This edition of Springsteen’s lyrics, published like a collection of poetry, complete with scholarly scaffolding, is a substantial book and clearly a labour of love on the part of its editor, Leonardo Colombati. Of the 700 pages, the lyrics themselves take up just over 150; the rest is taken up by a hefty introduction (around 130 pages) and Colombati’s notes on each of the songs, which border on the obsessive (and which account for a further 140 plus pages). Appendices include a biography, a discography, tables of prizes and record sales, and, inevitably a bibliography too. This is clearly not for the faint-hearted or casual Springsteen follower. However, for the die-hard fan – and, let’s face it, Bruce has accumulated quite a few of them over a 45 year career – this is a treasure trove.

The lyrics themselves are organised somewhat counter-intuitively. Anyone on the hunt for a particular song will have to track it down via the table of contents, as the songs are not arranged alphabetically or chronologically, not even by album. Instead, the editor extends his imaginative approach to the project as a whole by conceptualising the lyrics in distinct, headed chapters, from the self-evident (‘Growin’ Up’) to the gnomic (‘Where Our Sins Lie Unatoned’).

Furthermore, the selections range across the span of Springsteen’s career, so that the first “chapter” of lyrics begins with ‘Nebraska’s’ ‘Used Cars’ (carelessly listed as ‘Used Car’ in the table of contents), continuing with two more ‘Nebraska’ cuts before proceeding with four songs from the first two albums, and concluding with two from 1975’s milestone ‘Born to Run’.

It is telling that a chapter of lyrics named after the hit single ‘Glory Days’ (hitting no. 5 in the US and no. 17 in the UK, the appendix informs me), and comprising a suite of similarly upbeat songs such as ‘Dancing in the Dark’ is relatively short – six songs. The more sober ‘Deliver Me from Nowhere’ chapter has fourteen – proof, it if were needed, that Springsteen’s muse has tended to inhabit the darker side of life, love and the American experience. And these examples are merely scratching the surface.

And what of Springsteen the poet? Well, as Colombati admits himself, Springsteen attempted to distance himself from the label: ‘I’m a songwriter, I’m not a poetry man’ he proclaimed in 1975. Nevertheless, Springsteen has taken himself, and his legacy, increasingly seriously as the years have gone by, something that has been for both better and worse: I can forgive the occasionally teeth-grindingly precious and torturous interview if he can continue to bless us with such serious and comprehensive retrospectives on his career such as the ‘Born to Run’, ‘Darkness’ and ‘The River’ boxed sets. One wonders whether he might not be flattered by the prospect of being assessed simply as a poet. But, then again, here we find ourselves in the hotly (and, for the most part, pointlessly) debated territory of the arguments for and against awarding Dylan the Nobel Prize for Literature. What is indisputable is that, when Springsteen’s muse was aflame, it burned as bright as any. The eclectic, non-chronological selection of lyrics also helps to obscure the fact that, sadly, the flame has been guttering for many years.

Any one individual fan might question the selection process. My own beef with Colombati is his omission of ‘Something In the Night’, an underrated track from ‘Darkness On the Edge of Town’ with its devastating and quintessentially Bruce line, ‘Nothing is forgotten or forgiven, when it’s your last time around’. But the borders have to be demarcated somewhere. A complete collection of lyrics with annotations might have taken up at least a second, similarly sized volume, and may not have been possible within the span of Springsteen’s own lifetime. And we can all be relieved to have been spared a song like ‘Mary’s Place’…

As something of a Springsteen obsessive myself, I have found myself digging deep into the notes on the songs more often than the lyrics themselves. In each case, we are given details of where the song was first released, and its live premiere, with ideas about the inspiration for the song, or on notable performances. I have to admit that I have only really begun to unearth the riches contained here. And I have to confess also a slight sense of disappointment at the revelation in the notes for the title track of ‘Darkness…’ that "There doesn’t appear to really be an Abram’s Bridge!"

There are times when the scale of Colombati’s ambition seems like folly. His introduction traces the idea of poetry all the way back through Shakespeare to Homer, Dante, even Orpheus, before considering the pantheon of great American writers – Whitman, Dickinson, Frost, T.S. Eliot – a tradition in which Colombati firmly situates Springsteen. Still, he is careful not to ignore the rock’n’roll tradition, which is given a section of its own in the introduction. In the end, it is hard to argue with the assessment of the book’s subject as one who embodies "the entire DNA map of American music" (p.22). However, for all the talk of the ‘great American novel’, Hawthorne, Faulkner and countless classic American movies, too, Colombati remains himself, first and foremost, a fan, as the closing pages of the introduction prove in an extended reminiscence on a July 2016 concert: ‘Maybe you will go on forever’, he proclaims to his idol, rhetorically. "Let’s swear to each other, here tonight, that it will never end". Amen to that.







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Commenting On: Bruce Springsteen: Like a Killer in the Sun - Leonard Colombati








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23824 Posted By: Stevie Simkin (Winchester, UK)

Thanks for your comment, Leonardo. I hope my enthusiasm for your book comes across. It is quite a monumental achievement. I am working on a study of another musician's career - much less famous but just as fascinating - and there is a lot about your book which is really inspiring. So thank you!
Stevie

23823 Posted By: Leonardo Colombati (Roma)

Dear Mr Simkin,
I just want to thank you for your review.
"Something in the Night" was a painful omission--I agree with you.
All the best,



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