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​RENEGADES: BORN IN THE USA – book review by Dan French


RENEGADES: BORN IN THE USA – book review by Dan French

UNFINISHED CONVERSATIONS: It took a special connection for Bruce Springsteen to collaborate for the first time on a book. Perhaps in the wake of becoming an autobiographical author in 2016 with his own book ‘Born To Run’, his horizons were relaxed enough to join forces on such a publishing project. The fact that the invitation to collaborate came from a friend who was a former President of the United States, Barack Obama, may have added some weight to the idea, of course.

The original impetus appears to have come via their respective partners, Michelle Obama and Patti Scialfa, who encouraged Barack and Bruce to formalise their conversations in a relaxed setting with a microphone. The production company was Higher Ground, an agency founded by the Obamas, and so primarily a presidential plan. Having recorded the original series of ‘Renegades’ podcasts at Bruce’s New Jersey home over a few days in the summer of 2020, transcripts of each episode have been freely available online via links from the Spotify newsroom, but perhaps missed by many listeners.

Bruce has often likened his musical career to a ‘conversation’ with his fans. Always a born storyteller, but only later in life more comfortable expressing himself as a speechwriter and discussant, here the conversation became more literal. Thanks to the Obama initiative, Bruce extends his sense of a two-way exchange, another public figure helping focus his thoughts at a very human and humble level, bringing a natural, entertaining informality to which any pair of confidants can relate.

The lavish volume, generously illustrated with over 350 images – many rarely or previously unseen, including intimate family archive photos – expands on the podcast transcripts which form the heart of the text, also offering annotated speeches from Barack and original handwritten lyrics by Bruce, parallel insights into their creative processes which reinforce their common instincts. For me, the most fascinating insight is provided by a four-page appendix: an extract from Bruce’s handwritten notebook which he filled in preparation for the podcast series, musing about some of the topics they were to explore together.

Theirs are not only two overlapping American stories shared, but also those of two global citizens who have clearly thought often and deeply about their roles, conscious of the scope that implies and of the opportunities and responsibilities their lives have given them. Bruce summarises them as ‘a couple of seekers doing their best to get us to ask better questions’, recognising the need to continue the ongoing conversation.

Their bond is introduced as an ‘unlikely friendship’, in the face of their different upbringings and career paths. Both started their early lives as outsiders, and hence they saw themselves as renegades. Quickly establishing common ground, both identify as ‘the hope guy’, and finish calling each other ‘brother’. It’s a remarkable joint story, as each undoubtedly brought insights out of the other, and so provides a unique perspective that should be a delight to any of their fans interested in examining their world further.

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