The Boss’ canon receives trainspotting treatment via his concert appearances and recordings.
Dolan eschews original research in this uncomfortable hybrid of biography and criticism. The rocker’s life has been scrutinized in previous bios by Dave Marsh, Marc Eliot and Robert Santelli, and their work provides the structural backbone of this book. The contours of the tale will be familiar to Springsteen enthusiasts: Jersey Shore bar-band roots, early-’70s cult arrival, popular breakthrough with 1975’s Born to Run, launch to superstardom with 1984’s Born in the U.S.A., etc. Dolan analyzes the musician’s progress primarily via close, grueling readings of Springsteen’s set lists over the course of 40-plus years on stage, amply documented on bootlegs, with additional attention to the oft-protracted genesis of his albums in studio sessions and home recordings. It makes for arduous reading, and Dolan’s conclusions are often suspect. While Springsteen is undoubtedly among the hardest-working live performers in rock history, and his gigs ably combine arena-rock showmanship and a carefully cultivated intimacy and sincerity, his shows and the lengthy raps that stud them only reveal so much about his internal impulses. The author goes to laborious lengths to calibrate minute differences in Springsteen’s shows over the course of individual tours. He also makes a great deal of the slow development of Springsteen’s political and social consciousness, but most of his divinations are based on contorted explications of his concerts and their attendant spiels. Dolan exhibits a frustrating inability to plumb Springsteen’s interior emotional makeup; as in previous tomes, his short-lived marriage to Julianne Phillips and his unexpected metamorphosis into midlife family man with Patti Scialfa remain mystifying.
In these pages Springsteen remains, for all his apparent openness, both personally and artistically remote, and Dolan’s interpretive methodology sheds limited light.