Bruce Springsteen Was My High School Boyfriend
Life lessons from the famous, mega-famous and quirky.
Bruce Springsteen was my high school boyfriend. To be clear, we never made out, not even in the imaginary sort of way. Probably because we never actually met.
Still, though, he was my boyfriend the same way Will Farrell is my comedy boyfriend, Paul Giamatti is my quirky movie boyfriend and James Taylor is my girls’ weekend boyfriend. Dave Grohl is my rock ’n’ roll boyfriend who also makes documentaries, though it’s a touch uncomfortable to have two boyfriends in such close professional proximity to each other. It does grant me some relief to know that when he and Bruce run into each other backstage at the Grammys, they’re not talking about me.
Again, no making out with any aforementioned boyfriends (even the imaginary sessions ended with puberty and Bryan Adams `a la Summer of ’69). I did meet James Taylor once, but no, I didn’t kiss him and no, he wouldn’t remember me, so if you’re busy speculating that I’m crazy, you can stop. It’s just that, what other term is there for the men who were present at some of my life’s most memorable and impressionable moments?
I’m not the only woman edging into her mid-forties for whom Springsteen narrated high school. Born in the U.S.A. was released the summer between my freshman and sophomore years and by the time teenage Courtney Cox was dancing on-stage in Bruce’s videos, I’d cut off my jeans, strung my hair up in a red bandana and memorized every word. Thanks to The Boss, with help from John Hughes and his Breakfast Club gang, high school began to make sense. My annoyance with the double-wide, hands-glued-in-each-other’s-back-pocket couples clogging my path to English class turned into something else entirely. Foresight, maybe? This might be as good as it got for them. Glory Days, folks. They were about to peak at 18 and spend the rest of their lives looking back while I was Molly Ringwald — minus the envy-worthy hair and clear skin — hanging with Ducky until Jake Ryan pulled up in his red Porsche. (Yes, I do know I’m mixing Hughes metaphors. Go with it).
Here’s the point in the essay when I tell you that my father was a Lutheran minister. Now you assume my story is about to take a Footloose sort of twist. Wrong. That pastor father of mine used his connections to surprise me with 4th row center tickets to Bruce’s 1988 Tunnel of Love tour. My dad liked my boyfriend.
Cut to college. James Taylor lulled me to sleep with Copperline. I wore through two copies of his Greatest Hits cassette on long, escapist walks during which I gnawed on life’s earliest adulthood traumas: boys who weren’t quite men, roommates who never left, and the first B- in my academic history (though not the last). JT sang away all — or at least much — of it, his voice a honey-lemon balm on my huge but tiny world. When I was strung out with worry, he brought me calm. When I had no more answers, he pitched me a few. What else could I want in a boyfriend?
And then there are the quirky ones, the oddballs who aren’t afraid to take a joke. The moment Will Farrell stripped down to his stars-and-stripes speedos, I was no longer the oddest one in the room, the weirdo chasing writer’s dreams when accounting would be much more pragmatic (never mind that I’m so right brained I nearly tilt). And Paul, dear Mr. Giamatti, daring to show the world that quirky can, in fact, be brilliance in its purest form. I won’t drink the merlot either, PG.
I bet you’re still wondering one thing, so let’s get to that: Yes, I am married. Happily, in fact, to a man who expresses no jealousy toward my multiverse of boyfriends. I fell in love with my husband (real love, not the imaginary sort) the moment I recognized that he was as kind and calming as JT’s string of hits. I agreed to marry him secure in the knowledge that yes, Will, he too made me laugh. He, in turn, celebrates my quirky almost-brilliance (come on, I can’t get too heady on the internet) and photos of his twenty-something self sport Grohl-length hair. A decade and a half later, I find there’s nothing more assuring of a marriage choice well-made than the sound of your husband and son playing Blackbird on dueling guitars.
All those years with my big-name boyfriends were more than sentimental. They were instructional. They taught me to spend my time with people who make me happy, who are kind, and who introduce calm rather than calamity. I could have ended up with one of those people we all know — the ones who spend their energies tempting the tempests of life, who churn from one drama to the next like an addict chasing a fix. I have friends who married those people. They’re divorced now. Bruce and JT and Will, though, they showed me that life is no better than its moments. The better the moments, the better the years. Thank god I listened.
As for Springsteen, I haven’t forgotten my dear friend. Even today the sound of his voice makes me feel as if I can throw on a pair of cut-offs and a bikini top and drive around the neighborhood with all the windows down. Which, by the way, I don’t.
More good news: We’ll see you in February, Bruce. My real-life boyfriend/husband gave me tickets to the River Tour for Christmas. You, of course, are welcome to kick in a few backstage passes. I promise not to try anything funny. You taught me better than that.