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A Quintessential Springsteen Guide

'Bruce Springsteen FAQ: All That's Left to Know About the Boss' hits bookstores Tuesday, Oct. 16

Westfield resident John D. Luerssen grew up listening to the music of Bruce Springsteen, getting his initial introduction on Tremont Avenue courtesy of a friend's older brother.

Today, Luerssen, a PSE&G supervisor in Cranford by day, music critic and author by night, releases the paperback Bruce Springsteen FAQ: All That's Left to Know About the Boss, his second foray into the FAQ series.

With a list price of $22.99, the book, at 400 pages, takes readers on the journey of a Jersey boy with a guitar and a dream who rose to stardom, gracing the covers of Time and Newsweek simultaneously, yet never forgot his roots.

Luerseen, who played in a band during his years at Westfield High School, explained that after having written several cover stories for American Songwriter, including an interview with The Killers, he was contacted by Robert Rodriguez, author of the first in the FAQ series, about writing for a book.

"I had written a book about Weezer several years before that and that had gotten a lot of attention, so I said, 'yeah, let's do it.'" 

In 2010, Luerssen's U2 FAQ was published. "That was crazy because it was under the gun because they asked me in December and it came out the following September. It usually takes a couple of years. This Springsteen book was actually going to come out next year but then when earlier this year he announced a tour they wanted to get it out," he said.

The author said while he was once again under pressure to complete the biography, he was fortunate in that an "arsenal of Springsteen information" awaited him on the Internet. 

In addition to Bruce Base and other sites, Luerssen said the Westfield Memorial Library was a tremendous resource.

"They have a great thing where you can put in your member number and it gives you access to all these great newspaper archives. It's amazing just to find these concert write-ups from Mitch's era," said Luerssen. 

With Springsteen's career exceeding four decades, Luerssen, who began his research in December of 2010, faced the additional challenge of figuring out where to edit. 

"I wrote the heart of it in a year and then I went back and had to really cut some stuff down because the publisher didn't want to put it out. It was too big so I have about five chapters that are unpublished."

"Really?" asked Mitch Slater of Westfield, who has attended 235 of the Boss' live performances. "Bootleg chapters. I like that. What's in there?"

A few stories, including how Southside Johnny got his name and Springsteen's appearance with the Beaver Brown Band even stumped Slater, who began his Springsteen devotion at the age of 17 and refers to the 22-time Grammy winner as his "drug of choice."

"You've got some great stuff here, man," Slater told Luerssen. "I'm biased, but if you're a Bruce fan, you're absolutely going to love this book because what I love about it is you can just flip around like this and find a quick story about Southside or Sherry Darling."

In addition to agreeing that Darkness on the Edge of Town is their favorite Springsteen album, both Bruce fans said the stories he shares during his performances are what make the rocker so iconic. One in which Springsteen, while in Memphis on his Born to Run tour in 1976, scaled the wall at Graceland and knocked on the door asking to see Elvis had Luerssen and Slater laughing as they retold it.

"Bruce tells these stories in concert; I feel so fortunate to have been able to hear so many of them live," said Slater, who will take in his 16th Springsteen show this year on Nov. 1 at Penn State with his son.

"Those stories throughout his career are what made him so special, as much as all the music. He's a true showman to tell a story like that and to keep 20,000 to 30,000 people engaged is not an easy thing," Luerssen agreed.

Another trait that both Slater and Luerssen admired is Springsteen's stamina, routinely playing three- and four-hour shows, especially at the age of 63

"I'm exhausted and I'm just standing there," Slater laughed.

"He never calls in sick," nodded Luerssen. 

The two also agreed that Springsteen's range and his ability to stun a stadium's worth of fans by pulling out an obscure number like he did in May in Newark when he played  "Bishop Danced," which he had not performed live since 1973, make him a breed apart.

"This tour I'm less Bruce-ed out than I've ever been," said Slater. "This tour has been 170 songs in 69 shows. It's amazing. A Bruce fan could look at that list and come up with 150 more they want to hear." 

Luerssen said throughout his research he continually found stories that illustrate that despite his fame, Springsteen has not let it go to his head.

The author and Slater swapped stories they'd read or heard of Springsteen paying the medical bills of a waitress he met once or following up over several years to see how a boy, diagnosed with cancer, was faring. Slater said he knows of a Westfield woman who, when out celebrating her birthday with friends in New York City, ran into Springsteen and wife Patti Scialfa and the two joined the ladies for cocktails.

"This thing is, and you capture this in the book, so many people have met Bruce in so many different scenarios and the guy is still a regular guy," Slater said. 

Luerssen, whose musical tastes run the gamut, agreed and said that is what made Springsteen one of the top three acts he had wanted to cover. His next FAQ book will focus on Nirvana and is due out in 2014.

"Even if you're a passive Bruce Springsteen fan, I think you'll enjoy this book," the author said. "You don't have to be a devotee. I think Mitch kind of alluded to the fact that if there's one Springsteen book you want to have, this might be it because it's just kind of easy to pick up and put down and it is a lot of fun and it is a lot of information but it's not overwhelming." 

"I agree, a lot of the books that are out there, they're great books but they're long-distance reads, I think what John's done is encapsulated the best moments over the last 50 years. If you want to find out who the chicken man is, it's in there," Slater concurred.

The book includes a foreword by another Jersey-born rocker, Pete Yorn. Luerssen explained that he had written the first national record review for Yorn's abum 'Musicforthemorningafter" and developed a relationship with him

"He had covered a couple of Bruce's songs so I knew he was a fan," Luerssen explained. "He's a great guy. Of all the newer performers out there, I think he kind of has that same sort of work ethic and the quality of his material stands up."

In his acknowledgements, Luerssen thanked many Westfield residents for their unwavering support throughout his writing process. 

The Westfield native recently appeared on CBS to disuss the new book during the weekend of Springsteen's 63rd birthday and said he may promote the book locally as well. 

For more information, visit http://www.facebook.com/BruceSpringsteenFAQ or to purchase 'Bruce Springsteen FAQ: All That's Left to Know About the Boss,' visit The Town Book Store.

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