I’ve always believed in the power of music to express and reflect your emotions, even the ones you hide from everyone else. The best artists are the one who can bring this out time and time again, and can cross the range from head-banging rage against oppression and frustration to out of your seat dancing with joy and reckless abandon to introspective watching the rain hit the windowsill and not wanting to move because you think the pain and heartache would just knock you to your knees.
When I first saw Bruce Springsteen, it was 1985 and I was there with 72,000 other screaming kids in Soldier Field. Everything was different then, bigger. Bruce was 35, and at the height of mega-stardom. I was 17 and the world was a wide expanse, full of infinite possibilities if only I could harness the power to go after them. “Thunder Road” was my favorite, my theme song. I hadn’t yet met my Mary, whose dress would sway as the screen door slammed, but I knew that I was “pullin’ outta here to win.” At 17 everything seemed so huge, but at the same time, so possible.
Over the years, this music is always what I come back to when I need something to hold onto when the winds of change are about to blow me over. When I feel so totally alone that I think I might just disappear. There are the small turns of phrase that capture moments and emotions so completely that I am still awestruck. In “Brilliant Disguise” when the singer ponders the questions and the mysteries of the relationship with the woman in his life, he sings that last line, “God have mercy on the man/Who doubts what he’s sure of.” To me that may be the greatest lyric ever written. I’ve been there, and that phrasing captures the complex, tangled emotions of that situation better than any self help book or guest on Oprah, Ellen or Regis ever could. When I look at my kids and am fearful and ashamed of the state of the world I’ve brought them into, “Souls of the Departed” plays in my head. “I wanna build me a wall so high nothing can tear it down/Right here on my own piece of dirty ground.” I don’t want anything to ever touch or hurt them. As completely unrealistic and unattainable as that is.
On his new CD, he’s still doing it and it still rings true. I listen to “Long Walk Home” on the new album and think I could have written it because I feel it so fully. Well, maybe if I actually had the talent to write it and, more importantly, the courage to let anyone see it or hear it. And the old songs still do it too. When I realize that certain dreams just aren’t going to come true and it’s time to let them go, even though I cannot bear the thought of doing so, it’s in “The River.” “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true/Or is it something worse?”
“Is he still any good?” That’s a matter of opinion as always, I suppose. All I know is this. We’re both older now. 40 is peeking around the corner at me and as much as I try to run from it as fast as I can and re-capture younger “Glory Days,” I know that it’s going to catch me, like it or not. Born to Run? Maybe, but no one can run forever, and certainly not alone. This music can still lead me to the places that I’m afraid to go, to the places I need to go and places I want to go. Sometimes it’s joyful, sometimes it’s political, sometimes it’s just plain painful. But it’s always honest and helps me to continue to learn who I was, who I am, and perhaps who I will yet be. And I guess that’s what life is about.
I’m still trying to figure it all out. So maybe I pulled out of that town, but didn’t win yet. So what? I’ve always got company and a map on the journey down Thunder Road. Even when I can’t talk to anyone else, the music still talks to me. And that’s why it still matters.
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