Growin’ Up… with Bruce Springsteen

Growing up, I remember the wall of records in the living room of my house. There was this glass shelving that stretched the whole length of the wall bursting with my mom’s records – all her favorites from childhood that she had seen as a young teen at Alan Freed’s “Rock and Roll” shows in the city; Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddley, The Everly Brothers. She also had a love of Broadway, country music and folk so I would hear Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard, David Allan Coe, The Oak Ridge Boys and every show tune you can imagine. Of course there was her collection of Elvis 45’s – he was her absolute favorite. And I can’t forget Tom Jones…

She also kept up with new records of the day so when she walked through the front door in June 1984 with a new record, it was nothing special. My big sister, Lauren, asked her, “Does daddy know you have that?!”, because of the picture of a man’s butt on the cover. When that album hit the turntable, this 7-year old tomboy stood transfixed over it, like I had never heard sound before. What I had never heard, though, was a voice like that. He sounded like your buddy next door’s cool older brother who would throw the ball around with you and sneak you rides on his motorcycle. Nothing fake, nothing fancy, nothing contrived. Just truth and passion. When the last song, My Hometown played, I was hooked for good. You see, my dad would sit me on his lap and let me steer the car, too (not a big old Buick but rather a big old Chevy station wagon… bright orange no less) I guess at the most basic level, it was connection. It was something special. I played that record so much that my parents bought me my own cassette tape of it so they wouldn’t have to hear it blaring through the house constantly.

Not long after that, my brother, sister and I were sent to rural Minnesota for the summer to stay with relatives. It was an unpleasant time for Josh, Lauren and me. I remember sitting on the floor between the bed and the wall, shutting my eyes, listening to Born In The USA on my Fisher-Price tape player and getting to be somewhere else….

Now we went walking in the rain, talkin’ about the pain that from the world we hid
Now there ain’t nobody nowhere no how gonna ever understand me the way you did

Yeah, Bruce.

I truly believe that when you are a kid there are pivotal moments in your life, whether you are conscious of it or not, when you are deciding what kind of person you are going to be. If you are feeling hurt, anger, pain that you internalize, you can decide to spew the same thing back out at the world. Or you can decide that it doesn’t feel so good and that you will do your best to never treat anyone else like that. Bruce taught me that there is a right way and a wrong way to treat people and no matter what, I should try to be a good person that begins with how I treat others. It might end there, too. You are going to fail, fall short, fuck up – as everyone does, everyday – and you are always going to encounter meanness or apathy but the best you can do is be who you are regardless. Let those stars burning bright guiding you on your journey be the sanctity of treating others right and let that light shine through all that you do…like some mystery
uncovered, indeed.

Bruce has taught me the importance and beauty of having ideals – ideals for your own behavior, for your community, for your country and for your world. Bruce’s ideals are front and center in his music as are his faults. He is honest and real about his failures which make his ideals the same. He shows us that just because we cannot live up to our ideals does not mean that we should not hold them high. In fact, falling short of our ideals is the exact reason to have them; so we pick ourselves up, learn from mistakes and have something inspiring to work toward. And although we never fully get there – it’s always just cutting a half in half – there is excitement in there always being something new to learn, to grow from and into a better person, a better community, a better country and a better world.

Seeing him play live, more than a time or two, has also taught me an important life lesson: Be in THIS moment! Like two lines from Darkness, an album I went steady with as a teenager:

Everybody’s got a secret sonny/Everybody’s got something that they just can’t face/Some folks spend their lives trying to keep it/They carry it with ‘em every step that they take/Till some day they just cut it loose/Cut it loose or let it drag ‘em down/Where no one asks any questions or looks too long in your face/In the darkness on the edge of town

and…

You talk about a dream/Try to make it real/You wake up in the night with a fear so real/You spend your life waiting for a moment that just don’t come/Well don’t waste your time waiting

Don’t let pain from your past or promise of a future prevent you from living this moment right now. And I have never felt more alive or in the moment than at Bruce’s show (maybe just while making love). Learning to bring that feeling of living in and embracing this moment into my everyday was a revelation.

What has his music, his integrity, his insight, his courage of conviction and disdain of indifference brought to me? As if helping to raise me weren’t enough, it’s as if Bruce has paid me for my love of his music in intangible riches; a treasure in connection, a bounty of pure joy, a wealth of experiences and a king’s ransom in friendships. If it is true that you reap what you sow, what Bruce has sown in his respect for this community has been reaped in the kindness, compassion, generosity, dedication, empathy, passion and humor of the people I have gotten to know and share life – not just concerts – with, and am lucky enough to call my friends.

I could have recounted amazing concerts or a few cool times having met him but what stands out to me the most are these gifts from Bruce that form the essence of who I am eternally moving toward becoming.

And then there’s Red Headed Woman…

Ruth Barohn
August 2013
New York

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