Book Review: Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

Rating: Five out of five stars
Published: 09/27/2016
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre(s): Memoir/Autobiography


“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.


Reading Born to Run was like being handed an all-access backstage pass to spending time with the musical artist I've admired for over thirty years. It certainly felt more intimate than my seats in the nosebleed seats at his concerts I attended so many years ago.

Memoirs/autobiographies can certainly be tricky things—we read them to learn about the person but we don't want to know too much. Too much can taint our opinions, alter our perceptions, dull our affections, and lead us to believe our idols are...human. And man, does he ever come across as human here. From his rocking with the highs to his rolling with the lows, he shares with a keen self-awareness and honesty how he pursued his musical dream and found a love he could accept. If anything, my admiration for him has only increased. He handled sensitive subjects and his relationships tastefully and respectfully.

For decades he's been known for his songwriting, guitar playing, and epic performances. This book shows his writing skills aren't limited to songwriting. It may not have the energy of one of his epic four-hour-long concerts, but it sure spotlights his storytelling abilities page after page after page. Bruce was born to write!


"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."


"I desperately want to fit in but the world I have created with the unwarranted freedom from my grandparents has turned me into an unintentional rebel, an outcast weirdo misfit sissy boy. I am alienating, alienated and socially homeless . . . I am seven years old."


"Unfortunately, my dad’s desire to engage with me almost always came after the nightly religious ritual of the “sacred six-pack.” One beer after another in the pitch dark of our kitchen. It was always then that he wanted to see me and it was always the same. A few moments of feigned parental concern for my well-being followed by the real deal: the hostility and raw anger toward his son, the only other man in the house. It was a shame. He loved me but he couldn’t stand me. He felt we competed for my mother’s affections. We did."

"Their deep love and attraction and yet the dramatic gulf between my mother and father’s personalities was always a mystery to me. My mother would read romance novels and swoon to the latest hits on the radio. My dad would go so far as to explain to me that love songs on the radio were part of a government ploy to get you to marry and pay taxes."


"I still can’t read music to this day, and back then, my seven-year-old fingers couldn’t even get around that big fret board. Frustrated and embarrassed, shortly, I told my mom it was a no-go. There was no sense wasting her hard-earned cash."


"I was standing on a street corner before a college gig in Connecticut as a car pulled up to a light and I heard “Spirit in the Night” blasting from the radio, your number one rock ’n’ roll dream come true! You never forget the first time you hear your song on the radio."


"No one you have been and no place you have gone ever leaves you. The new parts of you simply jump in the car and go along for the rest of the ride. The success of your journey and your destination all depend on who’s driving. I’d seen other great musicians lose their way and watch their music and art become anemic, rootless, displaced when they seemed to lose touch with who they were. My music would be a music of identity, a search for meaning and the future."


"Writing about yourself is a funny business. At the end of the day it’s just another story, the story you’ve chosen from the events of your life. I haven’t told you “all” about myself. Discretion and the feelings of others don’t allow it.