouldn’t be so much about me as about you, and us, the internet only accelerated all of this, culminating in the creation of this website, which again led to so many new friends, more travels, more get-togethers, more shows… and, not to mention, meeting my wife. This just to say that, man, you were there for all of it. It was all you, whether you know it or not. I actually did try to tell you, on those few occasions that we ran into each other on the street… all right, when I caught you outside your hotel after having waited for five hours… but it never came out as anything other than a shy, quiet “Thank you”. I hope you could still see it in my eyes, all the things I wanted to say to you. But I was no different from all the other wide-eyed fans that you met on those occasions, so I forgive you if your memory of me is vague.

So, you’re turning 70. I turned 50 a few months ago. Both are a little scary and surreal. But you know what? It’s not like we wasted all that time that has passed, did we? It’s been a hell of a ride, as you would probably phrase it - for the most part, at least. And even if the highs aren’t as high as they were when we were 20, they are still pretty damn high.

I hear you are thinking of recording a new rock album with the E Street Band and touring next year. If you do that, I promise I will be there and give you all that my middle aged, overweight body can offer. I don’t expect you to do any knee-slides or hang upside down from the microphone stand, but we can still jump up and down a little and pretend we are still young, right? Deal?

Happy Birthday, Bruce!

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Sun, Moon, and Stars: the Celestial Power of Bruce's New Album

Published 2019-07-15
By Karsten S. Andersen

We probably all know the feeling of trying to fall asleep at night, but thoughts keep entering your brain. You know that you will not fall asleep until you manage to think about something else, something better. Of course, the more you try to force your brain to think about something else, the more you won’t. The more those bad thoughts keep filling your head. “If I could just turn off my brain,” as the guy in “Tucson Train” sings…

Much of the Western Stars album is about men trying to keep their thoughts at bay. They hitchhike, they roam from town to town, they work from sunrise to sunset, they sit in bars telling stories about their past glories - real or imagined - they convince themselves that everything is just fine and dandy and that the old sweetheart will return - any day now - on the inbound train.

But the truth is always lurking in the background. Sometimes you only hear it in the ominous music as in “Hitch Hikin’”, sometimes, as in “Chasin’ Wild Horses”, the protagonist knows he must work himself into oblivion to shake the truth that’s always threatening to catch up with him. And then, towards the end of the album, the truth comes staring the guy in the face, as in “Stones”, followed by the masterpiece of the album, “Hello Sunshine”, where the character is slowly getting ready to stop running and accept whatever reality he was trying to escape… and face whatever it is daylight will expose.

The character in “Hello Sunshine” welcomes the sunshine, but on the rest of the album there are a lot of sunrises and sundowns. There is even a song, the majestic “Sundown” (with one of the best musical intros in Bruce’s canon), which describes a town, or maybe it’s a state of mind, that draws you in and threatens to expose you. During the day you can hide or keep yourself busy. It’s when the sun is low, or the moon comes out, that the demons can sneak up on you.

While the theme of the album may not be entirely new for Bruce – we have seen these characters and issues before in everything from “Something In the Night” and “The Promise” (in much younger incarnations) to “Stolen Car” and “Dry Lightning” – the musical style on Western Stars is a big departure from anything we have heard from him before. The stories are often as intimate and downplayed as anything on Nebraska and Devils & Dust, but the music is grand and cinematic in its sweeping string arrangements, illustrating the big landscapes of Western US that these songs are set in. It also tells the story of men who are long past their prime, but still cling to the memories of their heydays and convince themselves that, with a bit of luck and effort, they may just return.

For those fans clamoring for some new E Street noise, Western Stars must be a disappointment. There are no pounding drums and screaming guitar solos in sight. But if you are at the stage in your life where peace and quiet are often preferable to music, the album is incredibly pleasing to the ears. Big arrangements or not, this feels like a quiet album. Nothing grinds your ears or nerves. It just sounds good and soothing. Again, I must emphasize “Hello Sunshine” in its hypnotic, quiet drive. I could listen to it all day on repeat and not grow tired of it.

The album closes with the gorgeous “Moonlight Motel”, another story about a man reminiscing a lost love and better days. But the motel that symbolized the happy times is now just an abandoned, empty shell. Much like the guy in “Cautious Man” for whom the road all of a sudden no longer holds all the answers, the man in “Moonlight Motel” has a last toast on his past and, we must assume, sets out on a new journey toward some kind of salvation.

During his Broadway stand, and in his autobiography, Bruce talked about his habit of driving by his old house in the middle of the night and how he kept looking for redemption to somehow magically appear out of the past. But like the characters in Western Stars must also realize – unless they perish first – they won’t find it there.

It’s hard not to be carried away when Bruce Springsteen releases his first album of new music in seven years, but with Western Stars he has quenched all fears that he was done as an album artist. Of course, this album is not for everyone – and bless you if this just isn’t your cup of tea – but no one can claim that Bruce is not still driven by artistic ambition, soul-searching and willingness to take risks. Add some strings and horns, and an exquisite, well-sounding production, and you have a pretty good contester for a late career classic.

The Jersey star is shining bright again.

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New book delivers generous serving of fan stories

Published 2019-03-02
By Karsten S. Andersen

There is by now no shortage of books where Bruce Springsteen fans share their memories and feelings about their idol. “Bruce Springsteen: Our Reasons to Believe” by Carole Tuszynski from way back in 1986 set the tone and was followed in the 2000’s by Lawrence Kirsch’s “For You” and “The Light in Darkness”. There was even a movie built around the same concept: the officially sanctioned “Springsteen & I” documentary from 2013.

So does the world really need another book of tales by Springsteen fans? Well, a guy named Neil Cossar thought so. His book “Bruce Springsteen: The Day I Was There” was published in 2018 and is an almost 400-page collection of fans describing the shows they went to and other encounters with Bruce. It covers Springsteen’s entire career from the Castiles days in the late Sixties all the way up to Springsteen on Broadway. That makes it perhaps the most extensive documentation of Bruce Springsteen’s live shows ever put to print.

Of course, as someone who approves of documenting everything having to do with Bruce and who once had an ambition of filling Greasy Lake’s concert database with eyewitness accounts, press clips, YouTube clips of every single performance Bruce has ever done, I can only compliment Neil Cossar on his achievement. Collecting, organizing, editing, lay outing that many contributions from fans all over the world must have been a huge undertaking.

When that is said, I do not recommend reading “The Day I Was There” from start to finish. This is a book you want to keep on your coffee table for a few months and browse whenever the mood strikes you or when you’ve got some Bruce on the stereo. You want to look up entries about shows, locations, or periods in Bruce’s career that most interest you and read those.

Another thing you want to browse for is the names of the several “famous” fans that have contributed to this book and whose stories are often among the more interesting entries. Kingpin of the famous rock ’n’ roll tours of the Jersey Shore and long-time Bruce reporter, Stan Goldstein, has several entries about some of his countless shows. UK uber fan Dan French’s story about his experiences during the 1981 European tour is priceless. Not to mention “selfie girl” Jessica Bloom, whose selfie with Bruce in Sydney 2017 went viral not just in Springsteen fan circles, but on the entire internet.

And then there are the actual famous people: Courtney Cox talking about filming the “Dancing in the Dark” video, Scottish session player Andy Murray’s amazing multiple page account about seeing one of the legendary Bottom Line shows in 1975, author Nick Hornby, singer John Prine. Heck, even David Bowie has an entry in this book, which I think probably means that some of the stories were not written specifically for “The Day I Was There”, but rather were borrowed from other publications. That most likely goes for a few entries by actual E Street Band members as well. An account by Max Weinberg can be found in the book, as well as Nils Lofgren and Clarence Clemons.

Perhaps the highlight of the book is a story by Jane Shapiro about the 1980 St. Louis show. Or, it’s about her friend Steve and how he invited Bruce to come home and visit his family. The story is legendary among fans, but this is the first time I remember reading it from other than Bruce’s point of view and getting the whole background story.

Altogether, the book is a hotchpotch of all kinds of contributions, from the several-page long, well-written, deeply fascinating and personal tales, to the very insignificant, short, blandly written statements of someone having been to a show – and sometimes not even that - where you could have used a little more critical selection.

The worthwhile contributions, fortunately, are in the clear majority, which makes “The Day I Was There” an entertaining and often emotional read, especially at a time like this when your last show is but a memory and you really, really start to feel the itch to be out there again among other fans, following the man and his band.

 

 

 

 

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The estranging triumph of Springsteen on Broadway

Published 2018-12-10
By Karsten S. Andersen

Springsteen on Broadway is coming to an end. 238 shows, 14½ months, more than 200,000 tickets sold. It’s been Bruce Springsteen’s longest stretch of shows under the same billing and within the same concept.

It may also have been his most low-key period in recent memory. The buzz and excitement that normally surrounds his tours has been all but non-existent in the fan community. This, of course, doesn’t include in the minds of the relatively few people lucky – and wealthy – enough to attend. And while 200,000 tickets may sound like a lot, on a regular tour with the E Street Band, 200,000 tickets equal about a month’s worth of work.

Part of the reason for the absence of a buzz has been the fact that all these shows have been more or less identical in terms of setlist and flow. There has been no reason for those fans not in attendance to sit at home anxiously waiting for the setlist on internet forums such as Greasy Lake’s own.

And it’s not just the setlist. Another reason is, of course, that the show has been stationary. This time around, Bruce wasn’t coming to you. You had to come to him. For most fans that meant they would miss out. And when there is no hope of getting to see your hero, many fans have chosen to put their fanhood on standby and wait for things to go back to normal.

As much as Springsteen on Broadway has flown under the radar compared to other Bruce Springsteen affairs, not many question the artistic merits of Bruce giving his autobiography a musical/spoken word treatment. Media and attending fans have universally praised the 2½ hour show and often categorized it as one of Bruce’s biggest artistic achievements. This wasn’t just Bruce giving spoken intros to acoustic song performances like during the Ghost of Tom Joad Tour in 1995-97 or 2005’s Devils & Dust Tour. This was Bruce performing up to 10-minute long scenes, or vignettes, consisting of intro music, a spoken built-up, then singing, then more spoken words, before finishing the song. The most obvious comparison that comes to mind is how Bruce would wring out his soul performing The Animals’ “It’s My Life” in 1977. Only this time around many of the scenes were not only drawing tears of emotion, but also interspersed with Bruce’s self-deprecating humor.

More than any other Bruce show, Springsteen on Broadway was one where you had to be there to know what it was like. The setlist’s constitution of almost exclusively well-known, played-a-million-times-before compositions said very little about the show. The songs almost took a backseat in favor of the stories, the closeness, and the intimacy of the venue – the venue where you walked right from the street into the theater. Not a lobby. Not a hallway. The theater. Where the stage, even from the “cheap” $300 seats, seemed almost close enough to touch, and Bruce as if he was playing just for you and a few of your friends.

For many fans, the intimacy started even before you went into the theater. From the start of the Walter Kerr run, Bruce made himself available to people waiting outside. As he arrived at the theater, he would meet fans lined up outside, chat with them, and write autographs.

So, while in many ways, Springsteen on Broadway brought Bruce closer to his audience, no summary of it would be complete without talking about the alienation from Bruce that this last year has also resulted in. The main culprit has been the, in Bruce connection, completely unheard of, ticket prices. Spanning from $75 to $800, with most ticket costing several hundred Dollars, Bruce has deliberately chosen to uninvite a large portion of his fan base. Not only would most fans have to pay for transportation to and lodging in New York, of itself an unfeasible task for many, but entrance to the show would be close to what average people spend on entertainment in an entire year or more.

So Bruce, whose ticket prices have always been in the lower end for performers of his status, decided to target his show toward a more wealthy segment than his common man image normally dictates. That included scores of celebrities, from Courtney Cox to the Obamas. Sometimes It has seemed like anybody who is anybody in entertainment and liberal politics has had a picture on their Instagram where they pose with Bruce Springsteen backstage at the Walter Kerr Theater.

All of this has contributed to Springsteen on Broadway being among the least exciting periods in Bruce Springsteen history when you look at it from an average fan point of view. But maybe that’s exactly what Bruce wanted. To be able to play his music, tell his stories, and possibly exorcise a few of his old ghosts in the process, without the hoopla that normally surrounds his performances. Reading his autobiography, you learn that psychotherapy, psychoactive drugs, and performing is what keeps Bruce sane these days. The last 15 months have allowed him to get the performing part out of the way and still be able to focus on other things in his life.

Time will tell if his lack of focus on the hundreds of thousands of fans who were not able to make it to Broadway – and who have, from afar, witnessed celebrities and well-to-do New Yorkers take over their hero - will have resulted in permanent damage to his brand.

Most likely, that won’t be the case, although many fans will probably breathe a sigh of relief now that it's coming to an end. A new album in the first part of 2019 could go a long way in restoring the bond. And if 2020 will be the year of another E Street Band world tour, with regular ticket prices, new music, and unpredictable setlists, few people who have ever called themselves Bruce Springsteen fans will want to miss it.

Until then, the Broadway live album and Netflix movie will give everybody a chance to relive, or experience for the first time, what buzz or lack thereof, was all about.

 

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Bruce takes stock of his life - the Broadway review

Published 2018-02-11
By Magnus Lauglo

I am back in New York City, a place I visited often in my 20s and early 30s, but haven't been to as often in recent years. It has probably been four years or more since I last wandered the streets of lower Manhattan. I've never thought of New York as one of my homes, but as I walk along the familiar streets and reacquaint myself with the Subway, it feels more comfortable than ever before. I haven't been aware of missing this place, and I am pleasantly surprised at how good it feels to be back.

I am here to see Bruce Springsteen on Broadway. The tickets were harder to come by than usual, and much more expensive. A good friend convinced me to spend $100 more than I was initially comfortable with, rightly pointing out that the cheapest tickets were likely to be entirely unavailable by the time we had a chance to buy, and we lucked out on a pair of tickets. With TicketMaster fees, we're talking $325 or so, much more than I've ever paid for a ticket to any entertainment. If I'm to be honest, I'm still not fully comfortable with the sheer expense involved. But I'm treating myself to this - today is my 40th birthday.  I lived in NYC briefly as a young child and have my first memories from this city. Given the theme of the show, it's only appropriate that I return for this - there's nowhere I'd rather be today. I have a ticket in my pocket to see the Broadway show, and I feel lucky and privileged.

As a Bruce fan, I have some history here in the city. I've seen him live at Madison Square Garden a couple of times dating back to 2000. I saw the E street Band at Shea Stadium in '03. Once on holiday here as a teen in the '90s, I discovered some of my first bootleg CDs in the Village, including the "The Teenage Werewolf" a recording of the legendary Agora '78 show that incidentally took place in the year I was born.  Can I find those old record stores? Are they even still here?  I spend a few days in the city after the show, and some of my old haunts are indeed still there - welcoming me back like old friends, while others have disappeared. As it turns out, these themes of memory, time passing, old places from our past, change, loss, growing up and growing old, are among the key topics that Bruce will be addressing in his show.

I meet up with my good friend in the afternoon, we've been seeing Springsteen shows together for a decade now. We wander around a little, he takes me out to a nice dinner, and then we make our way to the Walter Kerr Theatre. As we step in from the cold, there couldn't be a bigger contrast between the crowd here and the ethnically diverse mass of humanity outside. Bruce's audience has never been demographically diverse, but looking around myself on the Orchestra level, I don't see a single person around me who isn't white. This is also easily the oldest crowd I've ever seen at a Bruce show. There are a couple of people in their 20s or 30s, but far fewer than usual in the post-Rising era, and I don't see the usual smattering of children and teens. The nature of this show has made it an exclusive performance for the a selected and privileged few, and that makes me just a little uncomfortable. I've been lucky enough to get into to exclusive shows before but there's something about Bruce Springsteen playing on Broadway that doesn't sit easily with me - it just seems unBrucelike somehow.

We're not far from Madison Square Garden, but the venue and atmosphere couldn't be more different. The crowd is just under a thousand and the venue is small and feels genuinely cramped, with a tiny merchandise booth squeezed in right next to a bar. Small windy staircases lead up to the mezzanine and balcony and the restrooms. I'm sitting in the last row of the orchestra, but I am close enough that I need neither binoculars nor video screens - this space is intimately small. The audience files into its seats, and the show starts on time.

Bruce comes onstage, and opens with a monologue. Having read his book twice, I recognize it at once. It is one of several times in the evening where he will recite passages almost word for word from his autobiography, and I must confess I'm not sure what to make of it. He's speaking a little too fast, as if he's nervous or trying to rush through - and I uneasily ask myself;  "Is this going to work?" Is he basically going to just recite parts of his book and sing familiar songs? Is that it? Is this newest magic trick of his, much hyped and praised, but understandably controversial in fan circles, going to fizzle for me?

But then he goes into his first song of the night and it feels like a huge release. Damn, it sounds good - No it it feels good to hear him play again. I notice two things at once. How absolutely great the sound quality is (and I am not an audiophile). And just how much noise he is making solo on his acoustic guitar. Remember the way Darkness sounded on the Solo Acoustic Tour? The opening number is explosive and loud like that, but this time it is a joyful, giddy noise. A boisterous rumble. True to tradition, and the format of the evening, he stops singing and continues his monologue before launching back into the song and finishing the last verse. This is a trick he'll repeat several more time this evening, and it works well.

And so it goes on. Bruce tells well rehearsed stories, he shares his memories and experiences, including countless anecdotal details. He gives us access to his most personal memories of growing up, coming of age, and learning to live as an adult. Through sharing these stories, he creates an introspective and reflective mood in the listener.

Then once he has taken us deep into his life experience, and gotten us thinking about our own lives, our own hopes and ghosts, our own personal victories and defeats, he detonates a song. There are a few rarities in the setlist (I hear one song tonight that I haven't heard live before), but this isn't an audience of casual fans - the material here is as familiar to most of us as the backs of our hands. There are no brand new unreleased songs tonight. We know the words by heart, they have been parts of our lives for decades. But somehow, the spoken word segments give many of these familiar songs new relevancy, new life. The show works best at those moments when the stories about him manage to make the songs that follow feel like they're about me. Maybe more than they have been before, or at least in different ways. Old songs reveal new sides of themselves. Or more accurately, they reveal new things about myself to me, and thus become personalized in new ways.

This is a special kind of show that couldn't just work anywhere. Not only does it benefit from a small venue and a small crowd, but the formalized norms of Broadway lend themselves well to what Bruce is trying to do. People show up on time, they aren't constantly moving around to restock on hot dogs and beer. Everyone has a reserved seat. There is a little audience chatter, but much less than I'd expect at a similarly sized venue elsewhere. No one sings along loud enough to disrupt the show for me, there are no shouted song requests or request signs. It is an intimate evening of stories, wisdom, and music, where the spoken word and song blend organically.

Much has been made about the fact that this is "not an actual concert" but while that might be technically true, I wouldn't overemphasize this. Storytelling has been a characteristic part of Bruce's live show since the early years, and some of his most memorable live moments have been ones where a "stage rap" sets a song up for maximal impact. Consider Growin' Up, The River, and War from the Live 75-85 album. Or It's My Life from '76, Independence Day from '80, and Jesus Was an Only Son from '06.  Now, imagine a live performance that is comprised of spoken word/song combinations like that, mostly solo (Patti joins him for harmonies on two songs), in front of a seated audience of just under a thousand. That's kind of what it is like. The show lasts about two hours 20 minutes, with no intermission and no true encore. He plays guitar and piano, and brings his harmonica out for a couple of numbers. Some of the songs are performed in arrangements noticeably different, though not radically so, from what we've heard before.

While this is not the occasion to sing along to your favorite songs, nor is it an "STFU" kind of evening. It is closer in overall tone and mood to a Devils & Dust show than to Christic '90.  Bruce tells jokes and milks the audience's laughter again and again. My friend has seen the show once before, and confirms that many of these lighthearted comments have been added since the last performance he saw. I notice Patti reacting to one of Bruce's comments in a way that suggests it catches her by surprise. While the themes he addresses are often difficult and serious in nature, Bruce keeps things entertaining with a steady humorous patter. I am close to tears a few times, but far more often I find myself laughing and grinning.

There are moments where the show slips a little, and the second half of the night is a little less tight and well composed than the first. By the end he is performing songs back to back without spoken word segments in between, and compared to the first half of the show it feels a little rushed.  As with the book, the emphasis is on the early years.  I note that he doesn't talk directly about his tremendous struggles with depression, which was one of the big reveals in the last section of his memoirs.

He talks about many subjects - the kinds of things you'd expect Bruce Springsteen to talk about. There are no surprise revelations or unexpected themes. He sometimes recites passages from his book almost verbatim (which doesn't work as well for me), but more often he frees himself from his already-published words.

He shares his memories of his father and mother, growing up surrounded by God and the Catholic Church - these formative childhood experiences that have left their complicated legacy with him. He celebrates the opportunity of youth, when you are young enough to truly believe "these two lanes can take us anywhere". Patti joins him for a couple of songs about love and relationships, the two of them seeming very much at ease together. He talks of Vietnam, awkwardly meeting with veterans in the early '80s, remembering his own close brush with the draft board, and how he has made sense of the losses of old friends and the fact that he didn't go himself. He addresses the current State of the Nation, and without naming anyone  he makes his deep concerns clear about the direction of the country he calls home. And he provides the only consolation and inspiration he can offer, which of course comes in the form of music.

Perhaps more than anything else, Bruce talks often and repeatedly of growing older, of mortality, and of the loss of family, friends, and loved ones. The huge significance of the people and places we remember from our past. By the end he observes that the older we get, the more we find ourselves "living with ghosts". There is a moment towards the end of the show that seems to be the emotional pinnacle of the night, where he appears to go into almost a trance for a moment - I've never seen anything like it, and it is utterly terrifyingly mesmerizing. All in all, incredibly powerful stuff.

The Broadway show strikes me as incredibly bold, in terms of how Bruce bares his heart and soul to a thousand fans, five nights a week for months on end. I would guess he finds these shows on some level personally cathartic. But he is also artistically on safe ground, in that the music is tried, tested, and well liked by his fans.  He is doing something very special for a very small subset of his audience. This isn't what he should be doing for the rest of his career - there are more songs to write, larger crowds to perform to, and new fans to win over. Some have wondered if this is Bruce saying goodbye, but it doesn't seem that way to me at all. Rather, I see this as him taking stock of his life and work at a late point in his career; and delivering some of his best loved and most important songs in a way that is powerful, personal, and new. The Broadway show is an epic and glorious retrospective review of his life and music, and a chance for those in attendance to reconnect personally and intimately with old songs. It is a truly unique chapter in his long and storied career.

 

 

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10 wishes for the new Bruce year

Published 2018-01-01
By Karsten S. Andersen

2017 was a paradoxical year in Bruce history. If you look at the number of shows performed (74 altogether, not counting surprise appearances), you would think it would be one to remember. And if you live in Australia or New Zealand, or if you were one of the lucky few fans who experienced “Springsteen on Broadway”, it probably was.

And no disrespect to Australians, New Zealanders, and Broadway attendees, but for most of us, 2017 was the dullest year in recent memory when it comes to Bruce activity. Sure, the official live archive releases kept the monster fed, and it wasn’t many years ago that those alone would have made for a spectacular year. But to quote the man himself: “you get used to anything”, and as grateful as we should be for those releases, they just don’t have the same impact as a new album or going to a show yourself.

But instead of looking back on the year gone past, let us instead focus on the year ahead of us and what we wish would happen, knowing perfectly well that if only three or four of those wishes come true, we should be overjoyed.

A new album
While our list is not necessarily prioritized, the first item is surely near the top. Bruce, it’s time for a new album. It’s been nearly four years since the last album, and some would argue that High Hopes doesn’t really count since it was more of a compilation of unreleased songs and new versions of already released material than a brand-new album. In that case, the last album is 2012’s Wrecking Ball, which brings us uncomfortably close to the all-time record of time between studio albums (the 6½ years between The Ghost of Tom Joad and The Rising). Bruce and his associates have for more than two years talked about a new album being almost finished and ready to be released. Sorry, we no longer buy it. I mean, we’ll buy it if it’s released, but how good can it be, and how excited can Bruce himself be about it, if he leaves it on the shelf for two years? Not very, we’re afraid. So, look at the world, Bruce - there’s plenty to write about - and knock those 12 songs out that we crave just as much now as we did after 9/11.

Consider this a shout-out from the guy in the parking lot!

Wrap up the Broadway stand
Of course, we don’t want Bruce to cancel his already sold-out shows on Broadway. More power to those of you who are going. We are told you are in for an amazing experience. We also don’t want to rob Bruce of the experience of having a proper job for a while, but as the rest of us could have told you, it’s overrated. And what’s worse, whether or not it’s intentional, those shows are exclusive and elitist and create a lot of negative vibes among your fans that could have a lasting negative effect on your legacy. Many fans, including this one, simply can’t wrap their heads around, let alone pay for, $800 tickets. Where did that come from? Why are we suddenly not welcome? So, Bruce, please don’t add any more of those shows, on Broadway or elsewhere.

A live release of the Broadway show
As stated above, the Broadway shows are probably an amazing experience if you are lucky and rich enough to go. Bruce, you could make the rest of us a little happier by releasing a Broadway show as a live album and movie. We realize it won’t be the same as actually being there, but since that’s impossible, please just let us have a taste of what it was like. By all means, also release a Broadway Box that includes cd’s, a bluray, your autobiography, a documentary, and whatever else you fancy. We’ll buy it… unless it’s $800.

A Born in the USA box
Speaking of box sets, it’s time for the next installment of your classic album re-releases. Yeah, we know, Nebraska should be first, but something about a minimalist album like Nebraska released as an overblown box set just doesn’t feel right. Instead, throw Electric Nebraska on the Born in the USA box set as a bonus disc and leave it to Born in the USA to handle the overblown part that it always excelled in. Of course, in this case we use the word “overblown” in the most positive sense of the word. We wouldn’t want a Born in the USA box set to be anything less than sickeningly overblown. We want stadium shows on bluray, three cd’s of outtakes, a monster book with pictures of your bodybuilder arms in sleeveless shirts, two documentaries (one about the recording, one about the tour), heck, include a headband, too. We’ll wear it proudly!

The next installment of remastered albums
Sure, we wouldn’t mind both the Born in the USA box set and the next batch of remastered albums, but if the former takes a little too much time to put together for a 2018 release what with Bruce having a regular job these days and all, we’ll take the remastered box by itself. The first batch up to and including Born in the USA was just the beginning, we were told. All studio albums would be remastered in the same way as the first seven albums. We hope that’s still true, because Bruce’s albums have never sounded better than in those remastered versions. No one said when the next batch would be released. We kind of figured this last year would have been a good time in order for Bruce to release something physical with his name on it in 2017. Instead 2017 became the first year since 2004 when that didn’t happen. We can’t help fearing that releasing music in physical shape is now such a bad deal financially that these next remasters have been scrapped for good. Prove us wrong by putting them out in 2018!

A new E Street Band tour
We know, Bruce toured with the band in both 2016 and 2017, but E Street Band tours are the salt of our lives. Even if we can’t go to all the shows we want to, just following an E Street Band tour from behind our screens keeps us happy and makes us feel alive. We look forward to the next setlist. What will he play tonight? How will he top the last show? Again, with all due respect, the Broadway show does no such thing for those of us who can’t be there, adding to our feeling of having been excluded. And then there’s just the fact that the band is getting older and time is running out. They probably have a few more tours left in them, but the longer they wait between their outings, the harder it will be to get the machine running smoothly. A tour behind a new album with new and fresh music would be preferable, but we’ll take a “tour just to tour” any day.

A 1992-93 archive release
The archive series is fabulous. Not every release raises the same level of excitement, but overall, releasing a new show every month is one of the best decisions Bruce has made in years. We could list tons of shows we would like to hear in pristine quality, but one tour in particular has been overlooked, and we’d like to see that corrected in 2018: the 1992-93 tour with the “other band”. The tour has received its share of criticism both during and after it took place, but an official release of a 92-93 show could help fix its somewhat ho-hum reputation. Because at their best, those shows were not ho-hum at all. Particularly the fall 1992 shows – when Bruce stuck to his message and setlist - were focused and intense and deserve to be heard by more people. I personally yearn for an official release of the moody and majestic “Soul Driver”… with the guitar intro… please… pretty please….

A Bruce blog
Bruce has declared that there will be no sequel to his autobiography. That’s a damn shame. Our completely unbiased and objective opinion is that it’s one of the best rock biographies ever written. But instead of a sequel, how about Bruce utilizes his amazing writing skills by running a blog? He wouldn’t have to commit to write at any set interval. Just whenever he had something to say. A blog full of stories like the one about his Superbowl appearance or his playing with the Rolling Stones, which can both be found in his autobiography, would be a wonderful addition to his output. Tell us what it’s like to play on Broadway five times a week, share more stories about your life on the road throughout the decades, and talk about how that new album is coming. You decide, Bruce.

Brucespringsteenarchives.com
Have you seen what Neil Young has done? Have you seen his archive? Every… single… song he ever recorded in one gigantic online database, including recording info, timeline, etc. etc. For now you can use it for free. In time you will need to buy access to it, but still…. Imagine Bruce doing something like that. I for one would buy the lifetime subscription and spend most of my waking ours browsing it. So, Bruce, just a thought, and if you need help building it, you know where to find us!

Bruce’s continued happiness and health
This whole article probably seems like a spoiled fan’s ungrateful demands to an artist who has already given us so much. It is meant as no such thing. In the end, what we wish the most is Bruce’s continued happiness and good health. If it makes him happy and mentally healthy to go to work on Broadway five days a week and never release another album, by all means, that’s what he should do for the rest of his life. After all, if there were to be no more real tours, we could save up the $800 needed for the ticket in a year or two and we’d be there eventually. No matter what, reading his autobiography made it clear that Bruce is a fragile human being who needs to do whatever it takes to keep himself as far away as possible from the dark abyss that has at times surrounded him. May 2018 be a year of light and happiness for him. That’s what we really want.

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Welcome to the new Greasy Lake

Published 2017-07-03
By Karsten Stanley Andersen

The new version of Greasy Lake is mainly a design change. Most of the content is the same, although a lot of it has now finally caught up with the times, just as I believe things are better organized and easier to use.

The most important changes include:

  • A new, flatter structure requiring fewer clicks before you get to what you want
  • A design that works better on smartphones and tablets
  • What was known as MyPage is now called MyBruce (I know, pretty dumb, but the best I could come up with)
  • In MyBruce you can now add a list of the official releases you own, and you are not only limited to adding items from Greasy Lake’s discography, but you can create your own entries for your collection of rare singles or cassette tapes or whatever you want – entries that others will also have access to add to their lists.
  • Better integration between the “main site” and our message board.

With these and many other changes it is unavoidable that not everything is working perfectly from day one. I apologize in advance for any errors you may come across and ask you to possibly report them as you find them.

It’s no secret that a website such as Greasy Lake has become a little bit of an anachronism in the ages of Facebook and Twitter. But stubborn as I am, I believe there is still a place on the internet for custom-made in-depth information for those of us to whom a tweet or Facebook post just isn’t enough. (Not that there is anything wrong with those. As some of you will know, Greasy Lake’s Twitter account is unavoidable for tweeting Springsteen fans.)

A new website design is a good opportunity for a new beginning altogether. It is also no secret that in the last several years, updates have been fewer and farther between. Time just hasn’t permitted the same kind of furious creation of content that took place 5-10 years ago. Plus, the aforementioned new social media have covered the need for instant gratification much better than Greasy Lake ever could.

But even an in-depth Bruce Springsteen site requires pretty regular updates in order to stay relevant, and that hasn’t happened and is not likely to happen without some kind of change. In other words, I need help.

That’s why I will also use this opportunity to call out to those of you out there who would be interested in contributing your time and skills to once again make Greasy Lake a primary source for all Springsteen knowledge. It doesn’t matter if you want to write articles, maintain the bibliography, create new trivia quizzes… or maybe add something that doesn’t even exist on Greasy Lake yet. No matter what, I’m interested in hearing from you so we can talk about it.

It should be said, of course, that all contributions will be on a voluntary basis with no pay.

So, once again, welcome to the new Greasy Lake. We are now 20 years burnin’ down the road and, like Bruce’s career, with no end in sight.

Happy swimming!

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The big heart of Little Steven on full display

Published 2017-07-02
By Karsten Stanley Andersen

Everything that dies someday comes back. The words certainly ring true for the recent resurrection of Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul, a band that until recently seemed long lost to history. Little Steven himself had long ago moved on to other activities that should be well known to all readers of this page. Nothing indicated a return to the role of pirate-dressed band-leader. And yet, there he is on stage in Amager Bio, Copenhagen, a former movie theater turned into rock venue specializing in names that have probably seen better days, but who can still excite audiences of middle-aged men and women, just like the crowd that has turned up today.

For me, Little Steven as a solo artist was someone I never got seriously into. If it hadn't been for my Bruce obsession, I doubt he would have registered on my radar at all back in my Eighties teenage years. As a Springsteen fan since 1986, I was aware of him, but by the late Eighties his biggest prominence as a solo artist was already behind him. In other words, I didn't have a chance to see him live, and the only album he released around that time was 1989's Revolution, which I never bought, preferring instead to spend all my money on my new-found passion for Springsteen bootlegs.

But over the years my admiration and respect for him had only grown, especially in his role in keeping Bruce true to the rock 'n' roll spirit. I loved his backup vocals in the E Street Band, the edgier and more off-key (in a good way) the better. I loved his coolness and his ugly, scowling mobster mug. And how that didn't correspond at all with how genuinely nice and funny he sounded in interviews, as well as in stories by other fans about meeting him in person. Of course, I was also well aware of his songwriting skills and what he did for Southside Johnny's career in that department, and I had briefly listened to his new album Soulfire and enjoyed it quite a lot. So, my expectations for the Copenhagen show were high. At the same time, I couldn't help having a small, nagging fear that maybe he'd be showing his age a little too much and be unable to exert the energy required to live up to those expectations.

Well, Little Steven may be in his late sixties now, but as with his E Street boss you simply don't give it a second thought once he enters the stage. He may not be as physically fit as Bruce, but his voice is in fine shape. And with a 15-piece band on a small stage like Amager Bio's there's no room to bounce around like a young man, anyway. So, there he is, wearing his mandatory pirate's head scarf, black velvet jacket, and a colorful scarf around his neck that almost touches the ground. He is playing his guitar like the champ we always suspected he is, but which he rarely has the opportunity to demonstrate when standing next to Bruce and Nils.

"Soulfire" opens the show. The horns and singers are in focus from the start. The scantily clad singers live up to the best traditions with their inciting moves and unbound energy. They are a truly exciting acquaintance, and more than a few male members of the audience spend a good percentage of the show looking at them rather than at Steve. And yes, their singing is top-notch too.

The horn section has two faces that should be familiar to Bruce fans. There's Ed Manion on the saxophone, part of Bruce's horn sections since Tunnel of Love and, by some, considered a possible replacement for Clarence in the E Street Band until Jake entered the picture. And then there is Clark Gayton on trumpet, who was a member the Seeger Sessions band and the Wrecking Ball horn section. Last but not least, Everett Bradley on percussions, who was also part of the E Street Band during the Wrecking Ball Tour.

The rest of the band is unfamiliar to me - until after the show when I look them up - but no less skilled at their instruments. Although none of them (except for Rusty Cloud, who is only in the band for part of the tour) was part of the band that recorded the Men Without Women album back in the days, they are more than just a bunch of hired hands. They are also not just someone Steve found at local bars on the Jersey Shore. The drummer Charles Drayton has played with everybody from the Rolling Stones to Neil Young and Herbie Hancock, and grandpa-bearded keyboardist Lowell "Banana" Levinger was a founding member of the Youngbloods way back in the early Seventies.

And great, diverse musicians are indeed needed. Far more than just a soul band, the Disciples of Soul also has to excel at everything from rock to jazz to reggae. Little Steven's solo output, we are reminded, spans all these genres as well as pop and blues... and a fabulous version of "Down and Out in NYC" with its feel and sound harkening back to the theme from the Seventies movie "Shaft". Altogether, just as stunning as the diversity is the fact that Little Steven is able to play for 2.5 hours without including a single song that seems like filler or sub-par. And that's not just some fanboy bullshit. The guy wrote dozens of songs that should be - and in a few cases, are - pop music classics. Even the songs that I don't know - and there are maybe 5-6 of those - sound damn good even at first listen. And a song like "Forever" that closes the main set... Someone tell me why that song was not a #1 hit single for Steven when it was released in 1982 (in fact, it only reached #63 on Billboard's single chart), because I sure can't answer that question.

Between songs Little Steven talks to the crowd in his characteristic modest way and with that humorous sparkle in his eyes. Although these middle-aged, too-many-rock-concerts ears don't catch all of it, you can't help feeling in good company as he talks about his songs, the old days, and the people he encountered. Despite his cool exterior, Steve just radiates genuine niceness. Arrogance, spoiled celebrity attitude, and indifference are not even part of his vocabulary, much less his style.

As the set reaches its finale with a slowed-down "I Don't Wanna Go Home", "Ride the Night Away" of Southside Johnny fame, a fabulous, hard-rocking "Bitter Fruit", and the aforementioned shoulda-been-a-monster-hit, "Forever", it's hard not to feel that you are witnessing something much more than just another show you went to because the artist had ties to Bruce Springsteen. Just like his boss, Little Steven has something more to offer than just a few good songs. In his own modest way, without the need for fire-and-brimstone preaching, he fills the room with excitement and emotion and heals you with the music.

With the encore of Marvin Gaye's "Can I Get a Witness" still ringing in my ears as I leave the small venue, I know that this night will stay with me for a good long time. Somehow this night has made the prospect of a Bruce-free summer a bit more bearable. As the perfect accomplice that he is, Little Steven carries on the sword while the leader restitutes in the equestrian venues of Europe, and he does it with all the conviction his big heart can muster and way beyond the call of duty.

As of now, Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul only have four more shows scheduled, but more are in the works, including in the US.

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Born to Play

Published 2017-03-13
By Alexander Bisley
“I had no idea he [Springsteen] was such a thoughtful reader”, The LA Times books editor once said. The Boss brings literary chops to his frank autobiography Born to Run, with influencesincluding John Steinbeck and Richard Ford.  The blood, sweat and tears that make its unghosted 508 pages compelling are similarly vibrant seeing Springsteen and the E Street Band at New Zealand’s Mount Smart Stadium.

 “Democracy in rock bands, with very few exceptions, is often a ticking time bomb,” Springsteen writes, arguing for a benevolent dictatorship. “I also wanted the live, rambunctious gang feeling only a real rock n’ roll band can deliver.” The opening couple of tracks seem flat, off, tired; but ‘Glory Days’ sees high spirits, and a strong collective rhythm. About 22 of the 26 tracks in the 2hr 50 concert zing.  As the evening falls, Springsteen and the E Street Band have definitely still got it.  Tracks like ‘The River’, ‘Dancing in the Dark’, ‘Because The Night’, and ‘Born to Run’ are blissful: sensational, scorching stadium rock.

“Joe Strummer, Mick Jagger and many of the great rock n’ roll and punk front men did not possess great voices but their blood and guts conviction, their ownership of their songs, made up for it and lent them deep personal style,” Springsteen pens. Tonight, his songs emotional weight resonates through the Auckland stadium.

 “Steve had an aggressive, bold style as a bassist, and he added some nice vocal harmonies.”  Recalling his iconic Sopranos role as Sil, Steve Van Zandt is an imposing presence, slashing like the best of them. ‘Bobby Jean’ is a paean to friendship (and rock n’ roll bonding), and it’s abundantly clear watching Van Zandt and Springsteen perform it together.

Always deeply felt, and often beautifully written, Born to Run overcomes its jarring overuse of ellipses.  The Boss opens up about the mental illness he inherited from his complicated father, a violent and inarticulate man afflicted with manic depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia. Booze too often meant “a flood of [paternal] self-pitying rage and a ferocity that turned our home into a minefield of fear and anxiety.” As a child, Springsteen once struck his father with a baseball bat to protect his mother. (Later, Bruce apologises for his own “gross, bullying, violent and humiliating behaviour”.)

Springsteen’s learnings from his father get at why surprising amounts of white blue-collar workers could vote for a cruel plutocrat like Donald Trump. “The rigidity and the blue-collar narcissism of “manhood” 1950s-style. An inner yearning for isolation, for the world on your terms or not at all.”

The iconic liberal, politicised under Reaganism, isn’t myopic about the left’s Seventies stupidity. “The dumb and destructive shit I saw done in the name of people trying to “let it all hang out and be free” was legion…I was never gonna get a first-class ticket to see God the easy way on the Tim Leary clown train. ” His honesty extends to romance. “I operated best within a semi-monogamous (is there such a thing?) system… “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.”

Springsteen made it, like he makes it on stage now, through cunning and hard work.  He was determined to be a transcendent long-haul artist. “The exit in a blaze of glory is bullshit.”

The book makes a sharp, zeitgeisty dig at the US entertainment media’s overriding approach, versus elsewhere.  “Our usually politicized press conferences were peppered by celebrity questions and a vacuousness that sometimes made me feel embarrassed.”

1992’s LA riots further politicized, and politicizes, Springsteen: “The prescription for many of our ills are in hand— child day care, jobs, education, health care— but it would take a societal effort on the scale of the Marshall Plan to break the generations-long chain of institutionalized destruction our social policies have wreaked. If we can spend trillions on Iraq and Afghanistan in nation building, if we can bail out Wall Street with billions of taxpayer dollars, why not here? Why not now?”

Though ‘Wrecking Ball’— about capitalism gone wild and plutocracy and 2008’s economic meltdown— stirs, my one disappointment is nothing from Magic, Springsteen’s sweltering response to George W Bush’s failed presidency. (I’m not really a sign guy, but “The Boss for President” has its note).

Springsteen’s respect for workers and unions moves through the evening’s setlist.  In this age of pernicious media consumerism and vulgarisation, this big-hearted man nails his performances of both ‘American Skin (41 Shots)’ and ‘My City of Ruins’, the song he performed the week after 9/11, 2001. “Of the many tragic images of that day, the picture I couldn’t let go of was the emergency workers going up the stairs as others rushed down to safety. The sense of duty, the courage, ascending into...what?” he writes in Born to Run. “the breath in your lungs, the ground beneath your feet, all that is life, and... the next, flooded my imagination.”  
 
Alexander Bisley is a leading cultural journalist in New Zealand who kindly let us republish this piece. You can follow Alexander Bisley on Twitter.
 
 
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Born to Run book generously delivers new insight and perspective

Published 2016-12-30
By Karsten Stanley Andersen

I was ecstatic when it was first announced that Bruce was going to publish his autobiography. This was like a holy grail. Well, another holy grail (there are a few box sets that qualify too).

After reading it, I’m still ecstatic, but not for the reasons I thought I’d be. What I had been looking forward to was to have all the blanks filled in. Reasons for Bruce’s decisions and career moves, inside scoops, what really happened when the E Street Band broke up… All of that. I mean, I felt I already knew the guy pretty well from a lifetime of following him and reading interviews and biographies, so what I needed, I thought, was just the ultimate collection of… exciting details.

And sure, there are plenty of exciting details in Born to Run. But what I hadn’t bargained for, and what ultimately makes the book as good and as important as his greatest records, were not how Vini Lopez was sacked from the band, or when exactly Bruce first got together with Patti, or any of the other little things I didn’t know the specifics of and that I learned. What I walked away with after slamming the book shut for the last time was nothing short of a whole new view of the man.

Because, as it turned out, to my own surprise, I did not know him all that well. Sure, I’d already read about his depressions in Peter Ames’ book, but I did not know his inner psyche. I did not ever truly get to see the world through his eyes. I did not know that from his early youth the guy has been a tormented and possessed soul and that all his energy and brilliance has come at the expense of his own well-being. How could a man radiating such joy from a stage, such intelligence in his music and interviews, and such patience and kindness toward his fans, how could he not be the strongest, most self-assured, self-contained, and downright COOL person in the universe? And it’s not like his torment is a thing of the past. From what we can gather, while he’s in a much better place now than in his younger days – not counting bouts of depression (which is bad enough) – there is still a torn soul beneath that confident surface that has made him do self-destructive things we might wish we had never heard about.

So, while all of this gave me a whole new perspective of Bruce Springsteen, human being, a lot of the new insight also explains a lot of things in the past… and what’s just as important, it gives us a better idea of the present. Who is that man on stage today? For instance, since it was announced that he would be doing The River Tour in 2016, I have racked my brain for a good explanation as to why you would do a mega tour in support of a 35-year-old album. Sure, there was the box, and sure, a few special shows in that connection would have made sense. But a major world tour?

Well, it turns out, to this day, Bruce needs to play in order to keep his demons at bay and stay sane. At a time in his life when new music apparently doesn’t come easily to him (and this is actually a subject he, regrettably, doesn’t touch on in the book), Bruce needs to come up with other excuses to tour than supporting new albums. According to the book, at one point around 2011 during one of his depressions, Bruce called Jon Landau and asked him to book him for anything anywhere, as long as it involved playing… because that was the only way he could stand to be in his own skin.

The River Tour 2016 hopefully is not a sign that another depression was or is coming, but it makes sense to me now knowing that, despite Bruce’s claim to have learned to put down the guitar, there is still no way he can let it stay on the shelf for long – which is good for us fans, because it means he really, really intends to keep on playing for as long as he can manage it physically.

A lot of the book is dedicated to explaining Bruce’s relationship to his father. What we learn is that their infamous clashes were more than just the result of a typical teenage rebellion against a conservative dad. Doug Springsteen was a sick man and a victim of his time and circumstances. It’s sobering to read how, even after Bruce’s rise to superstardom and wealth, the two were, for years, at best awkward in each other’s company.

Another relationship Bruce digs deep into in this book is the one he shares with Patti. While her voice and singing style may not be for everyone, the book leaves no doubt that she saved his life, literally or metaphorically (doesn’t matter which), and for that, every fan should be extremely grateful and cut her some major slack.

To most readers, the first half of the book with its good-humored descriptions of early life on the road with a gallery of characters most fans already know and love, provides the best reading entertainment. Bruce proves himself an extremely gifted writer and shows that his mother was on to something when she suggested he become an author. It’s simply autobiographical writing at its best.

Unfortunately, Bruce doesn’t quite keep the standard when he heads into the late Seventies and Eighties. It’s like the fun, energetic – but at the same time very informative – tales are replaced by a more traditional and serious style of writing and content that, except for the first-person tense, doesn’t vary too much from what we’ve read a hundred times in other biographies. In other words, we don’t learn a whole lot of new things about his career in those years. We do get the most detailed information to date about his relationship with Juli, we hear about a hilarious failed attempt to get into Disneyland wearing a headband, and we learn how Bruce’s fondness of Gothenburg, Sweden, got off to a rocky start. But the chapters covering the Darkness tour through Tunnel of Love leave you slightly unfulfilled. Hell, we don’t even get Bruce’s own take on the infamous No Nukes incident on his 30th birthday, which of course is well-known history to most fans, but which I’m sure Bruce could have provided some new insight in, had he wanted to.

The book picks up again for real when he talks about the Nineties. While the Sixties and Seventies were his formative years when it came to music, the Nineties formed him as a human being. The descriptions of his early relationship with Patti, life in LA, Patti’s pregnancy announcement, and the birth of their first child are as heartfelt and touching as anything in the book.

So are the chapters about the later years, the E Street Band reunion, the deaths of Danny and Clarence, the inclusion of Jake in the band. Even the good-humored style from the first half of the book returns in magnificent chapters about the Superbowl and sitting in with the Rolling Stones. One of the things we learn – and that’s actually clear throughout the book - is that, while Bruce loves his band, they are also business relationships with all that entails of money disagreements, unfulfilled expectations, and, at times, hard feelings. Bruce makes no secret of the fact that he can be a tough boss to work for. He also doesn’t try to hide that he thinks he’s good at what he does and that his status as one of the greats in rock ‘n’ roll is well-deserved.

Altogether, for better or worse, Born to Run is as honest as rock autobiographies go. This combined with a captivating writing style many professional writers can only dream of, a common thread throughout the book about his father, a real sense of Bruce as a human being rather than a rock god, tons of humorous and slightly self-ironic tales, and a life with more struggle and drama than I ever knew had been the case for him, Born to Run – as it should - leaves all other biographies about the man in the dust.

There are very few books I have read more than once in my life. Born to Run will without a doubt be one of them. Right now, I can’t wait to have the audio book, read by Bruce himself, blasting… um, I mean, quietly playing… from the car stereo.
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