I remember the first time I heard a Bruce Springsteen song. It was in 1984 and the song was Dancing in the Dark. I was a 14 year old kid ready to be influenced by music but it would take a trip to Thailand 2 years later and a bootleg copy of Nebraska for me to really hear Springsteen for the first time.
I’m not really sure what it is about Springsteen that has so captured me. How is it that I’ve seen him 30 times in my life and continue to this day to find such incredible connection with his music is something to unpack for sure.
It started with his story telling. It is an incredible art to be able to tell vivid as life tales in under 4 minutes. Springsteen has always been hailed as a character writer and that is true of the motley crew of people he has documented or brought voice to through his songs. To do this requires an eye for the small things that we can all relate to and bring those to life while moving the story along. But all successful artists do that.
He’s maniacal in the way he constructs his music, placing single notes or creating a wall of sound the way he did on the song Born To Run — that opening is like getting punched in the face by music. He constructed that, piece by piece, sound by sound, over a 7 month period in the studio. He pulls from his head the sound and makes it real. But other artists do that as well.
Springsteen has picked his themes and has remained current from the 70’s through to today. He’s a working class hero that has never held a 9-5 job. He sings about the things we need to hear right when we need to hear them. The 70’s were freewheeling youth and touching on early adulthood. The 80’s were post-Vietnam reckoning, introspective relationship challenges and using his voice to highlight the inequalities many suffer. The 90’s were almost empty but again focused on bringing to life the stories of importance around border challenges in Southern California. The early 2000’s were repairing a broken world after 9/11 and the last decade has been prolific around parenthood, finding roots in the world and experimentation. Movies, books, broadway plays — he’s attacked us from every sense and medium and it has been a marvel to watch. Other artists have done some of this.
So what is it about Springsteen that has endured for decades in an industry where the average lifespan is measured in minutes? Part of it has to be him. His legend. Most of it is the brotherhood and sisterhood that surrounds him. Us. His fans.
My first good friends in life were Springsteen fans. Cordial at first, like dating, we would find key areas we all could talk about and then one night someone would put on a Springsteen album and we were bonded for life. Next would come the concerts and waiting in line with our brethren. No matter the background, the socio-economic status, age, religion, colour, or sex, we were there for one common reason and that was Springsteen. It is a common language, one that we all speak. It was a wide group of classes with a single pure thing in common and we all fit in. He is a leveller. When we sing his lyrics back to him he is teaching us connection and community.
He is a history class, an ethics class and the class clown. He takes his craft more seriously than most of us do. He gives us lessons every single night on doing the work. His concerts are legendary because of the concerts. There is nothing that he leaves in the tank and he does it this way every time he steps on the stage. There is no take, he gives openly.
If you’ve seen him in concert recently you will see parents singing along with their children. I know my role as a parent has been to make sure my kids have been home schooled on Springsteen. He has transcended generations and by doing this he has families singing from the same page for a few hours at a time.
Springsteen sings about things that are timeless — that you could listen to today or tomorrow and still resonate. He’s been able to capture moments in life that don’t get stale (ok, 57 channels aside…). There is always a song that either reminds us of better days or helps us gain perspective on where we are in this world. And of courses the songs that help us remember the friends we’ve made. I also think about those days ahead when my kids are on their own and they hear a Springsteen song and are reminded of their youth and guilt forces them to pick up the phone and call their old man. It’s all about connection isn’t it?
That’s the brotherhood and sisterhood of The Boss.