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Working Man’s Bard

by Robert Dean Lurie

Born to Run, by Bruce Springsteen (Simon & Schuster, 528 pp., $32.50)

Springsteen, The Boss. Bruuuuuce. A lot of hyperbolic ink has been spilled over this man through the years, so I’m going to walk it back a little and say that, at base level, Bruce Springsteen is a songwriter whose grasp of musical and lyrical economy is unusual in the often excessive world of rock ’n’ roll. His catalogue boasts a number of tight, enduring records: Born to Run, The River, Nebraska, Born in the U.S.A., and The Rising, among others.

There is, of course, another side to Springsteen — what we might call the “Prove It All Night” side: the Springsteen of four-hour concerts and wall-of-sound bluster courtesy of his longtime backing group, the E Street Band. Springsteen’s new memoir, in its exhaustive — and exhausting — 500-plus pages, has more in common with this live, “all-in” approach than with the carefully polished vignettes he puts down in the studio. Fans will no doubt find it exhilarating from start to finish, but casual readers lured by the promise of rock-’n’-roll lore may find themselves wailing and gnashing their teeth by the time they reach the section devoted to the inner workings of Bruce’s horse farm. The writing is amateurish in places: Springsteen has a fondness for exclamation points and emphasizing things in all caps! (Not to mention the gratuitous use of parenthetical asides.) But in other respects he demonstrates a natural ease with prose. It is certainly gratifying to read a celebrity memoir that bears no trace of a ghostwriter.

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