Let’s start with the surprising:
1. He has struggled with depression
Bruce’s relationship with depression – which he calls “the prize in the Cracker Jack box in our family” – began with his father, who was later diagnosed as being a paranoid schizophrenic. The mental illness hit the man himself on the eve of Born in the USA (1984) and he’s still affected by it today, talking candidly about his periodic bouts of depression and the decades spent in therapy, as well as how performing has been like medicine. “The only thing that would lift the burden was 100-plus on two wheels or other distressing things”, he writes, aside from “my trustiest form of self-medication, touring.” His worst period of depression came late in life, between the ages of 60-63, when he says he couldn’t even get out bed – “It was like all my notorious energy, something that had been mine to command for most of my life, had been cruelly stolen away.”
2. He hasn’t always paid his taxes
Bruce and the E Street Band had managed to avoid paying a cent in taxes; that is, until they hit the big time with the release of the album, Born to Run: “Born to Run earned me a Steinway baby grand piano and a 1960 Chevrolet Corvette,’” Bruce writes. “There wouldn’t be much else but bills…” We also see that he’s now able to laugh about the situation, writing: “Some enterprising young man at the IRS must have seen those Time and Newsweek covers and said, ‘Who is this guy?’ The answer was, he was a guy who’d never paid a single penny in income taxes his whole life.”
3. He was always looking for a father figure
Bruce goes into heart-breaking detail about his troubled relationship with his Irish Catholic factory worker father, who said “fewer than 1,000 words” to Bruce his whole childhood. His father would come home and, almost religiously, drink a six-pack of beer on his own in the dark kitchen, before taking his angers and frustrations out on the only other man in the house – the young Bruce. “He loved me but he couldn’t stand me,” Bruce writes. “He felt we competed for my mother’s affections.” It was only later in his life that Bruce’s father was diagnosed as having paranoid schizophrenia, and things got worse in his final years. Later in the book, Bruce admits that he was always looking for “surrogate father figures” throughout his life, which he eventually finds in the form of manager Jon Landau. Jon gave him the support he’d always needed, including getting him professional help – which Bruce says gave him his life back.
4. He didn’t touch drink until the age of 22
OK, perhaps this isn’t too surprising considering his father’s dependence on alcohol, but it is pretty unusual to find a rock star who doesn’t have a turbulent relationship with drugs and/or alcohol. Bruce was never tempted by these excesses, writing that it “felt naked and without purpose.” He adds that music was the only ‘drug’ he needed: “I was afraid of myself, what I might do or what might happen to me. I’d seen my dad and that was enough for me. Music was going to get me as high as I needed to go.”
5. He’s actually very humble
For a man who has reached the dizzying heights of fame and success, headlining stadiums across four decades, Bruce is refreshingly humble. In the book he expresses his view that his voice is competent, but not much more. “I have a barman’s power, range and durability, but I don’t have a lot of tonal beauty or finesse” he writes, adding, “My voice gets the job done. But it’s a journeyman’s instrument and on its own, it’s never going to take you to higher ground.” For those who have seen Bruce stumble when hitting the big notes in his biggest rock songs, this might sound familiar; but we think what he might lack in vocal ability, he certainly makes up for in charisma and showmanship. He also admits that he feels he has never done a week’s “real work” in his whole life!
And the not-so-surprising?
1. Money caused tensions in the group
We weren’t too shocked to learn that money often created difficulties between Bruce and the E Street Band – money always seems to cause arguments, and most bands have that one issue that comes up continuously, causing rifts between members. Bruce is careful not to name specific names, but refers to numerous occasions when the topic of finances was discussed. For example: “One day one of my musicians comes to me and explains that he would need more money if he were to continue doing his work. I told him if he could find a more highly paid musician at his job in the world, I would gladly up his percentage. I also told him […] all he had to do was walk into the bathroom, close the door and […] take a look in the mirror. There he’d find the highest-paid musician in the world at his post.”
2. He hasn’t got the best track record with women
Bruce says that he didn’t sleep with groupies (which is actually quite surprising!), but describes himself as “semi-monogamous”, confessing that he “routinely and roughly failed perfectly fine women over and over again” and that “part of me […] was capable of great carelessness and emotional cruelty.”
He’s been happily married to ex-backing singer Patti Scialfa for 17 years, after the two met in the early ‘80s. Before they got together he was briefly married to Julianne Phillips, but he hasn’t revealed much about their relationship – or its breakdown – until now. Describing one incident where he talks himself out of their marriage, he writes: “A part of me tried to convince myself she was simply using me to further her career […] Nothing could’ve been further from the truth. Julianne loved me and didn’t have a malicious bone in her body. Inside, I knew that, but I was out where the buses don’t run and couldn’t center myself around the truth.”
3. He can’t read music
With his E Street Band, Bruce is the world’s highest paid earner from live performances; but, like Jimi Hendrix before him, he can’t actually read music! Lots of people already know this fact about the self-taught musician, so it’s not entirely revealing – but it does say a lot about him that he included this fact in his memoirs.
4. He doesn’t take himself too seriously
Despite the deep introspections and difficult issues the book contains, Bruce never fails to laugh at himself. As one New York Times review said of the autobiography, “His writing voice is much like his speaking voice; there’s a big, raspy laugh on at least every other page. There’s some raunch here.” Another review, this time by the Rolling Stone, notes Bruce’s “loose and rambling” tone, “full of all-caps punch lines and the exclamation points of a dad who loves to text.” At this stage in his life, it seems that Bruce is almost telling his stories to himself, as much as to his fans – and he’s just as entertained by the ups and downs of his life as we are.
5. He still keeps us guessing
Although there are plenty of juicy titbits and unheard stories here, Born to Run isn’t exactly a tell-all book. Some big stories are left untold, and he avoids going into too much detail about his children – apart from telling us about his daughter’s love of horses. With an engaging dignity, Bruce writes towards the end of the book: “I haven’t told you ‘all’ about myself. Discretion and the feelings of others don’t allow it. But in a project like this, the writer has made one promise: to show the reader his mind. In these pages I’ve tried to do that.”
To uncover more insights about Bruce in his own lyrical, wisdom-filled words, get your copy of Born to Run here.