Life lessons from the Boss
If writing about music is, in fact, akin to dancing about architecture, Robert J. Wiersema might have a two-step in his future. With Walk Like A Man, the Victoria-based novelist (The Bedtime Story, Before I Wake) ventures into previously uncharted territory: non-fiction, with a music nerd twist, thanks to the ever-present role that rock’s working class hero, Bruce Springsteen, has played in Wiersema’s life. Using the venerable icon’s lengthy discography, Wiersema has crafted the ultimate memoir mixtape, with enought wit and honesty to convince even the haters to give the Boss a second chance.
There are a ton of other rock stars who resonate with other guys. Why was it Springsteen for you?
I think it was his integrity, and his sincerity. There’s very little irony to Springsteen’s music, and there’s a recognition that “ordinary” people — working people — are important, that they matter and that their stories matter. That’s the principle underpinning Walk Like a Man — we all have songs we relate to, we all have stories, and they should be told.
You’ve melded music and biography — what prompted that combination?
Simply put? It’s been done. Springsteen is one of the most written-about figures of the rock age; There are so many biographies, you have no idea. Practically every stone had been turned, and repeatedly, so the only way for me to write about him was to make it personal and subjective. To look at my life through the lens of Springsteen’s music, and at Springsteen’s music through the lens of my life.
You’ve likened this book to liner notes for a mix tape: were there some songs you wanted to write about but didn’t end up including?
It was a gruelling culling process, I have to tell you. I would have loved to have written about “Incident on 57th Street,” say, one of my favourite Springsteen songs. Or “Thunder Road,” another of my favourites. But the nature of the book required that I write about songs that resonated for me, that brought stories and memories to mind. As a result, I ended up writing about “My Hometown,” for example, a song that I don’t particularly like, because it evokes what it was like growing up in Agassiz, and that feeling of childhood coming to an end. That being said, there are about six more songs that I could have written about, tracks that ended up as mental b-sides. “Spirit in the Night,” for example, conjures what being a teenager was like in a small town. And “Radio Nowhere,” that’s all about loneliness and desolation... I was just as happy not to write that chapter, frankly.
This is your first foray into non-fiction. Was it a natural transition, or did it take some mental coaxing?
Coaxing is a polite way to put it. Overly polite. It’s a completely different process, a completely different set of muscles. It’s akin to an experienced long-distance runner jumping into a lake and expecting to swim the same distance he can run: the stamina is there, but damned if I didn’t almost drown more than once.
The five essential songs for people wanting to begin a Springsteen education?
Oh, jeez... Off the top of my head, for the complete novice? “Thunder Road,” “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” “The River,” “Born in the USA” (acoustic) and “The Rising.” But ask me again in five minutes and the list will be completely different.
Walk Like a Man is published by Greystone Books and available at your local bookstore or online for $21.95.