Last summer when my father was dealt his double death sentence of liver and bile duct cancer, while my mother was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, I listened to all my Bruce Springsteen albums. I started with “Greetings from Asbury Park” to “Magic.” I also listened to Maria Callas, Led Zeppelin, Mary J. Blige, the Decemberists, but mostly to Bruce because his music didn’t contain the words “terminal” and “low survival rate.” But more importantly, I’ve always believed that if I played his music nothing would happen. At the same time, though, I knew it was illusory, fake, because even though I cranked up “Born to Run” last December 18, my father still died and my mother remained a cripple.
Nonetheless, Springsteen’s music serves as my protective sheild, my escape hatch making me hide for awhile in high school days where Larry, a boyfriend said, “you gotta get this new album,” handing me “Born to Run” in our local record shop.
Conveniently, Larry looked like Bruce: except for his purple-tinted aviator eyeglasses and the fact that he was a Greek-American, Larry had the same permanent five o’clock shadow, tousled brown hair, was skinny, wore a motorcycle jacket, tight Levis and dusty black boots. My mother forbade me to be with him. “He’s already a man,” she said, “much too old.”
So of course, I spent a lot of time with Larry in his Camaro, not down on Kingsley as Springsteen spoke about, but down Astoria Boulevard, stopping between drag racers, drug dealers and bored teenagers like ourselves just looking to make out underneath the Triborough Bridge; or sometimes we just wanted to hold hands and look out at New York City’s diamondesque lights. It was as though Springsteen was in Larry’s back seat saying,” I know how it is, man, I know all about it.” As though he knew our lives: our alcoholic, unemployed fathers, our tired mothers, our crowded apartments, our violent high schools, our downtrodden teachers, our tumbleweed existence ricocheting nowhere. Bruce gave me hope with his line, “tramps like us, baby we were born to run” and I believed we were going to run out of there someday.
I recently read in the New York Times that Alzheimer’s patients in one nursing home, when played music of their generation, recite all the words. They don’t know the names of their loved ones, yet when the music of George Gershwin is played, they know all the words to “Embraceable You” and “Our Love Is Here to Stay.”
I imagine myself like this in a nursing home, my mind adrift. I will not recognize my daughter when she visits, but someone will put on a “Born to Run” cd and I’ll hear once again the crackle of Larry’s leather jacket, feel his rough stubble against my cheek and perhaps, slowly, I’ll make my way to the shore of present day.