Bruce's book, Original photo by Frank Stefanko
I just finished reading Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography, Born to Run. The book was a gift from my eldest daughter, Tegan, and I confess that when I got it, I smiled to her face, but secretly dreaded engaging 500 pages of American rock star navel-gazing. I could not have been more wrong. I found the book very engaging and in its aftermath I have been looking at Springsteen’s lyrics and really listening to his music for the first time.
I haven’t really ever been a Bruce fan. Oh sure, when ‘Born to Run’ comes on the radio and I’m alone in my car, I bellow out the chorus “TRAMPS LIKE US. . . .” But I never really heard the rest of the lyrics of the hits, and I certainly never went looking at his singer-songwriter material on the early albums. He is a soul-man.
When Bruce was first recording I was just married and soon was having kids; we lived in Boston not New Jersey, (Bruce territory) where I now live and so I just never really paid attention. I knew of him. I was a booking agent for speakers, and one of the firm’s clients, Clive Davis, told the story of signing Bruce to Columbia Records. “I told him he needed to add a little more theatre to his live show and so now he’s wearing that floppy hat.” Somehow that didn’t come up in Bruce’s telling of the story, which was more about his manager, Mike Appel’s motor mouth and ability to get him in to see John Hammond the A&R manager who had signed Bob Dylan. Clive as CEO did have final sign off, but the “hat” didn’t figure into Bruce’s version.
I’ve seen Bruce perform on TV, at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Super Bowl, and some political rallies, but never live. When I was traveling to Houston every week starting in 2006, Little Steven’s Underground Garage, Steve Van Zandt’s syndicated radio show, was a regular feature of my drive from George Bush Intercontinental to my hotel. I learned that Steve was Bruce’s guitarist in the E Street band, but I had no idea of the depth or longevity of that relationship.
But now I know more and would thoroughly and completely recommend the book to anyone interested in leadership, personal growth, the music industry as it was and how it is evolving, and, of course, to any Bruce fans, (but those folks have probably already read it.)
Studying Bruce’s lyrics now, I realize that, Bruce writes like he writes – that is, his writing in his autobiography has the same pithy emotional flavor that his song lyrics have:
On the birth of Evan, his eldest son:
“We are one short breath of night and day, then dirt and stars, but we’re holding the new morning.
There are opportunities for learning everywhere. Here are some things that Bruce’s story taught me or reinforced the importance of:
On signing with Jon Landau as a manager:
“It’s not just business, it’s personal. When you came to work with me, I had to be assured you’d bring your heart. Heart closed the deal.”
Doing what you love is a privilege
I have always been grateful to do work that I love, but Bruce describes the privilege so well:
“Friend, there’s a reason they don’t call it ‘working,’ it’s called PLAYING! I’ve left enough sweat on stages around the world to fill at least one of the seven seas; I’ve driven myself and my band to the limits and over the edge for more than forty years. We continue to do so, but it’s still ‘playing.’ It’s a life-giving, joyful, sweat-drenched, muscle-aching, voice-blowing, mind-clearing exhausting, soul-invigorating, cathartic pleasure and privilege every night.”
Who you work with is almost as important as the work you do
“1+1=3. . .The primary math of the real world is one plus one equals two. The layman (as I often do) swings this every day. . . . It keeps the world spinning. But artists, musicians, con men, poets, mystics and such are paid to turn the math on its head, to rub two sticks together and bring forth fire. Everybody performs this alchemy somewhere in their life, but it’s hard to hold onto and easy to forget. . . .
“If we didn’t play together, the E Street Band would probably not know one another. We wouldn’t be in a room together. But we do . . . we do play together. And that, my friends is where miracles occur . . . old and new miracles. And those you are with in the presence of miracles, you never forget.
Use what you have; never stop improving
“About my voice. First of all, I don’t have much of one. I have a bar-man’s power, range and durability, but I don’t have a lot of tonal beauty or finesse. . . . I need all my skills to communicate deeply. . . .I’ve got to write, arrange, play, perform, and yes sing to the best of my ability. . .
“I was teased endlessly in the Castiles and dismissed as a vocalist . . . I was content to work on my guitar skills. . . . Then I got to where I could carry a melody . . . my next band, Earth, I became a full-fledged playing and singing front man. . . .
“I thought I was getting pretty good. . . . The sound that came back off that tape . . . was truly demoralizing. . . .
“So I figured if I didn’t have a voice, I was going to really need to learn to write, perform, and to use that voice to its fullest ability.”
Live all of life - overcome being defined only by the work you do on the road
Bruce uses a fair amount of ink describing growing up in Freehold NJ and the burning desire to get out. He talks about overcoming his demons and coming to terms with just being home:
“Laurel Canyon. . .my small cottage. . . my first home I’ve ever owned. . . .amid butterflies and bougainvillea. . .I want out . . .now. . . . Once inside I immediately I immediately start thinking about leaving. . . this lovely little home wants me to stay. . .and I don’t stay. . . .That’s for everyone else, I go. . . . There is no tour to hide behind, no music to ‘save’ me. I’m face up against the wall.”
A colleague of mine used to describe himself as the “Dalmatian” - the dog - first one on the fire truck whenever a client had a fire.” I’ve been a consultant for 36 years. My work is usually done on client site. In my life I’ve had periods where I traveled 5-6 days a week, working 10-14 hours days on the road. I have gotten addicted to my own adrenalin in the way Bruce describes. It makes relaxing and having reasonable relationships with loved ones tough. Like Bruce, I’ve worked hard to overcome being solely defined by my performance on the road and I’ve even had some success relaxing.
Of course my task was a lot easier; I never had thousands of fans screaming "BRUUUUUUUUCE!"