Bruce Springsteen and the Promise of Rock 'n' Roll Paperback – 26 Apr 2013
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"...no other singer-songwriter still active in the 21st Century has spawned as many academic studies as The Boss, and Dolan's book is among the very best...the author's examination of an extraordinary body of work is as clear-headed and accessible as the music itself." Record Collector "Those who are interested in the shaping of an American icon - and, more significantly, the creation of some lasting American music - may be directed safely to this book." The Washington Post "This is an addictive book...It twists so fine through one of rock'n'roll's most fascinating stories." Classic Rock Magazine "Springsteen is probably the distillation of all that is best about American music rolled into one great artist, and in this book Marc Dolan goes into immense detail to prove it." Irish Independent "Dolan does a good job of telling the story of his [Bruce Springsteen's] continuing relevance..." Belfast Telegraph "...meticulously detailed biography..." The Daily Record "Riveting...The best book on Bruce ever written!" --Douglas Brinkley
About the Author
Marc Dolan is an associate professor of English, American studies and film studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York, and at the City University of New York Graduate Center.
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To those unfamiliar with the process of becoming a musical god (little g), it can sometimes seem like the feat was achieved overnight. Unless you are lucky enough to get in early and crowd the local dive bar at 2:30 A.M. every other Friday to catch the latest "It" band/singer, new superstars seem to Poof! into existence from zero to hero in less time than it takes to get to the bridge of a song.
Bruce Springsteen and the Promise of Rock 'n' Roll is not a story of an instant celebrity. This fame and fortune was earned through a lot of blue-collar hard work and old-school American determination.
For those of us who grew up in the eighties, Bruce Springsteen was ubiquitous. He was The Boss. He was Born in the USA. But he didn't start at the top of the pack. It took practice and grit for Springsteen to pull himself out of Asbury Park, New Jersey.
That's what this story is about.
An obvious fan (who would choose to write almost 600 pages about someone they disliked?), Marc Dolan chronicles Springsteen's journey starting at the very beginning of The Boss's musical life, chronicling the purchase of his first instrument, an old second hand guitar. This is the same guitar that Springsteen used to teach himself "Twist and Shout."
But Mr. Dolan's book does not focus exclusively on Bruce Springsteen. Musicians are often reflections of the society in which they live and work. It is just as important to understand the history of the formative era in order to better grasp how the artist found his musical voice. This book also tells the story of blue collar America in the 1960s.
Musically, the 1960s were a study in dichotomy. On one hand, singer/songwriters like Joni Mitchell or Bob Dylan were writing politically conscious songs. On the other, the British Invasion was all about having fun and rebelling through rock.
Somehow Springsteen managed to walk in both worlds. From the beginning, The Boss was never really interested in a solo career. He wanted to front a band of strong musicians, the more the merrier. Yet as he matured as a musician and songwriter, his set lists increasingly featured original material. Dylan especially was a powerful influence.
Marc Dolan's writing is descriptive, but not overly flowery or fan boy-ish. He is very adept at pulling the reader into his book and telling an interesting story--even if The Boss is not a mainstay on one's iPod.
In today's entertainment world, it is so hard to find acts that live up to all the overblown hype. Like The Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen and the Promise of Rock 'n' Roll more than delivers.
You have Springsteen's own "Songs", which peeks into his process and interpretations. The Dave Marsh books are the biographical bibles, so to speak, but seriously, he's a massive fan from the very beginnings of Springsteen's career. He's not, nor does he say he is, objective. There are others...
In fact, writing about Springsteen (like I sort of am here) or even listening to his music, cannot be objective.
This guy gets into the hearts and minds of people like few musical artists ever have.
Now, THIS book addresses his career using the albums as markers, not a bad way to go when reviewing a musician's career.
The emphasis is on the music, both studio recordings and tours. Clearly, this guy has heard a lot of bootlegs, but I was familiar with most of what he had to say just by listening to the formally released albums.
There wasn't a lot I didn't know (I'm a huge fan and a bit of a know-it-all)...but that didn't stop me from inhaling this book in a weekend, and enjoying every single minute.
In fact, the little things I learned...Billy Joel dedicating "The Entertainer" to Bruce at a concert in the 70's...kept me reading just to see what delightful nugget was to follow.
The reason I didn't pony up for a five-star rating is that I found the author's opinion intruded either too often, or too strongly, when discussing the music. Yes, we're fans, I get it. And like I said, I have no pretense about objectivity...but tonally...the flow of the book... suffered a few times because of it. The thin coverage of "Working On A Dream" felt more like it was secondary to the fact he didn't like the record, than to the fact that perhaps it overall was a critical and popular yawn. It's like he didn't want to say anything bad.
I loved the fact that he stated that the title song was "almost certainly the weakest title song of any Springsteen album"...I happen to agree with that opinion.
Also, the book ends with a tale about "Surprise Surprise", a song "many fans held in even lower esteem than 'The Angel'" and the author describes it as seeming "disposable, juvenile and almost meaningless."
Again, right on.
But these sort of books are supposed to present events of a career in context, and a few times along the way, almost as if he was skirting around a delicate issue, he doesn't.
Overall, though, this is a great read. I'm quibbling, because, well, I'm trying to be "objective". Honest.
And honestly, the majority of this book DOES put his career into context! It tells how the albums fit into his personal history, the current events of the period, and how they reflect back on musical influences both historic and modern popular tastes. The tours each get a few pages, but these feel like more of a tease than a tale.
Perhaps it's not Mr. Dolan's fault that maybe I simply wanted MORE.
That's a compliment.
There are other things that simply aren't his fault.
Springsteen has been putting out music like a man possessed as of late, and the book is woefully outdated on the day it was released.
New albums...like "Wrecking Ball", new tour...the treasure trove of music that was the recent "Darkness-The Promise" box set...I'm sure will be addressed in the paperback.
In fact, that will inevitably make this book better because there's already a terrific passage about the original "Wrecking Ball" song performance at Giants Stadium, and there's already LOTS of stuff on "The Promise" (the song) and the other songs that comprise 'The Promise' (the album) that will all come full circle now.
Hopefully THAT edition will then be out of date, because Bruce will have yet another album? Tracks 2? The River box set? Anyone? Is this mike on?
We can only hope.
And I think the author hopes so as well.
Marc Dolan's approach to Springsteen is much more scholarly than Carlin's work, which comes off a bit too friendly, less objective. Dolan approaches many of Springsteen's artistic decisions with more depth and less celebrity. He also does an excellent job of tying Springsteen's success to his connection with his fans. Springsteen is like few others in that his fan base is passionate AND educated. He can write lyrics that are entertaining while also having depth and a good story. Dolan spends considerable time making that connection about the fans and the body of work. If you want to read about Springsteen, there are many bios out there, Dolan's is just as good and even better, in some cases, than any of them. Highly recommended.
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