Steve Makes His Peace With Bruce Springsteen

springsteen 2024 tour posterI was in the very back of a 1976 light blue V8 Ford station wagon. My family was either crisscrossing the country during one of my Dad’s many military assignments or maybe visiting relatives in Tucson by way of Michigan. I was probably around nine or ten. I had a Walkman and my sister Laura’s copy of the Born in the USA album on cassette.

Being that age, I didn’t know much about relationships. I hadn’t had a girlfriend. I also hadn’t had a job, so I didn’t have angst about the economy or pent-up anger about much of anything for that matter. I just knew I liked that sound. I wore that tape out.

Here I was on a road trip and he had traveling songs. He had “Darlington County”—the tale of a road trip to a place I didn’t know existed. There was “Working On The Highway”—the plight of a blue collar worker helping to build roads.

We moved often so home was a temporary concept for a lot of my formative years, but his songs about towns and being connected to a place spoke to me with “My Hometown” and even “Glory Days” with its evocative imagery of what I figured must happen to adults when they move on from school but otherwise stay literally and figuratively in the same place.

There were catchy melodies about relationships. I may not have understood everything they entailed but I couldn’t get enough of songs like “I’m Going Down” (which I still feel is tremendously underappreciated; see my list of underrated Bruce songs here) and “Dancing In the Dark.”

Eventually I discovered more of his songs—both those that came before and after that blockbuster 1984 release. Many a drive up and down Interstate 17 were accompanied by Bruce on CD and later on satellite. (In a weird twist of technology-irony, vinyl is the format that first brought Bruce to the world but it’s what I’ve bought only in the past ten years).

But I was no longer the kid in the back of the station wagon. Indeed, as I got older, Bruce and I had a bit of a falling out. Of course, he wasn’t aware of it but I began to begrudge some of how he used his platform. I didn’t like when Sean Penn—the actor who once played Jeff Spicoli—sneered and seemed to insinuate that anyone not following his exact agenda and worldview was a worthless waste of space. I didn’t need him telling me how to vote–or how to think. I felt Bruce was doing some of the same. It didn’t matter whether or not I agreed with their views—I just did not care for what I felt was blatant condescension—a privileged celebrity assumption that everyone should, of course, be on board with their ideology. Frankly, I just wanted them to stay out of that arena entirely.

A couple things happened next. First, I got a car that came with a SiriusXM trial and discovered this channel called E Street Nation. That rekindled a spark. I realized how so much of his music was directly inspired from, and inextricable from, things he’d seen and experienced—the same things that inevitably spawned some of his views on the world. Second, I read his book (Born To Run) and came away with a more acute understanding of the man. I realized how hard he worked for what he believed (not to mention how hard he worked at his music), how he was taken advantage of and how he acknowledged the whole “rich man singing the poor man’s blues” paradigm. If you haven’t read it, you should.

Bruce, now 73, was in Phoenix just a few days ago. I don’t know how long he’ll keep doing shows so I took my family to see him. They roll their eyes at the constant presence of Bruce every time I’m working in the garage and every car ride—long or short—so I don’t know that they enjoyed it. But, like Bruce himself looking back at his boyhood sitting on his father’s lap in a Buick, I have this vision. It takes place long after I’m gone. A Bruce song will play somewhere, maybe in a car or maybe in a bar, and my boys will pause and say, “Man my dad loved this guy’s music.” Hopefully, in that fond memory, they’ll remember their quirky old man and that I loved them too.

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