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When Bruce Is The Soundtrack

Robert J. Wiersema's book Walk Like a Man: Coming of Age with the Music of Bruce Springsteen, personalizes the impact of the rock superstar's musical canon.

Posted October 10, 2011 by Tammy La Gorce

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Bruce Springsteen
Courtesy of publisher.

Robert J. Wiersema’s Walk Like a Man: Coming of Age with the Music of Bruce Springsteen, out this month from Greystone Books, belongs to an increasingly familiar subgenre, the memoir set to a mixtape.

As such, it has more than a little potential to turn self-indulgent (many people’s first kisses will forever be knitted in memory to a certain song, but that doesn’t make the song, or the kiss, worth reading about). Wiersema, a novelist and critic based in British Columbia, gets it right, though: In 13 short chapters—14, if you count a “bonus track” exploring the profundity of a cover of Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” by the band the Hold Steady—he sets out to assemble a readable mixtape, the kind most closely associated with navel-gazing teenagers of the 1980s. His goal is not so much to move readers to compile their own audio versions of the tape, though he admits he hopes they will, but to channel what it is about the music that’s so meaningful to so many, including and especially him.

Quibbles with Walk Like a Man will abound among the Springsteen intelligentsia, and Wiersema knows it. In addition to universally revered songs like “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy),” he devotes chapters to “Tunnel of Love” and “Dancing in the Dark,” what some would consider lesser pop numbers. But he has his reasons. “Incident on 57th Street” is one of his favorite Springsteen songs, he writes, but he chose not to include it because “it doesn’t resonate for me the way ‘My Hometown,’ a song I don’t particularly like, does.”

If that seems counterintuitive, consider the first sentence of the “Badlands” chapter: “Springsteen fans,” Wiersema asserts, “are a weird lot.”

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