Saturday, July 16, 2005

Washington Post review

One Bob Ivry reviewed Runaway American Dream along with one of the recent story collections for The Washington Post. You can read his review in full here and I've excerpted his part about my book:

Meeting Across the River is a good beach read for folks with an affinity for crime yarns or Springsteen. There are even winks of humor. "I've seen the future of organized crime in Ireland, and it's Rory Sullivan," Paul Charles writes of his main character in "In the Midnight Hour." Those who get that in-joke (Springsteen was once famously described as "rock-and-roll's future") will appreciate Jimmy Guterman's Runaway American Dream. Guterman, whose previous books concerned Jerry Lee Lewis and the worst rock albums of all time, examines just about every song Springsteen ever performed. The author's grasp of minutiae is mind-blowing. He knows, for instance, that Springsteen kicked off a 1980 show in Ann Arbor by forgetting the words to "Born to Run" and that drummer Max Weinberg has never played a solo in his three decades with Bruce's E Street Band.

Despite the obvious frothing fandom, Guterman is able to keep his head from spinning off. He credits Springsteen's longevity to conservative musical impulses -- "he hasn't changed much in the more than 30 years since he started recording" -- and takes a jab at the Boss's post-9/11 album, "The Rising," by warning that "the problem with being called the savior of rock-and-roll for almost your entire adult life is that eventually you believe it, at least partly."

Ultimately, however, Guterman can't keep himself from going over the top. He extols Springsteen as the hardest-working man in showbiz who sets "an almost impossible standard to meet" and lionizes the eight-piece E Streeters as America's greatest rock-and-roll band. Guterman is good-natured about dishing up such hyperbole: "Well, what's the point in writing a book about a band if you don't believe something superlative about them?" To counter the inevitable backlash, he lines up other likely contestants: the Allman Brothers Band, the Band, Booker T. and the MGs, the Byrds, Crazy Horse, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Elvis when he was with Scotty Moore and Bill Black, the Pretenders, the Ramones and X. All are found lacking by comparison.

But wait. Where are the Grateful Dead and Nirvana, two bands that ought to make anybody's list of finalists? Guterman leaves them out, which is scandal enough, but in the final analysis a forgotten band or two may not matter. Notice how Guterman avoids anointing any Americans as the best rock band in the world. That's because stacking the Yanks up against the best of the Brits -- the Stones, the Who, Led Zeppelin, the Sex Pistols, the Clash and, oh yeah, the Beatles -- would result in a massacre. Maybe there's something in the English water. Maybe Americans' vaunted rugged individualism compels stateside combos to implode. But Springsteen's greatest triumph -- and Guterman fails to describe it with the eloquence it deserves -- could only be the work of an American. He was able to use faith in the redeeming power of the music to build a community that included both performers and fans. He stepped out of the darkness and somehow turned a dead man's town into a land of hope and dreams.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company

I dislike blogs where authors talk back to critics, so I'm not going to that here. This is intended as a repository of information, not a place to settle scores.