Greasy Lake confucted an email interview with the author of Bruce Springsteen FAQ, John D. Luersson. Here are his replies to our questions.
Greasy Lake: Why does the world need another Bruce Springsteen book?
John D. Luersson: Bruce Springsteen FAQ is designed to be an entertaining reference book – one that hardcore fans can enjoy as much as passive fans. When I was quoted as saying “It’s the only Bruce book you’ll ever need” by Backstreets, it might have sounded a little pompous but what I meant is that was my goal in writing it. Want to settle a bet over what year Bruce crashed his motorbike into a tree? Pick up Bruce FAQ. It happened at his Holmdel farm in April 1979.
When did The Boss first encounter John Cafferty and Beaver Brown? August 25, 1978, at Toad’s Place in New Haven. It’s there on page 218.
GL: What makes you qualified to write a Bruce Springsteen book? How big of a fan are you yourself?
JDL: I have been writing about rock and roll for 27 years. My first record review – of The Smiths’ Meat is Murder – ran in my Westfield High School newspaper in 1985. I’ve interviewed some of my heroes – Joe Strummer, Iggy Pop, Paul Westerberg – and some of my current favorites like Ryan Adams, Pete Yorn and Josh Rouse – during an active music journalism career writing for the likes of Billboard, Rolling Stone, Spinner and American Songwriter. I’ve written two other books – one on Weezer that I wrote about a decade ago – and one for Backbeat’s FAQ series on U2 that came out in 2010. In that sense, I’d say I’m pretty qualified to write books.
As for Springsteen, I’ve been a devoted fan since October 1980 when I first heard the Boss on WPLJ as a seventh grader. I had been aware of him before that time, but I hadn’t really heard him. Between Christmas 1980 and Nebraska two years later, I was an ardent student. But from there I became a student of all things rock and roll and while I appreciated
Bruce from afar, I didn’t get back into his clutches as an obsessive until 1999’s Reunion tour and the ’98 Tracks box consumed me.
I consider myself to be a big fan, but the handful of shows I’ve seen cannot compare to the likes of some. I have a friend from Westfield named Mitch Slater who has seen a staggering 235 shows since 1976. The guy has an encyclopedic knowledge of those shows. He’s like a Springsteen savant. I’m not in that league but I appreciate his devotion to Springsteen.
GL: It must have
required a tremendous amount of research to write Bruce Springsteen FAQ.
How did you go about it and what were your main sources?
JDL: As mentioned above, I had written U2 FAQ, in which I found my way through the process of delivering the kind of book that Backbeat/Hal Leonard was looking for. I was mentored through the process by Robert Rodriguez, the Series Editor and the man behind Fab Four FAQ and FAB Four FAQ 2.0.
As for the research, I did a ton of reading early on, delving into every Springsteen book I could get my hands on. I also found great information online via Brucebase and, of course Greasy Lake, not to mention a staggering number of periodicals. The Bruce Springsteen Special Collection at Monmouth University is a sight to behold. From there, it’s like putting together a huge complicated puzzle. It requires a lot of organization and time. I started the book in December 2010 and finished it this past May.
GL: Bruce Springsteen FAQ is stuffed with information, but what information that is unavailable to the public would you have liked to dig out and publish?
JDL: I asked to [interview] Bruce and hoped to talk to him about some facet of his life. I’d hoped to find out for sure if the band name Bruce Springsteen and the Incredible Jersey Jukers was the precursor to The Asbury Jukes moniker. I, of course, wanted to know if there will ever be a second volume of Tracks. As a sometime golfer, I wondered if he ever golfed and if so, did he hit the links with his original drummer, Mad Dog Lopez, who was, of course, a Golf Caddy for New Jersey’s Mark McCormick at this year’s U.S. Open.
Those are just the tip of the iceberg. Anyway, I wrote to his publicist, Marilyn Laverty in August 2011 to ask but I was told he wasn’t doing any interviews that year (except, I presume, with Peter Carlin).
GL: You also wrote a U2 FAQ. How would you compare Springsteen and U2 in terms of how their careers developed and the legacy they will leave behind?
JDL: I think they are both amazing acts that have stumbled a little at various points in their careers but both have grown and evolved respectively as artists. Both acts struggled commercially around their second studio albums and nearly got dropped by their record labels only to come back and conquer the world.
Of course, Springsteen has an extra decade on his biological odometer and yet he’s still capable of out-performing Bono every night. U2 does a two hour show; Bruce does double that on many nights. I do love both acts very much and appreciate their humanitarian approaches, but some of Bono’s venture capitalist activities seem greedy to me. How much do you need, you know? I have always respected Bruce more, especially because of his efforts for veterans, and his ongoing Food Bank initiatives.
I also believe that there will never be another performer in our lifetime to endure at the same artistic and commercial levels as Springsteen. Dylan comes close from an artistic standpoint but Bruce is an American Icon.
GL: Can you talk a little about the way you have chosen to arrange the book, making it sort of a mix between a reference book and a traditional biography?
JDL: That’s a pretty standard approach for the FAQ series. Bear in mind, the book is striving to multi-task. It is biographical, it is a reference point, it is a source for trivia and in some cases it offers a little opinion. I will say this – the book was too big – I was forced to cut four chapters. I had sections about Springsteen’s Jersey Shore Haunts, a look at his B-Sides and a couple others.
GL: Do you have a favorite Springsteen period that you secretly wish he would return to?
JDL: If you’re asking me what my favorite period is, it has to be ’75 to ’85. Those songs still speak to me. Those songs still speak to all of Springsteen’s fans. But I also think The Rising is still arguably the best rock album of the post-millennium.
GL: In your opinion, how has Bruce done so far in regard to bringing his music and the E Street Band into the post-Clarence world?
JDL: I think Springsteen said it best when he posted, “Clarence doesn’t leave the E Street Band when he dies, he leaves when we die.” He took the same approach when Danny died. The songs continue to grow with The E Street Band and he continues to bring his A-game on most nights. As for the material, Wrecking Ball is a strong album that has grown on me more and more over the past seven months. Sometimes those records turn out to be the best. You peel back a little at a time and come to appreciate a song like “We Are Alive.”
GL: The fan world is eagerly awaiting the new authorized biography by Peter Carlin. Why should they buy your book too?
JDL: A friend of mine was admiring a promotional copy of the book while we tailgated recently for one of the Met Life shows. He had a few beers and was feeling pretty loose. He stands up on a cooler and starts reading out trivia about past New Jersey shows to people who were heading in. He was preaching the gospel of Bruce. After a few minutes he had people standing around. I realized I had something cool that would resonate with fans.
With that in mind, I think Bruce Springsteen FAQ makes a great companion piece to a more cerebral Springsteen read like Carlin’s. Put his on the bookshelf when you’re done and leave mine in the bathroom. You can pick my book up and open it to any page, time and time again, and it should entertain. It’s by no means inferior, just a different approach to the subject matter.
GL: Are you worried about obsessive, geeky fans such as myself pointing out errors in Bruce Springsteen FAQ? (e.g. David Sancious wasn’t part of the E Street Band when they played in London in 1975, as it says on page 94)
JDL: The reality is people make mistakes. Even Bruce. Who can forget his geography flub on November 13, 2009 when he said “Hello, Ohio” to the Auburn Hills, Michigan audience?
I’m pretty sure I was thinking of how Sancious played on the studio version of “Kitty’s Back.” Anyway, if there wasn’t at least one error in these 400-plus pages, I would really be worried about myself.
GL: Can we expect more FAQ books from your hand and if so, about whom?
JDL: I am currently at work on NIRVANA FAQ for Backbeat and I have a couple of other projects in the works. I like to keep busy.