By Karsten S. Andersen

Announcing new bibliography section and ten essential Bruce books

Published 2011-08-07

If you go to Reference here on Greasy Lake, you will find a brand new section called Bibliography. Well, actually, "brand new" may be a stretch. We had a book section on the previous version of the site, too, but now we have the "new and improved" book section. There are so many books out there about Bruce, but not really a place where you can get an overview of them with other than just the most basic information. Until now, that is. While there are still many of the books without a description in our bibliography, many of them do have one, and they are all categorized, and where possible, we have provided a cover image.

Still, even so, it could be a problem for any student of Bruce to decide which books are worth tracking down and which ones aren't. That's why, in order to mark the occasion of the new bibliography section, we have also made this list of 10+1 Bruce books that you must read. Of course, there's lots of room for disagreements, but hopefully this will be a help to anyone looking to expand their Bruce knowledge.

So here goes... in no particular order....

Dave Marsh: Two Hearts (2004)
Two Hearts is a compilation of Dave Marsh's two originally separate Springsteen biographies: Born to Run from 1980 and Glory Days from 1987. Those two books are the closest we get to authorized biographies, and for that reason alone they are essential. They offer the most insightful look at Bruce's career up until 1986 that we may ever get and have been an invaluable source for most other Bruce biographies written over the years. Marsh has been criticized for his subjectivity and his rose-red depiction of Bruce, which is probably somewhat justified, but if you are just getting into Bruce and want the best possible introduction to the man and his (early) career, you probably don't care. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like Dave Marsh is planning to bring his project up-to-date with a new biography. He did release the lavishly illustrated coffee table book On Tour about Bruce's live shows, but it failed to deliver the same kind of insight of his previous Bruce books, so for now we just don't have anything covering Bruce's career post-1986 that can compare to Two Hearts.

Bruce Springsteen Talking: Bruce Springsteen in His Own Words (2004), edited by John Duffy
This book was originally published in 1993 as just Bruce Springsteen in His Own Words, but a new edition was published in 2004 to bring it up to date. It basically consists of nothing but Bruce quotes, from a couple of lines to half a page. The quotes have been categorized, so if for instance you want to know what Bruce thinks of his fans, you go to the chapter about fans and so forth. It's possible that Bruce sometimes can seem a little incoherent in his interviews, but this book takes care of that problem by doing all the hard work for you and presenting only highlights. So whether you read it from cover to cover or just pieces here and there, you are sure to get a good insight into his mind.

Racing in the Street: The Bruce Springsteen Reader (2004), edited by June Skinner Sawyers
A foreword by Martin Scorsese alone should be enough to put this on the list, but that's not even the best thing about this book. The best thing is that it compiles hundreds of pages of the best and most famous writing about Bruce. We get the infamous articles from Time and Newsweek from 1975, we get revealing interviews from The Advocate and DoubleTake, and we get the best writing from famous writers and reporters like Dave Marsh, Charles Cross, Robert Hilburn and many others. We even get excerpts from works of fiction such as the Greasy Lake short story by T. C. Boyle and In Country by Bobbie Ann Mason. Last but not least you can read about how Dave Barry got to share a stage with Bruce at a bookseller's convention.

Marc Eliot: Down Thunder Road: The Making of Bruce Springsteen (1992)
Although heavily, and rightfully, critizised for its factual errors, this book is one of the most important Bruce biographies you will come across. Covering mainly the early years of Springsteen's career and his time with manager Mike Appel, it gives the reader a unique look at Bruce Springsteen's rise from skinny beach bum with a guitar to one of the most talked-about stars of the Seventies. Moreover, when the book came out in the early Nineties it was one of the first times that the public got Mike Appel's side of the story, including the lawsuit that threatened to put an end to Bruce's career almost before it took off for real. Marc Eliot worked with Mike Appel on the book and has included tons of transcripts from the court and copies of court documents. While not quite as shocking as they wanted you to believe upon release, the book still shows some sides of Bruce you may not have read about before.

Lynn Goldsmith: Springsteen (1984)
A unique photobook by professional photographer and former Bruce girlfriend, Lynn Goldsmith. They used to date during the late Seventies, and throughout their relationship she took hundreds of pictures of Bruce, onstage and offstage, on tour and at home. Some of the best of those photos made it into this book making it one of the most intimate documents of Bruce during the Darkness era ever put to print. About half the shots show a sometimes intense, sometimes goofy Bruce on stage during that legendary comeback tour. The other half are either Bruce posing in a photo studio looking the sexiest he's ever done or private photos of Bruce playing pool, Bruce goofing around with Clarence, Bruce writing songs, and even Bruce in front of his bathroom mirror. The book is hard to find these days, but if you get the chance don't miss this close look at your hero.

For You: Original Stories and Photographs by Bruce Springsteen's Legendary Fans (2007), edited by Lawrence Kirsch
An extensive collection of tales by Springsteen fans all over the world. We get it all: concert tales, tales about close encounters with Bruce, about how we became fans, about our favorite songs, and just tales about the impact our hero has had on us. More often than not, the stories are both well-written, entertaining and touching. Even non-fans would get a new understanding for our passion if they read these accounts. So lend the book to your unsympathetic mom, spouse or girlfriend if all you get is upturned eyes whenever the talk falls on Bruce. But most of all, the book is for us, the fans, and works as a giant confirmation that, yes, we got it right. Bruce is special. And it's everyone else who's nuts.

Backstreets: Springsteen: The Man and His Music, 2nd edition (1992), edited by Charles R. Cross
Launched in 1980 as a photocopied flier, Backstreets is now one of the longest living fanzines in the world for any artist. Through the years they have set new standards for writing about Bruce. So when the then-editor Charles R. Cross collected their best articles in this book from the first 10+ years, it automatically became a collection of the best Bruce writing. Period. Several of the articles are interviews with key figures in the Springsteen world, including band members and, in a ground-breaking interview, former manager Mike Appel who broke more than 10 years of silence to sit down with Backstreets. The book also features an E Street Band family tree, a guide to Springsteen landmarks, sessionography, and setlists from 1965-1992. In these Internet times the last-mentioned sections may be of less importance, but back then they were an indispensable source for Bruce geeks, and even today you should be able to get a good kick out of them.

Bruce Springsteen: The Rolling Stone Files (1996)
It seems like for as long as music has existed there has been Rolling Stone to cover it. At least, since Bruce first started to make small bleeps on the national radar screen in the US, Rolling Stone was there to write about it. This book contains all the articles, notes, reviews, artists of the year awards, etc., that put Bruce in the spotlight, from 1973 and until the book was released. Thus, The Rolling Stone Files becomes a treasure of source material for serious Bruce fans. One of the best things about it is that a lot of it was written as the events were still happening. There is a refreshing lack of analytical hindsight. And when it comes to the early articles, no knowledge of what Bruce would become later on. Most of all, this is simply a great collection of articles and some of the best interviews the man has given. Only gripe one might have with this book is that it doesn't show pictures of the numerous Springsteen Rolling Stone covers.

Stan Goldstein and Jean Mikle: Rock & roll Tour of the Jersey Shore
A guide to all the historic Bruce sites on the Jersey Shore and Freehold. From the Boardwalk and "Giant Exxon Sign" in Asbury Park to the E Street/10th Avenue street sign in Belmar and the legendary Highway 9 west of Freehold. Whether you ever intend to visit Bruce's home turf or not, this book is a both informative and entertaining introduction to the locations that created Bruce and that Bruce created. Apart from just listing the locations one by one and describing them, the book is interspersed with stories about Bruce appearances like the summer of 2002 Bruce mania in Asbury Park or Bruce's surprise midnight appearance at a record store in Red Bank to sign his newly released Live in New York City album. Everything is richly illustrated with both b/w and color photos, which in most cases have never been seen before. A superb memory for those of us who have been there and a good substitute for those of you for whom the dream has yet to come true.

Bruce Springsteen: Songs
Finally, we have to make room for Bruce's own book. Yes, Bruce himself wrote a book. You didn't know that? Well, it's called Songs, and it is just that: the lyrics to most of Bruce's released songs from Greetings From Asbury Park to The Ghost of Tom Joad. In other words, the foundation of everything. "Well," you may say, "we already know all the lyrics". Sure, but it's nice to have them collected in one place, and besides, in between each album chapter, as a pretty important bonus we get Bruce's comments on each album. We hear about his song writing techniques, his vision with the albums, and a few anecdotes. What hits you the most is how much thought Bruce puts into, not only each album and song, but his whole career. You may not like all his albums, but don't think for a minute that they weren't very deliberately crafted. The book is also full of pictures, some of which are from Bruce's private collection. An altogether beautifully designed book with those words you know so well and the thoughts behind them.

(Dis)honorable mention

Christopher Sandford: Point Blank
A lot of fans would say that this book has nothing to do on a list that's supposed to represent some of the best and most essential Bruce reading. And yes, it is full of factual errors, anonymous sources and gossip, but it is also one of very few Bruce biographies that at least tries a different approach and stands out from the gray mass with its pieces of gossip that, true or untrue, Bruce probably would not have sanctioned. 

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