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Bruce Springsteen: Born to Ride. Born to Drive. Born to Run*****

With the Boss, Miami Stadium 2013. Photo by Nancy Jaffer

With the Boss at Miami Stadium 2013. Photo by Nancy Jaffer

“Bruce Springsteen did something different with the once tried-and-true car-song genre. These weren’t your typical paeans to Detroit’s legendary chromeboats. No, dangerous things happen in Springsteen’s cars — things that, in the blink of an eye, can change a life forever. 

These weren’t your average tales of escape, either. No, that common trope was typically turned on its ear by what Springsteen’s characters — dark protagonists, average guys with extraordinary burdens, doomed lovers — would find at the end of that long journey.

These weren’t, in other words, your father’s car songs.”

—Mark Saleski

Bruce Springsteen’s new biography is revealing, honest, and personal. Its also superbly written. Born to Run is authentic and genuine. It provides readers with a transparent window into Bruce’s lifelong struggle and his personal and professional success. The book is a powerful, profound, and detailed account of an unusual and prolific life. As an autobiography, Born to Run succeeds because of its honesty and humility. Bruce masterfully lets the reader into his life by giving uncensored access into his mind, feelings, and opinions.  The result is a page-turning biography of unique flair and substance. The book is a timeless smash success—a status few autobiographies ever achieve.

Born to Run brings a newfound intimacy to Springsteen’s life story and his music. Songs like Downbound Train and Jungleland are now more vivid and personal to me. The book sheds first-hand insight into the tone, style, and context of his songwriting—I now see Springsteen’s music as meaningful poetry. Born to Run provides readers with a whole new background, context, and understanding of the stories and meaning behind his music:

“I wanted to be a voice that reflected experience and the world I lived in.”

Born to Run unveils high-impact vignettes into Bruce’s improbable life story. His work ethic enabled him to rise above countless obstacles and naysayers. Through grit, practice, and persistence he beat insurmountable odds to became one of the world’s most famous and influential rock stars. Bruce had a very challenging childhood, and his relationship with his father was anything but easy. But Bruce’s mother made an enormous and positive impact on him. Her support, encouragement, and character were important factors in his career and success:

Truthfulness, consistency, professionalism, kindness, compassion, manners, thoughtfulness, pride in yourself, honor, love, faith in and fidelity to your family, commitment, joy in your work and a never-say-die thirst for life. These are some of the things my mother taught me and that I struggle to live up to. And beyond these . . . She was my protector, stepping literally into the breach between my father and me on the nights his illness got the best of him.”

I did not appreciate how much Bruce Springsteen was influenced by Elvis, Dylan, and The Beatles. Most of all I was stunned by how much of his artistic message revolves around America’s car and motorcycle culture. Before reading Born to Run, I’d never taken the time to dissect and study his prose line by line, song by song—despite the fact that I can recite most of his music from memory. As I delved deeper and reviewed Springsteen’s lyrics more carefully I learned that the story behind his songs (and the lyrics themselves) are often related to cars, motorcycles, roads, and road trips:

“I wanted to use the classic rock ’n’ roll images, the road, the car, the girl…. what else is there? It was a language enshrined by Chuck Berry, the Beach Boys, Hank Williams and every lost highwayman going back to the invention of the wheel.”

In a subdued tone, Bruce notes that when he was young his driving “sucked” and that he was completely “incompetent behind the wheel.” He learned how to drive the hard way—by necessity. During one trip across America, he had no choice but to get behind the wheel at night whenever his co-drivers got tired. Bruce bought his first real car (a 1960 Corvette with Cragar wheels) for $6,000 from a “kid behind the counter at the West Long Branch Carvel ice-cream stand.” Born to Run reveals several great stories about Bruce’s personal cars and his many motoring experiences:

“I’d driven strictly vintage automobiles my whole life. My two-thousand-dollar ’57 Chevy morphed into my six-thousand-dollar ’Vette, backed by my 1970 Ford pickup as a daily driver. In the winter I’d load my truck bed with tree trunks for rear-wheel traction and run the icy roads of Monmouth County. Debts paid, career established, all should have been pretty free and easy, but I’m not free and easy. So, I sat around and anguished over whether I should spend ten thousand dollars on a new car. I was thirty-one, and I’d never owned a new car in my life. For that matter, outside of studio expenses, I’d never spent ten thousand dollars on myself. I didn’t know anyone who was making more than they could live on, so the money I’d made left me feeling uncomfortably different and somewhat embarrassed. Still, I bit the bullet, rode down to the dealer and drove away in a 1982 Chevy Z28 Camaro. I felt as conspicuous as if I were driving a solid-gold Rolls-Royce.”

Bruce is a passionate car and motorcycle guy—even to this day. Just last week Bruce’s Italian Moto-Guzzi (modified by Bill Joel’s shop 20th Century Cycles) broke down near his hometown in Freehold, New Jersey. The roadside rescue by a local Harley Club member made national news on CNN.

He has been riding motorcycles for years. Back in 1967, Bruce was “knocked out cold for thirty minutes” when his small Yamaha was hit by a 1963 Cadillac. In Born to Run he poetically reflects on spiritual, retrospective and therapeutic motorcycle rides:

“To take the edge off my heebie-jeebies, in the day, I rode through the Santa Monica and San Gabriel mountains, some of the nicest motorcycle routes in the West. In the San Gabriels, the Mojave lies to your left and below spread out and vanishing into a hazy infinity as you carve your way from the desert floor six thousand feet up, to the little ski town of Wrightwood. Here, in the midst of the tall pines and high desert scrub of the Angeles National Forest, my troubles would slowly melt away.”

Born to Run enlightened me to the unique and significant role that cars, motorcycles, and the road have played in the life and music of Bruce Springsteen. The author masterfully and passionately reveals the background and meaning of his lyrics—several of his biggest hits involve American car and bike culture:

“In “Wreck on the Highway,” my character confronts death and an adult life where time is finite. On a rainy night, he witnesses a fatal accident. He drives home, and lying awake next to his lover, he realizes you have a limited number of opportunities to love someone, to do your work, to be a part of something, to parent your children, to do something good.”

Below are examples of lyrics that I carefully selected from many of Bruce’s hit songs:

Wreck on the Highway:

Last night I was out driving
Coming home at the end of the working day
I was riding alone through the drizzling rain
On a deserted stretch of a county two-lane
When I came upon a wreck on the highway

There was blood and glass all over
And there was nobody there but me
As the rain tumbled down hard and cold
I seen a young man lying by the side of the road
He cried Mister, won’t you help me please

Thunder Road:

Well, I got this guitar and I learned how to make it talk
And my car’s out back if you’re ready to take that long walk
From your front porch to my front seat
The door’s open but the ride ain’t free
And I know you’re lonely for words that I ain’t spoken
But tonight we’ll be free, all the promises’ll be broken

My Hometown:

I was eight years old and running with a dime in my hand
Into the bus stop to pick up a paper for my old man
I’d sit on his lap in that big old Buick and steer as we drove through town
He’d tousle my hair and say son take a good look around this is your hometown
This is your hometown

Pink Cadillac:

I love you for your pink Cadillac
Crushed velvet seats
Riding in the back
Oozing down the street
Waving to the girls
Peeling out of sight
Spending all my money
On a Saturday night
Honey I just wonder what you do there in back
Of your pink Cadillac
Pink CadillacDrive All Night

Stolen Car:

And I’m driving a stolen car
Down on Eldridge Avenue
Each night I wait to get caught
But I never do

She asked if I remembered the letters I wrote
When our love was young and bold
She said last night she read those letters
And they made her feel one hundred years old

And I’m driving a stolen car
On a pitch black night
And I’m telling myself I’m gonna be alright
But I ride by night and I travel in fear
That in this darkness I will disappear


The Rangers had a homecoming
In Harlem late last night
And the Magic Rat drove his sleek machine
Over the Jersey state line
Barefoot girl sitting on the hood of a Dodge
Drinking warm beer in the soft summer rain
The Rat pulls into town rolls up his pants
Together they take a stab at romance
And disappear down Flamingo Lane 

Working on the Highway:

Working on the highway, laying down the blacktop
Working on the highway, all day long I don’t stop
Working on the highway, blasting through the bedrock
Working on the highway, working on the highway 

Open All Night:

Well I had the carburetor, baby, cleaned and checked
With her line blown out she’s humming like a turbojet
Propped her up in the backyard on concrete blocks
For a new clutch plate and a new set of shocks
Took her down to the carwash, checked the plugs and points
Well I’m going out tonight, I’m gonna rock that joint

Early North Jersey industrial skyline
I’m a all-set cobra jet creeping through the night time
Gotta find a gas station, gotta find a pay phone
This turnpike sure is spooky at night when you’re all alone
Gotta hit the gas, baby, I’m running late
This New Jersey in the morning like a lunar landscape

Born to Run:

In the day we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream
At night we ride through the mansions of glory in suicide machines
Sprung from cages out on highway 9,
Chrome wheeled, fuel injected, and steppin’ out over the line
Oh-oh, Baby this town rips the bones from your back
It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap
We gotta get out while we’re young
`Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run 

Cadillac Ranch:

Eldorado fins, whitewalls and skirts
Rides just like a little bit of heaven here on earth
Well buddy when I die throw my body in the back
And drive me to the junkyard in my Cadillac

Cadillac, Cadillac
Long and dark, shiny and black
Open up your engines let ’em roar
Tearing up the highway like a big old dinosaur

James Dean in that Mercury ’49
Junior Johnson runnin’ thru the woods of Caroline
Even Burt Reynolds in that black Trans-Am
All gonna meet down at the Cadillac Ranch

Last to Die:

We took the highway till the road went black
We marked Truth Or Consequences on our map*
A voice drifted up from the radio
We saw the voice from long ago

Who’ll be the last to die for a mistake
The last to die for a mistake
Whose blood will spill, whose heart will break
Who’ll be the last to die for a mistake

The kids asleep in the backseat
We’re just countin’ the miles you and me
We don’t measure the blood we’ve drawn anymore
We just stack the bodies outside the door

Used Cars:

My little sister’s in the front seat with an ice cream cone
My ma’s in the backseat sittin’ all alone
As my pa steers her slow out of the lot for a test drive down Michigan Avenue

Now my ma she fingers her wedding band
And watches the salesman stare at my old man’s hands
He’s tellin’ us all ’bout the break he’d give us if he could but he just can’t
Well if I could I swear I know just what I’d do

Now mister the day the lottery I win I ain’t ever gonna ride in no used car again

Now the neighbors come from near and far
As we pull up in our brand new used car
I wish he’d just hit the gas and let out a cry and tell ’em all they can kiss our asses goodbye

My dad he sweats the same job from mornin’ to mornn
Me I walk home on the same dirty streets where I was born
Up the block I can hear my little sister in the front seat blowin’ that horn
The sounds echo’in all down Michigan Avenue

Now mister the day my number comes in I ain’t ever gonna ride in no used car again

Racing in the Street:

I got a sixty-nine Chevy with a 396
Fuelie heads and a Hurst on the floor
She’s waiting tonight down in the parking lot
Outside the Seven-Eleven store
Me and my partner Sonny built her straight out of scratch
And he rides with me from town to town
We only run for the money got no strings attached
We shut ’em up and then we shut ’em down

Tonight, tonight the strip’s just right
I wanna blow ’em off in my first heat
Summer’s here and the time is right
For racing in the street

Over the last several years, Bruce and his wife Patti Scialfa have become regulars on the “A” equestrian show jumping circuit. Their daughter Jessica has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the sport. I predict that she is on track to represent America at the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020. Jessica is a naturally gifted rider who is highly competitive and devoted to her horses. Like her father, she works hard! I used to compete against her in the high amateur jumper division. However, she quickly moved into the international Grand Prix level—leaving me in the dust.

For me, it has been fun seeing the Springsteen family out enjoying the horse show circuit. The Springsteen’s maintain a low profile but are always friendly and have been very generous supporters of the United States Equestrian Team (USET). I am the Treasurer of the USET, and earlier this year I was the Master of Ceremonies for our Rockin’ Rio Olympic Fundraiser. Bruce and Patti were Co-Chairs of the event, and we ran the silent auction together. For many years now, Bruce and Patti have been instrumental in helping the Team achieve its goals. It was an honor share the stage with these two rock stars. Because of their enthusiasm and support, we had a great evening and shattered USET fundraising records. Bruce surprised the audience and ended the night with his rendition of the hit song “Money “(That’s What I Want).

Go out and pick up a copy of Born to Run—it’s a must read. The Amazon Kindle version can be downloaded here. It will make a relaxing offset for the often tense and stressful Holiday Season. Born to Run is also a perfect gift idea. I’ve already ordered several copies for my family and friends.

Below are photos of Bruce and his wife, Patti Scialfa:

On stage with Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scalfa at the USET Foundation Rockin Rio benefit, Wellington Florida 2016

On stage with Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa at the USET Foundation Rockin’ Rio benefit, Wellington Florida 2016 (Photo by Nancy Jaffer)

With Bruce on stage at the USET Rockin Rio Gala Wellington Florida 2016. I was the Master of Ceremonies and Bruce and Patti were Co-Charis of the event.

With Bruce on stage at the USET Rockin’ Rio Gala Wellington Florida 2016. I was the Master of Ceremonies and Bruce and Patti were Co-Charis of the event.

Bruce at the USET Rockin Rio Fundraiser 2016

Bruce at the USET Rockin Rio Fundraiser 2016

Presenting Bruce's daughter Jesse with the USET award, Miami Stadium 2013.

Presenting Bruce’s daughter Jessica with the Maxine Beard award, Miami Stadium 2013. (Left to right: Philip Richter, Bruce Springsteen, Patti Scialfa, Ronnie Beard, Jessica Springsteen, and Tucker Johnson) Photo by Nancy Jaffer

Jessica in the irons

Jessica in the irons

Jessica winning....again!

Jessica winning….again!

Bruce and Patti at the Old Salem Farm Horse Show

Bruce and Patti at the Old Salem Farm Horse Show (Photo by James Leslie Parker)



Join the conversation!

3 Responses to Bruce Springsteen: Born to Ride. Born to Drive. Born to Run*****

  1. Lorenzo December 6, 2016 at 11:15 am #

    I loved the book! found it motivating and real. I did not know about his daughter…good for her, and for the family.

    • Philip Richter December 6, 2016 at 11:30 am #

      Jessica is a super star rider. Bruce and Patti have been great supporters of the sport of show jumping. Jessica is well on her way to being one of the great young riders of the era! Bruce’s book is so good, its one of the greatest autobiographies I’ve ever read and its even better if you are a car guy!


  1. Holiday Books for the Motorhead | Turtle Garage - December 15, 2016

    […] Bruce Springsteen Born to Run by The Boss. Buy it here. Read the Turtle Garage review here. […]