The Remarkable Mr. Springsteen
I have spent the last month and a half waiting for this Tuesday. I have plenty of books on my bookshelf, but I’ve saved a top-shelf space for the occasion. A new book is joining my library and it is Bruce Springsteen’s memoir.
I have never bought Vanity Fair, but as soon as I read Bruce Springsteen’s interview in it online and learned from it that he was coming out with a memoir, I bought the magazine when it hit newsstands so I could own the issue in glorious print. I might cover it in plastic, as comic book collectors do their precious issues. I don’t want to let a mite of dust fade the Annie Liebowitz portraits or a careless spill of water to log the pages of the interview.
I didn’t always love “The Boss,” even though I probably should have had his music in my bones as soon as I left the womb. I was born in Long Branch, New Jersey at the same hospital where he was born, and my mom’s side of the family has a long history with Asbury Park, where he and the E Street Band got their start at the beachside rock bar, The Stone Pony.
Growing up, my tolerance of Bruce Springsteen was low, because it was circumscribed to “Born in the USA” on the Fourth of July in New Jersey, and what other pieces of his music I heard were in my dad’s car, where my dad, half-deaf, played the music so loud you couldn’t decipher the words. “Bruce Springsteen” was what I called the raucous, growling sounds of family car rides down to weekends at the Shore to visit my grandma and cousins.
Around 10th grade, my first boyfriend changed my perspective on “The Boss.” 10th grade was the year I had to memorize Shakespearean sonnets for English class and write cuentos inspired by the master of magical realism, Gabriel Garcia Marquez for Spanish class. It was my year of imagination.
We were sitting on the floor of his room one afternoon, and while talking about our favorite musical artists, he started searching through his CDs. I asked what he was looking for, and when he said a Bruce Springsteen album, I immediately groaned. He finally found the CD he was looking for, and as he raised it into the sunlight to blow off the dust from it, it created rainbows across the room. I know that CDs do this all the time, but something about those rainbows in that moment made me believe that something special was about to happen. He pressed play, and this time, at 60 decibels instead of what felt like 600, I could actually make out the words of the songs, and they struck their first chords with me.
Weirdly enough, my “gateway songs” for Bruce weren’t the classics like, “Thunder Road,” or “Hungry Heart,” but Bruce’s folk rock take on the spiritual “O Mary Don’t You Weep” and “Outlaw Pete,” a sprawling but catchy 8-minute cowboy epic. “Outlaw Pete” was released my freshman fall of college, about a month after that boyfriend and I went to see Bruce Springsteen in Madison Square Garden for his birthday. It was my first Bruce Springsteen concert and it was characteristically overwhelming experience, but I remember a few things: 1. How bowled over I was by the man’s vigor. 2. How little of his music I actually knew at the time. 3. How confused I was when I saw Elvis Costello join the band onstage to conclude the show with “Your Love is Lifting Me Higher.”
There were only two stable things in my life as a college freshman: my boyfriend — the rock, and Bruce Springsteen — the rock and roll. Both got me through physics and linear algebra that fall and then out of my engineering major by the end of the year.
By the time my relationship with that boyfriend had ended, halfway through college, and after nearly 6 years, I had developed my own relationship with Bruce Springsteen. Luckily, Bruce Springsteen didn’t have to choose a side in this breakup, and we were both able to keep a piece of him with us. But if only one of us could have him, I’d have fought like hell to beat the boy for “The Boss.”
No longer having to compare or benchmark my understanding and passion for the music against my ex’s, my love for Bruce Springsteen’s songs grew. I spent the last two years of my time in my college a cappella group trying to get the group to agree to arrange “Born to Run.” My next boyfriend and I talked about him learning the piano melody and me learning the lyrics of “Thunder Road” to perform it somewhere. As an upperclassman, I was finally able to have a car on campus, and whenever I got out of the suburban side roads and hit the New Jersey highway to head home to the Shore, that was my cue to put on “The Essential Bruce Springsteen.” “Atlantic City” for the more contemplative nighttime drives, ”Cover Me” for the more energetic daytime ones, or to cheer me up in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Turnpike.
The Boss left my life for a while when I moved away to Boston. My connection and sense of identity associated with New Jersey disappeared for about a year. Then I went through the exercise of self-reflection and reconnection that was applying to business school and Bruce broke his way back into my life, my muse in full musical force. One of my essays was even themed around a few Springsteen songs, but because it was an application to Berkeley, I’m guessing it sent the opposite message I was intending to send to the admissions committee. I have no doubt by the time they finished reading it that while this “Jersey Girl” was a decent writer, she would never get in a “Pink Cadillac” and move across the country to California for school. Because I’d managed to get into MIT, they were right on that count.
Springsteen fell off of my playlists again as I dove into statistics and strategy, barely returning to the surface until my last year of business school. My dad has boasted for years of his “connections,” which had yet to come through for me in my professional or personal endeavors save for this: two tickets to this year’s “The River Tour” at Boston’s TD Garden. It was a hectic last first week back at school, but February 4, 2016 would be worth every bit of exhaustion on February 5.
It was my second Bruce Springsteen concert, and very unlike the first, which I’d seen about 8 years before. I was with the first person who put a roof over my head when I moved here: a dear family friend who I consider my “Boston big sister,” who also grew up at the Jersey Shore. I was weary of school and anxious to start the next phase of my life in Boston, with graduation four months away. I was impressed by Bruce Springsteen’s vigor after all these years on stage, putting an 80s workout star to shame. I was delighted to discover new favorites (“Independence Day” and “Point Blank”) as Bruce and the band played through the entire “The River” album plus 12 more songs to bring the concert to a whopping four hours. I marveled at all the things that had and had not changed in my life the last ten years of conversion to the gospel of Bruce Springsteen.
The night opened with a line I’ll never forget: “Are you ready to be entertained? Are you ready to be transformed?”
I was entertained. I was transformed. I can’t wait to be both entertained and transformed again, this time by the book on my shelf. I haven’t decided if I’m going to devour the book or try to savor every single page because I won’t want it to end once I begin. Even though I know a little bit about of what to expect from the memoir from reading all the advance press and parsing the lyrics of his songs, I’m certain the book will find its ways to surprise me in its 510 pages. I’m excited to see how much of his life went written and unwritten in his songs.
It’s as true now as it was when I was a college freshman: the two most stable things in my life right now still are my boyfriend (a different one) — the rock, and Bruce Springsteen — the rock and roll. Bruce Springsteen always shows up when I need him most, and this book has come at just the right time on this new-ish job. I’m two-and-a-half months into work, haven’t hit my stride yet, and feeling frustrated at feeling unsettled. Enter Bruce to help me get my life back on track: to bring me back to a state of purpose and confidence; to put back the song in my heart and help me find the courage to sing it in an environment where my voice is still shaking; to help me be my most creative while off the clock, as I muster the spare focus and energy to keep my writing dreams alive.
The man lives his truth every time he steps onto a stage. He gives his whole self to each performance, jumping around, leathery, muscled and vital as ever at 67. I pray that at 67, I’ll look just as good as Bruce Springsteen does and will have had a lifetime of doing the work I was born to do. If I’m lucky, I’ll have more than a few fans screaming my name by then, too.
Until then, in pursuit of that sense of purpose,, working hard at becoming a boss at my job, I’ll be counting the days to my first day off in October, when I’ll meet the “The Boss,” the man, myth, and legend, and have him sign my copy of his book