Not many rock stars have seen their lives dissected quite like Bruce Springsteen. An entire magazine is devoted to covering his every move. One can fill a small library of books about his life. There are expansive documentaries about the making of single albums, and a website that painstakingly lists every concert he’s ever performed, complete with contemporaneous reviews, photos, videos and even transcriptions of his onstage dialogue. You can even find the Monmouth Memorial Hospital records from the first week of his life, just in case you wanted to know that he produced a “small yellow stool” at 10 p.m. on September 27th, 1949.
With all that in mind, it might be easy to think that his new memoir Born To Run couldn’t be all that revelatory since we already know so much. But it turns out that the nine years he spent writing it were worthwhile ones. He reached deep into his memory banks and produced a stunning 510 page book that will thrill even the most hardcore Bruce fanatics. Here are 10 things we learned from it.
1. His father suffered from mental illness.
Much of what is known about Springsteen’s relationship with his father comes from songs like “Independence Day,” but it turns out that those lyrics didn’t address one of the central facts of his life: Doug Springsteen struggled with a severe mental illness that only got worse as the years went by. “I haven’t been completely fair to my father in my songs, treating him as an archetype of the neglecting, domineering parent,” he writes. “It was an East of Eden recasting of our relationship, a way of ‘universalizing’ my childhood experience. Our story is much more complicated.”
2. He never had a drink until he was 22.
Watching his father develop a drinking problem in his childhood made him stay away from booze, but shortly after cutting Greetings From Asbury Park in 1972 his roommate Big Danny Gallagher talked him into taking a shot at a Shirelles concert at a bar in Manasquan, New Jersey. “Slowly, something came over me; I was high for the first time,” he writes. “Another round and shortly I was having what felt like the finest evening of my young life. What had I been sweating and worrying about!? All was good, wonderful even.”
3. The E Street Band did attempt Nebraska.
The question of whether or not the E Street Band recorded the songs that appeared on Nebraska before Springsteen ultimately to release his acoustic demo as the final product has raged for decades. Some sources say they only attempted a few of them. Other say they cut the whole thing, while others say they never tried any of them. Springsteen settles it once and for all. “I went into the studio, brought in the band, re-recorded and remixed everything,” he writes. “On listening, I realized I’d succeeded in doing nothing but damaging what I’d created.”
4. His first marriage caused him mental anguish.
Bruce Springsteen was briefly married to model/actress Julianne Phillips (best known for starring on the NBC drama Sisters) in the mid-1980s. It’s not a topic he’d discussed much over the years, and she’s barely uttered a word about it, but in Born To Run he does open up about the relationship. “One evening, which I sat across from my beautiful wife in an upscale Los Angeles eatery, conversation formed silently inside my head,” he writes. “There, as we politely chatted by candlelight, hand in hand, a part of me tried to convince myself she was simply using me to further her career or get … something. Nothing could’ve been further from the truth. Julianne loved me and didn’t have a malicious bone in her body. Inside, I knew that, but I was out where the buses don’t run and couldn’t center myself around the truth.”
5. His father’s final years were very difficult.
As Doug grew older, his mental problems worsened. He drove aimlessly around the country and at one point disappeared for three days. Springsteen flew cross-country and discovered he’d been arrested for refusing to pay a small fine after a minor car accident. Bruce found him in a Chinatown bar shortly after he was released. They got breakfast at McDonald’s, where Doug got into an altercation with another customer. “Out of the blue my pop had started shouting profanity-laced non sequiturs and the guy thought he was talking to him,” Springsteen writes. “I apologized, explained the best I could, and we hustled out with our Egg McMuffins. It was sad. My dad was hearing the voices in his head and he was answering them.”
6. Seeing a triple bill of Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell inspired him to reunite the E Street Band.
In 1998, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell played a small series of West Coast dates. Bruce saw their May 19th show in San Jose, California. (It’s a much-loved show by Dylan fanatics thanks to a pristine soundboard recording that circulates.) “The floor was a mass of smiles and swaying bodies,” Springsteen writes. “As I watched I thought, ‘I can do this. I can bring this, this happiness, these smiles.’ I went home and called the E Street Band.”
7. Money issues caused tension between him and the group.
Springsteen is careful not to name names, but sprinkled throughout the book are difficult moments with the E Street Band related to the issue of finances. “One day one of my musicians comes to me and explains that he would need more money if he were to continue doing his work,” Springsteen writes. “I told him if he could find a more highly paid musician at his job in the world, I would gladly up his percentage. I also told him I could spare him the time to search. All he had to do was walk into the bathroom, close the door and walk over and take a look in the mirror. There he’d find the highest-paid musician in the world at his post.”
8. Jake Clemons nearly blew his audition.
After Clarence Clemons died, Bruce gave his nephew Jake the opportunity to audition for the E Street Band. It was one of the most crucial moments of the young saxophonist’s life, and he nearly blew it by being an hour late. Apparently he’d gotten lost, but Springsteen was still steaming mad. He got even angrier when Jake told him he only “sort of” knew the songs. “Let me get this straight,” Springsteen roared. “You are coming to audition for Clarence ‘Big Man’ Clemons’ seat in the E Street Band, which is not a job, by the way, but a sacred fucking position, and you are going to play Clarence’s most famous solos for Bruce Springsteen [referencing myself in the third person], the man who stood beside him for 40 years, who created those solos with him, and you’re gonna ‘sort of’ know them? Where … do … you … think … you … are? If you don’t know, let me tell you. You are in a CITADEL OF ROCK ‘N’ ROLL. You don’t DARE come in here and play this music for Bruce Springsteen without having your SHIT DOWN COLD! You embarrass yourself and waste my precious time.” Jake went to his hotel, learned the material cold, and came back and got the job.
9. He had major surgery after the Wrecking Ball tour.
Around the time of the Working on a Dream tour in 2009, Springsteen noticed that his left hand was getting weak and harder to control. It turned out he had cervical-disc problems on the left side of his neck that were numbing the nerves on the left side of his body. It eventually required surgery. “The surgery went like this: they knock you out; cut an incision into your throat; tie your vocal cords off to one side; get in there with a wrench, a screwdriver and some titanium; they take a chunk of bone out of your hip and go about building you a few new discs.” Afterwards he lost his voice for a few months, but completely recovered.
10. He entered a period of major depression in his sixties.
The biggest revelations from the book concern his battle with depression, something he’s been quietly treating with medication for years. It came late in life and caused him much agony. “I couldn’t get out of bed,” he writes. “Hell, I couldn’t even get a hard-on. It was like all my notorious energy, something that had been mine to command for most of my life, had been cruelly stolen away. I was a walking husk.”