Born to Run (Memoir) by Bruce Springsteen, 2016
At the cottage this past summer, music was blasting late into the night from an island across the water. Someone in our
group suggested that maybe there was a big party going on and it was live music that we were hearing. The younger people among
us shot down that possibility. They, recognizing the music and the singer, didn’t think it likely that Bruce Springsteen
was hanging out on the neighbouring island.
The fact that we oldsters had no idea that this was Mr. Springsteen’s music tells you something about where I stand
with regard to the man. Before reading this memoir, in fact, I could tell you almost nothing about him or his music except
that he had shown an interest in a certain social justice project involving a friend of ours. (More about that later.) That,
and the fact that he was reputed to be a big star, constituted the sum total of my information about the man.
So why take on such a daunting reading project – 500 plus pages – if I hadn’t previously had any interest
in the man or his music? Well, I’d heard that the memoir was well-written and entertaining. And given that the man is
such a huge star, I thought his book might tell me a lot about the contemporary world that was unknown to me.
It certainly did.
Teen Years, Effect of Rock, Rough Life
One of the first, and strongest messages that came through was the meaning of rock and roll for teenagers like Mr. Springsteen
in the 1960s. I was a teen in that period but rock and roll didn’t really reach me. I do recall that, in the late 1950s,
my female classmates were mildly agitated over a rivalry between the fans of the smooth, urbane Pat Boone and a
sexier, more raucous singer from Memphis, but I can’t remember being particularly turned on by any aspect of the
rock and roll scene. My idea of a wild Friday night was to borrow Joan Sutherland’s two-record lp The Art of the
Prima Donna from the library and stay up till after midnight listening to it.
From Mr. Springsteen, I learn what rock ‘n roll was doing for other teens. For them it was rebellion, anti-authority,
sex and freedom. Strangely, though, I never felt any need for rebellion as a teen. For some weird reason, I got along ok with
my parents and elders. Not exactly Mr. Springsteen’s experience, as he puts it here:
The adult world, that place of dishonesty, deceit, unkindness, where people slaved, were hurt, compromised, beaten, defeated,
where they died – thank you, Lord, but for now, I’ll take a pass.
On first reading that, I thought it sounded like an exaggeration of teen angst. It strikes me now, though, that possibly
the over-the-top sound of it is a hint that Mr. Springsteen is looking back with a touch of humourous indulgence
at his youthful intolerance.
Just how much rock ‘n roll meant to him comes through strongly when Mr. Springsteen tells about meeting Steve Van
Zandt, the front man of The Castiles, a group that Mr. Springsteen was going to join:
I’d finally met someone who felt about music the way I did, needed it the way I did, respected its power in a way
that was a notch above the attitudes of the other musicians I’d come in contact with, somebody I understood and I felt
understood me. With Steve and me, from the beginning, it was heart to heart and soul to soul. It was all impassioned, endless
arguments over the minutiae of the groups we loved. The deep delving into the smallest details of guitar sounds, style, image;
the beautiful obsession of sharing, with someone who was as single-minded and crazy as you were, a passion you simply could
not get enough of – these were things you could not fully explain to outsiders ... because as the Lovin’ Spoonful
so perfectly put it, "It’s like trying to tell a stranger ‘bout rock and roll" ... do you believe in magic?
This book also shows me that, to achieve Mr. Springsteen’s kind of success, you’ve got to be endowed with relentless
ambition. The number of setbacks that he suffered on his way to the top, the refusals and rejections and downturns, would
have finished anybody who wasn’t the package that the young Mr. Springsteen was: a bundle of taut nerves straining towards
the finish line. When he was still in his teens, his parents lit out from New Jersey for what they hoped would be a better
life in California. In the following years, right up to his early twenties when he was recording his first album for Columbia,
he was virtually homeless much of the time – couch surfing when he wasn’t sleeping rough. For a while, he was
living with other hopeful rockers in a concrete room in a surfboard factory:
Over the next several years I would suck in enough fibreglass and resin fumes to deaden the brain cells of a hundred men.
Quarters were tight and Tinker [his host] and I were forced to romance our ladies in rather close environs. Privacy was at
a minimum. Sex was quick and not that pretty at the surfboard factory, performed on concrete floors; up against the brick
exterior of the building; in a room a short distance from other sweating, grabby lovers; or – last hope – in the
backseat of an abandoned car out in the dusty swales of the industrial park. You could not be too picky. We managed.
Bruce Springsteen’s Writing
You soon realize, on launching into this tome – which is divided into seventy-nine short chapters plus epilogue –
that Mr. Springsteen isn’t just a renowned musician; he’s also a formidable writer. Sometimes there’s almost
an incantatory quality to the writing – which, I guess, is not surprising for a song writer. In some passages –
like the following response to Elvis Presley’s appearance on the Ed Sullivan show – the fervid, high-octane style
sounds a lot like the kind of journalism that made Tom Wolfe famous:
You, my TV dinner-sucking, glazed-eyed friends, are living in ... THE MATRIX ... and all you have to do to see the real
world, God and Satan’s glorious kingdom on Earth, all you have to do to taste real life is to risk being your true self
... to dare ... to watch ... to listen ... to all the late-night staticky-voiced deejays playing "race" records blowing in
under the radar, shouting their tinny AM radio manifesto, their stations filled with poets, geniuses, rockers, bluesmen, preachers,
philosopher kings, speaking to YOU from deep in the heart of your own soul.
Occasionally, the windy sentences threaten to blow out of control. For example:
When the music is great, a natural subversion of the controlled message broadcast daily by the powers that be, advertising
agencies, mainstream media outlets, news organizations and the general mind-numbing, soul-freezing, life-denying keepers of
the status quo takes place.
And this about performing:
It’s a life-giving, joyful, sweat-drenched, muscle-aching, voice-blowing, mind-clearing, exhausting, soul-invigorating,
cathartic pleasure and privilege every night.
But Mr. Springsteen can rein in his breathless enthusiasm when he wants to sketch an especially evocative picture, as in
this description about meeting his mom at the end of her day at the firm where she worked as a legal secretary:
With the building empty, its fluorescent lights out, its cubicles deserted and the evening sun shining through the glass
doors and reflecting off the hard linoleum floor of the entryway, it’s as if the building itself is silently resting
from its daily efforts in the service of our town.
Mr. Springsteen’s writing isn’t all poetry and lyricism, however. When it comes time for an extended narrative,
he proves himself an excellent story teller. A couple of disastrous trips with his dad stand out. Probably the best comedy
comes in the tale about a trip to the west coast with some buddies when the young Mr. Springsteen – because of a screw-up
in the arrangements – was forced to take over the driving of a big truck, having never learned to drive.
Some of his literary touches are hilarious, as this one about one early band gig:
What was even worse, we were so excited about acquiring reverb, my lead guitarist and I plugged into our rented amp, turned
the reverb on full and reduced our sound to a quivering, echoing mash, a cheese-ball shitstorm of submerged instrumentation
that sounded like it was being puked up from the bottom of some dragon-infested ocean.
In this one, he’s describing what his parents’ dog, Smokey, had done to their apartment while they were at
midnight Mass on Christmas:
...we opened the front door on a scene that looked like Santa’s elves had just finished gangbanging Rudolph the Red-Nosed
Reindeer in our living room. Tinsel, Christmas balls, water, wrapping paper and ribbon were strewn all over the small apartment.
The Christmas tree had been toppled to the floor and every gift had been chewed open. In the middle sat Smokey, panting, waiting
to be congratulated.
His music and his themes
If there’s one aspect of this book that doesn’t mean much to me – it’s a major one, admittedly
– it’s about the development of Mr. Springsteen’s musical style, of his themes and of recording techniques
that were discovered along the way. I do understand, mind you, that he gradually came to see himself as speaking for ordinary,
working class folk, the kind of culture he came from. As he says at one point: "Slowly, I found words I could stand to sing,
always my first, last and only criteria to move ahead."
That sense of looking for the deeper meanings – the hidden under the ordinary occurrence – led to his interest
in social justice – which is the context of my one link to him. In the 1980s, a nun friend of ours, Sister Marie Tremblay,
was one of the founders of "Daily Bread," Toronto’s first food bank. Mr. Springsteen was performing in Toronto around
that time and someone made a connection with him that resulted in his offering a substantial donation to the food bank.
Sister Marie met him backstage at one of his concerts to pick up the cheque. That gave me the opportunity, for years after,
to introduce our elderly nun friend as "Bruce Springsteen’s friend."
Young people’s eyes used to pop open when they heard that because Mr. Springsteen’s fame meant a lot more to
them than it did to me. And I imagine such fans would get far more than I from the star’s explanations of how his various
songs came about. In fact, this book will surely prove a treasure of information for people who want to write doctorates about
his output for ages hence. But there was far too much detail on the makings of his songs for me to absorb.
What I can certainly relate to is his stardom. I’m guessing that anybody can identify with the tingle Mr. Springsteen
felt when he first felt success beckoning. That premonition came when he’d just finished singing for the exec who announced
that he wanted to sign him up for Columbia records: "I felt my heart rise up inside me, mysterious particles dancing underneath
my skin and faraway stars lighting up my nerve endings." Looking back, long after his success in the big time, he gives an
ironic touch to a moment he’d had as a young man. He was at Big Sur, sitting on a bench overlooking the Pacific
beside a middle-aged Texan who told him: "I’ve made a lot of money and I’m not happy." Mr. Springsteen: "It’d
be years before I’d have to wrestle with that one, but there was something about him that touched me."
When big success did come his way, his response included some ambiguity. Whether this happens to everybody in that situation
I wouldn’t know, but you’ve got to credit Mr. Springsteen for admitting it. The big moment came in August 1975,
when he appeared on the covers of both Time and Newsweek. Copies of the two magazines were handed to him at
pool side and he retired to his hotel room:
I was not comfortable, but what could a poor boy do? As says Hyman Roth in The Godfather Part II, "This is
the business we’ve chosen!" Sure, I’d nurtured my ambivalence; it made me happy, gave me plausible deniability
and granted me the illusion of staying one step removed from my ravenous ambitions. But ... this was the course I had striven
toward relentlessly ... STARDOM ... not a Wednesday, Friday and Saturday gig at the local gin joint, not a musical weekend
warrior, not a college kid’s down-low secret hero ... STARDOM! THE IMPACT, THE HITS, THE FAME, THE MONEY, THE WOMEN,
THE RECOGNITION, AND THE FREEDOM to live as I pleased, to take it to the limit or wherever all of this was leading
Going even further with the candour, he allows us this look behind the curtain:
Of course I thought I was a phony – that is the way of the artist – but I also thought I was the realest thing
you’d ever seen. I had a huge ego, and I’d built up the talent and craft to pursue my ambitions with years of
playing experience and study. I had my doubts and I had a sense of humor about the balls I had and the big bite I was trying
to take, but damn, that’s where the fun was, and ... I was a natural. It was in my bones.
One of the most interesting things Mr. Springsteen says about becoming a star is that fans tell you you’ve found
your voice. To you, it may seem like you’ve just stumbled on a new style or you might even feel that you were putting
something out there just by way of an experiment, to see whether or not it would fly. But it does, it becomes a hit. Suddenly,
that’s the new you. That’s who you are in the eyes of your fans. Mr. Springsteen seems a little taken aback by
He’s also a bit non-plussed by the invasive media. As for instance, when they caught photos of him in his "tighty-whities"
standing on the balcony of the hotel room where he was honeymooning with his first wife. He didn’t welcome that sort
of exposure. At one point, he says something to the effect that when he’s not being a public person, he’s a very
An amusing footnote on his star status comes in a situation that was, in itself, anything but amusing. On the dissolution
of Mr. Springsteen’s first marriage, his dad proposed that Bruce should live at home with his parents again. "I
was tempted to mention that I was a nearly forty-year-old self-made millionaire and the prospect of moving back into an eight-by-twelve-foot
room in my parents’ house, still holding my stuffed Mickey Mouse, was ... not impossible, but not likely." All he said
was, "Thanks, Dad, I’ll think about it."
As for his attitude to the big stars he has always admired, Mr. Springsteen shows what could be seen as a grain of genuine
humility. Here, he’s talking about being asked to sing with the Rolling Stones at a New Jersey gig. At the rehearsal,
he says: "I’m pretending to be a peer but it’s not easy. Inside I’m reeling as Mick motions to me to take
the second verse..." About the next night’s concert for 20,000 in Newark, he says: "It was a thrill but it didn’t
have the mystic kick of the night before, when I got to sit in, in that little room with just those four guys, the GREATEST
GARAGE BAND IN THE WORLD, in my piece of rock ‘n’ roll heaven."
On your way to the top, of course, there’s a hell of a lot of business to deal with. Mr. Springsteen talks about
the conflicts between creativity and commerce. He gives the salespeople their due, though; he knows they have their job to
do. He presents himself as being somewhat naive, early on, about the legal aspects of his career. He’d signed a lot
of papers without paying much attention to their content. It ultimately came as a shock, then, to realize that he didn’t
actually own his music. It belonged to his manager and buddy, Mike Appel. Mr. Springsteen found that he was, in effect, simply
an employee of Mr. Appel. Not surprisingly, this state of affairs was hardly acceptable to the artist. It took a lot of protracted
and agonizing negotiations to unscramble that tangled business.
As Mr. Springsteen describes it, he gradually developed an open-minded attitude that was under-girded by a wary realism:
No matter how far you took it, I was always trying to understand where you were coming from, see your point of view, walk
in your shoes. I later told my children, compassion is a wonderful virtue but don’t waste it on those undeserving. If
someone has their boot on your neck, kick them in the balls, then discuss. My surfeit of empathy was great for songwriting
but often very bad for living or lawsuits.
When Mr. Springsteen talks about people he has broken with after being very close to them – former business partners
and artists – he often emphasizes an enduring fondness, friendship, and even love, no matter how acrimonious or difficult
the split may have been. It’s nice to think that the man is actually that good-hearted but you sometimes wonder if the
other party might have a somewhat less benign view of the proceedings. However, I think we can take it that Mr. Springsteen
generally tries not to hurt people. He doesn’t seem to speak badly of anyone of his acquaintance. (Mind you, he does
admit at the end of the book that he refrained from telling us everything about his life for the sake of protecting the feelings
of some other people.)
Sex, Love, Marriage, Family
The subject of Mr. Springsteen’s dealings with other people leads us to the most intimate kinds of those dealings.
Apart from a reference to "early sexual stirrings," in the house where he was living as a young teenager, he doesn’t
say anything about discovering sex. That seems to me a rather large omission in a memoir that’s as revealing as this
one. Did Mr. Springsteen decide not to mention this aspect of his development because he was assuming it was more or less
the same for him as for everybody? I doubt that it could have been. Especially not for a good Catholic boy, such as Mr. Springsteen
was, at least up to the age of puberty. But maybe it’s a lingering Catholic prudery that stops him from saying much
about his teenage explorations of the matter.
We do, however, get a good idea of what that aspect of life was like for the up-and-coming singer as a young adult. He
pictures his life at that time as a movie. On the road, his character always meets a beautiful woman who falls helplessly
in love with him – a love he can’t reciprocate because his heart belongs to the road. People generally make a
fuss over him. "I nod my head in humble acknowledgment, then travel on, whistling, suitcase in hand, along the dusty back
roads of America, lonely but free, to seek out my next adventure."
The fact is, his troubled home when he was growing up – mostly because of his father’s alcoholism and emotional
instability – made him wary of settling down. "The idea of home itself, like much else, filled me with distrust and
a bucket load of grief." Elsewhere, he says: "My dad had sent a subtle message that a woman, a family, weakens you, makes
you feel exposed and vulnerable. This was a horrible thing to live with."
Eventually, though, Mr. Springsteen did think he’d found the right person to be his wife. He and Julianne Phillips,
an actress, married in 1985. At first, it seemed that bliss had been attained after all but, within a few years, Mr. Springsteen
discovered that the person he truly loved was Patti Scialfa, a singer who’d been with his band for some time. About
the break-up of his first marriage, he expresses the appropriate remorse and guilt. In this case, though, as in some others,
I find that it sounds a bit mawkish – all this breast-beating, wherein a guy confesses what a heel he’s been and
how he’s been so unfair to his first wife. Maybe it would be better, sometimes, for a man to skip the self-recrimination
and simply say that he found somebody that he loved better and, regrettably, had to leave the first wife behind. Everybody
moves on, including the reader.
Anyway, it does seem that Mr. Springsteen found the right mate in Vivienne Patricia Scialfa. "She did not live to
make you feel safe, he says. "I liked all of this. I’d tried the other and it hadn’t worked." I’ll take
his word on the relationship's merits but it sure doesn’t sound like Ozzie and Harriet. "We could fight, surprise, disappoint,
raise up, bring down, withhold, surrender, hurt, heal, fight again, love, refit, then go at it one more time."
Whatever questions a reader might have about Mr. Springsteen’s attitude to marriage, there’s no doubt about
his enthusiasm for parenting. You might say some guys are "over the moon" about the birth of their first child. This guy is
over the cosmos. On the subject of the child’s birth his writing flies off into outer space. When he settles back a
little closer to earth, he has this to say:
Making new life fills you with humility, balls, arrogance, a mighty manliness, confidence, terror, joy, dread, love, a
sense of calm and reckless adventure. Isn’t anything possible now? If we can populate the world, can’t we create
and shape it? Then reality and diapers and formula and sleepless nights and child seats and yellow custard shit and cream
cheese vomit set in. But ... oh, these are the blessed needs and fluids of my boy and at the end of each headachy, tiring
new world of a day, we are exhausted but exalted by new identities, Mom and Pop!
Coming down still closer to reality, he notes: "The endorphin high of birth will fade, but its trace remains with you forever,
its fingerprints indelible proof of love’s presence and daily grandeur." Still, it was a struggle for him, given his
experience when growing up, to learn how to be a family man. For such a big star, one change was especially abrupt: "Rule:
when you’re on tour, you’re king, and when you’re home, you’re not. This takes some adjustment
or your ‘royalness’ will ruin everything."
In reading about Mr. Springsteen’s embrace of family life, you’re always aware that he’s struggling against
the darkness of his own upbringing. The cloud hovering over it all was his dad, Douglas Frederick Springsteen. Eventually,
the man was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. With medication and therapy, however, his later years became relatively
calm and stable. Just before Bruce became a father, his dad showed up unexpectedly on his doorstep in LA, having driven 500
miles to make this visit. While the two men were sitting at the table with beers, the dad said: "Bruce, you’ve been
very good to us." Then, after a pause, "And I wasn’t very good to you." Bruce’s response: "You did the best you
That was it. It was all I needed, all that was necessary. I was blessed on that day and given something by my father I
thought I’d never live to see ... a brief recognition of the truth.
As he looks back on the visit, Mr. Springsteen says his dad "came searching for a miracle whose embers he felt stirring
in his own heart and that he hoped was burning and buried somewhere in the heart of his son." As for the way of life that
follows from a moment like that, he says: "We honor our parents by carrying their best forward and laying the rest down. By
fighting and taming the demons that laid them low and now reside in us. It’s all we can do if we’re lucky. I’m
A big part of that luck was his mother’s steadfast character. Adele Ann (née
Zerilli) seems to have been a Stand-by-Your-Man kind of gal. No matter how tough the going got, she apparently never considered
abandoning her husband. "Amongst many things, my mother taught me the dangerous but timely lesson that there is a love seemingly
beyond love, beyond our control, and it will take us through our lives bestowing blessings and curses as they fall." It’s
not as if his mom was oblivious to the difficulties, though: "When I hit it big, my mom believed the saints had come marching
in and blessed us for the hard times we’d endured. I suppose they had."
Ultimately, Mr. Springsteen says:
"I decided between my father and me that the sum of our troubles would not be the summation of our lives together. In analysis
you work to turn the ghosts that haunt you into ancestors who accompany you. That takes hard work and a lot of love, but it’s
the way we lessen the burdens our children have to carry."
That reference to analysis isn’t a casual mention of something that doesn’t have much relevance to
the story. It’s an acknowledgment of the psychotherapy that has become a big part of Mr. Springsteen’s life. You
can’t help wondering if the stresses of showbiz and fame that Mr. Springsteen has experienced might have brought
about serious mental and emotional turmoil in any person. But it seems as though Mr. Springsteen was genetically disposed
to such problems. As he says at one point: "Manic depression, the bipolar personality. It’s the prize in the Cracker
Jack box in our family."
The first outbreak of such trouble hit Mr. Springsteen on a car trip across the US with a pal. They stopped by a river
in a small Texas town. A fair was going on: music, people dancing, a balmy night. "From nowhere, a despair overcomes me; I
feel an envy of these men and women and their late-summer ritual, the small pleasures that bind them and this town together."
It’s here, in this little river town, that my life as an observer, an actor staying cautiously and safely out of
the emotional fray, away from the consequences, the normal messiness of living and loving, reveals its cost to me. At thirty-two,
in the middle of the USA, on this night, I’ve just exceeded the once-surefire soul-and-mind-numbing power of my rock
‘n’ roll meds.
On arrival in LA, the destination of the trip, his mood is still dark. He phones his manager who calls back with a number.
Two days later he drives to a residential home/office in a suburb of Los Angeles. "I walk in; look into the eyes of a kindly,
white-haired, mustached complete stranger; sit down; and burst into tears."
On his return to the east coast, someone refers him to Dr. Wayne Myers in NYC. "And over many meetings and long-distance
phone calls during the next twenty-five years Doc Myers and I would fight many demons together until his passing in 2008."
But Mr. Springsteen warns the reader that psychotherapy isn’t a cure-all:
In all psychological wars, it’s never over, there’s just this day, this time, and a hesitant belief in your
own ability to change. It is not an arena where the unsure should go looking for absolutes and there are no permanent
victories. It is about a living change, filled with the insecurities, the chaos, of our own personalities, and is always
one step up, two steps back. The results of my work with Dr. Myers and my debt to him are at the heart of this book.
Even so, Mr. Springsteen is still subject to depression: "The blues don’t jump right on you. They come creeping.
Shortly after my sixtieth I slipped into a depression like I hadn’t experienced since that dusty night in Texas thirty
years earlier." When he’s in such state, he says, most people won’t notice: "...but Patti will observe a freight
train bearing down, loaded with nitroglycerin and quickly running out of track. During these periods I can be cruel: I run,
I dissemble, I dodge, I weave, I disappear, I return, I rarely apologize, and all the while Patti holds down the fort as I’m
trying to burn it down. She stops me. She gets me to the doctors and says, ‘This man needs a pill.’"
And so: "I’ve been on anti-depressants for the last twelve to fifteen years of my life, and to a lesser degree but
with the same effect they had for my father, they have given me a life I would not have been able to maintain without them."
But "...the devil is always just a day away..." New crises arise, medication needs to be tweaked. After a certain tour, came
a crash with symptoms he’d never experienced. The diagnosis: "agitated depression."
How to Survive in the Business
Not surprisingly, given his perspective, Mr. Springsteen has some salient things to say about getting to the top and thriving
Avoiding recreational drugs was an important part of his survival strategy: "I’d seen people mentally ruined, gone
and not coming back. I was barely holding on to myself as it was. I couldn’t imagine introducing unknown agents into
my system. I needed control and those ever-elusive boundaries. I was afraid of myself, what I might do or what might happen
to me. I’d already experienced enough personal chaos to not go in search of the unknown." Even here, though, he admits
to a certain ambivalence, saying that he "looked at oblivion with an untrustworthy but longing eye." He half admired the foolish
daring. "I was always proud but also embarrassed by being so in control."
When it comes to managing his gifts, he often mentions that he’s not a good singer, that he has to work at it to
do the best he can. And how did he feel about always knowing there was somebody better?
I wasn’t afraid of that. I was concerned with not maximizing my own abilities, not having a broad or intelligent
enough vision of what I was capable of. I was all I had. I had only one talent. I was not a natural genius. I would have to
use every ounce of what was in me – my cunning, my musical skills, my showmanship, my intellect, my heart, my willingness
– night after night, to push myself harder, to work with more intensity than the next guy just to survive untended in
the world I lived in.
He readily admits that he takes charge of things; his rule over his band is a dictatorship, that’s the way it has
to be. (Is that how he got the nickname "The Boss?") "I was an easygoing guy but I had hard boundaries dictated by both my
creative instincts and my psychological strengths and frailties." Probably one of the things that made him so strongly self-directed
is that he knows himself to be "insular by nature." And yet, when it comes to the obligatory nod to his band members, you
get far more than the perfunctory plaudits that would come from many a performer. Mr. Springsteen gives a lengthy analysis
of each band member's talent (along with the affectionate noting of the odd character flaw) in a way that makes
you feel he understands and appreciates each of them to the full.
No matter how hard an artist works, though, no matter how driven a person’s ambition, you never get to control the
arc of your career; you don’t know if or when your success will come. A lot depends on happenstance. And many of music’s
most glorious moments sound like they were birthed in a burst of inspiration. "But ... if you want to burn bright, hard and
long, you will need to depend upon more than your initial instincts. You will need to develop some craft and a creative intelligence
that will lead you farther when things get dicey." And you’ve got to pay attention to feedback from the right
people: "You need to be adventurous, to listen to your heart and write what it’s telling you, but your creative instinct
isn’t infallible. The need to look for direction, input and some guidance, outside of yourself, can be healthy and fruitful."
Towards the end of his memoir, Mr. Springsteen makes the slightly startling – yet honest and true – observation
about any such book: "At the end of the day it’s just another story, the story you’ve chosen from the events of
your life." Even so, he tells us what he was trying to do with the events he chose for this story: "In a project like this,
the writer has made one promise: to show the reader his mind. In these pages I’ve tried to do that."
One aspect of his mind that Mr. Springsteen didn’t touch on much in this account of his life is religion. And yet,
the end of the book finds him returning alone to his home town on a bleak November day. As he’s standing and staring
at the parish church, which he finds silent and unchanged, the words of the Our Father (or the Lord’s Prayer as it’s
known by Protestants) are coming back to him. Formerly, he chanted them unthinkingly in his RC school uniform. "Tonight they
came to me and flowed differently." That comes as something of a surprise to him. When he’d finished grade eight in
the parish school, he’d thought he was through with Catholicism and its repressive, punitive ethos.
However, as I grew older, there were certain things about the way I thought, reacted, behaved. 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.