My Subaru is in the shop (getting a new engine!) so I was given a rental. This new rig has satellite radio and I began listening to the E Street station. Listening to Bruce read from his autobiography on my last road trip motivated me to put down my thoughts about Born to Run, his best-selling autobiography.
First, a confession. They say the music you hear when you are 19 and 20 imprints into your consciousness and becomes the standard to which all other music is measured. I discovered Springsteen when I was 19 when my friend Bill Kizer made a few bootleg cassette recordings for me. I started with “Tunnel of Love” and worked my way backward through the collection. I’m a fan so I knew that Born to Run would mean more to me before I even turned a page. My expectations were high but they were smashed. This is a beautiful book, weaving personal narrative with song lyrics creating something unlike anything else I’ve ever read. Those songs, those lyrics meant something to me at various times in my life. They still speak to me. And as I read those emotions and events came rushing back.
Enough about me. There are 2 areas where the lessons of the book become transcendent:
As a child of the Catholic Church (Springsteen grew up across the street from St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church and attended with his Irish/Italian family), his faith journey represents the experience of many.
Before my grammar school education was over I’d have my knuckles classically rapped, my tie pulled ‘til I choked; be struck in the head, shut into a dark closet and stuffed into a trash can while being told this is where I belonged. All business as usual in Catholic school in the fifties. Still, it left a mean taste in my mouth and estranged me from my religion for good” (16).
This is child abuse, folks. The nostalgia felt by many about the church in the fifties must be tempered by this abuse. Many people were turned away from the Church and Springsteen represents them. However, he cannot deny the influence of the Church. “I came to ruefully and bemusedly understand that once you’re a Catholic, you’re always a Catholic. So I stopped kidding myself. I don’t often participate in my religion but I know somewhere…deep inside…I’m still on the team” (17). I’m sure there are many who would disagree that a non-practicing Catholic shouldn’t “count” as Catholic. But I believe his metaphorical imagination found inspiration in the Catholic faith.
I had always wondered why the E Street Band was always separate from Springsteen. They were obviously one unit and sometimes Springsteen had side projects. But why were they always referred to as “Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band”? Springsteen answers the question directly in Chapter 33 which serves as a lesson in leadership. First, he describes what he wanted. “In the beginning I knew I wanted something more than a solo act and less than a one-man-one-vote democratic band…Democracy in rock bands, with very few exceptions, is often a ticking time bomb” (234-5). This is somewhere between autocracy and pluralism. He is setting the course for his career and deliberately choosing the path. Then he describes what he was looking for in his bandmates. “You’re not looking for the best players. You’re looking for the right players who click into something unique” (235). How many times do people make the mistake of choosing the most talented but not paying attention to fit? Ultimately, Springsteen explains his logic of a band with a simple math equation: 1+1=3. He wants something that is greater than the parts.
Read the book if you love Springsteen, love music, or are interested in the cultural milieu of America over the past 40 years. It’s a beautiful book.