The author of Walk Like a Man is Robert J Wiersema from Victoria, a city in the west of Canada. He has written two bestselling novels before this one, Before I Awake and Bedtime Story. He is also a literary critic and a bookseller. I haven't read the other two books and I only picked up Walk Like a Man because it is a book about someone I know and love very dearly, Bruce Springsteen. Wiersema grew up listening to Springsteen's music from a very early age; he followed him everywhere, going to concert night after night, travelling around different states often in a beaten up old truck, he collected Italian bootlegs and set lists. Like me, he is a Tramp (a member of the fan club named after the line in one of Springsteen's songs, "Tramps like us, baby we were born to run").
Just in case any young DY members haven't heard of Bruce Springsteen, I'll explain. He is a rock artist from New Jersey, US and has one of the most devoted fan groups in the world. He has been in the rock business for over 40 years and at the age of 63 has just finished a two year tour to promote his last album, Wrecking Ball. He is famous for long concerts and energetic performances. His portfolio of songs is phenomenal. Bruce's public face has in a way become the social conscience of America and the support for him as a person and a performer is at times beyond belief. I am sure there are many Americans out there who would vote him in for president if he stood for election - that's just how crazy some folks are about the man. I am not sure the author of this book is that crazy but he surely is a devoted, long-time fan.
There are numerous books out at the moment about Bruce Springsteen, I have them all but Walk Like a Man: Coming of Age with the Music of Bruce Springsteen, is different, it's much more than a biography. The author has taken 13 Springsteen songs and titled each chapter with a song. The beginning of each chapter starts with his critique of the song and then he tells the reader about the connection between the song and his life.
From the moment I picked the book up I connected with the author and his personal story. Every page is steeped with nostalgia and is full of memories that reminded me of my home town and growing up as a teenager, listening to music, dreaming of escaping and falling in love. His style is beautifully descriptive at times, matter of fact and very funny.
We start with the introduction, where Robert introduces himself as a literary critic and a bookseller. He is always late with deadlines and is stressed about the ever increasing number of customers passing through his bookshop during a busy period.
In the two chapters that follow Robert tells us about his parent's break up and the first time he saw Bruce Springsteen on MTV performing the song Rosalita, then comes one of my favourite chapters, named after the song, "It's Hard to be a Saint in the City." Robert tells the story of his own early life in a small town in British Columbia. We learn how he doesn't like wearing glasses, has a club foot, isn't very athletic as a teenager and gets repeatedly bullied at school. This is one of Springsteen's most significant songs in his portfolio; it establishes a compelling image of public and private faces. It's all about wearing a mask and creating a façade.
The author soon learns how to survive and like Springsteen he uses words to create a mask. He hides his ungainly self and creates a persona of a smart ass, cracking sarcastic jokes in the classroom, using verbal antagonism to ward off school bullies and infuriating his teachers with his sharp wit. The taunts carry on but they don't hurt him, his real self is hidden under the façade he created. When the world around him is too much for him to tolerate, he takes refuge in fiction, only in the author's case he writes thrillers, stories about revenge and love triangles, not about the working class hero and how to escape from a dump of a town and the humdrum of everyday life.
Masks and facades turn up again in the chapter, Brilliant Disguise. We are told about the solo performance Springsteen gave in 2005 for the Storytellers DVD. I have this DVD and fully understand why the author has included the song to "demonstrate the impenetrability and falseness of the faces some people show the world." Springsteen himself even says "We all have multiple selves." "That's just the way we're built. We've got sort of this public self, this public face we show to others. I'm wearing mine right now."
Wiersema adds a postscript to this chapter stating that Springsteen's openness about his public and private face might not be totally honest but cleverly constructed. I think he may be right.
The book is only 195 pages and as much as I enjoyed reading about the author's memoirs and how Bruce's music became the soundtrack of his life, I wanted to read more, I would have liked more intimate information about the author himself. There are things he has left out like the reason behind his heavy drinking, how did he feel when his parents separated at the age of 13 and what effects did it have on him as an adult. Two of his buddies show up in his memoirs but apart from reading about the concerts they went to I don't really know much about their relationship with each other. I suppose if he added more in-depth information the book would be much longer and veer away from the meaning of the book which is all about connecting with Springsteen's music.
I first read Walk Like a Man last year on holiday and although I tried to limit myself to a chapter a day, I couldn't. It was impossible, I couldn't put it down. I am a great Springsteen fan and like me, other fans will connect with this book and see themselves in it but you really don't have to be a fan to read this book by Robert J. Wiersema.
The author's eloquent and at times beautiful prose shows his appreciation of the Boss and his music but at the same time he takes us on a personal journey of a young man growing up in a working class environment. We understand his passion for wanting to move away, just like the young Bruce, we feel happiness when he falls in love and joy when he becomes a father. There are funny moments and Mr Wiersema's life doesn't always go according to plan but he gets through and does okay with the help of his hero and his music.
On the downside, I feel the author tends to get a bit self -indulgent but overall this is a super book, well written and makes me smile every time I read it. I have to recommend it because once opened it is impossible to put down.
I bought my paperback copy from Amazon.com last year, priced at 12 dollars.