This week marked the delightful Bruce Springsteen’s 64th birthday, so it seems only right that we here at A Message 2 Pretty celebrate it for your leisurely read.
The truth is, the voice coming to you from our London contingent is a HUGE, unadulterated, lifetime fan of The Boss. I’ve taken many a ribbing for it, but this heart won’t be turned. But…. before you reckon to yourself that if you’re not a Bruce fan, this article isn’t for you and start the great scroll of the Internet ether, it could come in useful yet, stick with us. You see, the likelihood is, that (whether you know it or not,) in your midst there is a huge Bruce fan – Be it a relative, friend, colleague, even partner, or quite possibly ex, who too will not be convinced otherwise, so here’s a few things you may find handy -
1. Bruce fans, across all ages and from all backgrounds are not as rare as you may believe. The older end of the scale tend to have had an epiphany moment many years ago, when they first came across him that has informed them ever since. The younger end of the bunch are generally the product of the aforementioned epiphany-dwellers and were raised on this man (as in my case.) Springsteen is pretty much in their blood and connected to memories for as long back as their memory will take them. Then of course there’s the converts, who weren’t around in the early years, neither were they raised with him, but my, do they make up for lost time – You’re not going to convince Bruce fans otherwise.
2. Directly connected to point 1, Springsteen fans are a loyal bunch, and we’re not just loyal to The Boss but to each and every member of the mind blowing E Street Band; a rich bunch of unbelievably talented and charismatic musicians. Bruce has always ensured that, despite his magnetism as the ultimate frontman, the band members have each been recognised for their individuality, their character and their talent. Not just that, Bruce fans are loyal to each other! It seems hard to believe for such a huge act, but the camaraderie between fans of The Boss is a powerful one. Fans at Bruce gigs are unlike the crowds at any other gig you could go to, (and I’ve been to many a gig.) When Springsteen pulls a fan up on to the stage, they become the crowd’s ambassador. And… there’s nothing better than getting chatting to someone in a bar and finding out they too are a fan – Instant guarantee that this is going to be a long night! – You’re not going to convince Bruce fans otherwise.
And then… Here comes the crux of it:
3. Any references you make to bandanas, tight jeans, glorification of the US or cheesiness (I’ll return to these latter two points later, ) or indeed, any other thing you wish to throw at it, will only serve to prove to a fan that you’re just not familiar enough with his material, or that your knowledge is outdated and reflects the work from 30 odd years ago. Or dare I say it, what they may be thinking is you fundamentally missed the point. This will particularly be the case if your argument falls in to the latter two categories of ‘glorification of the US’ or ‘cheesiness’, which invariably tends to be rooted in a (sorry folks,) misreading of ‘Born in the USA’ – That this is thought to be a patriotic number is comparative to when the authorities figured Woody Guthrie’s ‘This Land is Your Land’ (which incidentally, Bruce does an incredible version of) would make a cracking National Anthem.
If this is resonating, feast your eyes and ears on this stripped-back rendition of Born in the USA and keep your ear tight to the words -
Fortunately for us fans, the remedy to these conditions (yes, we probably would consider them an affliction of some sort,) is in listening to more of his material and luckily enough, we can play a role in this, with a plethora of recommendations – You’re not going to convince Bruce fans otherwise.
4. A derogatory comment about Bruce Springsteen’s age and references to ‘Dad dancing’, ‘Old men’ etc. etc. (which, I have to admit, I find disappointing that such ageist attitudes still occur in our society, though are hopefully decreasing) will only serve to heighten a Springsteen fan’s admiration for his zest for life, boundless energy, endless creativity, incredible abilities, and let’s face it, impressive physique – Seriously, you’re really not going to convince Bruce fans otherwise!
So, what is it about Bruce that encourages such a devout following? Well, and this is by no means an attempt at converting you if you’re not a fan (though if it does I’ll be the first to admit that would be a happy by-product.)
Let’s take a closer look -
Bruce has, in his 40 year career, consistently pulled out incredible music – Banging rock ‘n’ roll beats and stirring ballads among many forms, influenced by a whole host of inspirational artists; from Bob Dylan to Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie to Roy Orbison, Chuck Berry to The Band, to name but a few. His Poetic lyrics tell the plight of the working man, the working struggles, love, loss, laughter – it’s all there.
In 1978 Springsteen sited ’I grew up in a small town called Freehold, New Jersey. And I didn’t really move to Asbury Park ’til I was about 18, after my folks left me, but I sorta grew up, I guess as most kids do, on the wrong side of their father I guess. And he was 45 years old and he packed up everything in his car and took my Mother and little sister to California when they didn’t have no job, they didn’t have nothing, and I thought it took a lot of guts and I wrote this song for him’ -
Critics have argued that Springsteen sings of the working man’s struggles and yet, isn’t a working man – Fair call, but couldn’t the same argument be used on Dylan and look at that man’s genius. Also, take a look at it his background, as a Jersey boy, the eldest of three, and son of Dutch- Irish Father, Douglas, who was a Bus Driver amongst many other jobs and times of unemployment and Mother (of Italian ancestry) Adele, who worked as a Legal Secretary. Now skip down the decades to his current working life and, baring in mind they are already a well-established, hugely renowned act, we’re talking about a band who have relentlessly toured since 2002, pulling out 3 and a half /4 hour gigs all over the world, (many of which Bruce speaks in the native tongue at) on a nigh-on daily basis. Not just that, but they’ve written a plethora of tracks on the road, and have in those years nipped into the studio just long enough, and often enough, to produce six albums, before taking to the road again. Add to this the additional work duties of the band members – Take the example of the incredible Steve Van Zandt who, as well as playing mandolin, guitar and our heart strings in the E Street Band, has managed to fit in DJing, hosting, and a string of acting roles, including none other than Silvio Dante in the incredible Sopranos and currently, as Frank Tagliano, in the dark comedy (or as we’ve come to refer to it in my neck of the woods, Goodfellas meets Fargo) – Lilyhammer.
Another staggering example of working man’s spirit in the band, is the spellbinding guitarist and multi-instrumentalist, Nils Lofgren, who has found time to offer guitar lessons to the local learners when he’s homeward bound, at a mere snip of a price of around 20 dollars a lesson. Now, that’s a fair working ethic for a man in such a huge band.
Check out Nils’ solo in their song ‘Because The Night’; famously recorded by Patti Smith after (so the story goes,) Springsteen passed on the track to her when they were recording in the same studio.
Then, there’s the gigs! Whether you’re a fan or not, if you ever get the opportunity to see Bruce and the E Street Band play live, do it! Their gigs aren’t an evening out, they’re a rites of passage with the ‘house rocking, earth quaking, booty- shaking, Viagra-taking, love-making E Street Band’ (as Bruce refers to them) leading you through every step of the way. Personally speaking, in recent years, no Summer has been complete without heading to see them and often a little trip abroad to see them again, as once is nowhere near enough. In fact, the only thing you can possibly compare a Bruce gig to is … You guessed it, another Bruce gig.
Every member of the band brings something vital and unique to the whole and their individual part is celebrated more than any other band I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness. So, in more recent years, the tragic loss of Danny Federici in 2008 and our beloved Big Man himself, Clarence Clemons in 2011 , has been truly felt by the fans. Yet their great work is still ever-present in the gigs, through projections, mentions, stories, and even, the finest tribute there could ever be, Clarence’s nephew; the incredibly talented Jake Clemons now in the band playing his Uncle’s parts beautifully in a way that does them both proud. Let’s take it back a bit to when ‘the change was made up town and the Big Man joined the band’ and enjoy some classic Clarence Clemons -
But perhaps there’s something more, and a little deeper to Springsteen and the devotion of his followers. For me, I think it’s that there is something deeply human about Bruce and the E Street Band, and a strikingly deep affinity that they have with people.
- I’ve stood in a crowd of 80,000 people and could’ve sworn he was singing for me, slung on their records, and could’ve sworn songs were written for me – As have millions of others.
And this personal touch makes it way to the collective. In the recent recession, when we were searching for a voice, who came out with it but Bruce? His mighty album ‘Wrecking Ball’ with insightful, searing lyrics proves a difficult one to pick just one track from, but perhaps ‘Death To My Hometown’; containing excerpts from ‘The Last Words of Copernicus’ is a good place to start -
When 9/11 hit, and we were struggling for words, who gave us them? Well, there he emerged with the album ‘The Rising’ – A potent piece written both before and after that day.
Who reacquainted us with the great heroes of the Dustbowl era, like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, John Steinbeck? Well, Bruce walked directly in the footsteps of Guthrie in his solo work ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’; an entire album based on Steinbeck’s mighty ‘Grapes of Wrath’.
Later, Bruce teamed up with some incredible musicians for the Seeger Sessions; a rousing, raucous, celebratory ode to the work of Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie among others.
Not only that but he intimately acquaints us with the cyclical nature of our social landscape and draws direct parallels with the works of our Dustbowl heroes and reminds us we’re walking in their shadows in our current context. He has even gone so far as widely supporting an (until then,) relatively obscure journalism piece by Dale Maharidge and Michael Williamson who have dedicated their careers for the past 25 years or so, to documenting ‘the saga of the new underclass’, telling the tales of the people affected by 1980s ‘Rustbowl’ and ensuing homelessness. Springsteen has leant his voice to their campaign, written prologues to their work and his track Youngstown vividly shares their story.
Even more recently, when the fan- based film ‘Springsteen and I’ was produced, Bruce ensured that he met the main contributors in person. The list is positively endless and so is the love.
So, if you happen to be reading this, and wondering why Bruce fans are so dedicated, there’s just a few reasons to start with. And maybe, just maybe, if you can’t beat us join us. He ain’t called The Boss for nothing!
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