Less than a year ago, word began circulating of a new “definitive” biography of Rock and Roll icon Bruce Springsteen. These rumors were like manna from heaven for frustrated Springsteen fans, who have been waiting for decades for this kind of biography. And who could blame them? For almost four decades there have been more than a dozen failed efforts at telling the complete Bruce Springsteen story, including a two-part tome by quasi-official Springsteen biographer Dave Marsh, who’s been accused of hagiography and personal bias. (Marsh happens to be married to Barbara Carr, co-manager for Bruce Springsteen.)
Regretfully, Peter Ames Carlin’s new Springsteen bio Bruce is yet another disappointment. Carlin is a former People magazine writer, who’s also penned biographies of musicians Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson. And despite three years of research and interviews with family, friends and former associates of Springsteen, Carlin never quite gets to the heart of the matter. Despite a litany of never-before-reported anecdotes, Carlin’s book lacks any semblance of passionate and critical commentary.
Bruce does feature plenty of “gotcha”-style splash that will surely please many readers. But its gaping failures are too wide to ignore. There are far too many threads begun but left dangling and unresolved. Even Springsteen’s own contributions seem flat and recalcitrant. At one point, responding to questions about his father’s psychological instability, Springsteen says: “The drinking was a problem. I’ve actually written quite a bit about this. I don’t know how much of it you don’t get.” Ouch.
In the final analysis, Bruce is an ambitious but dispassionate and hollow-feeling biography. Carlin fails to capture Springsteen’s heart and soul and his vitally important relationship with his fans. Perhaps the only complete account of Springsteen’s life will have to come from the man himself.