Born to run, rock and write: Bruce explores depression in new memoir

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performing in Barcelona, Spain, in May 2016''Manu Fernandez/PA
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performing in Barcelona, Spain, in May 2016''Manu Fernandez/PA

There are certain celebrities who strive to look very different when not on stage.

Maybe their stage persona is so otherworldly or particular that to wander around, day to day, in their work attire would be rather ridiculous or impractical. Perhaps it’s because they’re so famous a disguise is needed if they’re to have any semblance of a normal life.

For Bruce Springsteen, neither of those things really apply.

After all, his look of jeans, workman’s boots and a T-shirt, sometimes with a checked shirt thrown over the top, has remained a constant throughout the years. It’s not particularly showy stage wear, and it’s a pretty easy look to replicate every day.

The crucial thing with New Jersey’s favourite son (sorry Jon Bon Jovi) is that his de facto uniform gives away more than a desire to be comfortable.

His outfit of choice, somewhere between docker and construction-site foreman, goes hand in hand with the subject matter that’s occupied so much of his work; the plight of the American working class.

Tales of the blue collar workers. The man and woman on the street in ‘real America’, and the struggle to find something significant or meaningful in an otherwise humdrum existence. He doesn’t just sing about those people, he dresses like them too - and it’s no charade.

Knowing all this is one thing. Meeting Springsteen in the flesh, dressed exactly as you’d imagine, is a different thing entirely. A-listers, whether in interviews or hiding from the paparazzi, are merely striving to look normal. Springsteen IS normal, and has made it one his career’s defining traits.

He’s in the UK not for a run of his incredible live shows, but to promote his autobiography, Born To Run, which shares a name with one of his most-famous songs and biggest-selling albums.

The book, like many of his songs, is not revelatory. There’s plenty to be learned, but it’s no warts-and-all account, out of respect for those involved, he says.

Springsteen has also been so widely interviewed in the 43 years since releasing his first album, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., that there is little left to tell that’s completely new.

He is typically self-deprecating about his prose, as he is his songwriting. “A hard-working journeyman,” he says of his ability, his voice perfectly grizzled. But hard-working journeymen don’t sell 120 million albums over five decades. They don’t pull in millions of fans around the world with their famously long, communal concerts. Put any of his accolades to the man himself, and he clams up, as if anyone in his position could’ve done what he’s done.

Coming hot on the heels of the news that Bob Dylan had been awarded a Nobel Prize for literature, ‘The Boss’, as he hates being called, is under no illusions that the Swedish organisation will be knocking on his door any time soon.

“Bob is certainly a poet,” he offers. “We came from a lot of different influences, but in the book I call him the father of my country, and that’s how I feel about him.”

Despite all his own success and many accolades, Springsteen talks about the likes of Dylan, The Beatles and Van Morrison with great reverence, both in person and in the book. He’s seven or eight years younger than those titans, and once upon a time, when they were blazing a trail and he was still at home with his parents, dreaming of playing guitar for a living, that age-gap mattered greatly. Perfectly illustrating the point is how he recounts the time he met Dylan, not just roughly, but down the particular date after a show on Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue.

There is one area Springsteen touches on for the first time, which is the depression that seems to have dogged him since his youth, most seriously after releasing the worldwide smash hit Born In The USA in 1984.

“My depression was spewing like an oil spill over the beautiful turquoise green gulf of my carefully planned existence,” he writes in the book.

“If you’re writing a book like this, one of the agreements with your reader is you’re going to open up your life,” he says today. “I don’t talk about all of myself, or everything I’ve done, you know, but you do have to show the reader your mind.

“And so, that’s been a big part of my life, since I was very, very young. It was a very natural thing to write about. I tried to write about it somewhat humorously. But a lot of people have to deal with it, and I’ve had a long history of it in my family. [Depression] kind of came down, and picked off certain people here and there, cousins and aunts and uncles and my father very particularly. It did get passed on to me, although not as extremely as he had to deal with it.”

He says writing the book gave him a similar feeling to one of his gigs, although “no one is applauding when you finish writing, like they are when you finish a song”.

“But it is satisfying,” he adds. “The entire thing I did over a period of seven years, and I miss getting to perform something, I just have to wait to see how it’s received, so I miss that crowning glory, I think.”

Springsteen admits he needed a bit of nagging to get on with the job - until something finally clicked and he got into more of a routine with it. Whatever that motivation was, it wasn’t a desire to set the record straight, so to speak.

“The record is whatever it is,” he says. “It is a combination of all the things that people have written about you, good and bad, you know? I didn’t have a bone to pick or anything, it was just setting down my experience.

“Initially, I didn’t even think I was writing a book, it was something that maybe my kids would enjoy referring to at some point. Then I thought it had more insight about me, so that if you were a fan, you might find it informative too. Then I wanted it to be entertaining, of course, I wanted it to be kind of funny and something that was enjoyable to read. So those were my only goals.” He talks about the difficult relationship with his father, his tough upbringing, the relative failure of his early career and his first wife, Julianne Phillips. But the hardest bit to write was about the present, the parts that include his wife Patti Scialfa, whom he married in 1991, their children and friends.

“I read my kids the things that I wrote about them before it came out, so they would feel comfortable with it. Patti and I, of course, discussed that section of the book, I wanted to make sure she was comfortable with everything.

“She didn’t change anything, “ he adds. “She wasn’t necessarily comfortable with everything, and some of the things I wasn’t sure whether I was comfortable with myself... But she gave me a lot of room to express myself and I appreciate it from her.”

In conclusion, Springsteen is happy with the book, and in his own humble way, hopes people enjoy it. I was trying to write as insightfully as I could, and deliver, on the page, what I feel we’ve tried to deliver at my shows for 40-plus years.”

Born To Run by Bruce Springsteen is published by Simon & Schuster, priced £20. Available now.