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Born to Run

Born to Run

3.7 30
by Bruce Springsteen

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“Writing about yourself is a funny business…But 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 this.”
—Bruce Springsteen, from the pages of Born to Run

In 2009, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performed at the Super Bowl’s halftime show. The


“Writing about yourself is a funny business…But 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 this.”
—Bruce Springsteen, from the pages of Born to Run

In 2009, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performed at the Super Bowl’s halftime show. The experience was so exhilarating that Bruce decided to write about it. That’s how this extraordinary autobiography began.

Over the past seven years, Bruce Springsteen has privately devoted himself to writing the story of his life, bringing to these pages the same honesty, humor, and originality found in his songs.

He describes growing up Catholic in Freehold, New Jersey, amid the poetry, danger, and darkness that fueled his imagination, leading up to the moment he refers to as “The Big Bang”: seeing Elvis Presley’s debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. He vividly recounts his relentless drive to become a musician, his early days as a bar band king in Asbury Park, and the rise of the E Street Band. With disarming candor, he also tells for the first time the story of the personal struggles that inspired his best work, and shows us why the song “Born to Run” reveals more than we previously realized.

Born to Run will be revelatory for anyone who has ever enjoyed Bruce Springsteen, but this book is much more than a legendary rock star’s memoir. This is a book for workers and dreamers, parents and children, lovers and loners, artists, freaks, or anyone who has ever wanted to be baptized in the holy river of rock and roll.

Rarely has a performer told his own story with such force and sweep. Like many of his songs (“Thunder Road,” “Badlands,” “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” “The River,” “Born in the U.S.A.,” “The Rising,” and “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” to name just a few), Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography is written with the lyricism of a singular songwriter and the wisdom of a man who has thought deeply about his experiences.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review

So what else was he going to call it, asked one reviewer of the big new Bruce Springsteen autobiography, Born to Run. "Born to Run," as you may know, was the title song of the 1975 album that put Springsteen on the covers of Time and Newsweek, whence he became the free-wheeling, hard-touring American hero we know today. But as often happens with this man of the people, the song is trickier than it appears — the lyric more about feeling trapped than breaking free, the music an exhilarating up that's all about escape. You could say it's too grand — Springsteen cites rebel-rousing guitar twanger Duane Eddy, operatic rockabilly Roy Orbison, and convicted megalomaniac Phil Spector as inspirations. But its grandeur is subsumed by the layered momentum of 85mph drums, blood-rousing piano, and tinkling glockenspiel. Is it true, as Springsteen feverishly declares, that he and Wendy plan to die together in their "suicide machines"? Only metaphorically, the music insists. They were born to run again — and then again.

Of course, Springsteen could have chosen a parallel title more in keeping with his grandiose side: Born in the U.S.A., after the title song of the 1984 album he went deca-platinum on, which framed a dark antiwar lyric inside a solemn, deceptively martial groove. Although soon misprised by Ronald Reagan and lesser liars, it became the Ur-source all the Springsteen books whose titles sport phrases like "American poet," "American song," "American soul," and the inevitable "American dream." Yet Springsteen still called his autobio Born to Run, and properly so — he’s not really a pretentious guy, and anyway, the title serves to emphasize a running metaphor. More times than I had the wit to count, he feels compelled to get on his motorcycle or in his car and race around this U.S.A. he was born in, often for days or even weeks at a time. Then he comes home, generally in a better mood. After 30-plus years of psychotherapy, he's still running.

That’s right, psychotherapy. By now even his most ardent fans have figured out that their hero isn't just a fun-loving bundle of energy fronting three-hour concerts that exhilarate you for your money, and in 2012, David Remnick honored his complexity with a massive New Yorker profile in which therapy played a crucial role. But Born to Run doubles down on the gambit. It reads like it was written by an analysand — he thanks his shrink by name, in the text rather than the acknowledgments — and that's good. This is someone who's thought a lot about his upbringing, and not just the brooding father sitting in the dark kitchen with his six-pack and smokes who was a fixture of his stage patter from the beginning.

Far more incisive than any biographer's version, Springsteen's account of his early years — say pre-Beatlemania, which hit when he was 14 — lasts over 50 pages. Although his parents both worked, his mother steadily as a legal secretary and his father usually as whatever he could get, to call the Springsteens lower-middle-class would be pushing it: when he was young, a single kerosene stove provided all the heat in the house. Yet his mother came from money even if it was damaged money — her thrice-married father was a lawyer who did three years in Sing Sing for embezzlement and held court thereafter in a proverbial house on the hill. But it's even more striking that his paternal grandmother was young Bruce's primary caregiver, indulging him so unstintingly that he refused to live with his parents even when he reached school age, sleeping down the block in his grandmother's bed with his grandfather exiled to a cot across the room. "It was a place where I felt an ultimate security, full license and a horrible unforgettable boundary-less love. It ruined me and it made me."

There are no typical childhoods anyway, but this part of the book, which I wish was even longer, cracks through the working-class/South Jersey typology that has long encrusted Springsteen's myth. It's weird. And it's written. Put aside your literary preconceptions and taste the two sentences I just quoted. They're a mite awkward, the three commaless adjectives barely in control. But they make a big point loud and clear. Autobiographer Springsteen doesn't command the brash fuck-you eloquence of rock memoirists Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, and Richard Hell, each quite distinct yet all of a piece in their aesthetic verve and acuity. He's cornier. But there's a life to his prose that such high-IQ rock autobiographers as Pete Townshend and Bob Mould don't come near, a life redolent of the colloquial concentration and thematic sweep of his songwriting. Sure he bloviates sometimes. But the book moves and carries you along.

In Remnick's profile, Springsteen's manager-for-life, intellectual mentor, and dear friend Jon Landau (who as the world's wealthiest former rock critic could have supported more pages, though he gets his share) calls Springsteen "the smartest person I've ever known." Intimates could probably say the same of Dylan, Smith, Hell, for that matter Townshend and Mould. But never think Springsteen has less brain power than these art heroes. Insofar as his book is corny, that's a conscious aesthetic choice he's made for the entirety of his career. It's just that as he's matured he's gotten more conscious about it — and even smarter. Sure he's all about Jersey, as he should be. But his first Jersey was the late-'60s one, where a hospital in Neptune refused to treat the head injury of a long-haired teen named Bruce who came in after a serious motorcycle accident — there are outsiders everywhere, and the longhair gravitated to them and knows he owes them. Moreover, he tenders many thanks to Greenwich Village — as a human being, because it bristled with life-changing alternatives to Jersey's manifold limitations, and as an artist, because its poesy- spouting singer-songwriters and bohemian esprit lured him far enough away from his home turf to reflect on it with perspective.

Born to Run is a true autobiography, a thorough factual account of the author's life until now. But since it's an artist's autobiography, it can't do that job of work without telling us stuff about his art. For some this might mean the 12 out of 79 chapters whose italicized titles match those of albums he deems worthy of individual attention, which I found merely useful except as regards his overrated post-9/11 The Rising, which indicates that much of it was written pre-attack and then retrofitted to the catastrophe New Jersey's poet laureate felt compelled to address, where the much sharper 2012 Wrecking Ball was protest music from its conception. Others will savor the celebrity gossip that's always a selling point of these books — Sinatra knowing a paisan when he sees one, or "the GREATEST GARAGE BAND IN THE WORLD" prepping his "Tumbling Dice" cameo at their 2012 Newark show with a single five-minute rehearsal space run-through that blows his fanboy mind. But for me both were dwarfed by his reflections on persona and performance.

Never in Born to Run does Springsteen claim the mantle of "authenticity" he's forever saddled with. "In the second half of the twentieth century, 'authenticity' would be what you made of it, a hall of mirrors," he says, but also, mirror fans: "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." And if you'd prefer your analysis straighter, there's: "I, who'd never done a week's worth of manual labor in my life (hail, hail rock 'n' roll!), put on a factory worker's clothes, my father's clothes, and went to work." No matter how you slice it, it's an act, or to use a word he loves, a show: "You don't TELL people anything, you SHOW them, and let them decide." To convince them, he works hard, Jack, exerting himself as unrelentingly as any manual laborer, because only the audience's boundary-less love can satisfy that deep, ruinous emotional hunger. Yet what you think you see is not necessarily what you're getting. The book's most dazzling single passage is a phantasmagoric two-page recollection of the frighteningly self-conscious "multiple personalities" who battled within him during his very first European performance, at London's Hammmersmith Odeon in 1975. Ordeal over, he returns to his hotel room "underneath a cloud of black crows" and feeling like a failure. Only he was wrong — the performance became legendary, and when he worked up the guts to watch film of it 30 years later all he saw was "a tough but excellent set."

Impinging even on these aesthetic reflections, however, you'll notice the familial history that provides not only this full autobiography's substratum but its true subject. You may want more about, say, Pete Townshend, who is quoted fruitfully on how the rock band makes de facto family members out of people you happen to meet as a kid, and his old pal Steve Van Zandt gets plenty of ink, as do departed saxophone colossus Clarence Clemons and departed organ grinder Danny Federici. But Springsteen leaves no doubt that although the show is his lifeline and he may die running, his love life in the broadest sense is what got 509 pages out of him. Offstage he's been loved and loving from an early age, but between his unconditional grandmother and his silent father, learning to stick at it has been quite the sentimental education. Clearly Dr. Myers was his best teacher until he finally settled on homegirl turned backup singer Patty Scialfa in 1988 and married her in 1991. But although he's not bragging, much of the credit redounds to him. Full autobiographies generally portray elders more acutely than youngers for the obvious reason that the elders are dead — they can't stop you and their feelings won't get hurt. But in Born to Run, Bruce's father Doug ends up packing more mojo than Van Zandt or Landau or Clemons or even Scialfa, and that's unusual. The story returns to Doug when it doesn't have to — no one would have missed that fishing trip. The account of his senescence, when he was finally diagnosed with not one but two major psychological disorders, is topped off with a bravura description of his body — "elephant stumps for calves and clubs for feet" — in the final hours of his life. Which in turn is topped by a briefer tribute to Bruce's miraculous mother, still radiating "a warmth and exuberance the world as it is may not merit" as she navigates Alzheimer's at 91.

Scialfa doesn't resonate as vividly as his parents — discretion no doubt intervened, and is presumably why the redolently homely divorce case naming Bruce as a respondent goes unmentioned. Nonetheless, she's the silent hero of this book. Springsteen was never a dog, but from his teens he was a serial monogamist with lapses who acknowledges with less vanity than chagrin that he went through a lot of women, including his first wife, the model Julianne Phillips. Scialfa benefited from Dr. Myers's spadework as well as the failed Phillips experiment. She's no beacon of calm because that wouldn't work at all — she'd better the hell stand up to him. But she gives her husband the superstar version of a normal life he's clearly craved since a childhood that taught him he couldn't have one — a life both his maturing art and his everyman politics impelled him toward. Even the three kids are richly described, with discretion deftly served by focusing on their very different early years — in a passage few autobiographers would adjudge worth their literary while, Scialfa jawbones him first into getting up with the kids and learning to make pancakes and then into giving young Sam his late-night bottle-and-story. As he puts it: "She inspired me to be a better man, turning the dial way down on my running while still leaving me room to move."

Born to run, yet happy with room to move. The artist's story is worth telling. But so is the man's.

Robert Christgau is a critic at All Things Considered, writes for the National Arts Journalism Program's ARTicles blog, teaches in NYU's Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, and has published five books.

Reviewer: Robert Christgau

The New York Times - Dwight Garner
…big, loose, rangy and intensely satisfying…The book is like one of Mr. Springsteen's shows—long, ecstatic, exhausting, filled with peaks and valleys. It's part séance and part keg party…His writing voice is much like his speaking voice; there's a big, raspy laugh on at least every other page…Most important, Born to Run is, like [Springsteen's] finest songs, closely observed from end to end. His story is intimate and personal, but he has an interest in other people and a gift for sizing them up.
The New York Times Book Review - Richard Ford
…Springsteen can write—not just life-imprinting song lyrics but good, solid prose that travels all the way to the right margin. I mean, you'd think a guy who wrote "Spanish Johnny drove in from the underworld last night / With bruised arms and broken rhythm and a beat-up old Buick…" could navigate his way around a complete and creditable American sentence. And you'd be right…Nothing in Born to Run rings to me as unmeant or punch-pulling…And like a fabled Springsteen concert—always notable for its deck-clearing thoroughness—Born to Run achieves the sensation that all the relevant questions have been answered by the time the lights are turned out. He delivers the story of Bruce…via an informally steadfast Jersey plainspeak that's worked and deftly detailed and intimate with its readers—cleareyed enough to say what it means when it has hard stories to tell, yet supple enough to rise to occasions requiring eloquence—sometimes rather pleasingly subsiding into the syntax and rhythms of a Bruce Springsteen song…
Publishers Weekly
★ 10/03/2016
In his long-awaited memoir, Springsteen takes readers on an entertaining, high-octane journey from the streets of New Jersey to all over the world. A natural storyteller, Springsteen commands our attention, regaling us with his tales of growing up poor with a misanthropic father and a mother who had endless faith in people. The Boss delights us with humorous stories of his first guitar—which he couldn't get his seven-year-old fingers around—and his inspiration to become a musician after seeing Elvis on The Ed Sullivan Show: "I WANTED... I NEEDED... TO ROCK! NOW!" Once he's hooked, he can't give up this insatiable hunger to rock like Chuck Berry, or the Rolling Stones, or the Beatles; soon he's playing in his first band, the Castiles, and eventually with another band, Steel Mill, opening up for Grand Funk Railroad, Ike & Tina Turner, and Iron Butterfly. Springsteen weaves a captivating story, introducing us to the essential people in his life: Patti Scialfa, Clarence Clemons, Steven Van Zandt, and producer/managers Mike Appel and Jon Landau, among many others. He offers absorbing accounts of the making of each album, and he considers Born to Run as the dividing line between musical styles, as well as the mark of the beginning of his success; he also admits that his bands were never democracies and that he makes the decisions. Most insightful, he reveals his ongoing battles with depression—"shortly after my sixtieth I slipped into a depression like I hadn't experienced"—and his eventual ability to live with this condition. Springsteen writes with the same powerful lyrical quality of his music. (Sept. 27)
From the Publisher
—Vanity Fair

“An utterly unique, endlessly exhilarating, last-chance-power-drive of a memoir.”
—Rolling Stone

“Frank and gripping.”
—David Brooks, The Atlantic

“Bruce Springsteen's life is now officially an open book. Born to Run takes readers on a riveting ride through the everyman rock star’s deeply lived existence.”
Associated Press

“Intensely satisfying...Born to Run is, like his finest songs, closely observed from end to end. His story is intimate and personal, but he has an interest in other people and a gift for sizing them up..”
—Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“Springsteen can write—not just life-­imprinting song lyrics but good, solid prose that travels all the way to the right margic...And like a fabled Springsteen concert—always notable for its deck-clearing thoroughness —Born to Run achieves the sensation that all the relevant questions have been answered by the time the lights are turned out. He delivers the story of Bruce—in digestibly short chapters—via an informally steadfast Jersey plainspeak that’s worked and deftly detailed and intimate with its readers—cleareyed enough to say what it means when it has hard stories to tell, yet supple enough to rise to occasions requiring eloquence—sometimes rather pleasingly subsiding into the syntax and rhythms of a Bruce Springsteen song."
—Richard Ford, The New York Times Book Review.

“A virtuoso performance, the 508-page equivalent to one of Springsteen and the E Street Band's famous four-hour concerts: Nothing is left onstage, and diehard fans and first-timers alike depart for home sated and yet somehow already aching for more.”

"Kinetic...The ultimate rock star shares like he's got one last chance to make it real. It's like sitting next to Springsteen in the campfire light hearing his life story — you'll be begging for another exhilarating refrain."
People (Book of the Week)

“Excellent...very funny....eminently readable and engaging. Springsteen was also born to write. He has an active, energetic style that is part Jack Kerouac and part Instagram post.”
Asbury Park

“Born to Run has a compelling narrative and an organized structure worthy of a Catholic schoolboy of the 1950s....Mr. Springsteen writes fluidly about subjects light, dark and darker. He’s funny and solemn, tender and insightful. In Born to Run, he risks his mythic stature, but he emerges as more substantial, more admirable. Now Mr. Springsteen isn’t merely a star. He is a man – a son, a husband, a father and a friend – willing to share what he’s learned.”
—Wall Street Journal

“Richly rewarding....Bruce Springsteen proves that he has taken on life fully engaged both in living and examining it, and in doing so, he’s delivered a story as profoundly inspiring as his best music....It’s alternately brutally honest, philosophically deep, stabbingly funny and, perhaps most important, refreshingly humble.”
Los Angeles Times

"A master storyteller.... the language of his memoir often sings and leaps off the page with alliteration and pulse, especially when he's rhapsodizing about rock 'n' roll."
—Will Hermes, NPR

“Both an entertaining account of Springsteen’s marathon race to the top and a reminder that the one thing you can’t run away from is yourself.”
Entertainment Weekly

"Bruce Springsteen is the bard of lost American dreams....The origin of poetry, thought William Wordsworth, was emotion recollected in tranquillity. That motto describes both the content of Mr Springsteen’s book and the appeal of his songs, many of which look back on youthful traumas from a mature perspective.”
The Economist

“Glorious...a philosophically rich ramble through a rock 'n roll life.... Reading his intimate look back on a remarkable yet troubled life, it’s safe to say that Bruce’s aesthetic wouldn’t be complete without this long-form Song of Springsteen. It’s the lyric he was born to write.”
USA Today (four stars out of four)

“Where Springsteen soars — both as musician and writer — is in his ability to bear witness, not only to his own inner life but to the lives of those left behind in the post-industrial wastelands of this nation. Springsteen made it out of Freehold, but he never turned away from the ‘grinding hypnotic power’ of the place and its people. Born to Run’ documents the unlikely rise of a rocker hellbent not on escape, but on reckoning with the moral failings of the world he was born into."
Boston Globe

"A masterpiece....Bruce Springsteen could have put out a collection of recipes in Esperanto, cribbed from Campbell soup cans, and it would still be an international bestseller. Typically, he went the distance. And the result is nothing short of magnificent....I wish I could buy everyone a copy....This isn't just a book for Bruce fans, but for anyone who loves rock 'n' roll, the Shore or the last 40 years of Jersey pop-culture history. It's as epic as his recent four-hour concerts. And just as satisfying.”
—Jacqueline Cutler, NJ.com

"He must be conceded a magic with words: He can spin not only a yarn but often an extended analysis, too.... His disclosures here are rich, deep, and useful to help destigmatize mental illness."

Library Journal
★ 02/01/2017
Whomever critics deem the voice of his or her generation too often eventually fade into the woodwork or struggle to keep pace with the next musical trend. Springsteen has on rare occasion delivered a more pop sound ("Dancing in the Dark") and addressed issues of social justice ("Philadelphia"), but as his autobiography suggests, he has never struggled as have so many artists to maintain relevance and popularity. The Boss's real challenge has been on the personal side, for he, like some in his family, has dealt with depression. Doing a serviceable job at narration, Springsteen delves into his creative process and sheds light on his rise from bar bands to the Super Bowl halftime show. It is an energetic, anthemic ride, worthy of listening to full blast on a thunder road of one's choosing.VERDICT Highly recommended. ["A rollicking ride from the glorious and the emotional to the fun and soaring; one of rock's finest and most memorable memoirs": LJ Xpress Reviews 10/28/16 review of the S. & S. hc.]—Kelly Sinclair, Temple P.L., TX

Product Details

Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.70(d)

Read an Excerpt

I come from a boardwalk town where almost everything is tinged with a bit of fraud. So am I. By twenty, no race-car-driving rebel, I was a guitar player on the streets of Asbury Park and already a member in good standing amongst those who “lie” in service of the truth . . . artists, with a small “a.” But I held four clean aces. I had youth, almost a decade of hard-core bar band experience, a good group of homegrown musicians who were attuned to my performance style and a story to tell.

This book is both a continuation of that story and a search into its origins. I’ve taken as my parameters the events in my life I believe shaped that story and my performance work. One of the questions I’m asked over and over again by fans on the street is “How do you do it?” In the following pages I will try to shed a little light on how and, more important, why.

DNA, natural ability, study of craft, development of and devotion to an aesthetic philosophy, naked desire for . . . fame? . . . love? . . . admiration? . . . attention? . . . women? . . . sex? . . . and oh, yeah . . . a buck. Then . . . if you want to take it all the way out to the end of the night, a furious fire in the hole that just . . . don’t . . . quit . . . burning.

These are some of the elements that will come in handy should you come face-to-face with eighty thousand (or eighty) screaming rock ’n’ roll fans who are waiting for you to do your magic trick. Waiting for you to pull something out of your hat, out of thin air, out of this world, something that before the faithful were gathered here today was just a song-fueled rumor.

I am here to provide proof of life to that ever elusive, never completely believable “us.” That is my magic trick. And like all good magic tricks, it begins with a setup. So...
My Street
I am ten years old and I know every crack, bone and crevice in the crumbling sidewalk running up and down Randolph Street, my street. Here, on passing afternoons I am Hannibal crossing the Alps, GIs locked in vicious mountain combat and countless cowboy heroes traversing the rocky trails of the Sierra Nevada. With my belly to the stone, alongside the tiny anthills that pop up volcanically where dirt and concrete meet, my world sprawls on into infinity, or at least to Peter McDermott’s house on the corner of Lincoln and Randolph, one block up.

On these streets I have been rolled in my baby carriage, learned to walk, been taught by my grandfather to ride a bike, and fought and run from some of my first fights. I learned the depth and comfort of real friendships, felt my early sexual stirrings and, on the evenings before air-conditioning, watched the porches fill with neighbors seeking conversation and respite from the summer heat.

Here, in epic “gutter ball” tournaments, I slammed the first of a hundred Pinky rubber balls into my sidewalk’s finely shaped curb. I climbed upon piles of dirty snow, swept high by midnight plows, walking corner to corner, the Edmund Hillary of New Jersey. My sister and I regularly stood like sideshow gawkers peering in through the huge wooden doors of our corner church, witnessing an eternal parade of baptisms, weddings and funerals. I followed my handsome, raggedly elegant grandfather as he tottered precariously around the block, left arm paralyzed against his chest, getting his “exercise” after a debilitating stroke he never came back from.

In our front yard, only feet from our porch, stands the grandest tree in town, a towering copper beech. Its province over our home is such that one bolt of well-placed lightning and we’d all be dead as snails crushed beneath God’s little finger. On  nights when thunder  rolls and lightning turns our family bedroom cobalt blue, I watch its arms move and come to life in the wind and white flashes as I lie awake worrying about my friend the monster outside. On sunny days, its roots are a fort for my soldiers, a corral for my horses and my second home. I hold the honor of being the first on our block to climb into its upper reaches. Here I find my escape from all below. I wander for hours amongst its branches, the sound of my buddies’ muted voices drifting up from the sidewalk below as they try to track my progress. Beneath its slumbering arms, on slow summer nights we sit, my pals and I, the cavalry at dusk, waiting for the evening bells of the ice-cream man and bed. I hear my grandmother’s voice calling me in, the last sound of the long day. I step up onto our front porch, our windows glowing in the summer twilight; I let the heavy front door open and then close behind me, and for an hour or so in front of the kerosene stove, with my grandfather in his big chair, we watch the small black-and-white television screen light up the room, throwing its specters upon the walls and ceiling. Then, I drift to sleep tucked inside the greatest and saddest sanctuary I have ever known, my grandparents’ house.

I live here with my sister, Virginia, one year younger; my parents, Adele and Douglas Springsteen; my grandparents, Fred and Alice; and my dog Saddle. We live, literally, in the bosom of the Catholic Church, with the priest’s rectory, the nuns’ convent, the St. Rose of Lima Church and gram- mar school all just a football’s toss away across a field of wild grass.

Though he towers above us, here God is surrounded by man—crazy men, to be exact. My family has five houses branching out in an L shape, anchored on the corner by the redbrick church. We are four houses of old- school Irish, the people who have raised me—McNicholases, O’Hagans, Farrells—and across the street, one lonely outpost of Italians, who peppered my upbringing. These are the Sorrentinos and the Zerillis, hailing from Sorrento, Italy, via Brooklyn via Ellis Island. Here dwell my mother’s mother, Adelina Rosa Zerilli; my mother’s older sister, Dora; Dora’s husband, Warren (an Irishman of course); and their daughter, my older cousin Margaret. Margaret and my cousin Frank are championship jitterbug dancers, winning contests and trophies up and down the Jersey Shore.

Though not unfriendly, the clans do not often cross the street to socialize with one another.

The house I live in with my grandparents is owned by my great- grandmother “Nana” McNicholas, my grandmother’s mother, alive and kicking just up the street. I’ve been told our town’s first church service and first funeral were held in our living room. We live here beneath the lingering eyes of my father’s older sister, my aunt Virginia, dead at five, killed by a truck while riding her tricycle past the corner gas station. Her portrait hovers, breathing a ghostly air into the room and shining her ill-fated destiny over our family gatherings.

Hers is a sepia-toned formal portrait of a little girl in an old-fashioned child’s white linen dress. Her seemingly benign gaze, in the light of events, now communicates, “Watch out! The world is a dangerous and unforgiving place that will knock your ass off your tricycle and into the dead black unknown and only these poor, misguided and unfortunate souls will miss you.” Her mother,  my grandma, heard that message loud and clear. She spent two years in bed after her daughter’s death and sent my father, neglected, with rickets, off to the outskirts of town to live with other relatives while she recovered.

Time passed; my father quit school at sixteen, working as a floor boy in the Karagheusian Rug Mill, a clanging factory of looms and deafening machinery that stretched across both sides of Center Street in a part of town called “Texas.” At eighteen, he went to war, sailing on the Queen Mary out of New York City. He served as a truck driver at the Battle of the Bulge, saw what little of the world he was going to see and returned home. He played pool, very well, for money. He met and fell in love with my mother, promising that if she’d marry him, he’d get a real job (red flag!). He worked with his cousin, David “Dim” Cashion, on the line at the Ford Motor plant in Edison and I came along.

For my grandmother, I was the firstborn child of her only son and the first baby in the house since the death of her daughter. My birth re- turned to her a life of purpose. She seized on me with a vengeance. Her mission became my ultimate protection from the world within and with- out. Sadly, her blind single-minded devotion would lead to hard feelings with my father and enormous family confusion. It would drag all of us down.

When it rains, the moisture in the humid air blankets our town with the smell of damp coffee grounds wafting in from the Nescafé factory at the town’s eastern edge. I don’t like coffee but I like that smell. It’s com- forting; it unites the town in a common sensory experience; it’s good industry, like the roaring rug mill that fills our ears, brings work and signals our town’s vitality. There is a place here—you can hear it, smell it—where people make lives, suffer pain, enjoy small pleasures, play baseball, die, make love, have kids, drink  themselves drunk  on spring nights and do their best to hold off the demons that seek to destroy us, our homes, our families, our town.

Here  we  live in  the  shadow  of the  steeple,  where  the  holy  rubber meets the road, all crookedly blessed in God's  mercy, in the heart-stopping, pants-dropping, race-riot-creating, oddball-hating, soul-shaking, love-and­ fear-making, heartbreaking town of Freehold, New Jersey.
Let the service begin.
My House
It’s Thursday night, trash night.  We are fully mobilized and ready to go. We have gathered in my grandfather’s 1940s sedan waiting to be deployed to dig through every trash heap overflowing from the curbs of our town. First, we’re heading to Brinckerhoff Avenue; that’s where the money is and the trash is finest. We have come for your radios, any radios, no matter the condition.  We will scavenge them from your junk pile, throw them into the trunk and bring them home to “the shed,” my grandfather’s six-by-six-foot unheated wooden cubicle in a tiny corner of our house. Here, winter and summer, magic occurs. Here in a “room” filled with electrical wire and filament tubes, I will sit studiously at his side. While he wires, solders and exchanges bad tubes for good, we wait together for the same moment: that instant when the whispering breath, the beautiful low static hum and warm sundown  glow of electricity will come surging back into the dead skeletons of radios we have pulled back from extinction.
Here at my grandfather’s workbench, the resurrection is real. The vacuum silence will be drawn up and filled with the distant, crackling voices of Sunday preachers, blabbering pitchmen, Big Band music, early rock ’n’ roll and serial dramas. It is the sound of the world outside straining to reach us, calling down into our little town and deeper, into our hermetically sealed universe here at 87 Randolph Street. Once returned to the living, all items will be sold for five dollars in the migrant camps that, come summer,  will dot the farm fields on the edge of our borough. The “radio man” is coming. That’s how my grandfather is known amongst the mostly Southern black migrant population that returns by bus every season to harvest the crops of rural Monmouth County. Down the dirt farm roads to the shacks in the rear where dust-bowl thirties conditions live on, my mother drives my stroke- addled grandpa to do his business amongst “the blacks” in their “Mickey Mouse” camps. I went once and was frightened out of my wits, surrounded in the dusk by hard-worn black faces. Race relations, never great in Free- hold, will explode ten years later into rioting and shootings, but for now, there is just a steady, uncomfortable  quiet. I am simply the young protégé grandson of the “radio man,” here amongst his patrons where my family scrambles to make ends meet.

We were pretty near poor, though I never thought about it. We were clothed, fed and bedded. I had white and black friends worse off. My parents had jobs, my mother as a legal secretary and my father at Ford. Our house was old and soon to be noticeably decrepit. One kerosene stove in the living room was all we had to heat the whole place. Upstairs, where my family slept, you woke on winter mornings with your breath visible. One of my earliest childhood memories is the smell of kerosene and my grandfather standing there filling the spout in the rear of the stove. All of our cooking was done on a coal stove in the kitchen; as a child I’d shoot my water gun at its hot iron surface and watch the steam rise. We’d haul the ashes out the back door to the “ash heap.” Daily I’d return from playing in that pile of dust pale from gray coal ash. We had a small box refrigerator and one of the first televisions in town. In an earlier life, before I was born, my granddad had been the proprietor of Springsteen Brothers Electrical Shop. So when TV hit, it arrived at our house first. My mother told me neighbors from up and down the block would stop by to see the new miracle, to watch Milton Berle, Kate Smith and Your Hit Parade. To see wrestlers like Bruno Sammartino face off against Haystacks Calhoun. By the time I was six I knew every word to the Kate Smith anthem, “When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain.”

In this house, due to order of birth and circumstance, I was lord, king and the messiah all rolled into one. Because I was the first grandchild, my grandmother  latched on to me to replace my dead aunt Virginia. Nothing was out of bounds. It was a terrible freedom for a young boy and I embraced it with everything I had. I stayed up until three a.m. and slept until three p.m. at five and six years old. I watched TV until it went off and I was left staring alone at the test pattern. I ate what and when I wanted. My parents and I became distant relatives and my mother, in her confusion and desire to keep the peace, ceded me to my grandmother’s total dominion. A timid little tyrant, I soon felt like the rules were for the rest of the world, at least until my dad came home. He would lord sullenly over the kitchen, a monarch dethroned by his own firstborn son at his mother’s insistence. Our ruin of a house and my own eccentricities and power at such a young age shamed and embarrassed me. I could see the rest of the world was running on a different clock and I was teased for my habits pretty thoroughly by my neighborhood pals. I loved my entitlement, but I knew it wasn’t right.

When I became of school age and had to conform to a time schedule, it sent me into an inner rage that lasted most of my school years. My mother knew we were all way overdue for a reckoning and, to her credit, tried to reclaim me. She moved us out of my grandmother’s house to a small, half- shotgun-style house at 39½ Institute Street. No hot water, four tiny rooms, four blocks away from my grandparents. There she tried to set some normal boundaries. It was too late. Those four blocks might as well have been a million miles. I was roaring with anger and loss and every chance I got, I returned to stay with my grandparents. It was my true home and they felt like my real parents. I could and would not leave.
The house by now was functional only in one room, the living room. The rest of the house, abandoned and draped off, was falling down, with one wintry and windblown bathroom, the only place to relieve yourself, and no functioning bath. My grandparents fell into a state of poor hygiene and care that would shock and repel me now. I remember my grandmother’s soiled undergarments, just washed, hanging on the backyard line, frightening and embarrassing me, symbols of the inappropriate intimacies, physical and emotional, that made my grandparents’ home so confusing and compelling. But I loved them and that house. My grandma slept on a worn spring couch with me tucked in at her side while my grandfather had a small cot across the room. This was it. This was what it had come to, my childhood limitlessness. This was where I needed to be to feel at home, safe, loved.

The grinding hypnotic power of this ruined place and these people would never leave me. I visit it in my dreams today, returning over and over, wanting to go back. It was a place where I felt an ultimate security, full license and a horrible unforgettable boundary-less love. It ruined me and it made me. Ruined, in that for the rest of my life I would struggle to create boundaries for myself that would allow me a life of some normalcy in my relationships. It made me in the sense that it would set me off on a lifelong pursuit of a “singular” place of my own, giving me a raw hunger that drove me, hell-bent, in my music. It was a desperate, lifelong effort to rebuild, on embers of memory and longing, my temple of safety.
For my grandmother’s love, I abandoned my parents, my sister and much of the world itself. Then that world came crashing in. My grandparents became ill. The whole family moved in together again, to another half house, at 68 South Street. Soon, my younger sister, Pam, would be born, my grandfather would be dead and my grandmother would be filled with cancer. My house, my backyard, my tree, my dirt, my earth, my sanctuary would be condemned  and the land sold, to be made into a parking lot for St. Rose of Lima Catholic church.


Meet the Author

Bruce Springsteen has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the New Jersey Hall of Fame. He is the recipient of twenty Grammy Awards, the Academy Award, and the Kennedy Center Honors. He lives in New Jersey with his family.

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Born To Run 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 30 reviews.
GreggChadwick More than 1 year ago
Bruce Springsteen's memoir is perhaps the literary equivalent of his four hour concerts. Springsteen's book ranges from his earliest memories to his current inspiration. I am humbled at the craft and honesty in this book. His life story is shaped and nuanced for sure, but it still is stunningly compelling. Springsteen delves into his musical history in quite some depth. His early bands - the Castiles and Steel Mill helped the young Springsteen grow into the leader of the E Street Band. Stories from the road abound. Freehold, Asbury Park, New York City, San Francisco, London, Berlin, Amsterdam, Los Angeles, Memphis, and even Big Sur's Esalen make an appearance. Springsteen also dives into the thoughts behind his most important albums. The tension between the spontaneous nature of his live shows and the crafting of his music into recordings is palpable in the pages of "Born to Run". Springsteen also opens old wounds to shine a light on his family's history of mental illness and his own struggles with depression. This is an important American story that is not to be missed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was great! He tells it like it is, demons and all. Thank you Bruce, for letting us into your head, heart and soul. Philly girl
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm not really a fan of Springsteen's music, but i nevertheless truly enjoyed this autobiography. It is not an easy read because his writing style is quirky and stuffed with detail and obsevations. There is an honesty and authenticity to his descriptions of himself, his family, and his fellow performers. My lifestyle is so different from Springsteen's, but in spite off that difference i still found so much connection to the basic human aspirations we all try to achieve. Definitly recommended!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a fan, I enjoyed this autobiography of singer,songwriter, guitarist, and legendary frontman Bruce Springsteen. Bruce recalls his childhood vividly, introducing the reader to many colorful characters from his home and neighborhood. Seeing Elvis on tv sparks a lifelong obsession with music. Getting a guitar, finding his voice, finding musicians to play with, places to play, places to crash, girls. These are the things he is Born to Run for! Themes in Springsteen's life are restlessness, love for his parents, trying to understand their bond, building relationships and writing songs. He describes the way performing fuels his spirit. Also, his experiences traveling to Europe, meeting fans. Springsteen discusses some charitable endeavours as well. The writer is a simple man with an extraordinary drive. His stories are funny, and generally make a point. I liked reading about his relationships with bandmates and, especially his wife Patti. He objectively reads everyone, including himself. This is a mature person, a forgiving person, who has great appreciation for therapy and family and life. Check it out!
Anonymous 9 months ago
Pretencisous & condicending to women. What a looser. Sorry I read it. I liked his music, but his band gets credit for that, like many front men he starts believing his own press.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is an honest portrait of the man who evolves into one of America's greatest songwriters and performers. Writing is an art; and Bruce has achieved a masterpiece, .
Anonymous 9 months ago
He writes songs way better than he does a book
CJ-Florida More than 1 year ago
Thank you Bruce for sharing your story with us. I have always loved your music and the fact that you are a Jersey boy - I am a Philly girl, always felt you were a local hero. After reading, I realized you really are just a Jersey boy, more real than I ever imagined. Thank you for the great read.
bookladygran More than 1 year ago
Even for a "non-fan", this is a good book. Very well written, it's a in-depth evaluation of the motivations behind the music as well as his choices in life, both professional and personal. A look at his past explains the emotional obstacles he had to overcome, and the dedication to his passion is impressive. It held my interest all the way through and left me with much respect for this man and what he has accomplished, as well as admiration for his wife Patti.
Anonymous 4 months ago
Anonymous 6 months ago
Bleh. Don't waste your hard earned money. Book takes you through a journey of white privilege.
Mwalimu_McSherry 7 months ago
Josephwkeyes 11 months ago
I just finished Bruce Springsteen's autobiography, "Born to Run" as a CD over the course my 3+ hour commute three days per week. First, I love Bruce, the E Street Band and the music they produced over the decades. Second, his growing-up story-- the early days, mirrors my own story. My 50's life in Morristown wasn't very different from his life in 50's Freehold. Irish-Italian, black and white working class neighborhoods with high drama feeding off low self esteem in every four-family hallway. The struggles with his father and supportive mother leading into his early band experiences, his introductions to characters some of whom would be either lifelong friends or enemies, sometimes both, keeps the memoir compelling. Where it bogs down is in the minutiae of the music business, its heroes and villains, bullshitters, publishers, agents, club owners, lawsuits, and money. It gets back on the rails-- sort of, in the last third of the narrative. We get to know the band members past and present, we get insights into his family life. His relationship with Steve Van Zandt, Clarance Clemons, and Patti Scialfa, and his eventual peace with his father were brave revelations as was the entire memoir. The CD was narrated in its entirety by the author, so be prepared (if you have seen one of his shows, you know what I'm talking about
Anonymous 11 months ago
CLynnT 12 months ago
I grew up listening to Bruce, loud and proud, so I had to read his autobiography. He wrote this over the span of 7 years and described the hard work required to achieve his goals. I applaud his perseverance to succeed; he never ever gave up, no matter how broke or homeless he was. In general I enjoyed the book. Bruce comes off as quite proud of himself, his ability to entertain and his charisma with women. As I was nearing the end of his memories a depressing thought crept up on me. I shouldn’t have read this. I liked the Bruce in my head a lot better. Then I read the news and there he is, giving me cherished valuable political advice. He’s afraid. Oh Bruce, you’re biting the very hands that have fed you thru the years. Do you really think the preppies and “mommy’s basement dwellers” bought your music? No, it was the broke kids, from broken homes, from no money but hard work. You were our escape. You made us feel like we weren’t alone in our sorrow of what life was handing us. You made us work harder and crawl out, providing for ourselves because we knew we couldn’t count on anyone else to hand it to us. Our jeans were worn and faded because we didn’t have another pair, not because we paid $150 for them at Abercrombie. We bought you, played you and drank to you. You, the entertainer, not you, the esteemed political advisor. Please stop. The Bruce I remember in the ‘70’s, who belted out anger and angst, is not the spoiled self-centered Bruce I found in these pages. Now when I reach for one of his old vinyls (which I’ve treasured for the majority of my life), I hesitate then pass him over.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read the BRUCE book last year (Peter Carlin written). I thought then, everything you wanted or thought you needed to know about this guy was there. I STAND CORRECTED! This is over the top stuff! Bruce wants his shows to be a conversation with this fans. THIS is a rare, special, conversation all in itself! You don't have to be a crazed fan to get something out of this. Read about the thoughts behind stardom, pop culture, parents and their kids, the world at large - there is plenty to GET here! As epic as any of his epic songs!
Gordon Nichoson More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If Bruce's songs touch your heart then this book tells the story of the events in his life that were the genesis of his career. Reads like his storytelling, awesome, touching and intriguing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read