Fear and self-loathing in Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen’s decision to take antidepressants was coloured by the fact that his father didn’t or wouldn’t. But it took a lot of psychotherapy for him to reach that point.
That is the stark admission we get from Bruce, the recent biography by Peter Ames Carlin. While the book wasn’t authorised per se, Springsteen gave Carlin countless interview hours, facilitated meetings with family and friends, and opened up his personal scrapbook to the author.
The fact that Springsteen has spoken openly about his chronic depression and other issues, and his use of medication to deal with those problems, has been welcomed by some in the fields of medicine and psychology as a breakthrough, given his popularity as a performer. It’s been quite a year for Springsteen as his mental health has been written about widely .
Last July, the New Yorker magazine published a long, in-depth interview with him in which he talked about how deeply affected he had been by his father’s paralysing depressions and how worried he became that he would be unable to escape the thread of mental ill health that ran through his family. There was also the revelation that Springsteen has been seeing a therapist since 1982.
For the Carlin biography, Springsteen talked to the author about his use of anti-depressants. Carlin said in an interview: “A big part of how this book advances the story is [by] being very upfront about how his dad was manic-depressive. He had a serious untreated mental illness for his entire adult life. We were talking about depression and I said to him, ‘Bruce, you said something to me that made me wonder, and it seemed like you were telling me that you take antidepressants. Am I correct?’ and he said, ‘Yeah.’
“And I said, ‘How would you feel about me putting that in the book?’ and he was silent for a second and then he said, ‘Yeah, that’s okay.’ ”
The link is made between Springsteen first taking medication in 2003 and the surge in his creative endeavours, through successive album releases and tours, since that date. Carlin writes: “Within days [of taking the prescribed medication] Springsteen felt like a shroud had been lifted from his shoulders. It was, ‘Get me this stuff now, and keep it coming.’ ”
Taken together as a joint examination of Springsteen’s psyche, both the New Yorker interview and the new biography paint an extraordinary and in some ways surprising picture of fear and self-loathing.
In an entertainment industry where such personal information about one’s mental health is usually managed carefully – if not hidden – the Carlin book offers a very rare insight into the inner turmoil of a creative artist.
Springsteen has always alluded to how his troubled childhood and his difficult relationship with his father caused him to seek solace in the curative powers of rock music. One time, in the 1980s when he was on stage during a show, he recounted a story that surprised many in its detail and level of confession.