I just finished reading “Born to Run,” Bruce Springsteen’s recently published autobiography. I have fuzzy recollections of my first encounter with Springsteen, probably in the early 70s. I liked what I heard — a bit of Dylan, a singer songwriter; some of the Stones stage craft. And of course I liked the local New Jersey shore connection, “Postcards from Asbury Park.”
“Born to Run” is an easy read. Short focused chapters keep the story moving. I was intrigued with the similarities and differences with my own life. Springsteen was born in 1949 (he’s two years younger than me). He was raised a Catholic and went to a Catholic elementary school. Irish-Italian middle class background. Grew up in a small Jersey town, Freehold NJ; my small town was Bristol, PA. Bruce writes about the youth cultural divide — the rah, rahs (preppies) and the greasers. I remember a similar devide preppies (black socks, Catholic school) and publics (white socks). There were fights behind the Levittown Shopping Center between the two groups. Bruce claims he somehow bridged the divide.
Then there was the music. 45 rpm records. Early rock and roll. Elvis and the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. With friends I danced in a small courtyard off Mill Street in Bristol. Jerry Kline where are you? There were elementary school dances when I was in 6th to 8th grade. Bruce was rocking in Freehold. Bruce saw Chubby Checker (“The Twist”) at The Steel Pier in Atlantic City; I saw Jerry Lee Lewis at the Grand Theatre in Bristol. But there was a big difference. Bruce got a guitar and started playing; he formed a HS band, “The Castiles.” Music wasn’t central to my life.
In high school, Bruce was breaking into the music scene — where ever he and his band the Castiles could play. Early on he knew South Jersey wasn’t enough. NYC and Greenwich Village beckoned across the river. He spent his high school graduation day wandering around the village. He would play at the Cafe Wha. But home was Jersey, by the late 60s, the Upstage Club on Cookman Street in Asbury Park was the place.
Springsteen and I were both affected by the Kennedy assassination, Vietnam War, and cultural upheaval happening in the country. High School graduation, however, sent us in very different directions. I went off to Boston College an English major, Vietnam protester, leather bookbinder, married in the summer between Sophomore and Junior year. A few weekends I hitchhiker to NYC to hang out in the village clubs. Was Springsteen there on those weekends?
A car for me was strictly transportation, my father frequently lent me his maroon Tempest. In his twenties, Bruce didn’t even have a driver’s license, let alone a car. Traveling was a bicycle or hitchhiking. His friends, however, sometimes had cars that cruised the streets as in “American Graffiti.” I don’t think I ever cruised. Bruce and I both received induction papers. And both of us faced down the draft. Bruce failed the physical exam in Newark; I fought three inductions and always succeeded in getting a deferment.
From the beginning, Bruce was totally dedicated to a career in music. Despite the call of youth culture, he didn’t drink alcohol or do any other drugs. Girls and sex also took a backseat. Bruce writes, “I was a faux hippie (free love was all right), but the counterculture stood by definition in opposition to the conservative blue-collar experience I’d had. I felt caught between two camps and I didn’t really fit in either, or maybe I just fit in both.” Although I drank in college, I wanted drinking to be social and I was cautious about drug use. Similar to Bruce free love wasn’t part of my experience.
By 1970 Bruce had a new band — Steel Mill. They headed to California. They played a few gigs, including Fillmore West. They recorded a demo but the big deal never happened. Around the same time, Diane and I were doing Peace Corps training in Bisbee, AZ. When the program folded (Gaddafi Revolution), we spent months on the road with PC friends. Bruce and friends returned to the safety of home gigs; Diane and I returned to Bucks County and jobs as teachers.
By the early 1970s, I was on a career track as a teacher. I wouldn’t deviate. Forty years as an administrator and teacher in private education. Earned a masters degree in educational media and a doctorate in educational leadership. Bruce meanwhile went on to form the E Street Band and become a rock an roll legend. Greetings from Asbury Park (1973); Born to Run (1975); Darkness on the Edge of Town (1977); The River (1980); Born in the USA (1984); and Tunnel of Love (1987). He was a star, tours, international following, money (although he had agent issues). Despite amazing success, he always returned home to South Jersey. A hometown boy.
For me there are many interesting stories and new biographical details in “Born to Run.” Bruce had major issues with his father and mother; he needed counseling and was medicated for years. He wanted to maintain control of his bands; Springsteen’s name is upfront. He always wanted to be true to his working class roots. He was dedicated to writing. A bit of a workaholic.
In the tradition of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Bob Dylan, Bruce was drawn to speaking out, writing and singing about social issues — Amnesty International, music for the Jonathan Demme AIDS movie “Philadelphia,” labor union concerts, Vietnam veterans, “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” 9-11 concert. Political involvement: I enjoyed rocking at Springsteen’s concert at the Obama inaguaration.
According to “Born to Run” as he got older, Springsteen reflected on his commitment to stability and family. His first marriage to Julianne Phillips ended but his second marriage to Patti Sciafle has endured. He has three children and I believe is a “family man.”
After reading “Born to Run” I’ve committed to carefully re-listening to all of Springsteen. I also thought a “Boss” tour of South Jersey would be fun. Diane and I have visited Asbury Park several times and Springsteen was always on our mind. A quick look on the Internet and I found a tour based on “Born to Run.”