Compared to most people I know, I’m a relatively new Springsteen fan.
It’s not like I hadn’t heard of the guy in my formative years. There’s a great story (which deserves its own post) involving my beloved, late Uncle Doug giving me a Springsteen autograph. I remember liking “Tunnel of Love” when it was released. And during my college years, two of my best friends lived down the hall from someone who was (and still is) the biggest Bruce fan I’ve ever known. When I think about that time, that dorm, that group of friends, The Boss is a big part of the soundtrack in my mind.
That was all circa 1987–1989.
My husband, who I met in 1990 and have been with ever since, likes to take credit for introducing me to Bruce. “You never listened to him before you met me,” he says, and to some extent that’s true because I never listened closely enough. To appreciate Bruce, you need to listen to the lyrics and let them seep into your soul, and while I was beginning to like his music more and more, for whatever reason I just didn’t take the time to listen deeply.
That all changed with the release of “Streets of Philadelphia,” the title track of the 1993 movie of the same name.
“Streets of Philadelphia” (the song) resonated strongly with me. It would be another two years before we learned that my uncle (the same one with the Springsteen autograph) was dying of AIDS, and since he and everyone in my family and The Husband’s was from Philadelphia, it held special meaning. Even now, 26 years later, I still haven’t been able to watch the movie but the song stops me in my tracks every time I hear it.
When “Secret Garden” was released on the Greatest Hits album in 1995, that became another profoundly moving, deeply personal song for me. I was just starting the very long process of understanding and accepting the realities of a medical diagnosis I’d received a decade earlier. “Secret Garden” became something of a defining anthem. I have instructions to have it played at my funeral.
Fast forward to 2001. After the horror, heartbreak and anger of 9/11, “The Rising” put into words everything that we as a people could not. And when I was unemployed for 15 months between 2012–13, Bruce’s music was my soundtrack during some very dark days as I drove back from many an unsuccessful interview listening to “Wrecking Ball.”
Between those years, there are countless songs that I loved — and still do.
Born to Run
Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to read Born to Run. It took a mere dozen pages for me to become completely engrossed in Bruce’s memoir and to fall even more in love with the guy and his writing. (As if that was possible.) Bruce is, for sure, a writer’s writer.
Obviously, I didn’t need Born to Run to convince me of the man’s brilliance as a musician and songwriter. Those of us who worship at the church of Bruce already know this.
If you haven’t read it yet, Born to Run opens with the stage set on Bruce’s childhood in Freehold, New Jersey, living with his parents, siblings, grandparents, and extended family all under the strong influence of Catholicism (“I don’t often participate in my religion but I know somewhere …deep inside .. I’m still on the team”) and a strong work ethic.
“Work, faith, family: this is the Italian credo handed down by my mother and her sisters. They live it. They believe it. They believe it even though these very tenets have crushingly let them down. They preach it, though never stridently, and are sure it is all we have between life, love and the void that devours husbands, children, family members and friends. There is a strength, fear, and desperate joy in all this hard spirit and soul that naturally found its way into my work. We the Italians push until we can go no further; stand strong until our bones give way; reach and hold until our muscles fatigue; twist, shout and laugh until we can no more, until the end.”
The writing is downright poetic. Here’s Bruce describing a snowstorm:
“There was just a city of snow falling from the sky and gathering around us …. Back east we usually experience the freedom that comes with a good snowstorm. No work, no school, the world shutting its big mouth for a while, the dirty streets covered over in virgin white, like all the missteps you’ve taken have been erased by nature. You can’t run; you can only sit. You open your door on a trackless world, your old path, your history, momentarily covered over by a landscape of forgiveness, a place where something new might happen. It’s an illusion but it can stimulate the regenerative parts of your spirit to make good on God and nature’s suggestion.”
Stream of consciousness, brilliant storytelling, passionate. It’s a must-read for all Bruce fans, for those of us who live for the stories that inspired the music and lyrics we all know by heart.
It’s impossible to review Born to Run properly because how do you review The Boss?
Bruce at 70
The Boss turns 70 today. One of the items on my bucket list is to experience a Springsteen concert. I’ve never been. I hope that I get the chance to see him someday.
Until then, I’ll keep listening to the music that feeds my soul.
Happy Birthday, Bruce. May you be blessed with at least 70 more.
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