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BLOGNESS INTERVIEW: ‘Bruce’ author Peter Ames Carlin, Part 2
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The writers of this blog are not music critics, and they don't consider a second (or third, fourth or fifth) mortgage to be a perfectly reasonable course of action to pay for front-row tickets, but despite being a whole lot more middle aged than ...
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Bruce Springsteen
The writers of this blog are not music critics, and they don't consider a second (or third, fourth or fifth) mortgage to be a perfectly reasonable course of action to pay for front-row tickets, but despite being a whole lot more middle aged than they were when they first put \x34Born in the U.S.A.\x34 or \x34The River\x34 down on the turntable, still feels like Bruce has something -- OK, a lot of things -- to say about our country and the way we live our lives, things that not a lot of other artists are saying. And whether he's talking about the knife that can cut this pain from your heart, the house that's waiting for you to walk in or what that flag flying over the courthouse means, he's nailing down feelings that are so universal that they can raise your spirits and break your heart at the same time. Plus, let¹s face it, the man rocks.
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By Pete Chianca
Nov. 30, 2012 12:01 a.m.



Blogness on the Edge of Town recently sat down with “Bruce” author Peter Ames Carlin — a former People and Oregonian writer with biographies of Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney already under his belt — to talk about how he approached writing his New York Times bestselling biography of Bruce Springsteen.

In part 2, he talks about the darker side of Bruce, and what didn’t make it into the book.

Blogness: You can see in the book that Springsteen cares so much about his audience – and he also has an ego of his own …

Carlin: The size of Texas, yeah. [laughs]

Blogness: Right … That sort of plays into the concept of the dark and light in his songs and in the person, which was a thread in the book that I found really interesting.

Carlin: Yeah, and in some ways that’s really an inevitable thing. And to me the interesting thing was that he was very interested, very enthusiastic about me capturing him at his less heroic. To get past the caricature, or the symbolic thing and render him in human terms. And that was a big thing for me, the fact that he was that eager for that to happen – had zero problem with that whatsoever.

Blogness: So did you uncover anything in your research that disappointed you, or that you were almost sorry you had to include in the book?

Carlin: I remember feeling a little disturbed when he was having that that tantrum on stage during the soundcheck before Atlanta this March, because as I say in the book right afterwards, that’s not the Bruce that you know. But of course he’s like that! Because everybody’s like that to some degree – I sure am. You’re just bitchy [sometimes]. You can’t be bitchy on as grand a scale as he, but you can be your lesser self.

It was pretty much what I expected, because I expected him to be dark and complicated. I expected him to have limits on his warmth and on his patience. So when he’d go ballistic or start becoming the Bruce that people sort of roll their eyes about, I was kind of prepared for that to happen. I didn’t expect him to be super-cool all the time.

Blogness: There is stuff that came up from his early years, including an incident where he struck a girlfriend, and his confrontation with another girlfriend from the stage at the No Nukes concert, that kind of make you cringe.

Carlin: Exactly – if there was one story that was actually terrible to write – well, actually it was fun to write, because it was full of drama and action – was that No Nukes thing. And it also seemed like it rang a chime that I had introduced about his relationships with women, and this was happening in Cinemascope.

Blogness: The last half of the book covers 30-plus years of Springsteen’s career at a fairly breakneck pace. Did you ever consider going with two volumes so you could tackle those years in more detail? Or was it just that you found the early years to be the most interesting to explore?

Carlin: Well, yeah, it could have been two – it could have been more than that! And maybe it should have been two … The material just exploded once Landau got in touch and let me talk to anyone. Suddenly I just had towers and towers of information.

And so when I first wrote the manuscript I erred on the side of “throw everything in.” But we knew that we sort of had a finite space, and it didn’t seem like there was going to be a moment when Simon & Schuster was going to say, you know what, let’s rethink this and maybe do this as a way longer book, or two books …

There has been a little bit of criticism from some sectors of the fan world about why it zooms through the second half so quickly. I can see the frustration and, to be honest, I kind of wish I’d been able to spend more time with this too. But there’s a certain amount of narrative triage you need to do when you’re writing on deadline and to a specified limit.

And you’re also trying to figure out well, who is the audience here? Is it the kind [who’s interested in a] micro-fact thing, which is important and can be hugely satisfying? But the general reader here might feel like what they’re interested in is the narrative, and the story of this guy’s struggling to make it, and then struggling with his emotional problems and his memories and tangled feelings, and then finally getting into that groove where things seem to move more or less really smoothly. The story of the struggle turns out to be a little more dramatic than the story of things being smooth.

The good news, I think, is that I’ve got just tons and tons of first-person interviews and transcripts from people who witnessed this, who were a part of Bruce’s life and story, and there’s a ton of information there that didn’t make it into the book, and it’s not going anywhere – I still have it, and at some point in the future I’m hoping to find a way to use it. I have no idea what it might be or where or when, but that part of his story, of those historic events, hopefully at some point I’ll find a way to put them into something else.

Blogness: As you know I wrote a book – sort of a booklet – on Springsteen’s Greatest Albums, so I’ve decided to ask everybody I speak to about their favorite Springsteen album. What’s yours, and why?

Carlin: Such a tough question … I tell you, the one I always go back to, and it has as much to do with my experience, is Darkness, because that’s the one I came in on.

I knew about Born to Run and I’d heard “Spirit in the Night” and “Blinded by the Light” and “Sandy,” those early kind of FM radio songs, so I was familiar with them. And I have a vivid memory of hearing “Born to Run” on AM radio – it had to be ’75, when I was out camping with my Boy Scout troop. It came across the car radio and I remember hearing the DJ saying, “And this is the guy who’s supposedly the future of rock ’n’ roll”… And it just clashed into my ears, and I thought, “Bruce is a really weird name for a rock star, and this song is really weird – it doesn’t sound like anything on the radio, and I kind of don’t get this.”

But three years pass, and then Darkness came out, and I was that much older and a little more open to things, and it was “The Promised Land” on the radio that did it for me. That chorus – “Mister I ain’t a boy, no I’m a man, and I believe in the Promised Land.” That had the sort of take-your-stand feeling but also there’s a gentleness – there was a real vulnerability in saying, in announcing, really, that “I believe in the Promised Land.” It’s not just a macho man, it’s a guy who’s alluding to thought and feeling and complication. I don’t know if I thought all those things, but it hit me enough that I went down and bought the record.

And so many of those songs are still among my favorites – many days “Racing in the Street” is my favorite Bruce song ever. But then again, some days Wild, Innocent is my favorite record, or Tunnel of Love, or Magic — or the new one!

NOTE: Peter Ames Carlin will be conducting a Q&A at the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland on Tuesday evening, Dec. 5. He’ll be reading and signing books at the Oregon History Museum in Portland at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 10, and on Dec. 13 will talk about Springsteen at the East Bend Public Library in Bend, Ore., starting at 6:30. For more information, visit peteramescarlin.com.



 

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