A new biography of The Boss and his incendiary band.
For those fans who have followed Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band from their heyday in the 1970s and ’80s, this overview will undoubtedly stoke controversy. While veteran rock journalist Heylin (All the Madmen: A Journey to the Dark Side of English Rock, 2011, etc.) painstakingly resurrects a bevy of dates and details from Springsteen’s forays into the studio, it quickly becomes apparent that the author doesn’t hold the fawning view of his subject that previous biographers have displayed. Depicting Springsteen less as a proletarian humanist and more as a perfectionist workhorse who wasted countless hours committing songs to tape while disbanding and reforming the band at his whim, Heylin seems intent on puncturing an American rock myth. Indeed, the book often reads as a cautionary manual on how not to approach the recording process, with the author laying the blame on Springsteen’s obsessive-compulsive revising of songs as well as the lenient attitude of his producer and yes man, Jon Landau. The phenomenally successful Born in the USA tour paradoxically comes off as the nadir of Springsteen’s career, as intimate venues for die-hard fans gave way to stadiums for picnic-goers who came to hear only the hits. After officially breaking up the band in 1989, Springsteen recorded a series of mediocre albums, then took to the road with the E Street Band again in 1999. More successful than ever, the band is currently enjoying a second renaissance, but even that happy ending can’t dispel the aroma of tepid disapproval that this book emits.
Heylin’s attempt to deromanticize an icon is admirable, but the finished product comes across as sullen and lackluster.