‘Bruce Springsteen and the Promise of Rock ‘N’ Roll’ explores the Boss as artist/political figure

If you happen to be in the Boston area on Wednesday at 7 p.m., you can go see Marc Dolan interviewed by Metro's own Pat Healy at Porter Square Books (25 White St., Cambridge). Then stick around to watch a performance by Uke Springsteen, which may or may not also be Pat Healy, playing Boss songs and dressing a little like this.

Marc Dolan doesn’t concern himself too much with the dirty details of Bruce Springsteen’s private life. The author instead takes an unusually scholarly approach to the Boss in his new book, “Bruce Springsteen and the Promise of Rock ‘N’ Roll” (W.W. Norton and Company).

Dolan, a professor at John Jay College and the City University of New York, listened to more than 100 full concerts for clues to piece together the 50-year artistic and political evolution of his subject — but finishing it proved a little difficult.

“I started the book before the last two chapters happened, which, looking back, is an insane leap of faith,” says Dolan. “As I was working on the drafts, the ending became a moving target.”

His subject is anything but static. In the span of three years, the singer jumped from “Devils & Dust,” a dark solo album, to “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions,” a rollicking folk album, to “Magic” a rock album that brought back his E Street Band. Though he spent seven years on this book, with the amount of recent Boss activity, Dolan never seemed to have his “sick of sitting here trying to write this book” moment. In the past year, not only did E Street legend Clarence Clemons pass away, but Springsteen also announced his new “Wrecking Ball” album.

“The Onion, before the new album was announced, did a parody thing about how Springsteen was coming out with a science-fiction album about workers on Mars and how they’ve been marginalized. I posted on Facebook that, ‘A) This is very funny B) For a split second I thought I had to re-write the last chapter.’”

Dolan says the book wasn’t exactly an easy sell for publishers, when they learned that he would be exploring Springsteen’s place in American culture, and not salacious rumors.  

“I had to convince the sales staff at the press,” says Dolan. “When I was writing it up, I said, [it’s really] a love story between an artist and his audience. Part 1: Artist meets audience. Part 2: Artist and audience have some good times together. Part 3: Artist and audience break up, seemingly over politics, but actually over communication, which is the problem with any relationship. Part 4: They come back together with a renewed understanding of how they relate to each other.”

The Boss ain’t always perfect

Throughout the nearly 500 pages of “The Promise of Rock ‘N’ Roll,” Dolan treats his subject with respect, but he isn’t overly gentle.

“There was that astonishing moment from the winter of 1971, where he really went from being a horrible songwriter to being a brilliant songwriter in the space of three months,” says Dolan, bemoaning the fact that he wasn’t legally allowed to quote some of these hilariously bad lyrics, because they were never published.

So what is one he would have quoted?

“The worst line, I almost have PTSD and blanked it out, but I’d say it comes from ‘The War Is Over,’” laughs Dolan.

A sample lyric: “Today the new court jester has arrived/And he’ll tell you funny stories and dance a bit after/And help the king forget the revolution outside.”


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