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Springsteen - Saint In

Early years of 'the boss' disappoint

Springsteen - Saint In

The City: 1949-1974

by Craig Statham

(Soundcheck Books, £14.99)

"To understand Springsteen's songs you need to understand what shaped the man," Craig Statham declares in this book on Bruce Springsteen's early life.

Strange then that the first 16 years of his existence merit only 25 pages.

Statham is obviously a massive Springsteen fan - he's researched his early career thoroughly and presents a comprehensive guide to musicians' names, band names, gig venues and playlists plus who said what to whom.

Yet the collation of this huge number of facts doesn't draw out the essence of the man and there is less pleasure in reading the book than Statham possibly had in writing it.

It does, though, emphasise Springsteen's enormous work ethic and dedication to his craft. As he himself says, "My work always judges the distance between the American Dream and American reality."

That reality in his early life fell far short of the dream and has influenced his writing ever since.

Springsteen's father flitted from one low-paid job to another, suffering from a crisis of masculinity that affected the whole household, while his mother was the family's economic and emotional mainstay. His relationship with his father and the stifling influence of the Catholic church provided him with rich material and imagery for later songs.

A major omission in the book is an analysis of Springsteen's political development from those formative years in Freehold, New Jersey.

He has always identified with ordinary people's lives, whether via family ties, unemployment, the Vietnam war, Mexican migrants or the working-class heroism of the September 11 firefighters.

But he has become more outspoken about the failure of US ideology and values, and angry that the economic circumstances of his childhood are a reality today.

His latest album Wrecking Ball - the title a metaphor for the destruction of core values - tells the stories of people living the American nightmare.

He melds this theme together in the final song We Are Alive in which long-dead activists shout their solidarity with those in struggle today from the grave.

Anyone wishing to gain an insight into how Springsteen's early life shaped the music and politics of the man would do well to watch his interviews and listen to the lyrics on such albums.

Sue Turner


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