A Different Side of Bruce Springsteen
July 19, 2023 | 785 words | Music, Literature
My interest in Bruce Springsteen as a singer-songwriter ended about 50 years ago. The high point for me was The Wild, The Innocent, and The E Street Shuffle, a record he released in November 1973. Along with a few cuts from his follow-up Born to Run album, released in August 1975. He has obviously gone on to enjoy a prolific career in the decades since, achieving world-wide superstar status. So mine is a decidedly minority opinion. But I can’t help it. His “mature” output has never done much for me.
Springsteen is also renowned as a live performer, with his marathon three-hour concerts having long ago become the stuff of legend. And the septuagenarian is still at it, touring this year with the E Street Band for the first time since 2017. From all reports this geezer musician and his geezer bandmates are still able to deliver the goods, God bless their sorry old bones.
I was lucky enough to see Bruce and the boys back in their salad days. My first exposure was when he opened for the band Chicago at the old Spectrum, an indoor sports arena in Philadelphia, in 1973. Nobody knew who he was at the time, and I remember the sound of his songs in that acoustically-challenged venue vaguely reminding me of Van Morrison.
The second time was not long after, when he headlined at the tiny Hollinger Field House on the campus of West Chester University, thirty miles west of Philadelphia. And let me tell you, folks, that was one spectacular show. Very intimate. Full of energy. I walked home to my funky little apartment that night, about a half dozen blocks away, with his sweet music still ringing in my ears.
Fast forward to the present day. Mr. Springsteen released his autobiography to rave reviews in 2016. After going on the road for the 2017 tour mentioned above, he convened a 14-month residency at the Walter Kerr theater in Manhattan, from October 2017 to December 2018. That one-man show, Springsteen on Broadway, was the hottest ticket in town, and played to sold-out audiences throughout its entire run. Once the filmed version of the show landed on Netflix I made a point to check it out, to see what all the fuss was about. I tried watching it on three different occasions, but just couldn’t stay the course. In fact, I couldn’t even get halfway through it. Most excruciating for me was when our hero took to the piano to play heartfelt snippets of his “later” music.
Sharing this less-than-complementary view of Mr. Springsteen’s mature musical output does not come easily for me, since it violates one of my late parents’ cardinal rules: “If you don’t have something nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all.”
I am bending their mandate ever so slightly for what I consider to be a very good reason. The appeal of Bruce Springsteen as a source of musical inspiration may have completely faded for me. But my admiration for him as a man, as a husband, father, and all-around compassionate and wise human being has never been higher. Let me tell you why.
A dear friend of mine, who wishes I knew how to be a better friend to her, has recently introduced me to the work of the family therapist Terrence (Terry) Real. I am sort of therapy-adverse, so she broke me in gently by showing me a couple of easy-going YouTube videos featuring Terry and his wife, the therapist Belinda Berman, fielding questions from people with problems.
The next step in the immersion process was our reading Terry’s latest book, Us: Getting Past You and Me to Build a More Loving Relationship, together. The cover announced “Forward by Bruce Springsteen” but I paid that blurb no mind, assuming the Forward amounted to little more than just another schmaltzy celebrity endorsement.
It was only when my friend and I switched to the audio version, and started again at the very beginning of the book, that I encountered Mr. Springsteen’s thoughtful musings about his ongoing search for authenticity in his personal life, quite apart from the acclaim he has obviously achieved in the professional sphere. This short, spoken essay is a revelation. Who knew this aging arena rock god could be so perceptive and self-aware, and so able to articulate all that awareness.
You may be among the thousands who will no doubt be flocking to one of Springsteen’s sold-out concerts this year. I, on the other hand, am anxious to check out that autobiography he published a few years back. So much for that old saw about an American success story never being able to construct a viable second act.
Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr.