There have been numerous books written about The Boss (this writer also wrote one some years back), and there's really nothing left to say. He has been a formidable presence since he first emerged in the public consciousness with
Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. over 35 years ago. His music has been analyzed and critiqued and torn apart from every angle.
So, while this attempt does not stake out any new ground, it is carefully written by an author with a Ph.D in English and thus pretty deeply researched. He analyzes the songs both lyrically and musically then marries these findings to the cultural and political implications of the various tracks. Here is what the author has to say about "Born To Run":
The narrator works a dreary job by day, sweating out the "runaway American dream," while at night he joins a "chrome-wheeled fuel-injected" community. Of all the album's songs, "Born to Run" most embodies adolescent romanticism. The singer's car becomes a sexual metaphor around which he invites the girl, Wendy, to wrap her legs and strap her hands. Wendy's name renders the singer a rock 'n' roll version of Peter Pan, calling to her to run away with him..
Interesting, and probably true. But the thing is, one wonders if Springsteen himself had all these things in mind when he was writing it. It's more likely that he came upon the title and some simple chord changes and just started writing. If he did envision a sort of rock
'n' roll Peter Pan personality playing out by naming one of the characters Wendy, well, then, he's more impressive than ever.
This same thing happened with the Beatles music - books upon books were assembled that looked very closely - microscopically closely - at the music and the lyric content. Simple chord changes were invested with the most inane properties (music scholars far and wide gazed upon these harmonic components with religious fervor). When they were asked if they had any idea about what they were writing about or the chords they were playing, the answer was always a resounding "No." They were musicians, extraordinarily gifted writers indeed, but they didn't sit down to try and compose something.
That's the element that always amuses one about these types of books. Yes, Bruce's lyrics offer a myriad of characters and plot twists and turns that can later be deciphered and de-coded and written about. But it's pretty unlikely that he started out writing songs because he ultimately wanted them pored over by hardcore musicologists.
Still, it's a deep read worthy of a long weekend. After reading Magic in the Night and learning everything there is to know about Bruce Springsteen's music, you should be able to listen to his albums and appreciate them even more. Or maybe not.