Loving Bruce Springsteen (and a little bit about some film he was in)

In the middle of one of the loneliest and most mind-numbing of all working weeks I felt a revitalising shock of electricity. I went to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band perform the final Melbourne show of their Wrecking Ball tour.

Bruce Springsteen plays guitar
Bruce Springsteen

I’ve loved The Boss for a long time. When he last toured Australia, ten years ago, I couldn’t see him so I’d been waiting for this moment for what felt like forever.

I expected him to be amazing. Now that I’ve seen him, I need to invent a new word.

He turned the lights on for me in a dark week. The day after the show I felt both euphoric and a bit flat. There was little else going on that could compare to the feeling I had the night before. I told a friend that the concert made me feel so alive everything else had turned grey and lifeless. He knew what I meant.

Bruce Springsteen puts so much of himself into his music and clearly into every performance. He wants you to go home ‘with your back aching and your hands aching and your voice hoarse and your feet aching and your knees aching and your sexual organs stimulated.’ He achieved these objectives.

After the opening show of the Australian leg of his tour in Brisbane, The Boss told ABC News Breakfast that the E Street Band are a ‘show band’ and that their performances are in part about a ‘renewal’ of their history with their audience. I could feel this renewal at work during the iconic songs many had come to hear – ‘Born to Run’ and ‘Dancing in the Dark’ and ‘Badlands’. Like any great concert, this was also about discovery and communion and remembering that thing you first connected with when you first heard that raw voice and those throbbing rhythms.

I often hear sighs of disbelief that I have such a huge love for Springsteen. Admittedly, these mostly come from certain women who just don’t get it. The only song they know is ‘Born in the USA’. They think he’s bombastic and too masculine. They don’t personally connect with the longing for freedom in songs about guitars and the road and escaping from or to the edge of town and wanting more than what your life seems mapped out to be. They think because his songs are about men and the occasional Mary and Wendy that they are not for them. They haven’t listened very carefully to tender songs like ‘Racing in the Street’ or ‘The River’ or ‘Stolen Car’.  And they haven’t spent any time pondering the complexities of desire in songs like ‘Candy’s Room’ or ‘Bobby Jean’ or ‘Fire’ or ‘Brilliant Disguise’ or ‘Because the Night.’ In those songs, and countless others, Bruce Springsteen has created a whole history of love.

An image from Frank Stefanko's iconic photo shoot for Darkness on the Edge of Town, my favourite Springsteen album
An image from Frank Stefanko’s iconic photo shoot for Darkness on the Edge of Town, my favourite Springsteen album

If Bruce Springsteen didn’t know a thing or two about what makes women tick I doubt he’d be on hand to dispense advice in High Fidelity (2000), Stephen Frears’ adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel. Music geek and chronic list-maker, Rob Gordon (John Cusack) is dumped by his current girlfriend, Laura, and he’s desperate to know what he keeps doing wrong. He thinks if he sees old girlfriends (‘the top 5’) and talks to them ‘like in a Bruce Springsteen song’ he’ll find the answers he’s seeking. And then The Boss appears to dispense advice, while he strums his guitar, ‘You call, you ask them how they are, you see if they’ve forgiven you.’ Rob wants to ‘feel clean and calm’ and The Boss agrees: ‘That’s what you’re looking for, you want to get ready to start again. It’ll be good for you.’ It’s a great scene in a pretty good movie. I recommend all you list-makers out there watch it.

My favourite Springsteen song is a love song and one he rarely performs live – ‘Drive All Night’, the second last song from side two of The River. It’s a simple song with a searing saxophone solo at its centre. It’s intense and full of passion. I’ve listened to it a lot and I still get goose bumps from the rawness of Springsteen’s delivery and from imagining someone loving me with that much heart and soul.

Here is an extraordinary performance of the song from a show at the start of the Wrecking Ball tour in Gothenburg, Sweden last year. It’s amazing, or whatever that other word I haven’t found yet is.

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