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Book Review: “Bruce” By Peter Ames Carlin

November 24, 2012 1 comment

ImageI’ve never written a book review before, except maybe in an elementary school English class, but now seems like a good time to post my first. Peter Ames Carlin’s Bruce chronicles Bruce Springsteen’s career in often painstaking detail, giving fans a rare look into the mind behind one of rock and roll’s must successful and revered acts.

  Reviewing Carlin’s Springsteen biography, is somewhat less daunting than reviewing one of his live shows. I’ve seen Bruce multiple times this year, but haven’t written a single review. The band’s live performances are jam packed with memorable moments, basically three hours of rock euphoria. It’s the type of show that words can’t do justice.

In Bruce, Carlin attempts to capture the passion and energy that Springsteen brings to the stage and help fans understand what fuels it. While there have been plenty of books published chronicling Springsteen’s life and career, this is the first book to be written with input from the Boss himself, which certainly helps Carlin achieve his goal. 

The author had no contractual agreement with Springsteen or the band’s management, and was therefore free to be brutally honest at times.  Carlin notes in the text that Springsteen had told him his only responsibility was to paint an accurate picture of the band and its leader, and it certainly seems like he was successful in doing so.

Over a musical career that has stretched over four decades, Bruce has become an iconic, almost mythical figure in the eyes of millions. His  charisma and stage precense, as well as  his devotion to his craft and his fans has earned him a spot as one of the most recognizable and respected musicians of all time. However, the most intriguing aspect of this book is not in the illustration of these characteristics, but is instead  in the examples and stories that prove Bruce is human and flawed, just like his legion of fans.

Springsteen’s often complicated and turbulent relationship with his family, band members, managers, and label executives paint him as a somewhat selfish perfectionist who sets standards very few can live up to. Bruce’s history with the E Street Band is explored at length, and the often cold relationship between the lead singer and his right hand men, including Steve Van Zandt and Clarence Clemons is especially surprising considering the on-stage chemistry the band has shared.

While Carlin explores Springsteen’s flaws and career missteps, the book does in fact confirm many of the  traits that are at the core of the Springsteen legend. These traits include his focus on  everyday Americans – both in his songwriting and in his charity work, his dedication to his fans and his home state, and of course, his undeniable drive to be the best live act in the world.

The most impressive aspect of the book is how well researched it is. From the very start, it is obvious that Carlin has talked to just about everyone who has ever had a connection to Bruce. Input from fellow Jersey shore  musicians provides great insight into Bruce development from scrawny teenager, to local hero in the 70’s and then international star 80’s.

Also central to the story is the way in which Carlin chronicles Springsteen’s extensive touring career and describes landmark performances in great detail, including Springsteen’s luke-warm reception at his first show in London and his mammoth Born In The USA stadium tour.

For any die-hard Bruce fan looking for greater insight into Springsteen’s music, this is a must read. It perfectly illustrates how Sprinsteen, unlike many of his peers over the last thirty years, has achieved such tremendous staying power and can still connect with fans and sell out stadiums 35 years after “Born To Run” hit the airwaves. For the casual fan, the book might provide more information than you’re looking for, but if you’re in the market for a Springsteen biography, I can’t imagine there are any better than this.