Book Review: Sheet Music

Daniel Wolff

Sheet Music

4th of July, Asbury Park: A History of the Promised Land

by Daniel Wolff

Bloomsbury, 288 pp., $24.95

Runaway American Dream

by Jimmy Guterman

Da Capo Press, 246 pp., $15.95 (paper)

Amazon.com lists more than 80 books under the subject of Bruce Springsteen, including one written by the man himself (Songs). None, however, have used Springsteen, his music, and his popularity as a jumping off point to explore the history of Asbury Park, N.J., the place where Bruce became "the Boss." Wolff paints a well-researched, detailed portrait of South Jersey, but his thesis that the story of the seaside resort is the story of America doesn't really congeal. Thankfully, the United States has never been quite as dilapidated as Asbury Park finds itself at times. Still, Wolfe pushes the reader to care, making the summer boardwalk a joyous carnival and depicting the city's deterioration in a way that's tragic and unforgiving. His cast of characters includes John Phillip Sousa, Frank Sinatra, Count Basie, Stephen Crane, the KKK, and Bill Haley & His Comets. Those looking for direct insight into Springsteen should seek out Guterman's book instead. A series of essays, Runaway American Dream is an album-by-album, tour-by-tour analysis of Springsteen's career. Guterman is obviously a huge fan, but his method is quite literate; the combination of geekdom and intellect is neatly balanced. With incisive depth, Guterman details Springsteen's strengths and weaknesses, the reasons behind successes like Nebraska and Born to Run and the failure of Human Touch. He only oversteps when he disagrees with Springsteen's interpretations of his own Songs, saying they "veer towards empty rock-critic abstractions" when they simply don't jibe with the writer's reading of them. Ultimately though, Guterman has constructed a thought-provoking work that's a must for fans of the Boss.

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