I am not a music critic or a scholar of the history of American music, but I do admire and read the work of my colleagues in American history, American studies, and other disciplines who write cultural histories of the music that I love. As a result, I have read a lot of criticism and history on the life, career, and message of Bruce Springsteen.
In order to prepare myself for seeing Bruce and the E Street Band in Baltimore on November 20, I have been revisiting some of this literature and reading some new stuff as well. (I am of the firm belief that if you drop a lot of money on a concert you better show up prepared). As the concert approaches, I hope to use the blog to comment on some of the things I have been reading–both new and old.
Just the other day I took a break from some stuff I was reading about religion and the American founding and treated myself to Louis P. Masur’s book Runaway Dream: Born to Run and Bruce Springsteen’s American Vision. (Bloomsbury, 2009). (Some of my readers may remember me mentioning this book in a previous post). It is a quick read. You can get through it in a long evening.
Masur’s focus is on Born to Run, the 1975 album that made Springsteen a star. Like Masur, this has always been my favorite Springsteen album, although I have always preferred “Jungleland” over Masur’s favorite cut–“Born to Run.” I was particularly interested in reading his book because Springsteen has been playing the full album, in order, during some of his most recent concerts. He plans to do the same in Baltimore later this month. Masur is a big-time Springsteen fan, and he does not hide that fact. (I could not help but be jealous as I read the book’s “Encore” and learned just how many times he has seen The Boss in concert). But he is also a shrewd critic of American culture and Springsteen’s place within that culture.
Runaway Dream tells the history of Born to Run and offers a song-by-song analysis of the album. I think Masur must have read every review of Born to Run ever written. His chapter, “The Reception of Born to Run,” chronicles these reviews–both positive and negative, both American and international. The chapter is informative, but can get tedious. A final chapter examines the cultural legacy of Born to Run (including Sesame Street’s take on the album, entitled “Born to Add”) and provides a quick overview of Springsteen’s career since the album appeared.
Runaway Dream is an accessible introduction to Springsteen’s greatest album. Springsteen scholars and die hard fans will not find a lot that is new in this book, but it does serve as a nice introduction to the casual fan. I wish Masur had done more to connect Springsteen to the “American vision” he described in the subtitle. I had hoped for a deeper, perhaps more scholarly, reflection on the American traditions–ambition, freedom, place and placelessness, hope– that produced Springsteen. But I am also aware that these kinds of scholarly investigations do not bode well for book sales.
Overall, this a great book. It would make a great holiday gift for the Springsteen fan in your life!