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A Musical Annotation of Bruce Springsteen’s Autobiography – Born to Run, Part 1

I just finished reading Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen’s epic autobiography that was seven years in the making. If you’re a Bruce fan, it’s a must read; if you’re a music fan, it’s a must read; if you’re a fan of biographies, it’s a must read. Or to put it simply, it’s a must read.

It tells a great story of Springsteen’s path from playing in bars along the Jersey coast to sold out stadiums around the world.

It’s an honest, open look at the high and lows of the life of a bona fide superstar.

Here’s what the inside flap has to say about the book:

“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.

I couldn’t summarize the book any better, so I won’t even try.

But the thought that came to me while I was reading the book that I wish there was a way to click on all the artists and songs he mentions and listen to them so that I could get a better sense of the type of music that influenced Springsteen on his musical journey.

So I thought, I’ll do the next best thing, create a series of blog posts that go through the book page by page and list the artists, and when possible, provide a YouTube video of the songs that Bruce mentions. My initial plan is to do eight chapters each week, so the whole series should take about 10 weeks.

(I’ve been hoping to find something that would replace my United Technologies Wall Street Journal ads series that lasted for 75 weeks, and always gave me something to write about on Mondays. This project seems to fit the bill).

I’m not sure what night these Springsteen posts will appear, but since today is a Sunday, that will be my plan. I haven’t gone back through the book to see if the tributes to Bruce’s musical influences are spread evenly over the course of the book, but we will find out together.

My goal with this series of posts is to offer a tribute to my favorite artist, Bruce Springsteen.

So let’s begin with Chapter 1-8.

I’ve updated this post to use a YouTube playlist for the 14 songs noted below, instead of including a YouTube video for each song listed. This should allow the page to load much more effectively on smartphones and tablets. You can access any particular song by clicking in the top left corner of the screen and choosing the desired video. I have listed the 14 songs below, in order.

  • Kate Smith: When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain (Bruce notes that he knew every word of this song by the age of six)
  • The River (early on in the book, Bruce mentions that he wrote The River in honor of his sister Virginia and her husband Mickey, noting that despite a difficult beginning to the marriage, his sister became the living incarnation of jersey soul)
  • Elvis Presley’s first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show singing Don’t Be Cruel (the very next day Bruce had his mom take him to Diehl’s Music in Freehold and they rented a guitar)
  • The Olympics, an American doo-wop group, recorded Western Movies in 1958.
  • The Coasters recorded Along Came Jones, a comedic song written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, in 1959.
  • Sheb Wooley’s “The Purple People Eater” from 1958 (Bruce notes that he wore out the jukebox at the local luncheonette listening to this song)
  • Lonnie Donegan – Does Your Chewing Gum Lose it’s Flavor (On the Bed Post Overnight)? from 1961 (Bruce stayed up all night one night with his transistor radio under his pillow counting how many times this song was played).
  • A series of songs by the Drifters are mentioned: This Magic Moment, Saturday Night at the Movies, and Up on the Roof
  • And in passing reference, Bruce mentions Teen Angel by Mark Dinning
  • Up next are a couple of Roy Orbison songs, Pretty Woman and Blue Bayou. And I always thought that Blue Bayou was a Linda Ronstadt song! Orbison is mentioned in my favorite Bruce song – Thunder Road: “Roy Orbison singing for the lonely”.
  • The last one mentioned is Sam Cooke’s Good Times:

So there it is, a musical journey through the first eight chapters of Born to Run. An interesting mix of rock and roll, soul, and novelty that started Bruce’s life-long love affair with music.

Maybe these songs will inspire the next Bruce Springsteen…

 

 

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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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