Reviewer Dr. Wesley Britton: Dr. Britton is the author of four non-fiction books on espionage in literature and the media. Starting in fall 2015, his new six-book science fiction series, The Beta-Earth Chronicles, debuted via BearManor Media. For seven years, he was co-host of online radio’s Dave White Presents where he contributed interviews with a host of entertainment insiders. Before his retirement in 2016, Dr. Britton taught English at Harrisburg Area Community College. Learn more about Dr. Britton at his WEBSITE
Author: Peter Ames Carlin
Author: Peter Ames Carlin
So, among the challenges Peter Ames Carlin faced while working on his rich biography of "The Boss" was the epic sweep of Springsteen's life. Bruce's story didn't follow the typical rock trajectory of the rise to success, the collapse from excess, followed by redemption and recovery. For one matter, Springsteen didn't use and didn't like drugs. Judging from most accounts, he wasn't known for abusing alcohol. True, his relationships with women weren't always marked by fidelity or any semblance of equality. So forget about sex and drugs—the story of Bruce Springsteen centers on a musician hooked on rock and roll.
Of course, much of the fuel for any artist is what they experienced during their formative years, and Springsteen's New Jersey roots are well known. But many of the revelations in Carlin's biography come from the looks into Springsteen's family. On one side, he has a doting grand-mother who helps feed his narcissism; on the other, he has a remote and disinterested father who inspires, if that be the right verb, the darker side to Springsteen's psyche.
Tracing these family dynamics, as well as the rest of Springsteen's career, is told with many perspectives but minimal editorializing. This allows Carlin to lay out a wide canvas from which readers can connect their own dots. For example, we can see a writer/performer interested in poetic lyrics with no overt political messages who becomes drawn into national debates and ultimately a champion for Democratic candidates. We can see a "Boss" first shaped by record company insiders who then organizes one of the most important bands in rock who then keeps pushing forward and evolving and surprising a fanbase who have integrated Springsteen's songs into their own personal histories.
While much has been made of Springsteen's approval of this book, you won't hear his voice telling the story. Instead, family, friends, and band mates (including Clarence Clemons in his final major interview) contribute their threads to the account, which is appropriate as Springsteen was the center of an organization and legacy with many players and partners. Most readers will most likely feel the early chapters are the freshest as this is where the stories are the least familiar. Bruce's public life has been well chronicled for decades, but going from chapter to chapter builds a context that helps explain the drive, struggles, choices, and changes in the life of an artist who knows he has a huge responsibility far beyond what is expected of most "entertainers."
Obviously, Springsteen fans will grab up Bruce. Beyond this audience, Peter A. Carlin deserves a wider readership including those interested in contemporary American culture as a whole. I'll wager all of us will quickly find ourselves bringing out those old records one more time, now that we know the reasons they were what they were.
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