Today is Bruce Springsteen’s 64th birthday. You don’t have to know me that well to know that I am a huge fan. I’ve seen him in concert 45 times or so over 30 years and I can’t wait to see him again.
Some of the best moments of my life have been spent in the pit at Springsteen shows surrounded by people who enjoy him as much as I do. They are moments of unbridled and uncynical joy for me and I feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t have some artist whose music provides them with the same release valve as his does for me.
It’s so easy to imagine that our musical heroes live gilded lives with no rough edges, but one only has to listen to Springsteen’s lyrics to hear his doubt and his struggles and his joys. But even as a lifelong devotee, I was still surprised when he opened up as much as he did last year in a piece for the New Yorker by editor David Remnick about even being suicidal at times.
But what really struck me was how easily he was able to look at his own mythology, especially when it comes to playing live, and with a clear eye and appropriate amount of ego, describe what happens when we all come together in trusting communion at one of his shows.
Springsteen talked about the wounds that scabbed over but never healed from growing up with a distant father and how, even though he made amends with his father before he died, that fuels his no-holes-barred performances. “‘My parents’ struggles, it’s the subject of my life...It’s the thing that eats at me and always will. My life took a very different course, but my life is an anomaly. Those wounds stay with you, and you turn them into a language and a purpose’,” he told Remnick. “Gesturing toward the band onstage, he said, ‘We’re repairmen—repairmen with a toolbox. If I repair a little of myself, I’ll repair a little of you. That’s the job’.”
If you’re a Bruce fan, you may be tearing up a little about now because that’s it. I’ve never left a Springsteen show without feeling like a little part of me that was broken had now been healed. And it wasn’t because Springsteen had some magical power; it was because he was broken too and together we’d be able to stop the pain, even if it was only for a little while.
When Clarence Clemons died two years ago, I wrote the most personal essay I’ve ever written about what it meant to be a Springsteen fan and how after my mother’s death, Springsteen’s shows were where I went to find comfort. I never questioned if going to as many concerts as I could was an appropriate reaction, I just felt gratitude that I found sanctuary in them.
Springsteen just wrapped up a tour the weekend, playing Rock in Rio. He performed until 3 a.m. I know there will be a day when there will be no more Springsteen shows, but I hope that day is far from now for both him and me.
As any Springsteen fan knows, for decades now, he’s allowed local food banks to come into each show and collect canned goods, as well as donations. And he plugs them from the stage. Today’s $10 goes to The Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties in his native New Jersey.
I've also included links to four Springsteen songs that I love:
"Happy" from "Tracks" because it's the perfect love song for adults who have been lived a little, but still believe.
"Trapped" because not only is it my favorite cover that Bruce does, it's my favorite cover of all time.
Sept. 23: The Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties
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