Louis Masur Has A Lifelong Love Of Bruce Springsteen





To say that Louis P. Masur is a fan of Bruce Springsteen is just about the epitome of understatement.

Masur, the William R. Kenan Jr. professor of American institutions and values at Trinity College, is so taken with Springsteen's work that he has merged his academic research with his favorite artist. The result is Masur's latest book, "Runaway Dream: 'Born to Run' and Bruce Springsteen's American Vision" (Bloomsbury Press, $23), set for publication Sept. 1.
It's an exceedingly detailed analysis of the singer's breakthrough album: how it was created, its cultural context and what it means today.

"Writing it was just an absolute labor of love for me," Masur says from New Jersey during a conversation about his research, before returning to Hartford to see Springsteen perform Wednesday at Comcast Theatre.

Q. How long did it take to research and write the book?

A. It's an interesting question, because I've been a Springsteen fan ever since I was 16 years old, and I'm 52 now. So in one sense, the book is a kind of accumulation of being a lifelong fan of Springsteen and his music. I finally started to think seriously about writing about Springsteen about 2005, around the 30th anniversary of "Born to Run." I wrote a couple of essays and had the chance at Trinity College to teach a course on Presley, Dylan and Springsteen, and that sort of got me going. Once I started to do that, the full research and writing only took a couple of years.

Q. You mention the 30th anniversary. There was a lot written about "Born to Run" then, in 2005. What does your book add to the conversation?

A. Springsteen actually brought out an anniversary edition with a terrific documentary in which they interviewed a lot of the band members today looking back. What I do is a little bit different. While some of the information about the making of "Born to Run" and the agonies the band went through was revealed in 2005, I go into great detail about that.

I also talk at great length, and I think this is the most original part of it, about Springsteen's American vision. It's an analysis of that album and it situates that album both in the context of its times and in the longer, historical trajectory of understanding why it is that Springsteen is not just a great rock 'n' roll musician, he's really one of the most important cultural figures in American history. I offer a reading of the album, an analysis of the songs. Springsteen himself has said that that is the album where he first identified the themes and the issues that he would continue to address throughout his career. The last part of the book picks up on that challenge and basically traces out the ways in which the lyrical and musical themes of "Born to Run" have continued to shape and influence his music.

Q. Rock 'n' roll comes with a certain mystique. What effect does such close analysis have on that mystique?

A. I don't think it takes it apart, in the sense of ruining it. I think it adds to it. What I'm trying to understand is, what does it mean to say that a song or an album changed your life? What does it mean to say that music, that a particular song or artist, is the defining music of your life. I really just wanted to look at it for myself, but I also want to look at it for the legions of fans who have identified so deeply with this music, and that gets us into the work I do as a cultural historian, as a student of American studies. What are these themes, this runaway dream of escape, the idea of hitting the road, at some point needing to come back, to build community? These are just classic archetypal themes, and not just American themes, but universal themes, that I think explain why Springsteen has an international fan base. Almost anyone who's human can identify that basic search. "Born to Run" says, "I want to know if love is wild, I want to know if love is real," and in many ways, we've all been on that journey in one way or another throughout our lives....


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