What Bruce Springsteen Means to Me

On Friday night I saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band perform for the sixth time. I can safely say that out of the six times I have seen him, Friday’s show was the best I have seen him play.

That is, until the next time I see him.

He played rarities (“Living on the Edge of the World” off 1998’s Tracks box set, and “Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?” off his debut album Greetings from Asbury Park ,N.J.), crowd pleasers (“Out in the Street,” “Bobby Jean”) and everything else in between.

I had bought a ticket that Thursday based on the fact that a couple of my friends were going and that I don’t know how many more time Springsteen will go on tour like this again. In the end, it was a really good decision.

As I was walking out of MetLife Stadium that night, satisfied by yet another Springsteen concert, I asked myself a couple of questions: why do I keep doing this? What provokes me to come back for more?

After a few moments of deliberation and self-analysis at a McDonald’s on 7th Ave. at 1:30 in the morning, feet tired, hands worn from clapping, throat sore from singing, I arrived at my answers.

First.

I’m from New Jersey.

I’m not saying that everyone from New Jersey likes Springsteen, some even (gasp) dislike him. But Springsteen is a beacon for New Jersey, a spokesman who proudly and openly represents the country’s most ridiculed state.

Whenever I listen to his music I feel like he’s speaking to me about my life. His language is somewhat esoteric and yet carries a universal message all at once.

What was always thrilling about Springsteen’s music was that he constantly cited places in New Jersey where I had been to.  “It’s about a mile down on the dark side of route 88…” from “Spirit in the Night,” refers to the state road that I grew up a few blocks away from that leads to the ocean and runs through the middle of my hometown of Point Pleasant. The street 10th Ave. that’s referenced in the song “Tenth Avenue Freezeout” is based on a street in Belmar. 10th Ave. also intersects with E Street, the namesake of the E Street Band.

I always feel proud of where I come from knowing that I have been to the places that he sings about and knowing that those are being heard all over the world by people of all nationalities and walks of life. I came to realize that you don’t have to be from New Jersey to like and understand Springsteen’s music because his language in accessible and we all know someone who resembles a character in one of his songs.

For me, the people that he sings about are people who I knew growing up and went to school with them. In a sense, I always go back to see Springsteen perform because it’s like seeing an old friend who you haven’t seen in a while. And it’s always nice to see him back in the neighborhood.

And number two.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band is still as exciting of a live act as they were when they first started in 1972.

Artists from Springsteen’s era who still tour today are generally known as “legacy acts.” Legacy acts can play upwards to 30 shows a year and rake in a decent amount of money for promoters, venues and themselves. They go out, play the same songs for an hour and half every night and then move on to the next city. The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and Kiss all fall under this umbrella of blandness.

Springsteen on the other hand concocts a different setlist every night and will end up playing 101 shows on his Wrecking Ball Tour by the time he and his band are finished. That is if they don’t decide to add more shows later this year.

One night he could play a deep cut such as “Janey Don’t You Lose Heart” and the next night he could play a song like “Badlands” in the same slot and still have the same the affect on his audience.

It’s exciting. You never know what he’ll do, what he’ll play or what will happen.

Something that I didn’t expect  was his performance of my favorite song, “Incident on 57th St.” off 1974’s The Wild, The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle: “Johnny was sittin’ on the fire escape watchin’ the kids play down the street/he called down ‘hey little heroes summer’s gone but I guess it ain’t very sweet around here anymore.’”

Then Springsteen launched into “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight),” not only one of his most one of his most famous showstoppers, but the song that follows “Incident” on the same album. Everyone in the audience was floored. It was something stunning and completely unexpected. It’s these defining moments that make going to Springsteen truly remarkable and, more importantly, enjoyable.

You know you never going to see the same show twice and that’s one of the biggest reasons why I have seen him six times. It’s also the reason why Greg, the 28 year old from Brooklyn who sat next to me at the concert, had seen him 30 times, seven times on this tour alone. His father Mark, 54, didn’t want to admit how many times he had seen Springsteen, all he said was “I started going to his shows in 1974.”

His performances do more for people’s souls and happiness that other artists can’t even begin to imagine. Parents pass his legend down to their children and their children’s children who want to see the man themselves, who want to make their own judgments because they think he’s an anomaly. The Daily Show host and New Jersey native Jon Stewart said it best when he said: “he empties the tank every night; he empties it for his fans, for his family and for his country.”

So, after standing on my feet for three and a half hours, hands still worn from clapping, throat still sore from singing, still sitting in the McDonald’s on 7th Ave., I actually thought about getting tickets for the next night’s concert. As it turned out, due to severe lightning, Springsteen wound up hitting the stage a little after 10:00 the following night and he wound up leaving the stage a little before 2:00. A nearly four hour performance for a man who’s 63 years old. Even if you don’t like his music, it’s still something worth seeing.

So instead of asking myself again “what keeps me going back to see Springsteen?,” I asked myself “would I have gone to that show that ended at 2:00 in the morning?” And my answer to that: “absolutely.”

It’s pretty obvious to say at this point, but Bruce Springsteen has played a big part in my life. Some people dislike his voice, some people dislike the sound of his music, some people dislike the cheesiness of his act. Sometimes, people just don’t get “it.” But it’s that “it” that keeps me coming back for more, it’s that “it” that makes him one of the greatest artists in the history of rock n’ roll. It’s that “it” that will always lead me back to the music of Bruce Springsteen, and it will always leave me happy and wanting more.

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