The book I just published for Bruce Springsteen and Nick Hornby

And by “I,” I mean “WE,” because there’s no way I could have pulled off a stunt like this on my own.

Back in 2003, I took a class in book binding and letterpress printing at the Center for Book Arts in Manhattan. I had been collecting for quite some time and began to wonder, as most collectors eventually do, how books are constructed. Especially the fancy ones.

That same year, British author Nick Hornby published Songbook. It’s a series of essays about songs that are meaningful to him. It’s still in print and it’s a pretty entertaining read. I’m a big fan of his work and have a healthy collection of signed first editions and rarities.

Songbook includes an essay on Bruce Springsteen’s Thunder Road that I think is particularly effective. It’s the standout piece of the book. I was in bookbinding class stabbing myself with a sewing needle trying to perfect a chapbook spine stitch when I had the spark of an idea. Wouldn’t it be cool, I thought, to create a chapbook that married both Hornby’s Thunder Road essay with Springsteen’s lyrics? And do it legitimately, with permission from the artists? Yeah, right. Like that could ever happen.

* * *

I bought a rare Charles Bukowski first edition from Jim, who lived in Phoenix, Arizona. As it turned out, he’s a letterpress printer. He creates beautiful, limited-run books at synaestheia press. He’s a design and production genius. I was a patron of his press and we became pretty good friends. He visited New York City, I visited Phoenix and we also met in Las Vegas once. We spoke all the time.

I told him about my crazy idea for the Thunder Road chapbook. He encouraged me and said that if I could somehow secure permission from Hornby and Springsteen, he would print it. Shortly thereafter, Hornby was on a promotional tour for Songbook. At his Manhattan stop, while getting my copy signed, I casually asked if I could reprint his Thunder Road essay in a chapbook. Much to my surprise, he said yes, with the stipulation that every penny made from the sale go to charity. That was okay by me, since making money never entered my mind. Not once!

Now the tough part. Bruce Springsteen’s business machine is fiercely protective of his material. I thought that going to him with an agreement from Hornby already in-hand would add legitimacy to the project. I wrote to his manager, Jon Landau, and not long thereafter, much to my complete shock, received permission to reprint the lyrics on a letterpress broadside. The stipulation was the same as the one Hornby set out for us; we were not permitted to profit from the venture. All proceeds had to be donated to charity.

We received nothing more than a verbal agreement and a “good luck” from Hornby, however, we received a multi-paged contract from the legal department of Shore Fire Media that we were required to sign and return. It was stipulated, in no uncertain terms, that all monies were to be donated to charity and that we were to use the lyrics provided with the contract (vs. getting them off the internet and possibly misquoting). Pretty serious stuff. The contracts were signed on May 28, 2004.

With my recently acquired knowledge of chapbook construction, I worked up about four different prototypes. The trick was to collapse both the essay and the broadside into one book. I sent them off to Phoenix and, if I’m being completely honest here, the layout ideas that Jim came up with were much better than mine. I wanted the book to be great so it required some humility on my part. The finished layout is probably 80% his talent and 20% my lucky guesses.

Do you know what can dramatically increase the value of a book? A signature. We had another brilliant, impossible, idea. We would fly to London, meet with Hornby, and he would sit and sign a stack of title pages for the essay portion of the book. In early 2006, I sent him, via his publisher at Penguin, a “Hey, remember me? We’re going to be in the neighborhood. How’d you like to sign some title pages?” e-mail. How many authors of Hornby’s stature do you suppose would entertain such a ludicrous request? Damn few, I’d guess. But he agreed to do it. On March 16, 2006, he had us over to his writing studio and for a few hours the three of us bullshitted about music and literature and the internet and he told us some fun stories about dealing with Hollywood, all while signing page after page after page after page.

20Sigt_dateSigt_dateSigt_date201401We were planning a print run of 200 copies. Hornby signed 250 leaves. This is common practice as it allows for overage, contributor copies and damage during construction. Nick developed a terrible hand cramp. I felt kind of bad. Afterwards, he walked with us back to the tube station and took us past the vintage (1913), now demolished, Arsenal stadium, home to his beloved Gunners. It’s one of my top five favorite afternoons ever.

I sent a request to Springsteen asking if he would be willing to sign a portion of the broadsides. I didn’t dare hope that he’d sign all 250. He declined and I didn’t have the nerve to pursue the issue. Frankly, I was surprised that he granted permission to use the lyrics and I didn’t want to push my luck.

* * *

It took a little over a year to produce the printer’s mock-up proof. A year is a bit longer than is customary for this type of work, but there were delays.

20proofproofproof201401And then there were more delays. The months peeled away. I thought the project was becoming a burden, so I offered to find someone else to print it. But Jim is steadfast and a man of his word and always finishes what he starts. The printing commenced slowly.

I don’t recall the specifics (and wouldn’t share them here if I did) but eventually, tensions rose, words were exchanged and we stopped speaking. Our friendship died. And the Thunder Road chapbook project ceased.

In July of 2008 I wrote to Hornby and said that, with deepest regrets, the book would not be made. He wrote a short piece on his blog about how all artistic endeavors begin with good intentions but don’t always come to fruition or a happy ending. He used our book as a case in point.

* * *

Years passed by.

I wrote to Jim last fall and after a few tentative e-mail exchanges, I asked if he wouldn’t mind shipping the guts of the book. He had finished the essays and broadsides but the covers still needed to be printed and the book had to be assembled. He boxed them up carefully and they arrived in New Jersey sometime in December.

20TR 2TR 2TR-220140120TR 3TR 3TR-3201401 * * *

I had some contacts in the letterpress community that led me to Ray at Lead Graffiti, an extraordinary letterpress printer in Delaware. I approached him about the project with the caveat that although I could cover the cost of materials, all the heavy lifting would have to be done pro bono. Would he be interested?

He embraced the project so enthusiastically that in addition to making the 200 softcovers, he decided to create a special run of 26 hardcovers that would sell at a premium. Ray’s partner, Jill, jumped in and created a beautiful linocut stamp of storm clouds to print on the cover.

Here’s Ray slaving away at the printing press.

 

I was moved by their enthusiasm for the project and willingness to create hardcovers. I meditated on how they could be made even more special. I approached Springsteen again and asked if he would be willing to sign the broadsides for just those 26 copies. He politely declined five years ago, but this time he said yes. I dropped the broadsides off at his house and picked them up several weeks later.

* * *

The book has two spines. The essay is bound in on the left spine, and the broadside with the lyrics unfolds from the right. We borrowed the same font from the Born to Run album cover for the title. The covers are printed on black Somerset Velvet and the flysheet for the essay is printed on white mulberry paper.

20thunder-road-comp-12001201401

The linocut is printed black-on-black ink for the cover and repeated in white-on-white for the flysheet.

20covercovercover1201401A hand-rolled deckle edge that emulates yellow road paint was added along the bottom.

20TR_Edge2201401It’s sewn with matching yellow thread. The hardcovers have yellow endpapers.

20TR threadTR threadTR-thread201401The 26 copies signed by both Springsteen and Hornby were priced at $225 and are sold out. But I still have the softcovers to sell. They are priced at $60 each; a steal considering the level of craftsmanship and the content. All copies are signed by Nick Hornby on his essay. Per Hornby and Springsteen’s request, proceeds from the sale are being donated to TreeHouse, a school in London for autistic children.

We created six special sets that are not for sale. One hardcover and one softcover are laid into a custom clam shell case, handmade by Bill of Bottle of Smoke Press, who also assisted with the cover printing. These sets go to Springsteen, Hornby and the four project participants. Bruce was kind enough to inscribe the broadsides for those six copies to each of us. Here’s my hardcover copy. Brothers and sisters, this is all the payment I’ll ever need.

20Thunder-Road-Mark1201401

20signaturesignaturesignature201401
* * *

Getting this book made has been a long, arduous process but the finished product is a small masterpiece. Hardbound copies were purchased for the special collection libraries at Columbia University, The University of Delaware and The Newark Library. There’s also a copy on hold for the Library of Congress.

Letterpress printing is a fading art form. There are no new Heidelberg Presses being manufactured. These books are created by craftsmen who are at the top of their game. They’re the polar opposite of cold, impersonal eBooks. Aside from the obvious “do-good” aspect, they are a prestige item. But it was very, very expensive to produce. And I don’t just mean the black Somerset Velvet, white mulberry paper and untold hours of uncompensated labor. This book annihilated a great friendship.

You can order a copy via PayPal. The account is ThunderRoadChapbook@gmail.com. [Please do not leave orders in the comments section.] I’ll start shipping copies sometime next week. If you really want to help out, throw a link up to this too-long post.

20TR 5TR 5TR-5201401

Please note: We are sold out. There are no books available. Thanks to all who purchased a copy.

108 thoughts on “The book I just published for Bruce Springsteen and Nick Hornby

  1. Congratulations. a totally amazing story. the final book is just beautiful. The key in a sense was your re-approaching your lost friend Jim and his sending you the parts that had been done. Also brave of you was asking Springsteen a second time. If you had not done that the story would have ended disappointingly. Bravo. somewhat of a hero’s journey.

    • Thanks for your kind words. Honestly, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Sometimes, that’s best.

  2. What a brilliant story, congrats on the book. My company does mounting and awards for BMI (book manufacturers international)I must say I love working on that order and find the entire process fascinating.Congrats again and cheers…Sausage.ps. My Dad always says “Ask and you shall receive”See how it worked for you.

    • Aren’t eBooks just the saddest thing ever? And your da is right. All I thought I’d hear is “no” but everyone kept saying yes!

  3. Wonderful! I know how gruelling these projects can sometimes be. As soon as Paypal gets over its “technical difficulties” you’ll have my order.

  4. genius means nothing without tenacity. Bravo!i’ll be ordering one… you know i have a thing for Mr. Springsteen, and i used to sing Thunder Road to my babies as a lullaby…”You ain’t a beauty, but hey, you’re all right…” has saved my life.

    • I’m glad one will be on your bookshelf. Think of it as a family heirloom. For real! Perhaps you’d better buy two so there’s no fighting.

  5. You are now officially one of my mega heroes, up there with Bukowski, T S Elliot and Frieda Kahlo. I’ll share this story with everyone I can: Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest right now, and do something on my blog tomorrow. I feel proud to know you.Sorry about your lost friendship.

  6. What an amazing journey! For both you and this book. Congratulations on the completion of such an awesome project!! I’d love to buy one, but being off work means there’s just no extra money in the coffers, even for something as stupendous as this. I’ll bet you are just beaming!! 🙂

    • Beaming with relief, actually. Wish I could slip you a Frequent Unbearable Reader discount but I am contractually obligated to not do so.

  7. wow, wow, wow. you always have something interesting up your sleeve TUB (and i love that i get to call you TUB). congratulations on such a unique, beautiful and poignant accomplishment.

    • Thanks! I can easily say the same thing about your incredible photography. That’s a nice space you occupy.

  8. Awesome UB. I put a link to your post up on my facebook page. Don’t get too excited, though, as I only have 61 friends. Maybe one of my more social friends will repost it.

  9. Oh yeah, I’m going to get one of these right now. What are you charging for postage? I don’t have much love for either Springsteen or Nick Hornby but these books are frickin’ BEAUTIFUL. And a God damn collector’s item.

    • Thanks for the order, pal. You’re another one that deserves a Frequent Reader Discount. Alas, I cannot extend one.

  10. Congratulations – how good it must feel, after all these years, to finally see your project completed! Except for the damaged friendship, your perseverance paid off. And about that, well, never, never, never, never give up. As you know so well.

    • I always thought the book would be printed sooner or later. I had no idea just how much later it would be!

  11. I’ve haven’t read the entire blog post. Yet. I just wanted to say OMG! Seriously I love the drive and initiative. AND this is just so kewl.

    • Actually, this is the longest post I’ve ever written. I am very anti-long post and tried to edit it down for fear nobody would ever read it.

    • You’re another one who deserves a Frequent Reader discount. If there were one. I like it when you’re riveted by me.

  12. This was a damn fine post, a damn fine story, if i hadn’t blown so much on horses and booze and drugs lately you’d have my order, great work though on both the book and the post.

    • It’s not as if booze, drugs and horses are a waste of money. Some folks are able to fashion that into a career.

  13. I am the man who signed 250 of those sheets, five years and three months ago, and I can’t believe I’m going to be holding a finished copy in my hands any day now. Congratulations, Mark. (And tennysonhemingway: don’t worry about it. But Bruce and I think you’re awesome.)Nick H

    • Many thanks for your insane levels of patience and generosity. Your heart is so big that I don’t know how you manage to get up out of a chair.

    • Thank you for your order. I can assure you that there will be no future projects! I learned my lesson well.

  14. Bloody hell! How special is that?!I’m really interested in letterpress printing at the minute and have been mulling over a few ideas of my own… though none of my ideas are near the scale of yours!!SxI am also going to Pinterest you.

    • I would recommend starting off on a much smaller scale. I often thought I bit off too much. And thanks for the Pintrist.

  15. I am totally blown away. I already admired your talent in many sectors (blogger, reader/collector, father, friend). Add this to the list. What a feat. A HUGE hug and a firm handshake from Nawth Cackalacky. Ya done good.

  16. Oh….and is it just the distance that made this easy to keep close the chest? I had NO idea you were even messing around with this! Major props for keeping the story to yourself for one of the most dramatic of your posts…..

    • NOBODY, aside from Mrs. Wife, the printers (and Nick) knew about this! I didn’t dare discuss it with anyone. Can you imagine! Eight years of “When is the book going to be finished?!”

  17. Wow, what a post… As an artist, I understand what went into all of this.My Daughter a graduate of Mills, studied bookmaking, and letterpress. You are so right it is a fading art form. I was able to visit the studio at Mills and was amazed by the presses I despise e-books. No soul.Thank You for this post… I came over from Eryl’s blog.cheers, parsnip

    • I love watching the presses in action. I included a short video of a cover being printed in this post but I don’t think it’s working in every browser. Damn internet!

  18. Well, if Mr Hornby happens to read this other comments, it’s nothing personal sir. I’ve read a couple of your books and, while the writing is very good, it isn’t necessarily something I particularly care for. Though if I could even GET a book published, I wouldn’t care what anyone thought. I’m certainly never going to have the career that you and Mr Springsteen have had, that’s for sure.

  19. [thud] that’s the sound of me falling on the floor. Nick H. Commenting. in a thread that i’ve already commented upon. oh, dear. where’s the freakin’ Xanax when you need it?if Mr. S stops by? i’ll need MedEvac.

  20. As one of the Lead Graffiti participants I’d like to add that some projects also make you new friends. I’m assuming we fall into that category.From our point this was a great project from our start to the end. I personally love both Nick Hornby’s work and Bruce Springsteen’s music. How nice it is to design for printing via letterpress, getting to do woodcut illustrations, print on Somerset and Mulberry, print black on black and white on white, paint yellow lines along deckle edges, design a typeface from Born to Run, bind a four-panel book (plus four-panel softcovers), include bright yellow endsheets, use the words penned by Hornsby and Springsteen, and get a copy signed to you.We are happy people at Lead Graffiti for having the chance to contribute.

    • ou are the friggin’ man. And Jill is the friggin’ woman. Your enthusiasm for the project was a motivator. THANK YOU.

  21. What a long way from W. 130 you have come. I can’t explain how proud of you I am! I have posted the link on my Facebook-dont think you will have much of a problem unloading them. This is no doubt one of your best posts ever. You had me sitting at the edge of my seat; your friend lost a good person. MT

  22. Amazing story. Loved reading this. I know you’re not a Twitter fan, but couldn’t help sharing this post on there earlier. And gushing a little bit. And I hope it sends more people this way to dig deep into their paypal wallets. And good on Nick H (ah, so understated) for getting writers’ cramp for the cause. H’awesome.

    • Thanks for the link. You’re another person who deserves a Unbearable Early Reader discount. Wish they were mine to dole out.

  23. Truly an inspiration to many !!!I just might have to pursue my own dream to do my own book. :)Looks like I just found myself a great Birthday gift.Linked shared at:Backsteets.com BTX and BossTalk on Facebook.

    • I am getting a shitload of hits from your link. MANY THANKS!!! Any Bruce fan would love this book, and I’m not just saying that to move product. Are you familiar with the Hornby piece?

  24. This project is perfect confluence of passions for my husband (accolyte in the Church of Bruce, fan of NH and lover of books) and myself (lover of all the above, plus book arts). Submitted my PayPal order today and I just hope I can score one of the 200 as a 60th b’day present for hubbie. He’ll die!

    • Order received and although the books are pretty great, I hope it doesn’t result in beloved hubby’s death. That’s not a byproduct we were counting on.

  25. This is INCREDIBLE! What a fantastic project. I love Hornby and Springsteen, and I can’t think of a finer tribute to them. You are a lucky man, despite the hardships, to have worked on such a beautiful project. Bravo!

  26. I’d like to congratulate Mark on a job well done. His story was dead on, with the exception of his “lucky guesses”. No luck there, Mark, and don’t short change yourself; you’re a true Bookman in every sense of the word. In addition, I didn’t hold up to my end of the project, and that’s something I’ll have to live with for a long time. I’ve apologized to Mark, and I’ll do it again. But the finished product is nothing short of superb — a true work of art — and Mark is responsible for seeing it to completion…and everyone at Lead Graffiti and Bottle of Smoke kicked a whole bunch of butt, too.

    • I’m not going to get all Oprah on your ass but there wouldn’t have been a book without you. I, along with Bill and Ray, owe you a debt of thanks.

  27. What a great story! I’ve just placed an order for two copies – one for me and one for my mum. I love both Springsteen and Hornby and actually have a copy of ’31 songs’ (as it’s titled here) sitting on my bookshelf. Can’t wait to receive the chapbooks.

    • The funny thing is, I’ve seen the book called BOTH 31 Songs AND Songbook. Hope I picked the preferred title. Who knows!?

  28. I believe 31 Songs is the UK title and Songbook the US title. Since you’re in the US I’d say you did pick the right title 🙂

  29. I love it. I have ordered 4 by sending you the $$$ without any order form. I sent it in Canadian but now panicked that I should have sent US Funds thogh ours is higher. Please let me know if I made a mistake. I love the book and collect art books. Hail ali

  30. Nicely done. Definitely a labor of love. You should be proud of this accomplishment. One small detail however: I believe that the lyric in the first line should be “Mary’s dress sways” not “waves”. I realize that Bruce’s songbook lyrics lists it as “waves”, but “sways” is what he sings, and it is a much more alluring visual to say “sways” instead of “waves”. Just my thoughts.Congratulations.

    • Be that as it may, I was contractually obligated to use the lyrics sent by Springsteen’s production company. No matter. I’m happy with the results.

  31. Great post, great looking product. I ordered mine last night; hoping that I got in there before the rush from the post on the Backstreets news page. If I’m lucky, can’t wait!

    • No worries. It’ll be in the mail in a day or two. Thank heavens for Backstreets. I received a ton of orders through those guys.

  32. I’m embarrassed to say I had to Google “chapbook” because I had never heard that word before. Those books are stunning. And what a great story!! It’s so cool that these things can still happen, in this age of mega-commercialized everything, where you can hardly approach authors and musicians without having hundreds of agents and other vultures running interference.

    • Chapbooks are the work of artisans. They’re on their way out. Only a small number of obsessive individuals still practice letterpress printing. It’ll never completely fade away, but I do worry what’ll happen once the last letterpress breaks for good. They’re not making any new ones.

  33. I just today pulled this wonderful book off of my bookshelf, and went online to reread the story of how it was created.

    Maybe you’ll find this as funny as I did. A couple days before I ordered your book, my wife bought her kindle. When I described the chapbook, and told her to look for the payment on her Paypal account, she had a question: “will it be arriving by Pony Express?”

    In her defense, she has hundreds of books on our shelves, and knows a good-looking book when she sees it..

    • Thanks for the note, Bill. It’s good to know my little contribution to the non-kindle world is still
      appreciated!

    • Thanks for your kind words. I’m sorry there aren’t any books left. I tried to sell them to true fans and not just people who were looking for an autographed piece.

      Here’s a funny story and a complete coincidence: I have since reconciled with my friend who I had the falling-out with and he was just here in New York over this past weekend visiting from LA. We got together and yammered like two old hens. As if nothing ever happened! I mourn the lost years.

      • I admire your search for true fans. Hold onto that sieve – it will serve you well. The lost years suck but hens don’t. They’re delicious and so is yammering. So glad you reconciled. When it comes down to it, good friends are all we have holding us together. I wish I could say family was but mine are pure shit. Sigh.

    • It took a couple of months and my basement started to look like a FedEx shipping center, but I finally got rid of them all. We raised $16K for Hornby’s charity, which is lovely, but it was all about the book for me. I cherish my copies. I pull them off the shelf every once in a while and take a walk down memory lane. Try THAT with an e-Book.

  34. I was on the road for a year and a half with all of my belongings packed away in storage. When I returned to LA a month ago to reclaim my things, I found this book safely tucked away in an archival box. I immediately opened it and spent time going through the essay and lyrics like it was the first time I had ever read them. I can truly say that this song has been with me all my life. I remember hearing it play through my older brothers room when I was very young, I remember the distinct pop and skips from that record once I got my hands on it, and I remember hearing it live for the first time in 1984 when I was 10 years old and again, and again, and again over the next 30 years. Like Nick (and many others), I have always able to find a certain meaning and connection to this song and over the years that connection grows and changes.

    Reading the lyrics (and essay) in your book, and knowing the back story, and having written about your book for Backstreets, has added a whole new connection for me. I am glad to see that people are still interested in this book. It is worthy of the attention!

    • Thanks, very much for taking the time to pose this comment. As I said to Sara, above your comment, just TRY to replicate these feelings with an e-Book. I hope there’s a backlash soon or I don’t know what will happen. It’s great news for trees, but terrible news for books and the beautiful, lost art of letterpress printing.

      • Would you consider giving it another try… maybe with another essay and another Song? I imagine that all the parties might be interested in it since the last one was such a success. I know this is easier said than done but… you know. Its worth a mention!

      • I was toying with the idea of doing Pissing in a River by Patti Smith, which is also in SONGBOOK. I know Nick would give me permission and I thought that, since I live in NYC, I might be able to get Smith to sign copies but, for now, it’s just a thought in my head.

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