This marks my 100th post for SoMuchGreatMusic.com and in the months since I started it I’ve consistently put off, over and over, writing on one of the favorite and most important artists in my life, Bruce Springsteen. Really, more than just put it off, I’ve been wholly intimidated to try to cover him. I mean, what can I say, what can I possibly add, to the description of a man about whom countless articles, essays, exposés, websites, documentaries, biographies, autobiographies, even Broadway shows,¹ are already long in existence? About a man whose every minute detail has already been endlessly considered, explored, investigated, debated, and documented? A man who has always utterly bared himself to his audience, through both his songs and through his life, now for close to 50 years and counting? Well, maybe I can simply add this: I’m not sure he’s just a man.
He can’t be, can he? How could someone made from the same things as all the rest of us be able to do what he has done, to create what he has created, to be what he has been? One so empathetic and insightful, so formidable and intense, so soulful and revealing, so introspective and enlightened, so imaginative and poetic, so contemplative and earnest, so dynamic and authoritative, so relentless and brave, so optimistic and passionate, so wild and innocent, and above all, so unbelievably inspiring? How, now approaching 70 years of age, could he maintain his irrational vigor, his undying energy not only physically but, more importantly, emotionally? Despite us recently having learned through his own words of the immense, lifelong, and painfully mortal personal struggles with which he has dealt, how could he maintain the stamina to be the life force who has spiritually carried so many on his back for so long? To never lose the ability to play the notes people want to hear, while writing the words they need to hear?² To be “The Boss,” with all that goes with it, every day that he gets out of bed and faces the world; in fact, to be the reason so many others can still muster the gumption to rise daily out of their own beds. Yes, he may be made of flesh and blood, but he’s got to be something more than a man. I will offer this: I’m not a religious person, but attending Bruce Springsteen concerts over my lifetime have been about the closest I’ve felt to a religious experience. And, dear lord, I know I’m not alone in thinking that.
I could stare for hours onto my keyboard and try to list any combinations of all the truly amazing songs for which he’s responsible (not amazing in the slang sense, but strictly astonishing creations), 18 transcendent and triumphant (studio) albums, the thousands of historic concerts by Bruce and the “heart-stopping, pants-dropping, house-rocking, earth-quaking, booty-shaking, love-making, legendary E Street Band,” and the countless awards, acknowledgements, testimonials, dedications, and enshrinements he’s rightfully received. I could try to detail the lifetime brotherhoods formed by ordinary people like me with fellow devotees, all the common memories and shared experiences, those that we ourselves lived and those that Bruce managed to somehow write about as if he’d been there living them with us. I could attempt to explain his becoming a model for our interpersonal relationships, of many different types, but maybe most through those with his blood brothers in the band, and especially so with Clarence and Little Steven. And, before I allow these passages to be altogether too serious, I could try to describe Bruce’s innate ability to simply play the most ass-kicking rock and roll that anyone’s ever been able to do.
But I’m not going to try to do any of that. I’ll simply mention the time after 9/11, when we all needed a hero. And Bruce, almighty Bruce, answered the call for New York City, for the country, and for the world, with The Rising. It’s a phenomenal album, though certainly not my favorite,³ but I think given its timing and circumstances it’s his most impactful, start to finish. What was it if not outright heroic? And could a mere man like the rest of us have had that courage, that strength and that wisdom, and risen to do it?
Springsteen has written well over 300 songs; few are anything less than exceptional, so choosing just one to feature here is a near impossible task. I’m going a bit off the board. ‘Land Of Hope And Dreams’ is a song written in 1999, performed in concert for years and released on multiple live albums, and ultimately recorded as a studio version for 2012’s Wrecking Ball. One of those captured live versions occurred at Madison Square Garden in 2000, during what would become an HBO concert film, Live In New York City. This came during Springsteen and the E Street Band’s 1999-2000 reunion tour, their first concerts together in 11 years; the tour concluded with a 10-night run at Madison Square Garden; and for most of those shows this song was the grand and climactic 9-plus-minute closing number. But more than all that, if any single song could possibly encapsulate the entire Springsteen ethos, it might best be this one. It’s epic chorus reads:
“This train, carries saints and sinners / This train, carries losers and winners;
This train, carries whores and gamblers / This train, carries lost souls;
I said, this train, dreams will not be thwarted / This train, faith will be rewarded;
This train, hear the steel wheels singin’ / This train, bells of freedom ringin’.”
Hope. Dreams. And all are welcome on this train. You just get on board. Whether he’s a man, or somehow something more mystical, I’ll be riding that Bruce Springsteen train.
¹His “Springsteen on Broadway” is basically a 2-hour confessional
²“Three chords and the truth” may be the oft-quoted definition of a great country song, but I doubt it applies to anyone better than Springsteen
³That would be Darkness On The Edge Of Town