Friday, November 16, 2012
Book Review: "Tietam Brown" by Mick Foley
I suppose I should start off by disclosing that this is in no shape, way or form a Springsteen book. But I chose to review this book because Bruce Springsteen, or more importantly his music, plays a critical role in this book. Foley describes the emotional experience of connecting to Springsteen's music exceptionally well. Quite frankly, in a few short sentences he does it better than I have on any of my entries on this blog. Oh well, I guess that's why he's New York Times best selling author, and I attended 3 different colleges in 3 years.
Although Foley is a best selling author, he is undoubtedly best known for his career as a professional wrestler. As I've stated in a previous post, I grew up a HUGE fan of pro wrestling. I was even more obsessed with the pseudo-sport than I am Springsteen today. And one of my all-time favorites was Mick Foley. Foley wrestled all over the world, for many different promotions, with different characters and enjoyed a very successful career. In many ways he was the Bruce Springsteen of pro wrestling; not the most technically proficient or talented, but his undeniable ability to connect to a crowd and make them believe in him makes him beloved to millions, even still to this day. Foley had the rare ability to tell a story during his matches that made him the most unlikely star of his era. And he's been able to transcend wrestling to having a career in comedy, television, film, and even literature.
Foley has written 4 autobiographies, each of which I have read and enjoyed immensely. He has made it explicitly clear that there were never any ghostwriters, and what you read is what Foley wrote. Foley has the same gift in literature that he had when he wrestled. He can enthrall you with his stories and make you believe in him. But I have always been nervous about reading his fiction novels. I've never been a huge fan of fiction, as when I read it tends to be biographies or autobiographies.
But recently I had a flight and was looking for something to read on my Kindle and decided to go with Foley's first foray into the world of fiction, Tietam Brown. The story is a coming-of-age-tale, set in the mid 1980's of a young man named Andy Brown. Andy has been through horrific abuse, neglect, and in a nutshell; has had an all around rough life. His relationship with his father, his school, and his past has caused him much pain and confusion. But his saving grace is when he meets a beautiful girl in school named Terri Johnson who sees beyond his physical and emotional scars to the decent person that Andy is.
So what does any of this have to do with Springsteen? On the night of the big school dance where Andy is supposed to meet up with Terri, he's driving in the car looking for some good music to listen to. He pops in Born To Run. He talks about how even though in 1980's Born In The USA was all over the radio, Born To Run, was and always will be the definitive Springsteen album. He continues to describe his drive to the dance while listening to the album, imagining conversations with Terri, and driving by her house to get himself all pumped up before he sees her at the dance. And then he comes to a stop when "Backstreets" plays.
"In an instant I heard Bruce Springsteen singing my life story. 'One soft infested summer me and Terry became friends, trying in vain to breath the fire we was born in.' I didn't really know what that breathing-the-fire thing was all about but that part about me and Terri was perfect. I knew as I barreled past Terri's house one last time that this was meant to be our song, even if we'd never actually done the things Bruce and his Terry had done, such as sleeping in an old abandoned beach house and getting wasted in the heat."
And that's what Bruce has been able to do to so many fans, including myself and Mick Foley. How many of us have actually done the things Bruce sings about? Hell, Bruce hasn't done most of them. But something about the way Bruce tells a story can connect to a fan and make him believe in him. Throughout the rest of the novel there are references to the Born To Run album as it plays a pivotal role in that night at the dance. Tietam Brown really is a great read. I'll admit it's not for everyone, with the depictions of Andy's child abuse being particularly disturbing. There are times when you read this and just think that this kid's been through enough and can't take anymore. But Tietam Brown is really hard to put down. It's the story of a young man's troubled relationship with his father, reflections on his youth, being an outcast at school, finding and losing love, but most of all it's a story of hope and rising above challenges to move forward in life. Sounds a lot like a Springsteen song. Strongly recommended, but not for people who are squeamish or looking for a book about Bruce Springsteen.