Book Review: The Ties That Bind

Rock & Roll books, bound but ungagged

The Ties That Bind

Bruce Springsteen and the Promise of Rock & Roll

by Marc Dolan
Norton, 529 pp., $29.95

Few musicians can be set against the past half-century of American culture, but Bruce Springsteen remains undeniably among them. Because of that, Marc Dolan's laying out the Jersey icon's trajectory to stardom within an overarching "promise of rock & roll" and sociopolitical purpose threatens to collapse under academic ambitions. Fortunately, while he begins in grand strokes, the biographer quickly dives into Springsteen's life with such vitality and deeply researched methodology that, like the songwriter, the book rises meaningfully from the narrow minutia of Northern Jersey to a broader national significance and consciousness. The author's close song readings and autobiographical backgrounds to Springsteen's lyrics are endlessly rewarding, but more valuable are the insights to the subject onstage, where the singer not only finds his confidence as a performer, but also offers explications of songs at various intervals in his career. Especially notable is the ambivalence of joy and struggle that drives 1980's The River, upon which Dolan marks the heart of his thesis: Springsteen's prominence allowed him to become a voice of force and effect and not simply emotion. Dolan never loses sight of the man or his music within this larger context, through even The Ghost of Tom Joad and the post-9/11 consciousness of The Rising. Perhaps the biography's greatest credit is that while marvelously detailed, Dolan's writing moves with a pace that engages like a Springsteen show: long, poignant, and enthusiastic throughout.

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