The other day I saw Peter Ames Carlin, the author of Bruce, a new biography of Springteen, answer questions about his latest work (he has also written biographies of Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney). The questions were posed by Sean Wilentz, an esteemed historian whose areas of expertise include Andrew Jackson, Ronald Reagan, Bob Dylan, and now Columbia Records — Wilentz’s new history of America’s oldest record label was released yesterday. Probably the most notable aspect of the event was the audience, most of whom were Bruce’s main demographic, aging 50+ year-old men and women. (I was one of maybe three people under the age of forty.)
Bruce inspires a certain level of devotion, and the event was in New Jersey, so these old folks were serious fans. Almost everyone had a copy of the new book, 2 out of 3 were wearing Springsteen shirts, and the talk occasionally took on characteristics of a revival meeting, with the audience hooting and hollering in support of their favorite rock star. At one point, Carlin quoted lyrics from “Thunder Road,” causing a man to the left of me to engage in a dramatic fist pump. At another moment, a woman from the crowd asked Carlin about the cover of the book, noting that it was from a 20 year-old copy of Rolling Stone that she had saved at home (presumably as part of her Springsteen shrine). She seemed disappointed to learn that the publishers had picked it just because it looked cool.
Carlin wasn’t the most interesting speaker. He spent a lot of time talking about very confusingly about Springsteen’s genealogy and the man’s complicated relationship with his father. He also made a few statements that struck me as strange for a biographer who’s supposed to be acquainted with all the facts about his subject, such as, “I like to imagine Springsteen’s Dutch ancestors came over with the Pilgrims to Plymouth rock.” There was also a heavy dose of “Springsteen is the perfect mix of everyone in America” rhetoric — Dutch, Italian, and Irish; seems like he’s just a mix of Western-European immigrants, not that special — and “Springsteen is the biggest rock and roll star of the 80s,” which left me wondering, what about Prince!?!
But all and all, it was a fun event. One of Springsteen’s earliest drummers was in the crowd, Vini Lopez, (who was also quoted in the recent Springsteen profile in The New Yorker), and he assured us in that in the earliest days, the band played to crowds of 6 people and all they got for their labor was some free beer. Apparently, when Springsteen was recording “Adam Raised A Cain,” for his album Darkness On The Edge Of Town, he told the studio engineer to mix the song while imagining a happy, romantically-involved couple enjoying a picnic and not noticing that there was a dead body near them. There were plenty of nifty tidbits along those lines.
Below, an outtake from 1980, which for some odd reason didn’t make an album. It was eventually released on the compilation Tracks, which contained previously unreleased material.