An intimate look at one of rock’s brightest stars and his legendary backing band
Before he was the swaggering, stadium-packing megastar, Bruce Springsteen was a brooding introvert, desperate to strike a balance between his nuanced songwriting and the heft of his backing band. Clinton Heylin’s revelatory biography, E Street Shuffle, chronicles the evolution and influence of Springsteen’s E Street Band as they rose from blue-collar New Jersey to the heights of rock stardom. The band’s players—most notably saxophonist Clarence “Big Man” Clemons, guitarist “Little” Stevie Van Zandt, and drummer Max Weinberg—became Springsteen’s comrades in concert, helping him find the elusive sound and sonic punch that highlighted The Boss’s most creative period, including Darkness on the Edge of Town, Born to Run, and Born in the USA. Fans will also learn another side of Springsteen, one punctuated with his clashes with studio executives seeking a commercially viable, radio-friendly album, and his temporary disbanding of the E Street Band to pursue projects like the eerie acoustic of Nebraska. Coinciding with the forteith anniversary of Springsteen’s debut album, Greetings from Asbury Park, drawing on interviews and access to new recordings and shows, Heylin paints a bold picture of The Boss.
I've always enjoyed Heylin's take on Bob Dylan, which he's parlayed into a mini-industry of written work, so I was curious to see what he thought of Bruce Springsteen. Predictably, the reaction seems to have been evenly split between those who think Heylin's brand of criticism is a breath of fresh air and those who think he's a biased curmudgeon with an axe to grind.
Who's to say he can't be both, and that the result can't be illuminating and worthwhile?
While there's a certain attractiveness about the Springsteen myth, there's only so much of that I can stand to read, and Heylin deflates the myth by focusing on Springsteen's creative process and framing his career as a series of botched attempts, second-guesses, failures, near-misses, and the flashes of brilliance that make his work so frustrating. By sticking to Springsteen's recording sessions, live performances (especially in the early years of the E Street Band), and his records, official and otherwise, Heylin winds up giving us the most extensive look yet at his art. Interspersed throughout are snippets of Springsteen's own words, from dozens of interviews over the years. These passages are chosen with care, and provide a window into the artist's psyche as well as his process.
As tends to be a problem with Heylin's work, this book is riddled with typos and small errors that a decent fact-checker should be catching. "War," for instance, was most certainly not written by "Edwin Collins" (sic).
There's such a tall mountain of Springsteen literature out there, and so much of it seems to proceed from the premise that Springsteen is above reproach, that it's refreshing to see an intelligent, critical discussion of the man and his work.
How do I put this? I am aware that Bruce Springsteen is a human being. He has flaws, moments of being an asshole, all that stuff. I know this, but I don't want to read about them. As someone who has written about rock music and been around the business, I am about as jaded and cynical as you can get, but when it comes to the Boss, I need the myth. Plus, the criticisms that Heylin makes come off as shallow, like he couldn't come up with enough dirt. Yes, he takes a while to make records. And he writes too many songs, and he could be moody. Wow.
The one thing I did like is that he didn't paint Mike Appell as a villain. He was an inexperienced manager, who did the best for his client and Bruce had no tact when he fired him.
Anyway, this not an Albert Goldman style hitjob, but if you need the myth of Springsteen in your life, I wouldn't recommend it.
This was awful. A litany of unreleased songs, lyric changes, and endless studio time. And then we have the author's opinion of these unreleased songs and lyric changes, and he's not happy with Bruce's choices. I can't believe I finished this. If someone owns every Boss bootleg and wants the origin story for every minute of music this is for them. This is the second crappy Heylin book I've picked up by Heylin, the first being "From The Velvets To The Voidoids." No more!
One-half of this book is truly insightful, cutting, and blessedly non-conformist; even a longtime Bruce fan like me can appreciate a little balloon-puncturing when it comes to Our Hero.
Heylin persuasively argues that as good as Bruce's classic run (1972-1984) was, it was in many ways a lost opportunity. Bruce's ability to self-edit, usually seen as his greatest strength, resulting in seven nearly-unimpeachable albums of concision and purpose, is here given a counter-argument that his message got muddled through the constant rewriting and months-long delays.
Heylin has his preferences, some of which strike me as self-consciously harsh -- he clearly prefers the first, jazzier incarnation of the E Street Band and the fantastical street epics Bruce was writing to the leaner, more "realistic" stuff of the Bittan/Weinberg era, and he doesn't care for The River at all -- but I agree that Bruce became his own worst enemy and needed someone to stand up to him, especially once he fired Mike Appel. Landau was too cerebral for the task, feeding him literature instead of deadlines.
Something also got lost once Bruce made the jump from clubs to arenas, and then again to stadiums. That might sound like reflexive nostalgia for the old days, but I don't think he's altogether wrong.
But Heylin reserves the other half of his book to a tedious deep-dive of the archives, which kills the momentum of his narrative. Troves of unreleased material are given pages of discussion, and his general feeling is that they're all better than what Bruce actually released. We get sidetracked with which songs were recorded on which dates, making you feel like you're reading Mark Lewisohn's comprehensive book on Beatles recording sessions instead of a story about the E Street Band, who are curiously absent for long stretches.
Heylin actually ends up sabotaging his own book, because as you read on, you start distrusting his nonconformism. (He quotes a former Springsteen employee who says nothing on The River is the match of Darkness, which is such obvious hyperbole. Start with the title track!)
Some good stuff here but it needed another pass through the quality-control machine. 2.5 stars.
Friday afternoon in Cleveland, WMMS on the radio, 5:00 comes around as the opening cords of Born to Run sound. It's the weekend. I knew that the weekend started all through the late 1970s and early 80s because The Boss was playing, Cleveland's patron saint of rock and roll. Even today, the 80s are long gone, WMMS died and was reborn, Cleveland is long gone for me, but still as I ride into my weekend every week with Born to Run as the first song on my playlist.
E Street Shuffle is a history of Bruce Springsteen and not so much the ever changing East Street Band. Heylin covers Springsteen's up bringing in a less than perfect blue collar environment which many long time fans will appreciate. For others, this book is a good history of Springsteen and younger readers may be surprised to know that Springsteen's professional music career predates Born in the USA by more than a decade.
Followers of Springsteen familiar with The Promise will recognize the detailed history of the events between Springsteen and Appel. Heylin also covers the giving music to Patti Smith, Natalie Cole, and Gary US Bonds. Great detail is given to the making of Darkness on the Edge of Town, and the struggles to make Nebraska and Born in the USA. The painful process of song writing and making an album for Springsteen differs greatly Keith Richards protrays it in Life.
There is something to learn for just about everyone. As a fan of both, I was surprised to learn that Patti Smith snubbed Springsteen on several occasions in New York. Darkness of the Edge of Town is portrayed much differently than I remember the album, one of my favorites It is surprising the tremendous amount of music that Springsteen had for his albums and all the new music created while trying to cut a new album. The book is a very detailed account of the rise of Springsteen through Born in the USA.
The writing style is clear and concise. Although not individual cited in the text, there is a detailed bibliography. There are also quoted sections inserted into the text that provide support and first hand description of the events. Heylin also mentions the the other rockers in the era that were Springsteen's peers: Patti Smith, Lenny Kaye, The New York Dolls. Important players in pulling American rock music up from the disco era. Minor complaints come from sneaking song lyrics as part of the text, it may seem clever to some to use song lyrics as your own text, I found it a bit too much. The chapter titles, however are great “Songs About Cars and Girls” and “Something in the Night”. Also an index would be a nice addition to the book (which may be included in the final edition). All an all an excellent, in depth book.
On the plus side, the author has access to a huge number of recording sessions and is able to trace the evolution of Springsteen's songs and albums. He shows the evolution of each Springsteen album and how much Springsteen struggled to find the "perfect" album, the perfect songs, even the perfect order for the songs. Heylin also has access to numerous interviews of Springsteen and many others, and is able to illustrate some of the thought processes that went into the decisions.
However, there were lots of downsides. For a book that claimed to be about Bruce Springsteen AND the E Street Band, the E Street Band was barely present. The band is barely present in the book, and the band member who gets the second most attention is David Sancious, who was only in the band through the first two albums.
Second, the book discusses the acrimonious split between Springsteen and his then manager Mike Appel. The book includes many quotes from an obviously recent interview with Appel, but no contemporary quotes from either Springsteen or Jon Landau. It comes off as the Mike Appel redemption tour, rather than an honest examination of the events.
My final complaint is colored by my unabashed love of Springsteen, but after "The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle", the author consistently second guesses and criticizes every decision that Springsteen made. According to the author, every cut on every album should have been replaced by a better one or a different version (often from an incomplete recording), that every decision Springsteen made was the wrong one, and that, no matter which direction Springsteen took in his career, the author felt he had headed the wrong way. I'm sure someone who is not as much of a fan may have felt that this was a more even-handed portrayal, but I was just frustrated by the unending criticism, and ended up just not enjoying the book because of it.
This book was more oral history than anything else: a behind the scenes look at Springsteen's career pieced together through scraps of interviews, documentaries, and court depositions. There's an addictive quality to it - every time the band entered the studio again, I found myself revisiting the album to see what was left standing after the creative process. That said, I wanted more than arguments over songs/editing - how The Boss writes, how ideas evolve. Heylin seems far more interested in documenting infighting and offering his opinion on everything (spoiler alert: he always prefers the tracks that did not make the album, and he always thinks other critics were wrong). With access to Springsteen, a book like this could have been transcendent. Without it, it probably should have been 100 pages shorter. Also, it would probably help if the author actually liked the albums he was so thoroughly documenting - his overarching narrative seems to be missed opportunities at recording greatness, and that is just not my take on the E Street Band's story. Still, I have been listening to old Springsteeen tracks for days, and I have zero complaints about the journey.
The E Street Shuffle is an interesting and detailed account of the working and thinkings of Bruce Springsteen , his management issues , his song writing , his OCD and his relationships with people. I revisited his early albums as I read the book and enjoyed relistening to his anthems. The detail of his songs , the bootlegs the time - the long long time in the studios , his relationships with management and his treatment of members of his long standing team show that Bruce like is all - has his issues - but you probably knew w that. I enjoyed reading this book and it helped me return to music I really enjoyed in my twenties and thirties. Is Bruce relevant today - maybe not - but in his pomp of course.
Heylin’s book is a nice book to supplement Springsteen’s autobiography’Born to Run’. Heylin does a good job of chronicling the people and events that built the albums and songs in the Bruce E Street Band and solo cannon but it lack the heart and passion that only Bruce could give that comes through in ‘Born to Run’. Still a great read for any Bruce or Rock and Roll fan for sure.
The Glory Days of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (Clinton Heylin) – Critical but incisive and insightful biog. It could have done with a bit less about Bruce’s psychosis and a bit more about the E street band.
I bought this book ages ago and finally sat down to read it. I thought it was going to be more about the band members and the early days but that's not exactly what it was about and I honestly got bored half way thru
Not the book I thought it would be. Actually very little about the E Street Band members, and their relationships amongst each other, and with Bruce. Very little about life on the road, and only vague generalities about receding sessions. Mostly about the evolution of songs and albums from Bruce’s perspective, and the business drama with Appel and CBS.
I have been a Springsteen fan for a long time so I was really excited to read this book about him and The E Street Band. I ended up learning a lot about the difficult times Springsteen had before he became so successful. Heylin does a great job of giving an inside look into the frustration Springsteen had with figuring out which direction he wanted his music to go. It was really interesting to read about how Springsteen for a time thought about going solo and doing acoustic work. I enjoy all of Springsteen's records but my favorites are the ones with The E Street Band.
Though I did learn a lot from the book I did find it very boring at times. There was just too much detail for me into all of the drama between Springsteen and record companies, producers, managers, and other band members. The book just seemed to get bogged down in too much information. I enjoyed reading about the chemistry the band had and how the songs were recorded, I did not need such a detailed look into legal troubles Springsteen had.
I would think that only a big Springsteen fan would find this book worthwhile. Anyone elso would get lost in all of the time spent on Springsteen's music before Born in the USA. For the die hard fan there is some intersting information and a different look at how Springsteen came to be such a huge success.
I picked up this book purely on the strength of Heylin's book on Dylan's recording sessions. I'm relatively new to Springsteens music, and was looking for a book to help me find my way in. Purely as a biography, I do not think this is a very satisfying read; there might be something better on the market, painting a more diverse and complete picture of Bruce. Do not pick up this book if you are looking for a general biography about 'any famous person will do'. Clinton Heylin is all about the music, and that's what you get, in DETAIL! For a first read, it might sometimes go way too far and way too deep (at least for a rookie as me.) But I know, this book will pay back it's investment in the future. After all, it ain't Heylin's fault, Bruce liked to record way more songs than he ever could fit on an average LP.
Lots of varied comments about this book so it's maybe worth saying that if you want a biography of Bruce then this is not the book for you. What it is though is a look at Springsteen the creative artist and his work with the E-Street Band who were always more than just a backing band for the Boss.
As such, there's a heavy focus on the creative process and other things going on in Bruce's life are usually just mentioned as they impact on this.
Heylin's books are always prone to generate debate and this is no different. Whether you agree with him or not is perhaps less important than the act of engaging your brain with the issues. For what it's worth, I'm with him on the question of Appel and Landau, think he's probably right about The River, but I LOVE Cadilac Ranch.
I've always been a big fan but this book had lots of info that I didn't know. Didn't know it took him seven years of bumming around from one band to another, different band members, different promoters and a really hard time of making it. He came up dirt poor and didn't get along with his dad, often sleeping outside in a sleeping bag. He was a big Van Morrison, Bob Dylan fan but had his own style and stayed with it. The book gets a little bogged down in the middle talking about promoters and contracts and such but he's a true legend today that has survived all the bad times and came up on top in the end.
A fascinating read, but at times it seemed like I'd read it before. It suffers from the same problems as his definitive Dylan book, "Behind the Shades". As in it tends to get too far into the weeds of outtakes of albums and tends to argue that take 74, would have been better than take 73.
That aside, he's learned since the Dylan book to give up when he gets bored. Where in the Dylan book you could tell he was struggling to wrote anything good about post 60's Dylan, here he just stops after 1984.
Anyway, it's a good balanced read and covers the bases through about the release of Nebraska where he starts to loose steam.
This isn't an intimate look at the man as much as a really detailed look at his songs 1969-1984. And it is really boring. I am a BIG fan but I found this book so dull. I read every word, just in case there was something interesting in it that I didn't know about him, but, all I discovered was long lost songs and lyrics that I'm never gonna hear unless I can obtain bootlegs of bootlegs. It was ridiculous. Heylin is opinionated beyond belief about things that don't matter and have never had an impact of the artist's life. So what if he left off Independence Day from Darkness? Jeez, we got it on The River! Badly written. Disappointed. :(
Highly opinionated and essential reading for fans of early Springsteen in which Vini "Mad Dog" Lopez and David Sancious finally get their due. Springsteen as thin-skinned self-absorbed studio perfectionist is at odds with how we know him today as the peoples' mega rock star. The book is especially good when examining Springsteen's song writing and creative process. It is all the more remarkable that he has made such powerful & fresh sounding music through such self-conscious and belabored means.
Somehow I got it in my head that Clinton Heylin's E Street Shuffle was more about the E Street Band and less about Springsteen, specifically. Turns out it's a pretty straight forward Boss bio with a couple interviews of band members sprinkled throughout. But like Stevie Van Zandt told Bruce in a darkened kitchen a few days before Bruce's induction into the Rock and Roll HOF as a solo artist. "Yeah, I understand. But Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band -- That's the legend." Someone should write that book about the legend.
I'm a gigantic Springsteen fan and have seem him live a bunch of times in the 15 years. I was late to the party, however, and didn't become a fan until the late '90s/early '00s. For that reason, it's possible that I don't mind it when Heylin pokes holes in Bruce's image. The discussion of all the different album sequences and potential songs that just missed the cut is fascinating. Heylin did a ton of research to put together the history of the studio work. I don't agree with a lot of his conclusions, but I still found the book quite interesting.
Read the British edition, with the appendix in back describing all of the recording sessions up thru Born in the USA. The actual text is only fair, with some unwarranted criticism and retreading lots of stuff that has been said many times before. I'm fine with criticism, but this comes across as snarky rather than substantial. The appendix at the end is worthwhile for all of the details on unreleased songs. There's a goldmine of stuff out there that Bruce still needs to release...
A relatively brief trot through Bruce Springsteen's career - focusing exclusively on his time with the E Street Band (i.e. up to Tunnel of Love). His first 3 albums are covered in the most detail (good for me as they're my favourites) but Heylin gives the impression that he doesn't like Bruce the man all that much. He is very much in the Mike Appel camp (his 1st manager and subject of a protracted lawsuit). That being said if you like Springsteen you'll like this book.
I received a free copy of this book from good reads first reads giveaway. First,I usually don't read biographies. I actually entered the contest because I wanted to give it to my dad, who is a huge Springsteen fan. He is currently reading it so I'm going to post his review of the book. Maybe, if I get to read it myself, I will in addition post my own review.
Weak and predictable analysis...but still a good time! It's stark how the songs slowly changed from the character driven rambling style of the first few records to something more concise-and better- by the time Born in the USA was hammered out. Guess I just wanted to hear more about that evolution.