The library of books about Bruce Springsteen is growing. The latest comes from England: E Street Shuffle: The Glory Days Of Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band (Constable Robinson Publishing) by Clinton Heylin. He’s written 24 books, including epics on Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, The Kinks, The Velvet Underground, The Sex Pistols, Richard Thompson and Joy Division. His tone here, though, is somewhat condescending, as he smirks his ways over the chinks in Bruce’s armor, almost gloating in spots. He may not exactly be the loathsome creature known as Albert Goldman [1927-1994] whose books on Lennon and Presley spewed hatred for their subjects, but Heylin definitely has a chip on his shoulder.
That said, Heylin is, indeed, an amazing biographer, having taken from Bruce’s onstage raps, recording studio logs, previously published interviews, brand new interviews (but not with Bruce), tons of song lyrics (many from discarded songs), reviews, newspapers and “long-buried archival recordings and bootlegs,” as the cover sleeve announces. The 438-page book actually stops on page 299, the rest of it being “Further Notes On Springsteen Songs” (impeccably researched as to when each was first performed live and recorded) and “A Selective Bootleg CD Discography.”
The result is endlessly fascinating for the Bruce fanatic but may be a bit much for everyone else.
Did you know, for instance, that Bruce’s first band, The Castiles, played “One By One” by The Blues Magoos and “Omaha” by Moby Grape? His descriptions of the Upstage club are wonderfully evocative of the time and era. Lenny Kaye remembers seeing Child where Bruce’s band plays a free gig at Monmouth College and he’s blown away by their 10-minute cover of Donovan’s “Season Of The Witch.” Much is made over why Bruce turned down Bill Graham’s record contract offer, and why he failed to make it as a solo in San Francisco. Bruce is quoted as saying, “there were too many good musicians, and I’d left my rep as ‘bar band king’ in Jersey…so I drove home.”
There might be readers reading this review right now who remember Black Oak Arkansas. What they don’t know is that these racist Southerners took major exception in 1973 to their opening act. Drummer Vini Lopez recalls, “We were a bunch of skinny white kids from New Jersey with a big Black guy in our band.” The headliners wind up kicking Clarence Clemons out of the backstage area.
A year later, Bruce meets Bowie and vows never to play venues with over a 3,000 capacity. “I’m not into people screaming at me,” he declares. Still, he hopes and wishes Bowie records his songs because he desperately needs money…and Bowie does.
The studio craziness starts a third of the way in. Bruce: “It turned into this thing that was wrecking me, just pounding me into the ground.” Heylin writes: “Losing control in his private life, he was over-obsessing at his workplace.”
Legal hell ensues, but according to Heylin, the contract Bruce signs with Mike Apell is the standard music biz boilerplate. Apell, in this book, is a great manager. Mortgaging his house to finance Bruce’s career, going to bat for him with Columbia, getting him into John Hammond’s office, yelling and screaming 24/7 to whoever would listen about how great his client is, and producing his music. The fact that Columbia Records signed Appel’s production company and not, actually, Bruce Springsteen, according to Heylin, is similar to what David Bowie signed with Tony Defries and John Fogerty signed with Saul Zaentz. You sign away your own songs, you don’t legally own them, but you become a superstar. It’s like what Robert Johnson did at the crossroads with the devil. Bruce, after losing it in court where he stands up and starts jumping on the table, comes to understand this. The story portion of the book ends in 2009 with a brand new quote from Appel himself.
“Bruce just called up out of the blue. I was in a diner with my son. `Who’s this?’ `It’s Bruce.’ `What on earth on you calling me about?’ `Well, it’s the last date of the tour and we’re gonna do the Greetings From Asbury Park album. We never did it. I’d like you to be there.’ `Bruce, it’s twelve noon now. How am I gonna be there?’ `Don’t worry ‘bout a thing. Go to your house. I’ll arrange everything.’ So we return to the house. A hour later, a limousine picks us up, takes us to the airport. Of course, they have their own jet. We all went up there with the E Street Band.”