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Bridge and Tunnel Boys

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Member Reviews

I would like to thank NetGalley and the Author for giving me the opportunity to review this ARC.

This book is more of detail look at the individual songs and albums put out by these well known music stars, than a biography and in depth look at them as people. It looks at Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen from the perspective of their near common upbringing, geographically, age, socially, career, and their interaction with other artists and their fans.

It's is a clearly written and understandable, but I probably would have liked to learn more about the two performers as people.

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I grew up in the late-'70s, early-'80s on the Billy/Boss Meridian just north of the city--I remember DJ Carol Miller's attempt to make "Born to Run" the NJ anthem--so these two guys provided much of the soundtrack of my life. "The River," which I had on 8-track, I wore white in my car. "Songs in the Attic," which I had on cassette, I wore white on my gray brick of a Walkman. I finally saw Bruce a couple years ago at the Meadowlands--his longest North American show until the next one, and it was everything I could have hoped for--and I'd love to see Billy at the Garden, but I'm not made of money. I worked at Avon when we put out Bruce's SONGS, and his memoir isn't just the best rock memoir ever; it's arguably one of the greatest memoirs, period. Thus the book was recommended to me, and I appreciate NetGalley and the publisher giving me a look.

It's great fun, a dual bio of the two along with a running comparison/contrast of their music. Thus it's the perfect excuse to go back and, thanks to Spotify, relisten to all their albums in order while the author discusses them. Some of Cullen's commentary is a bit too academic in places, discussing the music in a way no fan would, but overall his readings of the songs in the context of their times and the songwriters' lives really refreshes them. I have to say, Billy's classical album is really good, and I'm stunned that the new songs Bruce threw onto his Greatest Hits album for marketing would themselves make for anyone else's own greatest hits albums. I also got a new appreciation for his more recent albums, which I have to dive back into more thoroughly, and now I'm even more looking forward to Billy releasing his first new song in decades this week.

While I'll admit I'm a very particular audience in terms of birth, there are lot of me, so I'll be recommending it to my friends.

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Bridge and Tunnel Boys is a wonderful novel comparing two music icons , Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen.the author writes about the influences and inspiration that shaped some of the most memorable songs of a generation. It think the author did a good job at the history and the background of these artists . A most have for an Joel/Springsteen fan

I just reviewed Bridge and Tunnel Boys by Jim Cullen. #BridgeandTunnelBoys #NetGalley

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Bridge and Tunnel Boys will be published on October 13, 2023. Rutgers University Press provided an early galley for review.

The first albums I bought by Joel and Springsteen were 52nd Street and Born In The USA respectively (though I had heard plenty of the Boss' early albums from my older brother). Together these two artists are part of the frequent signposts on the road of my high school and college years during the 80's.

Cullen takes a very scholarly look at their lives and music, applying the details to the cultural movements of New York City. His approach to the subjects is elevated and thought-provoking. If this subject was the focus of a liberal arts course (the type of elective I would have gravitated to in college), his book would serve well as part of the course reading materials. It was educating as well as entertaining.

I also enjoyed his dissection of each's albums track by track. It encouraged me to pull up my music library to revisit many of these classics and to listen at them through a slightly different direction.

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My thanks to both NetGalley and the publisher Rutgers University Press for this advanced copy featuring a look at two dynamic performers, known for both their live shows and their songs that both make one dance, make one think, and emphasize with the plights of others.

I grew up in a house where my parents listened to AM music quite proudly. So I was more familiar with the music of the troubadour from Long Island, Billy Joel, than I was with the Boss from New Jersey. In fact I think one of the times we took advantage of Columbia Record and Tape ten or eleven albums for a penny, or a dollar, I don' recall I think my parents got Fleetwood Mac and 5 Billy Joel albums, albums I still have in my collection. My cousin in New Jersey got me at least listening to Springsteen, his songs didn't grab me until I heard Nebraska many years later. But I liked what I heard. Even back then I was a sucker for a story in song. Disco and pop, while liking the music, the lyrics annoyed me. Stories though I liked, songs of not feeling like one belonged, or love done wrong. I was there. Later I saw the depth of both men, You May Be Right, leading to Captain Jack, Rosalita to Tunnel of Love, songs that I both think are depressive masterpieces, and one's that I played a lot, and listened to both men in awe and amazement at what they could do. Jim Cullen, cultural historian and writer of many fine books on politics and people, and what they have lived through compares these two songwriters with the times they saw and that New York state of mind that came of age in his book Bridge and Tunnel Boys: Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, and the Metropolitan Sound of the American Century.

The time was 1949 and within four months of each other Billy Joel will be born in the Bronx (like Me!) but growing up in Long Island in May, and in September Bruce Springsteen will be born in September in New Jersey. Growing up both shared musical influences, though Joel started piano lessons at age 4, while Springsteen didn't pick up a guitar until he saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, a moment also for Joel. Both men learned to perform in bars, playing the music that people were familiar with, getting drunks to calm down, and the uninterested to pay attention, in the vacation areas and places that would become familiar in their songs. From this both learned to love performing, something that would continue up the present day. Early songs drew on what they knew, the people that they hung around with, their backgrounds, and while people might be dancing, there were a few who were listening, and these songs told far more then to get bodies dancing. Joel and Springsteen would both write songs about Vietnam, neither having serving, but understanding from observation the toll the war took on people. Songs like Big Shot would be accompanied by The Stranger, or Ballad of Billy the Kid, Born in the USA proceeded by Nebraska, both albums about America in decay, but with one song featured in numerous Presidential campaigns.

A very interesting look at both the music of these two performers, the times and the influences that had a hand in crafting their songs. Both men always have the aw shucks, I'm just a piano man, guitar player, but Cullen shows the intelligence and the gift that they had to see what was truly happening to people, and write songs, that could both entertain, and let people know they are seen. Glory Days, Allentown, Born in the USA and Downeaster 'Alexa, all show that something happened in the eighties, where their fathers had jobs that gave them houses, and time to spend on the Jersey Shore, suddenly the jobs were gone, so were the houses, and the Shores were being made into private land. Cullen is a great writer, able to see and put together things that don't seem to go together, but explain so much. This book is a fantastic and unique look into both singers and what their art is still capable of.

Recommended for fans of both artists and for music fans in general. Also for those who read books on the influence of culture on the arts, and how art is shaped by events around it. Jim Cullen is a very talented writer, and one that I am looking forward to reading more of. I also recommend his book on the Eighties as that was also a very interesting read.

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In my house we are big fans of Bruce and Billy so this was a natural choice of book to choose. I enjoyed reading the story about both performers. I found myself pausing throughout the book to tell my husband everything I was learning - he enjoyed it! Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC. Five stars.

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Synopsis (from Netgalley, the provider of the book for me to review.)

Born four months apart, Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel both released their debut albums in the early 1970s, quickly becoming two of the most successful rock stars of their generation. While their critical receptions have been very different, surprising parallels emerge when we look at the arcs of their careers and the musical influences that have inspired them.

Bridge & Tunnel Boys compares the life and work of Long Islander Joel and Asbury Park, NJ native Springsteen, considering how each man forged a distinctive sound that derived from his unique position on the periphery of the Big Apple. Locating their music within a long tradition of the New York metropolitan sound, dating back to the early 1900s, cultural historian Jim Cullen explores how each man drew from the city’s diverse racial and ethnic influences. His study explains how, despite frequently releasing songs that questioned the American dream, Springsteen and Joel were able to appeal to wide audiences during both the national uncertainty of the 1970s and the triumphalism of the Reagan era. By placing these two New York-area icons in a new context, Bridge & Tunnel Boys allows us to hear their most beloved songs with new appreciation.

This short book (under 300 pages) was an interesting read about Bruce and Billy – men who are American icons yet totally divergent in their marital histories, to say the least. Jim Cullen is an authority on American history when it comes to pop culture and music and this book did not disappoint. Written in a style that will appeal to all readers, it is not a dry, dusty history book but a look into two music legends and their enduring legacy in our lives. (I have seen Joel in concert but not Springsteen but I am decidedly the right age to appreciate them.)
Highly recommended to lovers of music, biographies, history and pop culture.

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