5 recent Bruce books you need for the Springsteen fan in your life - or yourself
Updated: Dec 2, 2019
Martin Mull famously said that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture,”and yet people (this author included) continue doing it, maybe because a lot of us don't know how to play the guitar. When you're talking about an artist like Bruce Springsteen, though, his work seems to cry out for written commentary -- and when you're talking about supplementing your collection of Bruce Springsteen's music, you could do a lot worse than these recently published potential additions to your Bruce bookshelf.
Glory Days: Springsteen’s Greatest Albums, Second Edition, by Peter Chianca
Yes, I’m biased, being as I wrote this slim volume analyzing 10 classic Springsteen albums and making an argument as to which was his best album ever.
The updated edition for 2019 is available for the first time in paperback, and features a new introduction, a new chapter analyzing Springsteen’s first two albums, updated album rankings (where did High Hopes place? You’ll have to read it to see) and, collected for the first time, some of the most popular Springsteen posts and essays from Blogness on the Edge of Town from 2013-2019, including “Is ‘Western Stars’ the Springsteen album we need right now?”
You can check out excerpts here from the chapters on The Wild, The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle and Born in the USA -- this may not be the biggest Bruce book on this list, but at $5.99 it’s definitely the cheapest! (Er, “most reasonably priced.”) Perfect for your favorite Bruce-lover’s stocking.
Order Glory Days: Springsteen’s Greatest Albums here.
For You: Original Stories and Photographs by Bruce Springsteen's Legendary Fans, published by Lawrence Kirsch
The return of For You, publisher Lawrence Kirsch’s 2007 magnum opus collecting Springsteen stories from the rock troubadour’s most devoted fans, is nothing short of a godsend for the Bruceophiles who didn’t get a copy during its limited original run. Long a high-priced collectible on eBay, this new edition will allow less well-heeled fans to own maybe the greatest testament to what Springsteen’s work has meant to his devoted followers over the years, in their own words.
From my 2007 review:
In reading “For You,” at first it’s hard to believe that one performer could possibly have touched this many people this deeply — lifted them from depression, kept them from suicide, helped them through divorce or the death of a parent, or worse, a child. But story after story reveals just how much Springsteen’s music and his almost superhuman presence on the concert stage have penetrated people’s lives and, to the extent that it’s possible for music to do so, made them whole.
In fact, there’s a running theme of these reminiscences, one that is sure to warm any Bruce fan’s heart: that you are not crazy. Not crazy for seeing dozens or even hundreds of concerts; not crazy for feeling that Springsteen’s songs and lyrics have actually helped carry you through some of life’s toughest moments; not crazy to think that this man whom you’ve never met has and continues to fill some kind of void in your life.
Throw in one of the most impressive collections of Springsteen concert photos ever compiled between two covers, many never before published, and you have a must-own for any dedicated Boss fan.
Order For You here.
Bruce Springsteen: Rock and Roll Future, by Barry Schneier
Let’s face it: If “Rock and Roll Future” was nothing but wall-to-wall Schneier photographs without a word of text, it would still be a monumental release. That so many of the Boston-area photographer’s images from one of the most momentous nights of Bruce Springsteen’s early career -- the Harvard Square performance that inspired Jon Landau's “I have seen rock and roll future” review -- remained unseen for so long is unbelievable. But are we ever lucky to have them now.
That said, this volume is a lot more than just a scrapbook, thanks to the meticulous efforts of both Schneier and his collaborator, Backstreets Magazine editor Chris Phillips. The production values are stunning, with crisp reproduction and an impressive fold-out featuring Schneier’s immediately iconic shots of Bruce at the keyboard. And the writing absolutely adds to the package, in particular a fine forward by Eileen Chapman of The Bruce Springsteen Archives at Monmouth University, and a heartfelt introduction by Phillips in which he declares the May 9, 1974 concert “my time machine show.” I suspect he’s not the only one.
Throw in some great reproductions of Bruce ephemera from the era, first-person recollections from the likes of David Sancious and Garry Tallent, and Schneier’s own remembrances from that very special night -- plus, while supplies last, a slipcover! (I’m a sucker for slipcovers) -- and you have a volume that will leave a glaring hole in your collection if you don’t get your hands on it.
Order Bruce Springsteen: Rock and Roll Future here.
Bruce Springsteen: The Stories Behind the Songs, by Brian Hiatt
If you don’t have this one yet, what are you waiting for? Rolling Stone senior writer Brian Hiatt’s breakdown of Springsteen’s entire recorded catalog song by song, telling the story of how each track came to pass and putting them in historical and critical context, is an absolutely essential companion to Bruce’s recorded works.
And, as I pointed out in my initial review, it’s nothing but a pleasure to read, chock full of interesting insights, thrilling inside anecdotes and no small number of behind-the-scenes nuggets even the most devoted fans haven’t heard. In fact, its attention to detail and breezy style put you there in the studio with Springsteen in such an effective way that a certain stripe of Bruce fan -- we know who we are -- will have difficulty resisting the temptation to take in the whole 288 pages in one sitting.
And personally, I find Hiatt’s book is an important addition to the study of Springsteen especially for his deep dive into Bruce’s post-2000 material, in particular the monumental effort that resulted in “The Rising.” (Even if ending the whole shebang with the “American Beauty” EP is a bit anti-climactic.)
Order Bruce Springsteen: The Stories Behind the Songs here.
Long Walk Home: Reflections on Bruce Springsteen, edited by Jonathan D. Cohen and June Skinner Sawyers
Like any anthology this is a mixed bag -- you’d be justified if the confessional first essay, “Growing Up with Bruce Springsteen: A Fan’s Notes” by Eric Alterman of The Nation, led you to worry that we were in for a whole lot of Bruce-related over-sharing in its 270 pages.
But overall this is a great mix of authors and approaches, from Frank Stefanko’s short but compelling take on his 1982 Nebraska photo shoot with Bruce, to Greil Marcus’ 1979 essay on Springsteen’s soon-to-be-legendary Roxy bootleg, to a Richard Russo piece that backs into its Bruce connection in a way you probably won’t see coming.
As Cohen and Skinner Sawyers note in their introduction, these recollections and analyses are more important than ever as Bruce Springsteen enters the tail end of his career. “The Church of Springsteen has no mailing address, no set gathering place. It relies entirely on Springsteen himself,” they note. “When he is not touring it does not meet, and when he is gone it will cease to exist. There is no line of succession for The Boss.”
It’s a sobering thought, but books like these help make you realize how lucky we’ve been to attend that church as long as we have.
Order Long Walk Home here.