Out this week is the best Bruce Springsteen biography I've ever read.
Simply titled "Bruce" by Peter Ames Carlin, this is the book Springsteen fans have long been waiting for, a behind-the-curtain look at the journey a kid from Freehold took to became one of the most famous rock stars in the world.
Full disclosure: I was contacted by Carlin more than two years ago and he asked me if I could show him the historic Springsteen sites at the Jersey Shore. We spent a few afternoons together driving around Monmouth County to see the many places where Springsteen has left his footprints. I am thanked in his acknowledgements in "Bruce."
That said, I was just one of many, many people who Carlin contacted to get the full Bruce Springsteen story. He did his homework and was given full access (something rarely, if ever, given) to Bruce, his manager Jon Landau, the E Street Band, Springsteen's mother, sisters, aunt, cousins, and former girlfriends. There are even some quotes from his ex-wife, Julianne Phillips. Many others — including former manager Mike Appel, early bandmates, friends and associates — were interviewed by Carlin.
It's not an authorized biography but Springsteen did meet with and talked to Carlin on the phone several times. The author writes "Bruce Springsteen made it clear that the only thing I owed him was an honest account of his life. He welcomed me into his world, spoke at great length on more than a few occasions, and worked overtime to make sure I had all the tools I'd need to do my job."
The result is 494 pages of the most total Bruce Springsteen story I've read. Even the most diehard fan is going to learn things and hear many inside stories.
There are stories of Bruce's childhood in Freehold and how a traumatic event on McLean Street in 1927 (22 years before he was even born) would become something that would be forever part of his life. For years from the stage, Bruce would tell stories of the battles he had with his father Doug. In "Bruce" Carlin takes us inside those battles and how Bruce's mom, Adele, was the glue that held everything together. Also how father and son always had a deep love for each other and Doug Springsteen was very proud of his son's success.
There are quotes from Bruce's mom, his sisters Ginny (the first time I believe she has ever been quoted in print about her brother) and Pam.
To this day, Bruce's mom is still upset her son didn't attend his Freehold High School graduation in 1967. When Bruce went to get his cap and gown, he was told be would be barred from the ceremony unless he got his shoulder-length hair cut. Bruce then hopped on the bus to New York City but he did come home in time to catch the end of a large house graduation party Adele had planned.
Bruce's early bands — the Rogues, the Castiles, Earth, Child, Steel Mill, the Bruce Springsteen Band and finally the E Street Band — are all covered: how they formed, broke up and there are the details on the infamous E Street Band breakup in 1989.
Carlin describes Bruce's move from Freehold to the Asbury Park music scene in the late 1960s and his time at the Upstage Club where he made his mark as the top musician at the Jersey Shore. There's also the story of Bruce meeting Clarence Clemons at the Student Prince in Asbury Park in 1971.
One of the many treasures of "Bruce" is all the interesting stories.
Carlin writes about Janis Joplin playing Asbury Park's Convention Hall in 1969, a week after Woodstock. She noticed a 19-year-old Springsteen (who was in Child at the time) watching from the side of the stage.
"When she finished her set, she came offstage, saw him, and gave one of these, 'Where have you been all my life looks," drummer Vini Lopez is quoted as saying. Joplin went back onstage for an encore but when she was finished, she came back looking for Springsteen who had already bolted to the safety of the boardwalk.
Then Stone Pony owner Jack Roig has a funny story about the first time he saw Bruce at the legendary Asbury Park nightspot. He says even after Bruce had appeared on the covers of Time and Newsweek in 1975, he saw Springsteen waiting in line to get in the Pony "digging deep into his pockets in search of the $3 cover charge while standing at the end of a block-long line for admission. Roig then brought Bruce into the club, which began a long history with the Pony.
All parts of Springsteen's life are covered including his first record contract, his later contract problems with Mike Appel and his meeting Jon Landau, who took over as his manager.
If I have one complaint (and I heard this from a couple others who have read it), it's that Carlin is so in-depth on the early Bruce Springsteen story (the first 300 pages don't even yet get into the "Born in the U.S.A." period) that you're left wanting to hear more in the final 180 pages of the period from 1984 to the current Wrecking Ball Tour. But there are still many fascinating stories. I would have no complaints if the book was more than 600 pages.
One of the many gems in "Bruce" are the quotes (not always glowing) from E Street Band members. We hear about Nils Lofgren and Patti Scialfa joining the band in 1984 after the departure of Steve Van Zandt, and how when Bruce got the band back for the Reunion tour in 1999, some of the band members were stunned about how little money they were being offered to tour.
Clemons gave one of his final interviews to Carlin in 2011, just a few weeks before his death. The Big Man questioned why the E Street Band is not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. "My saxophone is in there, but I'm not. And I'm the one who played it."
There are stories from many of Bruce's ex-girlfriends and some interesting quotes from Bruce about the breakup of his first marriage to Julianne Phillips and the paparazzi photos of him and Scialfa together on a balcony in Rome in June of 1988.
"I didn't protect Juli. ... I handled it badly, and I still feel badly about it. It was cruel for people to find out the way they did," Springsteen says.
This isn't just a book for Springsteen fans. It's the story of how one of the most famous people in the world is still able to stay grounded to his New Jersey roots and despite his fame and wealth, suffers from a problem that is revealed toward the end of the book.
When Springsteen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999, Bono said "He created an alternate mythology — one where ordinary lives became extraordinary and heroic."
Peter Carlin's "Bruce" tells the story of the "extraordinary Bruce" but at the same time, Carlin, as many of the Jersey Shore already know, understands that Springsteen is still, sometimes, just as ordinary as us.
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