Book Review: Ryan White’s Springsteen Album by Album
I know a thing or two about tracking down and licensing rock photography and, trust me, it’s typically neither easy nor inexpensive. So my hat’s off to the folks at Palazzo Editions, the same people who produced Harvey Kubernik’s recent coffee-table book on Leonard Cohen. They have somehow managed to garner rights to more than 250 of the best Bruce Springsteen photos, including many iconic images from such leading rock photographers as Danny Clinch, Neal Preston, Frank Stefanko and the late David Gahr; and they’ve reproduced them on heavy stock in a hardcover book while keeping the list price tag below $30.
If you’re a Springsteen fan, you’ll probably find the photos alone to be worth the price of admission. In addition to shots of the artist at every stage of his long career, the book includes photos of such memorabilia as the postcard that inspired the cover of his first album and signs and handbills announcing some of his earliest gigs.
Ryan White, who spent nearly 16 years covering music and other subjects for The Oregonian, provides accompanying text, which while well written, is somewhat less of a must-have than the photos. Given the book’s title and the plethora of books about Springsteen’s career and personal life, I had assumed that White would confine himself to a critique of each of Bruce’s albums. He does talk in some detail about each record, but he also covers everything from the artist’s early influences to his mammoth tours to the time paparazzi caught him on a hotel balcony in Rome with future wife and bandmate Patti Scialfa while he was still married to actress Julianne Phillips. By supplementing the photos with not only album commentary but a bit of a bio, plus a timeline and a detailed discography, White seems to be trying to pull together everything a fan might want to read.
The problem is that if you’ve made your way through a few of the key Bruce books already out there, you’ve heard most of these details and stories, and probably in greater detail. In fact, White appears to have compiled them not by talking to Springsteen associates or the man himself but by perusing a variety of previously published books, articles and other materials. (He cites all of them, including my own book, in a source list at the end.) If you haven’t read much about Springsteen’s story, be advised that White’s somewhat truncated version does hit all the high points and may suffice. If you have, however, a lot of this is going to sound like old news.
Two quibbles: the book’s timeline says a July 31, 2012 Stockholm show was Springsteen’s longest, at four hours and six minutes. I’m not so sure. I myself attended one in Phoenix on Nov. 5, 1980 that began by 8:20 p.m., included one 10-minute intermission and continued till 1 a.m. Also: especially given that the book incorporates the timeline, discography and source list, it’s hard to understand why the publisher didn’t also include a basic index; particularly in a book of this sort, it would have been helpful to be able to easily locate, for example, all references to a particular song or musician.
Nevertheless, this is a beautifully assembled volume that’s loaded with eye-catching images. Even if you don’t need the career and album summary, you may well want the book.
Jeff Burger (byjeffburger.com) edited Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters and Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters, both published by Chicago Review Press.