I posted this book review on my original OH blog January 4, 2017. It appears here as/is.
In the mid 1980s, I was an adolescent and Bruce Springsteen was at the top of his fame with the release of his album, Born In The USA. I’m not sure why, but in 1986, I asked my dad to buy me Springsteen’s Live 1975-85 box set on cassette. My dad obliged, and I used to listen to those tapes over and over again as I rode my bike to and from the barn where I boarded my horse, Rusty. It got to the point at which I had all of the songs memorized, along with the stories Springsteen would sometimes tell before launching into a number.
As the years passed, I stopped listening to Springsteen as much. I still admired his voice, though… not so much his singing voice, but the messages he conveyed through his music. He always seemed like a very down to Earth kind of guy. It also helped that I had a teacher in high school who knew Springsteen when he was just like everybody else, growing up in Freehold, New Jersey. They had attended the same school and back then, he was just a greasy guy who played in local bands. No one knew that one day, he’d be a superstar.
I suppose it was those memories that got me to read Springsteen’s recently released life story, Born to Run. I have spent a couple of weeks reading about Springsteen’s Catholic upbringing in New Jersey and his colorful Irish and Italian family, as well as the origin of his famous last name (it’s Dutch). I read about how, as a young guy, he hustled in New Jersey and, curiously enough, Richmond, Virginia, earning gigs and making a name for himself with his music. He wrote of being really poor and doing all he could to survive and I can tell that he’s never forgotten those days.
Born to Run is a very personal book, with many insights into Springsteen’s life so far. The writing is very strong. There were times when I had to stop for a moment because Springsteen used an interesting word that threw me for a loop. Although he comes across as this working class guy who grew up with very hardcore American ideals, he’s also fabulously deep and intelligent. If he hadn’t been a musician and songwriter, Springsteen definitely could have had a successful career authoring books. He’s very generous with his thoughts and expresses them beautifully.
I think my favorite part of Springsteen’s story was when he wrote about learning to ride horses. He grew up poor and eventually got his thrills riding motorcycles. Many years later, his daughter Jessica would get her first pony and eventually go on to become a world class equestrienne. Bruce’s wife, Patti Scialfa, loved horses. They bought a farm in New Jersey and bought a couple of steeds. Suddenly, Springsteen was learning how to ride! And his stories about learning how to ride are pretty funny, especially if you’ve spent any time around horses. I grew up riding horses and Springsteen’s music was a theme for me during those years, so it was pretty cool to read about how he eventually came to love riding.
Another aspect of Born to Run that struck me was how much Springsteen respects his wife, Patti Scialfa. She joined the E Street Band in 1984, just days before the Born In The USA tour began. Scialfa had fiery red hair and a voice for torch songs that clearly touched Springsteen deeply. He refers to hearing her sing “Tell Him” by The Exciters and how her voice grabbed him. Many years later, after they had been married for awhile, Springsteen watched his wife informally entertain Frank Sinatra at a party. They all sat around the piano while Scialfa sang and I could almost witness the admiration Springsteen has for Scialfa as she delivered music to ‘ol blue eyes himself. Springsteen writes that Frank Sinatra had some very interesting friends, most of whom were not in the business of rock and roll. Sinatra had befriended Springsteen, not as a musician or a star, but as a fellow New Jersey boy. When I think of Springsteen’s humble origins and where life has taken him, it gives me some hope and wonder for my own future.
All in all, I found Born to Run a very enjoyable read. As much as I liked Springsteen before I read his story, reading his book made me appreciate him all the more. He comes across as a very normal, decent, passionate guy who happened to make it very big in a business where staying power is not always the norm and narcissism is the order of the day. I appreciate how generous he is with his story… you get over 500 pages of Springsteen tales and they’re all written beautifully. If I were rating Born to Run on Epinions, I would for sure give it five stars.
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Apologies in advance for this post, since I’ve written about Alan Osmond’s ego before. I’m sure some people wonder why I would write about his ego, given that he’s in his 70s now, and no longer “flavor of the month”. It’s just that I recently stumbled on a video done by his eight sons, The Osmonds 2nd Generation, and I was struck by the egotism of the lyrics in their performance… Behold!
Maybe it was a combination of finding this video, Father’s Day, and the Donny Osmond birthday video my sister sent me that has me thinking about Alan Osmond this morning. No, he’s not “flavor of the month” anymore. He hasn’t been in many years. There’s no doubt that he has musical talent, as do his sons and other family members, like Donny. Maybe that talent makes them special. Actually, I think Donny is probably the most talented of all of them, in terms of his dance ability, singing voice, and enduring cuteness even in his 60s. I genuinely enjoyed the birthday video my sister sent and was amazed by how charismatic Donny still is, many years after having been “flavor of the month”. But it seems that at least one of Donny’s brothers is still a bit conceited, and thinks of himself as more special than the rest.
As I watched the video above, listening to Alan’s sons praise their dad for realizing his “dream”, I was reminded of a rant I wrote several years ago when I ran across a YouTube video featuring Alan Osmond. He was bragging about how he was a great soldier who was too important to send to Vietnam because he was a show business performer with connections. In the video below, Alan talks about how Heavenly Father basically intervened in keeping him out of a war zone, despite his superior abilities as a soldier.
The first time I watched the above video, I got pissed off. Why? Because my father went to Vietnam and suffered from PTSD for decades after he came home. I respect Alan Osmond for doing his bit as a clerk at Fort Ord. That is a valuable service to our country. But in this video, he acts like he was Rambo and was spared the war because he had a “higher calling” in show biz. That’s a bunch of crap.
My dad was forever haunted by his memories of Vietnam. Toward the end of his life, he used to have terrible nightmares. He’d jump out of bed while still sleeping, swinging his fists at imaginary assailants. One time, he hit the wall while fighting in his sleep. He damaged his middle finger so badly that there was talk that it might have to be amputated. My dad also had a serious drinking problem that was exacerbated by being at war, where booze was handed out freely. Nowadays, boozing isn’t promoted in the military like it was in my dad’s day. My dad, who came from a long line of drunks and was raised by a violent alcoholic, was a prime candidate for developing alcoholism himself. The stress of combat, along with the easy availability of booze, was devastating for him. And that devastation had ripple effects on everyone around him, as it profoundly affected him. So, when I hear Alan Osmond acting like Vietnam was a big adventure and he was this hot shot recruit who was deemed “too valuable” for combat, it smarts a bit.
My dad really suffered… and I, as his daughter, also suffered. My dad would have been a better father, husband, friend, and person if he hadn’t been an alcoholic with PTSD. My dad has been gone now for seven years, and I’m still haunted by him. I have some really good memories of him, but I also have a lot of traumatic ones. By the time he died in 2014, I had some complicated and confusing feelings about our relationship. I see all my friends sharing pictures of their dads on Father’s Day. I shared a couple of them, too. But the truth is, as much as I loved him, I didn’t like him very much. And a lot of the reason I didn’t like him was because he was abusive to me. I can’t help but wonder if he would have been less abusive if he hadn’t gone to war and come home with PTSD. I believe he would have been an alcoholic regardless, but maybe the PTSD wouldn’t have been as bad. Maybe we could have had a better relationship. I believe he had it in him to be kinder to me than he was.
I commented on the YouTube video about how “full of himself” Alan is. Some guy named David, who claimed to be a veteran himself, took me to task and told me to STFU. I ranted about that, too, on my old blog. Just because I am not a military veteran, that doesn’t mean I can’t make a comment about Alan Osmond’s service. I am so sick and tired of people trying to shut up people who express themselves. This attitude is especially prevalent in military circles, where it’s very common for veterans to ask anyone who says anything negative about the military if they’ve ever served. Whether or not a person has served should be irrelevant. As Americans, we should be able to express opinions about the military without someone demanding to know if we’ve ever served in the military. As someone who has been in the “military world” since birth, I certainly CAN have an opinion about it. Maybe my views about the military not as informed as Bill’s or another veteran’s would be, but it’s ridiculous and short-sighted to assume that someone who is exposed to the military world, even if they don’t wear a uniform, can’t form an opinion and express it.
If veterans who tell me to STFU really cared about real freedom and what putting on that uniform means, they would cherish the rights of people to share their views, regardless of how “offensive” they may be. I have spent my whole life around veterans, and I have tremendous respect for them and what they do. BUT– I have even more respect for veterans who understand that part of serving honorably is doing so with a pure, unselfish heart. Telling someone to STFU because you don’t think they have a right to an opinion is not particularly honorable. Why should I have more respect for someone who joined the military if they don’t have enough regard for me, as a fellow freedom loving American, to let me speak my mind?
Moreover, one can serve one’s country and NOT be a military veteran. I served my country in the Peace Corps. Others serve by being public servants or even being elected officials, although some elected officials have lost sight of being of “service” in their roles. I took the very same oath that every service member or government employee takes. Like my husband, I vowed to support and uphold the Constitution. Taking that oath as a military servicemember doesn’t make someone “special”. Peace Corps Volunteers also take that oath when they swear in, even though they don’t carry weapons or go into combat.
Someone called “Unknown” left me a comment on that old post about how I shouldn’t disparage Alan for being a clerk. The person wrote:
“There are a lot of soldiers that are on the clerk side. Without them the military would not be able to survive. So you are basically saying unless you were in a combat unit you didn’t serve. There are hundreds of thousands of soldiers that are in the offices as clerks. Doesn’t make them any less important.”
And this was my admittedly irritated response to “Unknown”, who obviously didn’t read very carefully:
It looks like you may have completely missed the point of this post.
I never said and don’t believe that clerks who serve in the military are “unimportant”. On the contrary, I have basic respect for anyone who serves, including Alan Osmond.
My point is that Alan Osmond’s comments about what he did during the Vietnam War are in poor taste. He admits that he only joined the Army because he didn’t want to go on a Mormon mission. He felt that he would have more impact for his church if he stayed home and continued performing with his brothers. So he got a connection in the entertainment business to see to it that he could stay in California and be a clerk.
Alan Osmond was never in any actual danger, but he brags about how “awesome” his military skills were. I would think that if his skills were so excellent, it would have been more honorable for him to use them in support of his country. But his attitude seems to be that he was too “special” to do that; his job was to be a pop star so that he could spread Mormonism to the masses.
I am fully aware that there are many “cogs in the wheel” who serve in the military. Each and every one of them has the right to be proud of their service. However, I think bragging about being a typist during the Vietnam War era, especially as you imply that God had bigger plans for you to be a singing star, is very tacky. Moreover, there is a huge difference in simply being proud of one’s service and blatantly bragging about it on YouTube.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with members of the military who serve in non-combat roles. My husband went to Iraq, but basically had a desk job. There is also nothing wrong with people in the military who never see combat, but perform important supporting roles back home. My issue with Alan Osmond is that it’s inappropriate for him to boast about what he did during the Vietnam War era when so many people, not lucky enough to have family connections, went off to war and either died or came home permanently changed for the worse.
Watching and hearing Alan Osmond talk about how he did his bit for the Army and apparently God saved him from the jungles of Vietnam is rather infuriating. There were lots of loving, sensitive, talented young men drafted and sent off to Vietnam to fight in the war. A lot of them didn’t come back, and a lot of them were never the same when they did come back. The same has happened to plenty of people who went to Iraq and Afghanistan, though fortunately those wars have not been as personally devastating to as many people as Vietnam was. We do, at least, have more of an understanding for PTSD. There is more help available now. But it’s still such a real and scary thing that has ripple effects that extend far beyond just the person who has it. When I was a child and a teenager, and my dad would go into drunken rages and lose control of himself, I wasn’t thinking about how PTSD was making him act like that. I was internalizing the idea that he was hurting me because I was a bad person and he hated me. You see?
But our relationship wasn’t always bad. Sometimes, it was lovely, and we could share positive things, such as the dance pictured above, captured at my wedding. We also often shared our mutual love for music. In 1986, my dad bought me a live cassette collection by Bruce Springsteen. Though I don’t remember being a big Springsteen fan before I got that collection for Christmas, I used to listen to it all the time and really got into Springsteen for awhile. One of the songs on it is a very poignant rendition of “The River”. Bruce introduces the song by telling his own story about not going to Vietnam… But his story is so much more respectful than Alan Osmond’s is…
When I was practicing social work, I had a client who was a veteran. He used to tell me war stories. I always got the sense that they were probably about 90% bullshit, as was a lot of the other stuff he told me (for instance, he lied to me about having cancer). I’ve been around veterans my whole life. One thing I have noticed is that a lot of them don’t want to talk about war. Even Bill, who only spent six months in Iraq behind a desk, was affected by his time there and what he was doing. The people who actually do things that warrant receiving awards that recognize their valor don’t usually want to talk about it.
When Bill visited my parents’ home the first time, he saw that my dad, who was an Air Force officer, had earned a Distinguished Flying Cross in Vietnam. It was before Bill had ever been deployed himself. Bill was impressed by my dad’s award, but my dad didn’t want to discuss it. He said that the reason he got the award was “bogus”. I have known my share of military folks. The ones who are brave and do things to legitimately earn those awards are usually very humble about it… because a lot of times, earning those awards involves doing things that they aren’t proud of or acting heroically in situations that end up haunting them for life.
And yet, there’s Alan Osmond talking about the “trophies” he won in basic training for being a great shot and fighting with bayonets so well because he could dance. It kind of makes me want to puke. If he was really that great, the military would have sent his ass to Vietnam, right? But no… he was a typist/clerk in California for a brief time. And he brags about it. Apparently, the Lord wanted him safely at home in the United States so he could be an entertainer and influence people to join his church. What self-important drivel! And Alan didn’t appreciate being called a “draft dodger”. He even commented on the video with more bullshit about promptings from “the spirit”. He was special because as a Mormon, God only speaks to and protects him and his ilk. The rest of the guys who went to Vietnam and came back damaged or dead were not special enough to be typists in California for “the cause”.
Ever since I heard that video with Alan Osmond talking about his military service during the Vietnam era, I’ve had a less than positive opinion of him as a person. But then, when I saw the video with his sons literally singing Alan’s praises in a song ripped off from Billy Joel, I wonder if they came up with the idea to honor Alan themselves. Or were they pressured to honor their father in such an egotistical and ostentatious way? Below is another video in which Alan’s sons “honor their father”, and ask the audience to do the same:
I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that Alan’s sons “honor their father” so conspicuously. I remember the original Osmond Brothers honored their father similarly, even though in later years, they’ve said he was abusive and demanding to a fault. In this 2003 era documentary about being Osmond, the brothers talk about how their hopes and dreams were thwarted by the desires and needs of their family of origin.
We kind of see the same “father centric” dynamic in the Duggar family, as Jim Bob Duggar is repeatedly described as “someone you don’t say ‘no’ to.” Personally, I think it’s kind of egotistical for people to have so many kids. What makes a person think the world needs so many people with their DNA running around? But I know people have their reasons for having so many kids. In the Duggars’ case, it’s that they believe God is “blessing” them and not that they’re just having sex at the right time of the month and farming their babies out for their older kids to raise. At least in the Osmonds’ case, it looks like Mother Osmond raised her children.
Anyway… I’ve got no qualms about stating that Alan Osmond and his brothers clearly have talent. And, as someone who comes from a musical family, I understand the joy of sharing that gift. I’m grateful to Alan for his military service, too. He did his part, which is more than a lot of people can say. However, I would be much more impressed with him if he showed some understanding of how fortunate he was not to have had to go into combat and potentially get injured or killed, or spend the rest of his life forever traumatized by war. I’d have more respect for him if he realized how lucky his family members are that he didn’t come home in a box or permanently changed by spending time in a war zone. And while I think Alan’s sons are also very talented performers, I think they would do well to realize that their dad has a long way to go before he reaches musical genius status. Hell, I think about Sting, who has also been called “conceited” by some… but I have seen Sting perform and watched him generously share the stage with others… and even remember students he had when he was a teacher.
Phew… I feel better now. Father’s Day is always an emotional time of year for me for so many reasons.
Well, it’s time to walk the dogs and get on with the rest of the day. If you made it through this rant, thanks. And please do me a favor and don’t miss the point. It’s not that I don’t respect Alan Osmond’s military service. I just think he’s an egotistical jerk. That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it.
Last night, I decided to download a comprehensive album of Bruce Springsteen’s music. I had just listened to his latest album, Western Stars, and then one from the pinnacle of my youth, Born in the USA. I had a sudden urge to hear “Hungry Heart”, and rather than fetch my iPod or move up to my office, where my whole, vast musical collection is stored, I decided to just order another Springsteen compilation. Bill and I sat there and listened in our German Eckbank Gruppe (corner booth) and I was suddenly transported to my 14th year.
When I was fourteen, Springsteen was at the top of his game. I got my dad to buy me his Live 1975-1985 box set for Christmas. I had it on cassette tape and, along with Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms album, I used to wear out those cassettes, riding my bike to and from the barn where I boarded my horse, Rusty. It got to the point at which I had the whole box set memorized, right down to the stories Springsteen told about facing the Vietnam draft, and fights he had with his father over his rock n’ roll lifestyle. I was definitely a true fan.
As the years passed, I stopped listening to Springsteen so much, especially when his sound changed. I think it happened in the early 1990s. I was in college and had started discovering new music, thanks to my stint as a radio DJ and unofficial music studies. The faculty members of Longwood University’s music department kindly gave me the opportunity to study voice privately and join their auditioned choir, The Camerata Singers, even though I wasn’t a singer until I came to college. Being in a choir and studying voice introduced me to music I had never heard. I had limited time and even more limited funds, so old interests went by the wayside. Prince, another one of my obsessions during adolescence, suffered a similar fate. I stopped listening to him at around the same time I quit listening to Springsteen.
When I got older, I had more time and more money… and I started listening to and buying those old albums I missed. Last night, as I heard Springsteen’s familiar, evocative lyrics, and the familiar cadences of his best known songs. I was suddenly reminded of being fourteen, in the traumatic tempest of adolescence. I remember fourteen was a particularly stormy year for me. I was a bucket of emotions. One minute, I was cracking off-color jokes. The next minute, I was in tears for some reason. People literally thought I was crazy. The evidence is in the inscriptions left in my yearbooks.
In those days, I remember people asking me if I was bipolar. In the 80s, they didn’t refer to bipolar disorder as such; it was called “manic depression”. No, I am not bipolar, but I was very moody in those days. In the midst of crying jags, temper tantrums, and hysterical laughing fits, I was riding my horse and my bike, struggling with school, writing short stories, and loving music. I loved more music than I could possibly purchase. It surprises and, frankly, kind of depresses me I never made an effort to study it seriously when I was growing up, although I’m pretty sure I was like that because my parents were/are musicians. I wanted to do my own thing, without pressure from my parents to do what they were doing. I’d rather ride my horse, who was the best company and never judged me for being who I am.
I have always had really eclectic musical tastes. I think it comes from having three much older sisters who introduced me to the stuff they liked. My oldest sister was mostly gone from our house by the time I was old enough to know what was going on, but I seem to remember she was a fan of Stevie Wonder, Barbra Streisand, and… actually, I don’t know. I’ve never really gotten to know Betsy that well. She’s thirteen years older than I am and an extremely high achiever. When I was growing up, she lived in other countries: France, Morocco, Egypt, India, and she visited so many others because of her work.
My sister, Becky, was more of a hard rock/alternative fan. She introduced me to groups like The Who, Roxy Music, Dead Can Dance, and The Police, and singers like Eric Clapton, Dan Fogelberg, and Kate Bush. She also introduced me to James Taylor, who is probably my favorite of all of them, besides Kate Bush. I used to raid her record collection the most. We shared a room for awhile, even though she’s eleven years older than I am. I’m probably closest to her.
Sarah, who is eight years older, liked “urban” music. She liked funk, R&B, and white soul, like Hall & Oates. She introduced me to Earth, Wind, & Fire, The Commodores, and Rose Royce. I remember she also introduced me to Pat Benatar. The very first album I ever purchased was Benatar’s Crimes of Passion, which came out in 1982. I even remember how much it cost… $7.86. For a kid who got $2.50 a week as an allowance, that was a lot of money to save up. I remember walking from my house to Murphy’s Mart, which was a shitty discount store in a strip mall near my home in Gloucester, Virginia, and plunking that money down at the cash register. I wore that album out.
I used to buy a lot of 45s in those days, since they were much cheaper and I usually just wanted to hear one or two songs. I also used to tape music from the radio. Now I routinely download entire albums, sometimes without even having heard any songs on it. I often do that when I’ve been drinking. I have surprisingly good taste when I’m drunk, too. Bill and I often refer jokingly to my “drunken downloads”. They’re usually a pleasant surprise.
I switched to cassettes when I got a Walkman, because I liked listening to music while riding my bike. Also, cassettes never skipped, although they could be damaged in other ways. I remember one time, I left a copy of Zenyatta Mondata on the dashboard of my car, in direct sunlight. It was warped when I came back. Anyone who has ever listened to cassettes knows that sometimes the tape jams and makes a squiggly mess that requires a pen or pencil to correct. I had a few tapes break, too. I was glad when CDs were a thing… and even gladder when MP3s were a thing, even if I do miss the magic of opening a new album and looking at the artwork. Sometimes there would even be special gifts in those LP records. I got a Prince and the Revolution poster in my copy of the Purple Rain soundtrack. That doesn’t happen with downloads.
So anyway… there I was last night, listening to Springsteen and remembering being a teenager. My home economics teacher actually went to high school with Springsteen. She was from New Jersey and a few years younger than he is. She was a freshman in high school when he was a senior. I took her class when I was a freshman. I remember being kind of an anomaly in her class. Most of the people who took it with me weren’t bound for college. I took the class because I like to cook and it hadn’t occurred to me that I should have explored music. Ms. Kulnis, who had married a Gloucester local, told us that back during his high school days, Springsteen was kind of “gross”. In 1986, he was definitely not gross. He was a huge star in his prime. But as a teen, he was unkempt, greasy, had super long hair, and, she said, kind of skinny because he didn’t work out. She said he wasn’t appealing back then, musical talent notwithstanding. She had no idea he would someday be a megastar.
It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago that I was fourteen. I have some good memories of that time of my life, though I sure as hell wouldn’t want to repeat it. I would not want to be an adolescent again for anything, although I might have made some different choices knowing what I know now. The nice thing about the passage of time is that it tends to smooth out the worst memories. I remember being chronically upset during my teen years. Mostly, I got yelled at by people. I had a short temper and a foul mouth. Sometimes, I was kind of impulsive, but never to the point at which I did anything that got me into serious trouble. Most people seemed to think of me as a “good kid”, although I probably wasn’t as good as some of my friends were… or appeared to be. On the other hand, some of my friends were being naughty behind closed doors. I never had a need to sneak around, because my parents mostly didn’t care what I did, as long as it didn’t embarrass or involve them.
Springsteen’s older music is like a soundtrack to that time of my life. It takes me back every time. The 80s seemed so modern at the time, but now it seems like such a quaint time. One thing that remains constant is the staying power of certain artists. I can tell a truly gifted musician if their music stands the test of time. Springsteen’s definitely does, for the most part. Most artists have an off album or two. Springsteen is no different. I don’t think I cared much for his Human Touch or Lucky Town albums, for instance. Some people don’t like his 2009 album, Working on a Dream. I have only heard one song from that album… a freebie I got from Amazon. No one can bat 1ooo every time. But here I sit in 2019, listening to Springsteen’s 1973 album, The Wild, The Innocent, & The E Street Shuffle, released the year after I was born. It’s still very solid.
By contrast, Western Stars, which is a brand new album, is very different than Springsteen’s early stuff is. I like it, but listening to Born in the USA (which I only JUST added to my collection) took me back to the 80s. I had to hear “Hungry Heart”. I ended up listening to a panoply of Springsteen’s hits from over the years. It was fascinating. I suddenly realized how far we’ve come. Springsteen doesn’t have Clarence Clemons anymore. He’s entered a new phase, just like all great musicians do at some point. I haven’t seen him in concert, nor have I seen Billy Joel… both are acts I’d brave the crowds and pay big bucks to see, just because I didn’t have the money or wisdom to see them when I was younger. I hope I can catch them before one of us dies.
Thank God we still have the ability to take a carpet ride back to our youths through nostalgia. Maybe not everyone is whisked away by an old Springsteen song. I’m sure today’s young people have other artists that take them back.
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