Bruce Springsteen has always been something of an open book, even before the launch of his new memoir Born to Run, an instant best-seller. In it he adds to the Springsteen story many amusing and poignant revelations that take him from a hardscrabble childhood in Freehold, N.J., to global stardom. Here are eight such moments.
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Springsteen was struck by a rock ’n’ roll thunderbolt when he saw Elvis Presley on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1956. He persuaded his mother to rent a guitar, but “My 7-year-old fingers couldn’t even get around that big fret board.” He returned the instrument after one frenzied backyard pantomime performance. “I sucked,” he writes. But a seed was planted. “I smelled blood.”
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Springsteen endured corporal and emotional abuse as an altar boy and student at St. Rose of Lima Church in Freehold. Being choked, struck in the head, thrown in a closet and stuffed into a trash can, among other indignities, “left a mean taste in my mouth and estranged me from my religion for good,” he writes. And yet, “I came to ruefully and bemusedly understand that once you’re a Catholic, you’re always a Catholic.”
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Learning to Drive
The road romancer who wrote “Cadillac Ranch,” “Thunder Road,” “Wreck on the Highway” and “Racing in the Street” didn’t get his driver’s license until he was 24, relying instead on his bicycle and thumb. He first got behind the wheel at 21 during a nonstop cross-country run from New Jersey to California. In Nashville, his exhausted friend Tinker insisted that Springsteen take a turn. Springsteen weaved and jerked along the highway. “We were lucky I didn’t kill us,” he writes. “I just drove, no license, no permit, no experience.”
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Turned off by his father’s drinking and drunks he encountered at bar gigs, Springsteen didn’t take his first drink until he was 22, when he and a pal downed a series of Cuervo Gold tequila shots during a Shirelles show at the Osprey bar in Manasquan, N.J. Despite a pounding hangover the next day, Springsteen considered the outing the greatest night of his life. “I’d shut down my loudmouthed, guilt-infested, self-doubting, flagellating inner voice for an evening.”
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The IRS Wants What?
With the release of his third album, Born to Run, in August 1975, Springsteen rose to widespread fame — yet he had never paid a nickel in income taxes. The IRS hit him up for back taxes. Royalties and tour proceeds also went to lawyers, creditors and studio overhead costs. The bills “would keep me broke until 1982, 10 years and millions of records after I’d signed with CBS,” he writes. His indulgences to celebrate Born to Run: a Steinway baby grand piano and a 1960 Corvette he bought from a clerk at a Carvel ice cream stand.
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A New Car
After much anguish over whether to break a frugal, lifelong habit of buying used vehicles, Springsteen decided to indulge in a brand new model — a 1982 Chevy Z28 Camaro. He was 31. “I’d never spent $10,000 on myself,” he confesses. “I didn’t know anyone who was making more than they could live on, so the money I’d made left me feeling uncomfortably different and somewhat embarrassed.”
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During a stop in L.A. on the Born in the U.S.A. tour, Springsteen and bandmate Steven Van Zandt headed to Disneyland, anticipating a full day of thrills. But just inside the Magic Kingdom, Van Zandt was asked to remove his trademark bandanna “so he will not be misidentified as a gang member, Blood or Crip,” recalls Springsteen, who also refused to remove his head scarf. Mumbling “fascist mouse!” and worse, they departed for Knott’s Berry Farm — where they also were banned for their headwear.
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Part of the Pack
After meeting Frank Sinatra at a Hollywood party, Springsteen was invited into Ol’ Blue Eyes’ social circle for several years. At Sinatra’s 80th-birthday dinner, Springsteen’s wife, Patti Scialfa, joined Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme at the piano and serenaded Sinatra and Bob Dylan with “My One and Only Love.” Two years later, the Springsteens attended Sinatra’s 1998 funeral. Afterward, on the church steps, Jack Nicholson turned to Springsteen and quipped, “King of New Jersey.”