Running from Boundaryless Love

Born to Run is an anthem of escape, seemingly an exodus from the confinements of small-town America: “H-Oh, Baby this town rips the bones from your back / It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap / We gotta get out while we’re young / ‘Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run.”

Springsteen’s recent memoir shows that it’s more complicated than that. Reviewing the memoir in The Atlantic, David Brooks describes the world Springsteen was born into and running from: The house in which Springsteen spent his early childhood was literally a ruin, the walls slowly collapsing. A subsequent house lacked running hot water, so the family filled the single tub with pots heated downstairs on the gas stove; the kids took turns bathing in the same water. Family relationships lacked stability. Bruce’s grandmother was devoted to him, and his mother was loyal to her brooding and unstable husband, but rules were nonexistent. At five and six, Bruce was staying up until three in the morning and sleeping until three in the afternoon. He ate when and whatever he wanted. ‘It was a place where I felt an ultimate security, full license and a horrible unforgettable boundary-less love,’ he writes. ‘It ruined me and it made me.’”

And the destination, Brooks says, wasn’t the open highway: The “‘dreams and visions’ he wanted to guard had a 1950s whiff. He was not rejecting working-class ideals but fulfilling them—more Johnny Unitas than Joe Namath. We don’t need his memoir to reveal the importance to him, musically and personally, of feeling anchored to a place: That his creative roots lie in the shore towns of central New Jersey has been obvious for decades. From those communities, with their high quotient of eccentrics (is it that not so many people there had been polished by office-park culture?), he drew material for two commercially unsuccessful albums and then, in 1975, Born to Run.”

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