During a recent weekend, as I tired of watching more episodes of “Fixer Upper,” I pulled a book off the shelf that had been sitting there since my son, Nate, had arrived home from college for good in May.
“Born to Run,” the autobiography of Bruce Springsteen, made for easy reading. After decades spent reading books and articles about Springsteen that were written by many competent journalists, this tome was the Boss in his own words.
“Born to Run” provided a new and much more personal look at this native son of Freehold Borough and Monmouth County who, since releasing his first album in 1973, has been touring the world, mostly with the E Street Band.
In reading “Born to Run” I learned:
• The first performance by one of Springsteen’s early groups, the Castiles, took place at the Angle In trailer park on Route 33 in Howell. How many people could possibly remember or even have known that? The Castiles played during a community barbecue.
I know that Springsteen is still playing the area (he sang a few songs with a local band during a recent event at a firehouse in Marlboro) and the Angle In still sits on the same Route 33 tract a half-century later. The more things change …
• He describes emulating Pete Townsend while playing an early concert in the cafeteria in the basement of the St. Rose of Lima School in the borough. Hilarious. I’ve played Bingo in that cafeteria on Saturday nights. Bruce would be welcome to return to St. Rose to join the fun with the “mature” (i.e., older) Bingo players at his elementary school.
• After Bruce’s parents moved from Freehold Borough to California in the late 1960s and he and his friends got booted from the family home on South Street, the superstar in waiting became a man without a home.
In his own words, he slept anywhere he could put down a mattress, including a spare room in the shore area surfboard factory operated by his band’s manager, as well as on the beach in Asbury Park.
This situation continued for years as Springsteen sought to make a living in music and even after he signed with Columbia Records and released his first album. It was unnerving to read about the conditions in which he lived. He was close to, if not actually destitute.
• Springsteen reveals and describes in detail his battle with mental illness that has lasted for decades, up to and including his 68th year. To the best of my knowledge, his battle with this disease had not been publicly revealed until the publication of “Born to Run.”
I do not think I would be overstating Springsteen’s battle with mental illness in saying that on several occasions his life appeared to be hanging by a thread.
The public person so many people have encountered around Monmouth County for decades – an approachable friend who greets fans with a smile, a hug or a handshake, seemingly unfazed by intrusions on his time – hid a secret hurt that none of us could have anticipated.
Springsteen’s words about his battle with his inner demons are deep, thoughtful and poignant. I have empathy for him and I hope he succeeds in his struggle to live with the disease.
In the end, Bruce ponders the future and returns home to Freehold Borough, a place he famously described in song as a “death trap,” but one he proves he cannot and may not want to ever leave.
Mark Rosman is a managing editor with Newspaper Media Group.