10 Revelations From Bruce Springsteen’s New Memoir

Think you know all there is to know about the Boss? Read on.

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons: Takahiro Kyono.

New Jerseyans may believe they know everything about their favorite native son, Bruce Springsteen, but even the most die-hard fan will likely discover a few revelations in Born To Run, the new Springsteen memoir, published in September.  Here are 10 nuggets:

1. Springsteen’s paternal grandmother’s smothering love for him tore a hole in his family’s fabric. Following the death of her only daughter when she was five, Springsteen’s grandmother doted on young Bruce with a passion that bordered on obsessive: “I…was the first baby in the house since the death of her daughter. My birth returned to her a life of purpose…Sadly, her single-minded devotion would lead to hard feelings with my father and enormous family confusion. It would drag all of us down.”

2. Springsteen grew up in often-impoverished circumstances. He eloquently writes of the small, cold-water house he lived in from ages 6 to 12. “We only bathed a few times a week because the ritual of my mother heating up pots of water on the gas stove, then carrying them up, one by one, to slowly fill the upstairs bath was too much. My sister and I flipped a coin to see who’d get to go in first.”

3. He didn’t learn to drive until he was into his 20s. Instead, the young Springsteen relied on a bicycle to get around, or he hitchhiked. However, when his then band Steel Mill had to drive cross-country in three days, Springsteen, then 21, was pressed into disastrous service. “I got behind the steering wheel of the big truck…what followed was so, so ugly: a massive grinding of fine vintage gears that left us jerking all over the highway…a head-on collision with the unknowing trusting souls coming our way seemed imminent.”

4. Despite selling millions of albums, he was broke until 1982.  After Springsteen landed of the covers of Newsweek and Time in 1975, the IRS came calling to collect from the singer, who had never paid a dime in income taxes: “In a flash, I was hit for back taxes for all my ‘earnings’ since in utero and had to pony up for all the band’s too, because they were broke… The entire Darkness tour I played for someone else every night… That, along with piling up astronomical studio bills while we learned our craft would keep me broke until 1982, ten years and millions of records after I’d signed with CBS.”

5. Springsteen was never one for indulging in cheap escapades of drugs or sex. When The River tour hit Hamburg and the red-light district, his Catholic upbringing kept him from indulging in the paid pleasures of the flesh: “I observed patrons…strike a deal and be led to the rear, where small closet like rooms were lined up side by side. I found the women provocative, but intimidating and at the tender age of thirty (!) I couldn’t get myself to make believe it was all right.”

6. At 32, a sudden and crippling depression, which still occasionally rears its head, drove Springsteen to therapy. Springsteen continued with the same therapist in New York for 25 years: “Doc Myers and I would fight many demons together until his passing in 2008…We successfully slowed down the treadmill I’d been running on while never getting it to completely stop…his knowledge, along with his compassionate heart, guided me to the strength and freedom I needed to love things and be loved.”

7. He accepts total blame for the failure of his marriage to Julianne Phillips, and regrets how he treated her after he realized he was in love with Patti Scialfa. “Inside, I was still emotionally stunted and secretly unavailable…I placed her in a terribly difficult position for a young girl and I failed her as a husband and a partner.”

8. The 1994 Northridge earthquake drove him back to Jersey. Twelve days after the youngest of his three children was born in Los Angeles, a 6.7 magnitude quake hit. A few days after that, Scialfa insisted they move back to Rumson, where he had a few aftershocks of his own. “If Patti’s leg moved in the bed at night, if the furnace turned on with a low-house-shaking rumble, my heart rate would spike… Soon I realized I’d contracted a very mild form of post-traumatic stress. It took me the better part of six months to completely calm”

9. He and New Jersey’s other favorite son, Frank Sinatra, became pals. Introduced by the wife of songwriter Sammy Cahn, Frank and his wife and Bruce and Patti become close enough that the Springsteens were invited to Sinatra’s 80th birthday party. “Sometime after dinner, we find ourselves around the living room piano with Steve [Lawrence] and Eydie Gorme and Bob Dylan…Frank moves to the piano and I get to watch my wife beautifully serenade Frank Sinatra and Bob Dylan.”

10. The E Street Band reunited after a 10-year hiatus thanks to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. When Springsteen was inducted into Cleveland’s Rock Hall in 1999, even though he went in as a solo artist (despite Steve Van Zandt’s protestations that the E Street Band should go in with him), he had the band at his side. “Some had hurt feelings and some were simply happy for me, but at the end of the day, they all came through. We’d soon commence the tour that would signal a decade of some of our most productive years.” The E Street Band got its due when it was inducted into the Rock Hall—with an introduction by Springsteen—in 2014.

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  1. Gail

    Bruce is always honest and real.