When Peter Ames Carlin learned that Bruce Springsteen was willing to sit down with him for the Boss biography that he was writing, the author had to keep himself in check. Yes, this was the first time that Springsteen would be cooperating with a biographer in 25 years, and yes, this was the man who had helped inform his world vision, but Carlin had a warts-and-all book to write.
"The fan boy in me had been locked in a cage long before I got to meet Bruce," says the author. "When I met him, it was super-intense, but for me, the thing that mattered at that point was that I was working on this book and this could conceivably be the difference between it being an extraordinary book and being another book about Bruce Springsteen."
The book, simply titled "Bruce" does arguably achieve the distinction that he was hoping for. Through intimate interviews with family members and band members past and present, Carlin unearths previously unpublished anecdotes about his subject's childhood (as a little kid, Springsteen kept the same nocturnal rock star hours he does now), about his early rocking years (one of Springsteen's bands honored a commitment at a small New Jersey club rather than accepting an invitation to play Woodstock in 1969) and his family struggles with mental illness.
"A big part of how this book advances the story is being very up front about how his dad was manic depressive; he had a serious untreated mental illness for his entire adult life," says Carlin. "We were talking later about depression or something and I said to him, ‘Bruce, you said something to me that made me wonder, and it seemed like you were telling me that you take antidepressants. Am I correct?’ and he said, ‘Yeah.’ And I said, ‘How would you feel about me putting that in the book?’ and he was silent for a second and then he said, ‘Yeah, that’s OK.’”
The man that emerges from the 474 pages of "Bruce" is alternately a controlling boyfriend, a driven bandleader, a junk food junkie and an artist who is constantly challenging himself.
"He works really hard at being a good man and doesn’t always live up to his own expectations of himself," says Carlin. "It felt very important to me to report stories I had heard about him being a dick. And I watched him have a temper tantrum on stage, at a soundcheck, furious at a guy who wasn’t even at work yet."
Even though Carlin unveils these imperfections and his inner fan boy is securely locked up throughout the narrative, he says his respect for Springsteen's artistic vision is unwavering.
"He’s so smart, so sensitive and so unafraid to dive into the darkness and mourn the horrors of the world, but also maintains that belief in possibility," he says.
Carlin was not the only one who learned a lot about Bruce Springsteen during this three-year writing process.
"He told me later, after he read the book, that part of what he valued about it was that he was reminded of how special the people in his life were," says Carlin.
Keep pushin' 'til it's understood
Photographer Eric Meola, best known for capturing Springsteen and late E Street Band sax legend Clarence Clemons on the iconic cover of “Born to Run,” has also recently released a new book on the Boss.
The book, “Streets of Fire: Bruce Springsteen in Photographs and Lyrics 1977-1979” is another rare glimpse of an artist who is constantly evolving. Many of the shots were taken at the sparsely decorated farmhouse Springsteen rented after “Born to Run” made him a star. The shots almost look like demo versions of the cover of “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” which came out in 1978.
“Every time we would get together, we would end up doing something very different from the time before,” says Meola. “He would stand in attic alcoves with light coming in and creating beautiful shadows and I started to realize that the emptiness of the house reflected a lot of the loneliness and despair that was going on in the music.”