I’ve alluded to it in this column before, but in considering its timeliness at the moment, I wanted to say it again: I love Bruce Springsteen.
As you might imagine, I was positively elated when I heard Bruce was going to have a rally near the Capitol this past Monday (Obama was there, too, but that wasn’t really important). After missing out on seeing Bruce in both of his September shows at Wrigley Field, I was happy to find some redemption by seeing him in Madison, even if he only played a few songs what with all the political grandstanding. I was pleased to find that many others were similarly ecstatic about his arrival as well.
So what is it about Bruce Springsteen that makes him so enthralling? After all, this is a man that reduced New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie—who has reportedly seen 129 Springsteen shows—to tears upon hugging him. I’ll try to explain the Bruce phenomenon in five steps.
1. He shares the same worldview as the Baby Boomer generation.
Bruce grew up in blue-collar Freehold, N.J. in the 1960s, coming of age during a tumultuous time in American history. As a result, Bruce’s music reflected these hardships, many of which were faced by his fellow Baby Boomers: The mundane nature of working-class life, the unfulfilled promises of the American Dream, and the endless pursuit of the “Promised Land.” It’s no wonder so many of his songs include motifs of cars, the speed machines that serve as a means of escapism from the travails of everyday life. By articulating these themes, Bruce forged an unbreakable connection with a huge audience.
2. He’s Bob Dylan, except he’s not a crotchety asshole.
When he was first gaining popularity, several music critics touted Bruce as “The Next Dylan” for the similar way in which he captured the angst of a lost generation. Although Dylan is considered the superior songwriter and served as a direct influence for Bruce’s music, Dylan has never resonated with his fans the way Springsteen does. While Springsteen’s shows are full of heart and palpable energy, Dylan tends to play with a holier-than-thou detachment and is barely comprehensible these days due to decades of chain smoking. It comes as little surprise that Bruce’s four-song set generated more buzz than Dylan’s full concert that occurred the same day at the Alliant Energy Center.
3. He’s ruggedly handsome.
Seriously, how is that dude 63 years old? He’s got a better hairline than I do, and I’m over 40 years younger than him. Pairing the perfect amount of stubble with an impeccable dress sense, Bruce is desired by legions of women over 35, if not younger than that. And have you seen his ass in a pair of jeans? Yeah, I’ll stop there.
4. He’s backed by perhaps the most eclectic band in the history of popular music.
A rock band prominently featuring the saxophone may seem like a novelty, but it’s hard to imagine Bruce achieving as much success without the late Clarence Clemons, whose virtuosic solos are ubiquitous on 1975’s Born to Run album. Of course, there would be no “Jungleland” without pianist Roy Bittan, who provides the song’s dour, yet hopelessly beautiful opening. The E Street Band’s brilliance often gets overlooked due to the man playing in front of them, but true fans recognize the band’s indelible impact on Bruce’s music.
5. He’s arguably America’s last rock star.
Think about it. Beginning around the 1980s, a proliferation of new genres and subgenres effectively spelled the end of the traditional rock star, leaving only those that came before. Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and John Lennon have been dead for years. Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Elton John and The Who all hail from Europe. Dylan was more poet than rock star and Little Richard and Chuck Berry were more architects of rock ’n’ roll than thriving stars. It truly seems like Bruce is the only breakthrough artist left from what was a Golden Age of popular music.
So that’s probably the best way I can explain the allure of Bruce, and I still feel like I haven’t completely scratched the surface. I guess sometimes you just intuitively know when you’re in the presence of greatness, even if you can’t totally explain it. I felt that way once again Monday morning, just as countless others have for the better part of 40 years listening to Bruce.
Send all questions to Adam at ajwolf2wisc.edu.