So The Boss has written a picture book. And good news for fans; Outlaw Pete, with its robberies, pistols, ponies, knives and murders – all beneath the burning sun, is pure Springsteen.
The protagonist (a nappy-wearing, ten gallon hat-toting 6-month-old) of Springsteen’s story may be just a tot, but the Americana rocker has done little to dilute his style of wildly epic narratives and common-man commentary for young readers.
The story begins with Pete, a bank-robbing baby, who grows up to be an outlaw, forever running from the consequences of his crimes – and, essentially, himself. The book’s themes are not what you’d consider ‘child-friendly’, with death, violence and abandonment among them. And the book’s illustrations, despite the initial old-school, Elmer Fuddsy impression, reveal vivid scenes including a knife fight and a man lying dead in a pool of blood.
It definitely doesn’t read like the typical bedtime story, but as Springsteen notes in the afterword –
“It’s not easy and I’m not sure this is a children’s book, though I believe children instinctively understand passion and tragedy.”
Originally a song from the 2009 album, Working on a Dream, the Wild West bandit adventure, Outlaw Pete, – inspired by Springsteen’s memories of being read 1950s story Brave Cowboy Bill as a child – achieved visual expression when he teamed up with cartoonist Frank Caruso (the artist behind Popeye and Betty Boop).
The result is a compelling, hard-edged coming-of-age tale set against an expansive emotive landscape, with the central character’s cartoony rendering hinting at a child-like vulnerability.
“It’s a very human story,” Springsteen says in The Washington Post interview. “We start carrying some of the baggage of our past as small children. And then at some point we either try to sort it out or outrun it. You can’t outrun it, which is what this character tries to do. And it’s very difficult to sort it out. But it’s the only way to go.”
As a friend once told him, he recalls, “Parents give their kids the best they have to offer, and the world takes care of the rest. There’s no escaping from the blues or whatever you want to call it.”
And just like the blues – and many a Springsteen tune – this book ain’t no fairytale. But perhaps a bit of realism in-between the sugary stuff is not such a bad thing for kids.
The songwriter-storyteller might just be onto something there.
After all, he is The Boss.
Outlaw Pete is available at Amazon.co.uk