When Bruce Springsteen’s first marriage fell apart, the rock legend — a multimillionaire about to turn 40 — received a surprise offer: his father asked him to move back temporarily into their tiny home.
“The old man finally wanted me around the house,” Springsteen, who ultimately declined the invitation, writes in his new memoir, “Born to Run.”
Springsteen’s late father Doug — who worked a string of unstable blue-collar jobs, struggled with drinking and mental illness, and only hesitantly late in life acknowledged his failings to his son — looms as a reflection both for the artist’s life and for the state of America in “Born to Run,” published on Tuesday.
The “Born in the USA” chronicler of working-class America describes his childhood fear of his father in their poorly heated home in Freehold, New Jersey and also reveals that he has spent years himself in treatment for depression.
While sensing that he inherited his father’s demons, the 67-year-old rocker also sees broader traits in his dad — “the rigidity and blue-collar narcissism of ‘manhood’ 1950s-style.”
“I haven’t been completely fair to my father in my songs, treating him as an archetype of the neglecting, domineering parent,” he writes.
“Our story is much more complicated. Not in the details of what happened, but in the ‘why’ of it all.”
Springsteen describes a loving relationship with his second wife — Patti Scialfa, a singer in his E Street Band — and their three children.
But “The Boss” — famed for his marathon, audience-revving concerts — writes that he still needs therapy and occasional medication for depression, with comedowns especially hard after tours.
– Mother as guiding force –
Springsteen — who spent seven years writing “Born to Run,” named after one of his best-known songs, in long hand — infuses the 510-page book with his music’s same lyrical voice, evocatively weaving together stories of blue-collar America.
Yet Springsteen, whose songs are rarely noted for irony, also shows a surprising gift for humor as he recounts his early days as a struggling artist.
His teenage band landed a gig playing at a psychiatric hospital, where he writes that patients sang along “vigorously” to a cover of “We Gotta Get out of This Place” by The Animals.
Another early show in 1969 was marred by a television in the bar — patrons were distracted by watching the Apollo 11 Moon landing.
And as he first makes his break into the New York-based music industry, he is so broke that he tries to pay the toll to enter through the Lincoln Tunnel from New Jersey by paying pennies – and is nearly prevented after the operator sifts through the 100 coins and finds that one is Canadian.
Springsteen’s family was so cash-strapped that he says he never ate at a restaurant until his 20s. But his mother Adele, a secretary, managed to save enough to help him buy his first electric guitar.
His mother emerges as the heroine of his book, sacrificing for young Bruce and sticking by her husband, judging that for all his faults he would never abandon the family.
Springsteen, whose Dutch surname comes from his father, identifies with his mother’s Italian heritage and grew up Roman Catholic, a faith witnessed later in his songs’ themes of redemption.
His mother at age 90 became an online sensation earlier this year when she danced with her son, even shaking her behind, as he packed another concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
– Gradual political turn –
Springsteen did not grow up political. He says that his mother told him only that they voted Democratic as they were working class.
In recent years, Springsteen has been increasingly active, campaigning for President Barack Obama and other Democrats and speaking out through his 2001 song “American Skin (41 Shots),” about New York police’s fatal shooting of Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo.
But his most political resonant song may still be 1984’s “Born in the USA,” about a Vietnam War veteran returning home to discomfort.
President Ronald Reagan hailed the song as he ran for re-election, a move that Springsteen in his book describes as cynical.
Springsteen writes that the song remains a Rorschach test for listeners to find their meaning — but he has no regrets.
“If I’d tried to undercut or change the music, I believe I would’ve had a record that would’ve been more easily understood but not as satisfying.”