Dave Marsh, the biographer of the Boss, has dubbed Springsteen fans the cult. Springsteen fans habitually follow the guy around. Waiting in line at a show, waiting for the gates to open it is not uncommon to hear a cacophony of accents and languages. Some more than others. Natives from New Jersey and Italians tend to follow the Boss with just a tad more fervor than the average Springsteen fan, but it’s a trait that runs through all of us. There are many rewards of following the man around, of collecting every recording, legally or otherwise. Few artists allow you to actually grow old with them, few artists manage to maintain a certain level of integrity and artistic merit throughout their entire career. Springsteen does just that and gives a mean show to boot. For those in the know, following Springsteen around isn’t as odd as it may seem on the outside.
Springsteen may also be one of the few artists that is defined as much by his audience as he is by his body of work. After all he is continuously looking for that connection with the fans that surround him. So as good as Dave Marsh’s biography may be, it only tells half the story. For the other half you need to turn to the fans themselves. “For You” does just that. The book is the labor of love of Lawrence Kirsch, part of the cult since ’75. Kirsch first had the pleasure to experience Springsteen on a freezing winter night in ’75, in Montreal. “Bruce acted out the songs with such conviction he seemed to be living them out on stage. The audience was spell bound as this small skinny whirlwind of a man commanded their attention, he remembers now. Realizing, after attending many shows that felt like a family reunion, that the cult has a “pent-up desire to share” he set out to collect those stories. He received over 1500 stories from all over the globe. Kirsch gave himself the task to edit through them and decide which to publish. “It was very difficult to pick the ones that appear in the book” Kirsch relates. “the ones that made it into the book are not necessarily the best” he confesses, “No these stories are representative of the ‘Springsteen experience’ from the poignant and heartfelt, to the passionate and the trivial.” Lawrence himself calls the book a testimonial, and a treasure trove of tales. I think “For You” became more than that. Taken as a collective these stories represent the missing half of Springsteen’s biography.
Through the book we get a different perspective on Springsteen. We watch him grow up through the eyes of the cult and see the cult growing up with him. Kirsch allows us to unravel the secret of Springsteen’s magnetism like few other books can. There’s the complete awe of first concert experiences over the decades. There’s the fulfillment of that promise years burning down the road. There’s stories of fans coming to terms with strained family relations, Springsteen as the natural soundtrack in the back. We share in the battle against cancer, Springsteen offering that comforting shoulder. Flipping through its pages we meet Wendy from Born to Run, learn that the Big Man’s name is also Paul. Story after story the picture unfolds, after you’re done you feel like you’ve captured an essential element of Springsteen a classic biography could never capture. In a sense Kirsch is re-writing the book on how these things should be done or at least giving us the other side of the coin. The 400 something gorgeous pictures that were contributed to the book almost seem like a side note compared to that.
“Bruce fans are a fraternity” Kirsch reflects on the book now, “we share something deep and special, a relationship with the artist and with each other. At every show you meet old and new fans and the “family” grows larger and larger”. That probably explains why Springsteen is the first artist to have an alternative biography like this. You could wonder if the same kind of biography could even work for other artists. I like to think Springsteen fans are pretty unique in our seemingly unhealthy devotion. Although Kirsch called the book “a very personal tribute to an inspired and inspiring human being”, I think the reverse is also true. “For You” is a tribute to the cult as well. “For You” was printed as a limited edition of 2000, available through the web only, get yours while they last.
About the author: I started blogging out of a fascination with Soul music, Bruce Springsteen and Americana in general. Over at Boss Tracks I'm blogging on Bruce Springsteen and the songs he covered. http://bosstracks.blogspot.com/