I met Bruce backstage just before the show. The crowd thundered, the lights were up, and chants of “Bruuuuuuce!” shook the concert hall. I’d promised myself not to gush and fanboy, but there I was in the same room with the E-Street Band and the Boss himself was grinning at me.
“Hey, man,” he said in that raspy voice I’d heard a million times on worn out cassettes and CDs. “How’ya doing? I’m glad you could make the show. I read your book, and it’s pretty good. I thought you might like to join me onstage for the last song. We’re gonna close with “Chimes of Freedom.”
“Um,” I stammered, aware that I was sweating profusely and that I couldn’t feel my legs.
“Well? Do you know the song? You look like an idiot just standing there. Can you speak?
Of course, that never happened and it never will, but it’s a nice dream. Bruce Springsteen has inspired me for about thirty years now, and it’s both funny and more than a little absurd in the way that he and his music have influenced my life. I wonder what I’d say, if I had the opportunity to speak in coherent sentences.
The Music and Memories
I saw Springsteen in concert for the first time back in 1986 on the Born in the USA tour at the Orange Bowl in Miami. I’d been a casual listener before that, but the concert changed me into a lifelong fan. There was an electricity in the air, a palpable thrum and connectivity throughout 80,000 people, and when he launched into Glory Days, there were tears in my eyes.
In my mind, perhaps the most amazing thing about Springsteen’s music is the way it grows with you. When I heard Glory Days, I was a senior in high school, and the song meant something entirely different then than it does to me now. Same thing with The River; I felt the quiet desperation in the lyric and that mournful harmonica riff, and I knew I didn’t want to wind up like that, where I looked back years later with a misplaced fondness upon a youth wasted, where being trapped was a way of life. Later on, I could relate with a certain horror to some of the bleak songs, yet I found hope in them, too. Born to Run and Thunder Road acknowledge boundaries and the self-made prison life can become, yet are ultimately gloriously triumphant. A lot of his music is about pushing through, breaking those chains, and busting out.
Badlands is probably my favorite song of all time, and when the bridge launches I still get chills every time and if I’m driving I have no choice but to speed up and start belting out the words at the top of my lungs, much to the horror of my wife and children. I once explained this necessity to a police officer, and, being a fellow Springsteen fan, he understood and tore up the ticket.
I love movies, books, and music that are about overcoming defeat through sheer force of will, and Bruce’s anthems are as good as it gets. When I hear Trapped, Light of Day, and Wrecking Ball in sequence, my chest swells and there is a singing feeling in my soul virtually nothing can dampen.
I hear persistence, hard work, and discipline thumping from the speakers in a way that makes me want to do whatever must be done, no defeat, no surrender. It makes me want to be a better man. His music makes me believe in dreams.
So what would I really say?
I’d stammer and look like an idiot, of that I’m certain. But I’d like to think I could manage this, at least: