Like many folks of my generation, the music of Bruce Springsteen has occupied a significant place in my life. Although I’m not one of those ultra-diehard fans who have attended a ridiculous number of Springsteen concerts (The number for me is three arena concerts and his Broadway show.), I have been a devotee of his music ever since my older brother brought home the Greetings from Asbury Park 8-track tape when I was only eleven or twelve years old. Since that age, through his lyrics and music, Springsteen has been a sort of spiritual guru for me as influential as any teacher, priest, or even parent.
Springsteen recently granted Howard Stern a lengthy interview for Stern’s Sirius Radio program and HBO that not only furthered my admiration for Springsteen but also revealed several common threads in our lives of which I was previously unaware. The nearly two hours of conversation also proved that, despite their fame and fortune, celebrities must face many of the same life challenges as the rest of us. By the way, despite his often sophomoric antics on his radio show, Stern is an outstanding interviewer.
Like Springsteen’s, but to a lesser extent, my father was an emotionally-distant man who could be difficult to please. As a boy, I distinctly remember longing for praise from my dad, even a simple acknowledgement that he was proud of something I’d accomplished, but it rarely came. Unlike my brothers, who were exceptionally accomplished in either athletics or academics, I was average in both endeavors, so maybe I didn’t earn his kudos. On the other hand, he could communicate his disappointment in my choices or performances quite clearly. For a long time, I resented his emotional aloofness, but I gradually came to accept that he was mostly the product of a time when the majority of fathers were primarily authority figures rather than fonts of warm affection. By his own nature and nurture, he was incapable of such openness and positive reinforcement, and I needed to recognize and accept that reality. Unlike Springsteen, I never openly rebelled against my father. I simply distanced myself from him both physically and emotionally and sought out affirmation from other sources.
Another segment of the Stern interview that resonated with one of my own life experiences occurs when Springsteen recounts spending time with Clarence Clemons, the E Street Band’s saxophonist and one of Springsteen’s closest friends, as Clemons was in the final stage of dying from the complications of a stroke. Springsteen tells how he sang his song “Land of Hope and Dreams” at his friend’s bedside. Like Clarence, one of my best friends, Bob Rainey, was African American. He too died at too early of an age. In Bob’s case, it was cancer. Unlike Springsteen, I didn’t serenade my friend on his deathbed. If I had, trust me, Bob would have welcomed “the dying of the light,” but I did hold his skeletal hand and whisper that I loved him and it was okay for him to let go. He had suffered enough.
I don’t know if there is a heaven or not, but if there is, I can’t imagine a better place than one filled with “hope and dreams.”
At one point, Stern asks Springsteen about his writing process. Considering the massive size of Springsteen’s catalog, Stern assumes that he must be writing music nearly all the time, and he is surprised when Bruce shares that he is not and that he more-or-less only writes when the spirit hits him or when he “has something to say.” In my own measly experience as a writer, I can identify with Springsteen. I’m not writing all the time. Rather, whether it’s for this blog or for a novel project, I don’t compose on a schedule or with any pattern of regularity. I only write when and if I have something of value to say or a story to tell. As to the latter, having published my most recent novel, Belfast, Ohio, this past August, I currently do not have a story that I’m itching to write. Should I come up with one, I’ll start carving out time to tell it.
An additional point on which Springsteen and I seem to be like minded is in our understanding of love. In the interview, Bruce confesses that, as a young man, he struggled to give entirely of himself to another in a love relationship. He admits that it took him some time and a failed marriage to arrive at a mature understanding of what love requires. What he ultimately learned is that love is mostly about “being there.” I’m far from an expert on love or much of anything at all, but the promise I made to both my wife and also to my sons, when the boys were young and living at home, was that I would “be there” in the morning when they woke and in the evening when they went to bed, and in the in-between hours, I would do my best to be a good husband and father. Come to think of it, maybe that was my father’s understanding as well.
It’s probably a bit ironic coming from a school teacher, but one of my favorite Springsteen lyrics is in his song “No Surrender” in which he sings, “We learned more from a three-minute record than we ever did in school.” To a lesser degree, I can claim that I learned more about the life and mind of one of my personal heroes in a two-hour interview than I’d learned in nearly a lifetime of listening to his music and a little bit more about myself.
*Springsteen & I is also the title of a 2013 film directed by Baillie Walsh that documents the life and career of Bruce Springsteen and his influence on the lives of fans from around the world. If, like me, you’re a Springsteen fan, I highly recommend. FYI: titles cannot be copyrighted.
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