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Inside the Boss: Carlos Amato reviews Bruce Springsteen's rollicking autobiography Born to Run

Springsteen gives fans a good hard look at himself, writes Carlos Amato for the Sunday Times

Born to RunBorn to Run
Bruce Springsteen (Simon & Schuster)
****

He ain’t gonna bag a Nobel with his lyrical output – or with this rollicking autobiography – but if he ever did, The Boss would hurl his medal deep into the crowd, beyond the golden circle. Springsteen aims his musclebound artistry at the lowest common denominator, in the best sense of the phrase: the committee he cares about can be found at the barroom jukebox, on the factory floor, in the motel parking lot.

The book is as lucid as his music – and fans will savour its accounts of his emotional and musical formation in Freehold, New Jersey. He was a worried kid (nicknamed “blinky” for his jumpy eyelids) with a drunken Irish-American dad and a formidable Italian-American mother. He got her mighty will, and his seeping darkness. Rock ’n roll balmed the adolescent Springsteen’s frayed nerves: not as an escape into decadent revolt (afraid of his dad’s fate, he was a teetotaller) but as a sanctuary of creative labour.

He cut his teeth on the Jersey bar circuit with soul rockers The Castiles, who straddled the frontier between the soul-digging Italian “greasers” of deep Jersey and the Wasp-dominated surfer kids of the Shore. Through the ’60s, his soundscape was brewing: the Beatles and the Stones colliding with Motown, Roy Orbison and Dylan.

Springsteen spins plenty of comical anecdotes, but he is best when analysing the wiring of the music itself. He repeatedly chews on the open secrets of his power: a considerable but by his own admission unspectacular talent that he elevated with an obsessive devotion to the mechanics of songwriting, performance and working-class decency.

And he scorns the other route, of glamorous abandon. “The rock death cult is well loved and chronicled in literature and music, but in practice, there ain’t much in it for the singer and his song, except a good life unlived, lovers and children left behind, and a six-foot hole in the ground. The exit in a blaze of glory is bullshit.”

Instead, we are shown the inner workings of sustainable glory. There is a terrifying account of his first gig abroad, at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1975, where the hyperbole of his billing as a rock demigod made for a doubt-stricken performance, the footage of which he couldn’t bear to watch until 40 years later. “Inside, multiple personalities are fighting to take turns at the microphone while I am struggling to reach the ‘fuck it’ point, that wonderful and necessary place where you set fire to your insecurities, put your head down and just go.” But it was a stellar show, saved by his refusal to collapse.

Things got a lot worse on the eve of the release of Born in the USA, when a full-blown breakdown made landfall. He took the step that working-class heroes don’t like to take: “I walk in; look into the eyes of a kindly, white-haired, mustached complete stranger; sit down; and burst into tears.”

As with everything he does, he followed through. Springsteen is still in therapy, still married to his former backing singer Patti Scialfa, still redeeming the mythologies of ordinary Americans. He is the antidote to the Trump nightmare; a rabble-rouser of reflective white masculinity.

To be frank, much of Springsteen’s music bores me. But his presence defies resistance. I was up in Row Z when he played the SuperBowl halftime gig in Tampa in 2009 – a performance so preternaturally huge it prompted him to write this book, in an effort to fathom his own power. It comes pretty close to doing so.

Follow Carlos Amato on Twitter @CarlosBAmato

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Image: Art Maillet

Book Bites: 20 November 2016

Published in the Sunday Times

Heroes of the FrontierHeroes of the Frontier
Dave Eggers (Hamish Hamilton)
Book Buff
****
Egger’s latest book is an absorbing road trip novel, and in that genre’s best tradition it focuses on the personal but reflects the zeitgeist of uncertainty and discontent pervading the US. Josie, a single mother who “used to be a dentist”, packs her young children – Paul, gentle and wise, and Ana, almost feral – into a rented RV and heads for Alaska, the final American frontier: “At once the same country but another country.” On the face of it, Josie is escaping her spineless ex-boyfriend and a malpractice suit, but she is also searching for people of substance, “a plain-spoken and linear existence centred around work and trees and sky”. Her haphazard parenting style and the dilapidated state of the RV, in conjunction with the perils of the wild landscape and threatening locals, charge the novel with a sense of danger that is almost unbearable. But our protagonists are miraculously kept from harm. All Josie knew where she had come from, Eggers writes, “were cowards”. She never finds the land of magic and clarity she was looking for, but Heroes of the Frontier is a celebration of a rare moment of bravery. – Jennifer Malec @projectjennifer

The Pigeon TunnelThe Pigeon Tunnel: Stories From My Life
John le Carré (Penguin Random House)
Book Real
***
I don’t think I’ve ever come across anyone who has led a more remarkable life than David Cornwell – alias John le Carré. Leaving his English private school for Switzerland to study German, he was recruited by British intelligence at 17. Writing from his chalet in the Swiss Alps, Le Carré, now 84, is back in his beloved home from home after a career that took him from Beirut to LA and, of course, Bonn. Few people can boast of having met two heads of the KGB, as well as luminaries like Richard Burton and Alec Guinness, who starred in his films. An entertaining bunch of stories by a consummate storyteller. – Yvonne Fontyn

The PrintmakerThe Printmaker
Bronwyn Law-Viljoen (Umuzi)
Book Buff
*****
There’s a faint dolour that seeps through this quiet, precisely calibrated novel, the melancholy of lost love and loneliness, of dislocation and neurosis. At the heart of it is the compulsion of making art, specifically printmaking, with its persistent repetition, persistent perfecting of an image. Law-Viljoen employs several voices in the telling of this affecting story that flicks backwards and forwards over the years. There is the reclusive artist March; his lifelong friend and executor Thea; his single mother Ann, a respected Johannesburg milliner; and Stephen, a refugee from Zimbabwe who pierces March’s isolation. When he dies, a young gallerist must draw together the leaves of his life. – Michele Magwood @michelemagwood

The CallThe Call
Peadar Ó Guilín (David Fickling Books)
Book Fiend
***
It’s a hodgepodge of all the young adult/sci-fi faves. The premise is like The Hunger Games, only in this series (this is Book 1), all the teenagers have to fight for their lives – not just a chosen few – including Nessa, who has a disability due to contracting polio. And like the TV show Stranger Things, they have to go to a grim underworld full of monsters, called the Grey Land – a place where the Irish folk banished all the fairytale folk. It’s bloody and sadistic, with loads of gore. – Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt

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Covers revealed for local and UK editions of Fred Khumalo's new book, Dancing the Death Drill

Cover revealed for Fred Khumalo’s new book, Dancing the Death Drill
#ZuptasMustFall and Other RantsSeven Steps To HeavenThe Lighter Side of Life on Robben IslandZulu Boy Gone CrazyBitches' BrewTouch My Blood

 
Alert! Fred Khumalo has revealed the cover for his new novel, Dancing the Death Drill.

The book will be published in February 2017, by Umuzi in South Africa (left) and by Jacaranda Books in the UK and Ireland (right).

Cover revealed for Fred Khumalo’s new book, Dancing the Death DrillCover revealed for Fred Khumalo’s new book, Dancing the Death Drill

 
Dancing the Death Drill recounts the tragic story of the SS Mendi, a passenger steamship that sank in the English Channel in 1917 killing 646 people, most of whom were black South African troops heading for France to serve in World War I.

February 2017 will mark the centenary of the disaster.

Jacaranda Books founder Valerie Brandes said: “We are delighted to work with Umuzi and Penguin Random House South Africa on such a brilliant novel that will help shine a light on this dark moment in our history.”

Khumalo revealed the lovely looking covers on his Facebook page, saying: “What a journey it has been: writing, fighting with publishers and editors, editing, fighting some more … finally sighing in relief.”
 

 
We can’t wait to lay our hands on Dancing the Death Drill. Keep your eye on Books LIVE for more details as they emerge.

Book details

  • The Lighter Side of Life on Robben Island: Banter, Past Times and Boyish Tricks by Fred Khumalo, Gugu Kunene, Paddy Harper
    EAN: 9780620540537
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

New book by Ahmed Kathrada announced: Conversations with a Gentle Soul

Conversations with a Gentle SoulConversations with a Gentle Soul by Ahmed Kathrada, with Sahm Venter, will be published by Picador Africa in February 2017:

Without much fanfare Ahmed Kathrada worked alongside Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and other giants in the struggle to end racial discrimination in South Africa. He faced house arrest and many court trials related to his activism until, finally, a trial for sabotage saw him sentenced to life imprisonment alongside Mandela and six others.

Conversations with a Gentle Soul has its origins in a series of discussions between Kathrada and Sahm Venter about his opinions, encounters and experiences. Throughout his life, Kathrada has refused to hang on to negative emotions such as hatred and bitterness. Instead, he radiates contentment and the openness of a man at peace with himself. His wisdom is packaged within layers of optimism, mischievousness and humour, and he provides insights that are of value to all South Africans.

About the authors

Ahmed Mohamed “Kathy” Kathrada was born on 21 August 1929 in Schweizer-Reneke. He entered politics at the age of 12 when he joined a non-racial youth club in Johannesburg that was run by the Young Communist League.

Kathrada was jailed for the first time at the age of 17 in the Passive Resistance Campaign, for defying a law that discriminated against Indians. In 1952, along with Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and 17 others, Kathrada was sentenced to nine months in prison with hard labour, suspended for two years, for their involvement in the Defiance Campaign. He received his first banning orders in 1954 and was arrested several times for breaking them.

On 11 July 1963 he was arrested in a police raid on Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia. This led to the Rivonia Trial for sabotage, which resulted in life sentences imposed on Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Kathrada, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Denis Goldberg, Elias Motsoaledi and Andrew Mlangeni. Kathrada was in prison for 26 years and three months, 18 years of which were on Robben Island. A few months after his release on 15 October 1989, the African National Congress was unbanned.

Kathrada served as Mandela’s parliamentary counsellor from 1994 to 1999 and for one term as the chairperson of the Robben Island Museum Council. In 2008, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation was established, with the aim of deepening non-racialism. Kathrada lives in retirement in Johannesburg and Cape Town with his wife, Barbara Hogan. This is his seventh book.

Sahm Venter was born in Johannesburg and worked as a journalist for more than 20 years, mainly for the foreign media and the international news agency The Associated Press. The majority of her journalism career was focused on covering the anti-apartheid struggle and South Africa’s transition to democracy.

Venter was a member of the editorial team for Nelson Mandela’s bestselling book Conversations with Myself. She edited A Free Mind and has co-edited several books, including: Nelson Mandela By Himself: The Authorised Book of Quotations, with Sello Hatang; 491 Days: Prisoner Number 1323/69 by Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, with Swati Dlamini; and Something to Write Home About: Reflections from the Heart of History, with Claude Colart. Venter has also authored a series of books called Exploring Our National Days. She is currently the senior researcher at the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

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The Jabu Stone Theatre of Hair explains: How to start your dreadlocks (Video)

Turning Passion into ProfitThe name Jabu Stone is synonymous with hair care, especially dreadlocks, and his love of natural hair combined with his entrepreneurial spirit were the driving force behind one of the most successful brands in South Africa.

The man himself has recently released a handbook for entrepreneurs called Turning Passion into Profit – a must read for people interested in biographies, entrepreneurs, mentors and people in the hair care industry.

Stone has also started a YouTube channel, which contains vital information for those wanted to know how to care for their natural hair.

The first video is titled: “How To Start Your Locks”. Take a look:

1. Go to a stylist or skilled friend.

2. Your hair must be natural or unrelaxed with 5-6cm of length.

3. If you go to an experience stylist, they will be able to lock your relaxed hair from the new growth just before the relaxed section using Jabu Stone’s Invisi Wax.

4. Sectioning is exceptionally important as it determines your entire look.

Watch the video for more information:

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Herman Mashaba outlines what capitalism means to him

Capitalist CrusaderBlack Like YouJohannesburg’s new mayor Herman Mashaba was recently interviewed by Leon Louw for Reason.

Louw is executive director of the Free Market Foundation. Mashaba is a former chairperson on the FMF, and 2004 won the FMF’s Free Market Award for his exceptional contribution to the cause of economic freedom.

In the introduction to the article, Mashaba is described as “an unlikely mayor for South Africa’s largest city”, and Louw describes him as “an outlier” even in the Democratic Alliance.

Louw begins by asking Mashaba how he became a capitalist at a time when the apartheid government’s proclaimed capitalism caused most black people to turn to parties that were critical of free markets.

Mashaba explains his idea of capitalism:

reason: How did you become a capitalist, then?

Mashaba: People must be careful by what they mean by capitalist. Capitalism for me is my right to feed myself and my family, to provide for myself and my family without any government intervention.

Government’s role is to ensure that people don’t kill me; when I have a dispute with you, to have courts I can take you to; and to provide infrastructure. That’s the role of government. But I don’t think I need any government to tell me that I must wake up to feed my family. If I decide that I don’t want to work, why should government force me to work? As long as I’m not going to be a liability to that government. If you decide you don’t want to work, then you cannot expect other people to assist you.

Obviously, some people for some reason need short-term intervention. I am for that. But if someone decides, “You know what, I don’t want to work”? I don’t think any government needs to force people to work. I don’t need government to tell me I must work for you and then determine how much you must pay me and how many hours I must work.

When they start coming out with those policies, it is when you start stifling development. I’ve seen trade unions in this country becoming powerful and controlling our people. I was no longer allowed to reward people who are hard-working because unions assume everyone is the same. Unions discourage people from being the best they can be. I must pay people exactly the same regardless of whether they work hard.

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