A controversial new book on the early years of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band asserts that the Boss fell in love with the Israeli violinist who briefly played in his band, and that she at least partially inspired one of the songs on what is widely regarded as his greatest album, “Born to Run.”
Singer, songwriter, actress, screenwriter and multi-award-winning author Suki Lahav played violin and sang with the E Street Band in the early 1970s, when her then-husband Louis was Springsteen’s sound engineer at 914 Sound Studios in Blauvelt, New York. The young Israeli musician, who was born on Kibbutz Ayelet HaShahar in the Upper Galilee, sang uncredited on “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy),” on Springsteen’s second album, and played violin on stage as an unofficial member of the band on songs including the harrowing “Lost in the Flood,” the elegant “Incident on 57th Street,” the West Side Story-esque “Jungleland,” and early versions of one of Springsteen’s most acclaimed songs “Thunder Road.”
The last two of these tracks were subsequently recorded for the “Born to Run” album, as was the song “She’s The One.” And according to author Clinton Heylin in the book “E Street Shuffle,” Lahav, then a slender, long-haired vision in her early 20s, just out of the army and just married, was the “tangential inspiration” for this song, an anguished romantic ballad with lyrics highlighting “her long hair falling/and her eyes that shine like a midnight sun.”
When Springsteen, who was single at the time, first played “She’s The One” on stage, writes Heylin, his “spoken intro” suggested it had a “lust-driven inspiration. Someone had the hots for ‘The One.'”
A veteran music writer who has authored numerous books on Bob Dylan, Heylin also notes that Springsteen started covering Dylan’s “I Want You” when she was in the band, singing it “to Lahav” with “emotional undertow.”
Heylin, whose book was first published in hardback earlier this year and is newly out in paperback, quotes Springsteen’s then-manager Mike Appel, who wrote in his own, fairly obscure 1992 book that Lahav had to leave the band in early 1975 because, “Quite simply, Bruce fell in love with Suki and she with him. She then had to get out to try and save the marriage.”
When they played together on stage, Appel wrote, there was “male and female heat, right up there, live in front of everyone… You could hear a pin drop in the audience.”
The Lahavs came back to Israel and were divorced not long after. Lahav, who lives in Jerusalem, briefly remarried, had children, and has since pursued a highly successful career in the arts, including winning a Yad Vashem award and a Ministry of Culture award for her writing.
Interviewed in The Jerusalem Post in 2007, Lahav recalled disarmingly that she was surprised that Springsteen wanted her in the band because she didn’t think she was a terribly good violinist, although “maybe I did have my own thing.”
She called Springsteen “a lovely man,” and “a unique artist,” though she also seemed to lament that he had moved away from “the poetry” of his early music as he became a global star.
In a 2003 interview with Yedioth Ahronoth she had dismissed rumors of an affair with Springsteen as “old wives’ tales.”
Heylin’s book is an insider’s minutiae-filled critique of Springsteen the global star. Its thesis is that the young, poetic, gloriously innovative and creative songwriter mutated into a risk-averse mainstream artist, an obsessive control freak in the studio, and an extraordinarily talented songwriter who has proved consistently incapable of recognizing his own best material — much of which he consequently has failed to release while putting out vastly inferior music.
Lahav herself had said something not dissimilar about this last point, albeit very kindly, in a 1985 interview with the Springsteen fanzine Backstreets. During her time with the band, she said, “he used to record loads of songs and only use a few of them. In my opinion, some of those songs that have never been released are his best. Especially the lyrics — he wrote like a madman, a natural phenomenon….”
For Heylin, the start of the downward spiral can be traced to the mid-70s period when Appel was ejected as manager, to be replaced by Jon Landau, the journalist who had championed Springsteen in 1974 by writing (in The Real Paper), “I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.”
In her interview in 2007, Lahav linked her and her then-husband Louis’s departure from the Springsteen camp to Appel’s ouster: Springsteen and Appel were going their separate ways, at the start of what became a bitter and extensive legal battle, and “we were really Mike’s people,” she said.