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Summer Reading 2013: New Books With a Jersey Connection -- 'Bruce'

A comprehensive new biography of the man known to rock fans worldwide simply by his first name -- or by the honorific, "The Boss"

1.1BRUCE

Peter Ames Carlin’s biography of New Jersey’s -- or at least Gov. Chris Christie’s –- favorite son, Bruce Springsteen (published by Touchstone), is a must-own for any fan. In "Bruce," Carlin delves deep into the life and music of the rock legend. Carlin chronicles the influences and life of The Boss from his ancestors through the current tour. He discusses extensively how Bruce's life affected his music and how his music offers a reflection of his life. From "Greetings from Asbury Park" to "Wrecking Ball," Bruce offers fans details they've never heard before, and new takes on the stories they've heard thousands of times. The excerpts below give a peek at some of the very personal stories from Springsteen’s childhood and even earlier that shaped his life and the man and artist he would become.

THE PLACE I LOVED THE MOST

THE TRUCK COULDN’T HAVE BEEN moving fast. Not down a sleepy residential street like McLean. If it had just turned in from Route 79—known in Freehold, New Jersey, as South Street—it would have been going even more slowly, since no seven-ton truck could round a 90-degree corner at a fast clip. But the truck had the height and breadth to all but fill the side road and sweep the other cars, bikes, and pedestrians to the side until it grumbled past. Assuming the other folks were paying attention to the road ahead.

The five-year-old girl on the tricycle had other things on her mind. She might have been racing her friend to the Lewis Oil gas station on the corner. Or maybe she was simply a child at play, feeling the spring in the air on a late afternoon in April 1927.

Either way, Virginia Springsteen didn’t see the truck coming. If she heard the driver’s panicked honk when she veered into the road, she didn’t have time to react. The driver stomped hard on the brakes, but by then it didn’t matter. He heard, and felt, a terrible thump. Alerted by the screams of the neighbors, the girl’s parents rushed outside and found their little daughter unconscious but still breathing, They rushed her first to the office of Dr. George G. Reynolds, then to Long Branch Hospital, more than thirty minutes east of Freehold. And that’s where Virginia Springsteen died.

The mourning began immediately. Family members, friends, and neighbors streamed to the little house on Randolph Street to comfort the girl’s parents. Fred Springsteen, a twenty-seven-year-old technician at the Freehold Electrical Shop downtown, kept his hands in his pockets and spoke quietly. But his twenty-eight-year-old wife, Alice, could not contain herself. Hair frazzled and eyes veined by grief, she sat helplessly as her body clutched with sobs. She could barely look at Virginia’s toddler brother, Douglas. The boy’s father couldn’t be much help either, given the pall of his own mourning and the overwhelming needs of his distraught wife. So in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy virtually all of the care and feeding of the twenty-month-old boy fell to Alice’s sisters, Anna and Jane. Eventually the others eased back into their ordinary lives. But the approach and passing of summer did nothing to ease Alice’s grief.

She could take no comfort in the clutching arms of her small son. Nearing his second birthday in August the boy grew dirty and scrawny enough to require an intervention. Alice’s sisters came to gather his clothes, crib, and toys and took the toddler to live with his aunt Jane Cashion and her family until his parents were well enough to care for him again. Two to three years passed before Alice and Fred asked to be reunited with their son. He went home soon afterward, but Virginia’s spirit continued to hover in Alice’s vision. When Alice gazed at her son, she always seemed to be seeing something else; the absence of the one thing she had loved the most and lost so heedlessly.

A semblance of family structure restored, the Springsteen home still ran according to its residents’ imprecise sense of reality. No longer employed by the Freehold Electrical Shop, Fred worked at home, sifting through mountains of abandoned electronics in order to repair or build radios he would later sell to the migrant farmworkers camped on the fringe of town. Alice, who never worked, moved according to her internal currents. If she didn’t feel like getting up in the morning, she didn’t. If Doug didn’t want to go to school in the morning, she let him stay in bed. Cleaning and home repair ceased to be priorities. The walls shed curls of paint. The plastered kitchen ceiling fell off in chunks. With a single kerosene burner to heat the entire house, winters inside were Siberian. For Douglas, whose DNA came richly entwined with darker threads, the peeling wallpaper and crumbling windowsills framed his growing sense of life and the world. No matter where he was, no matter what he was doing, he would always be looking out through the fractured windows of 87 Randolph Street.

• • •

Doug Springsteen grew to be a shy but spirited teenager matriculating at Freehold High School. He loved baseball, especially when he was with his first cousin and best friend, Dave “Dim” Cashion, an ace pitcher and first baseman. Cashion was already considered one of the best players to ever emerge from Freehold. Off the diamond, the cousins passed the hours shooting pool at the small game rooms tucked between the stores, barbershops, and news stores clustering Freehold’s central intersection at South and Main Streets. Cashion, who was seven years Doug’s senior, launched his baseball career just after leaving school in 1936. He spent the next five years working his way from the local amateur and semipro leagues all the way into the major league farm system. He got there just in time for World War II to shutter the leagues and redirect him into the US Army.

Raised by parents for whom education amounted to a long distraction from real life, Doug quit his studies at Freehold Regional after his freshman year ended in 1941, taking an entry-level job as a bottom-rung laborer (his official title was creel boy) in Freehold’s thriving Karagheusian rug mill. He kept that job until June 1943, when his eighteenth birthday made him eligible to join the army. Shipped to Europe in the midst of the war, Doug drove an equipment truck. Back in Freehold following the war’s conclusion in 1945, Doug took it easy and lived off the $20 in veteran’s pay he received from the government each month.

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