October 11, 2016
I like Bruce Springsteen’s music, but I am not a super fan. Not like those who have been to a hundred of his concerts, who know every lyric. Who yell BRUUUUUUUUCE!
I am a fan of genius and he is truly a musical genius. Turns out, he also is a sharp writer, who brings the same candid tone, humor, originality and intense passion to his memoir as he is beloved for bringing to his music. This project began for him after he and the E Street Band played the 2009 Super Bowl. That experience was so “exhilarating” that Springsteen decided to write about it. And he kept going. Seven years later, he has fulfilled his promise to show the reader his mind. “In these pages, I’ve tried to do that.”
Born to Run was released a month ago. The launch of his book tour was at the Freehold Barnes and Nobel — his hometown. He still is a Monmouth County boy, but now in the rarified air of Rumson and Colts Neck — he has estates in both. He knows how far he’s come, and he does not shy away from telling us how surreal it all is for him.
What his fans saw that day in Freehold was a humble guy. He showed up 90 minutes early, signed every book, posed for endless selfies and was genuinely pleased to be there. He’s been gone from Freehold since he was a teenager, but his old Irish/Italian neighbor is still deeply rooted in him. This is the best of memoir as Springsteen is more show than just tell. He both relives the world that shaped him as he also stands to the side, reflecting on what it was about and where it fits into who he became.
What I have reflected on in reading his book is how this music icon is an exemplar of what I understand about genius. Who knows what his IQ is. I’m guessing he’s bright, based on the savvy decisions he’s made with his career. Interestingly, with all the details of his youth and growing up in Freehold, almost nothing is said about school —only that he had to go at age five and knew it wasn’t for him from the first day. He skipped his high school graduation. The principal was offended by his “look” — the long hair and grunge attire. So screw it. On graduation day, he got up early, hopped a bus to New York City and spent the day with his musical colleagues in the Village.
This is before cell phones, but his parents guessed where he would be and made some calls. When they finally tracked him down, they persuaded him to come home for the party — which he did. A week later, he stopped by school to pick up his diploma.
Just as he knew school was not important for him, he knew college wasn't either. Besides, at this point he was already well into building his music career. But it was the era of the Vietnam draft, and his parents really wanted him to make an effort for a college degree. So he started at community college to appease them and to protect himself from the draft. College didn’t last long and is a funny story of how he successfully avoided both school and the draft.
For those who buy into IQ as the measure of intelligence, and who gauge genius on doing school really well, I say let Bruce Springsteen open minds to what Howard Gardner calls Musical Intelligence, which in Springsteen is to the highest order. He is a musical genius.
But those who follow my thinking —scroll down for my thoughts on Duckworth’s Grit for example —his genius is more than a talent for writing lyrics and setting down chords. Geniuses work hard and Springsteen is one of the hardest working artists in the business. Intense is the word that defines genius.
I didn’t f_____around, no drugs, no booze, girls…yeah, but not if they
got in the way of “the music,” f ____ with that and you’re out of my
life. There would be no wasted days and wasted nights for me.
That laser focus on music was apparent from when he was just a little boy. He was blessed to have a mom who did what she could to nurture his yen for music. His memories of his first guitar, the literal pain of learning chords (very painful to a child’s soft fingertips), the fits and starts with finding band mates and “a sound” — all are evocatively powerful.
He’s good to his word: in this book readers see his mind. And it is very cool to see the genius there.
I wrote a column, Book Notes, for many years for local central NJ weeklies. Newspapers are a dying breed, but the desire to share thoughts on books lives on.