Clinton Heylin is a sloppy writer, and he’s not the critic he thinks he is (when he dismisses something he comes across as a disgruntled fan), but his E Street Shuffle The Glory Days of Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band does what few Springsteen biographers have been willing to do: he calls the star on his shit.
If Springsteen fans are honest with themselves, their guy comes across a little too saintly in his interviews and public demeanor. (Springsteen’s self-regard is his addiction, which stands in for the traditional rock ‘n’ roll fixations on drugs and alcohol. I write that as a fan who thinks Springsteen might have been even better than he allowed himself to be, which is Heylin’s thesis as well.) Heylin’s biography focuses on Springsteen’s career from inception through the mid-1980’s, and it’s refreshing to read someone who obviously sympathizes with Mike Appel (and rightly dismisses Jon Landau as an opportunist).
If Heylin isn’t any more of a rock critic than Landau ever was (and there are long passages of his book that make one wonder if an editor ever saw them), it’s still a valuable alternate history. Dave Marsh’s Springsteen books read like People Magazine profiles, and Peter Ames Carlin’s Bruce (2012) is similarly overawed by its subject. E Street Shuffle is not a great biography, but it’s pretty good for those who know the subject and are tired of the official version.