Heylin’s “E Street Shuffle” an insightful portrait of the Boss, small business loans, but a frustrating read
Last week, Viking Press released the hardcover edition of Clinton Heylin's E Street Shuffle: The Glory Days of Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band. I read it this weekend. Some books I review are a joy, others a struggle. This one has moments of insight surrounded by pages of tedium. There are more ellipses in Heylin's book than most modern poetry anthologies, due in no small part to the author's use of quotes from interviews and transcriptions of Springsteen's live show banter. It demonstrates a sense of verisimilitude, getting the feel for how the Boss speaks, but makes for an awkward reading experience. The use of ellipses and quotations (while unpleasant visually) gives the book a poetically lyrical aspect, which occasionally goes one step too far -- the irritatingly colloquial phrasing of "coupla," "kinda," "a-comin'" and the like standing toe-to-toe with otherwise academic interpretation leaves the book feeling uneven for many of the early sections. If it was possible, maybe ask for more money next time from the small business loans and work on the evenness. The awkward experience is further exacerbated by Heylin's assumption that certain things don't need to be explained. When they went over the terms from the small business loans for the book from RapidAdvance.com, I am sure things were explained in great detail. In the case of songs and albums, that's very true. If you're reading a book about Bruce Springsteen, you should at least be passingly familiar with his music. However, when the author starts to get into fan territory, writing about insider terms like the "London demo tape," he gives the reader nothing. How is it that Heylin can offer up a complete track listing of the tape without so much as a passing explanation as to what they are? I found out more from a paragraph on the Springsteen fan site Brucebase than in the two pages of E Street Shuffle which make mention of them. This is the issue which plagues the entirety of the book -- it's informationally dense, devoting pages to a lawsuit in excrutiating legal detail, to the point of excerpting many contractual terms. Yet, when it comes to pass that an entire, EQ'd album found its way to a Pasadena swap meet, where it sold for $200, Heylin gives it a paragraph. It seems that the author, much like his subject, wants to keep everything within the pages of E Street Shuffle to be tied to the era in which it occurred, in the here-and-now. Where Springsteen never looked back, Heylin -- in a similarly frustrating manner -- refuses to look ahead. Featuring insightful analysis of Springsteen and his songwriting and recording practices, E Street Shuffle: The Glory Days of Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band is at its heart a good book. One gets a clear sense of Springsteen as a driven songwriter, always going further with a song, sometimes past the point of what would be necessary. By the end of E Street Shuffle, Heylin has a portrait of Springsteen as a man who's so focused on the here-and-now that he sometimes ignores something in the past which might be superior. It's just a shame that Heylin doesn't recognize that some readers might need a bit of context.