E Street Shuffle – The Glory Days of Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
By Clinton Heylin
Constable & Robinson – £20.00
Just as Stellas Artois brew great lager and BMW build reliable and fantabulous cars, so Clinton Heylin writes tremendous biographies – rock’n’roll biographies in particular. So much so, that it really is possible to sometimes sink beneath the slipstream waves of such considered writing, and almost feel as if you’re there. Whether it’s in the studio with Bob Dylan (Bob Dylan: The Recording Sessions 1960-94) on stage with Van Morrison (Can You Feel The Silence? – Van Morrison: A New Biography), in the tour bus with The Sex Pistols (Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols) or in the rehearsal room with Fairport Convention (No More Sad Refrains: The Life & Times of Sandy Denny).
Albeit on the periphery, Heylin’s well-honed and more than honest approach to writing, usually invites/enables the reader to enter the private space of his subject, quite a few of whom more often than not shun publicity, Dylan and Morrison in particular; and (t)his highly readable latest offering, E Street Shuffle – The Glory Days of Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band is no exception. Although in this instance, it’s the inspiration behind some of the song writing itself, along with the process by which Springsteen often struggles to come to an agreement with his own inner-self, which comes under most scrutiny.
Be it influence: ‘’I lived in a house where there was a lot of struggle to find work, where the results of not being able to find your place in society manifested themselves with the resulting lack of self-worth, with anger, with violence. And as I grew up, I said, ‘Hey, that’s my song’ …I still probably do my best work when I’m working inside of those things, which must be because that’s where I’m connected. That’s just the lights I go by.’’ (‘Kicked Open A Door To Your Mind, 1964-72’); relationships: ‘’My fear of failure always held me back in dealing with people or relationships. I always stopped right before I committed to the place where, if it failed, it would really hurt […]. You meet somebody, you think that they can take away all of your loneliness, when in the end nobody can take away the loneliness. You just hope that you can find somebody maybe that you can share it with.’’(‘The E Street Shuffle, 1981-82’); or recording: ‘’it was Springsteen himself who was responsible for the technical agony and ecstasy… [because he] was astigmatic and short-sighted, a perfectionist who frequently took the long way around simply because he didn’t know the short one.’’’ (‘Growin’ Up,’ 1982-84).
The meticulous research undertaken by the author to chronologically assimilate through the above – a mere tip of the iceberg might I add – is in itself, more than meritorious. But unlike previous Springsteen biographers, Dave Marsh especially – whose own books on he who was born to run, are about as annoyingly obsequious as sticky saccharine writing is allowed to be – Heylin isn’t afraid to pull a few punches and tell it as it is. Or at least as he sees it, of which the following (in relation to Springsteen’s first manager Mike Appel) is a perfect example: ‘’Integrity, a word Springsteen bandied around a lot at this time, did not include honouring contracts, or recognising the key role another had played in his success. Without Appel there would never have been any pot of gold, just summer nights on the shore as an oldies act, like his friend Southside Johnny. But every time the manager offered a compromise solution, he was sent away with a flea in hisear: ‘I told Mayer that I was still willing to give Bruce half the publishing back, retroactive from the first album, but Mayer… said in response, ‘’We want Bruce to have all of his publishing.’’’’ (‘Cashed In A Few Of My Dreams,’ 1975-77).
Admittedly, some readers might be a little put off by the fact that E Street Shuffle fundamentally concentrates on what the author feels is Springsteen and the E Street Band’s unquestionable golden period, the seventies; but if younger fans simply weren’t old enough to have been there, surely it’s impossible to second guess. This, along with a (surprising) mighty howler on page 288 where Heylin writes of the 1969 anti-Vietnam War anthem, ‘War,’ having been written by Edwin Collins (!), when it was written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, are to my mind, the only two contentious issues with regards an otherwise relentlessly comprehensive and magnificent read.