Open to pain and crossed by the rain

Once upon a time, there lived a musician named Bruce Springsteen. Come to think of it, he’s still alive and will be coming to a Los Angeles venue nearby to sing to me this summer, songs of Devils, Dust, outcasts, companionship, and hope in the midst of darkness. If you aren’t familiar with Springsteen’s music beyond such Greatest Hits anthems as “Born in the U.S.A.” and “Born to Run,” I strongly suggest you try listening to any non-“Born” material that hasn’t otherwise been featured in films such as Jerry Maguire and Philadelphia. For suggestions, email me with your astrological sign and I'll hook you up with the right album.

Although he’s known around the world for his passionate, marathon live performances with the E-Street Band, his name has also been burdened to synonymous fate with what it means to be an American. I’m not talking about a blind allegiance to isolationist patriotism, but rather, the struggle of being a mere molecule in this overflowing melting pot of a nation, economically, spiritually, politically, both as an individual and as a constituent of the bigger picture, within the richest, most powerful country in the world. Success, freedom, liberty are just catch words to throw around our economy and validate poorly planned, sketchily justified invasions of foreign countries, their propaganda purposes attractive to those who choose to ignore the struggle and invest blind faith in their leaders.

The real American condition, the real American guarantee, according to Bruce Springsteen, is struggle, because without it, where can we put our trust? This theme, eloquently stated in his workingman’s lament, “Badlands,” feeds the constant quest for fulfillment in a materialistic culture. “Poor man wanna be rich, rich man wanna be king, and the king ain’t satisfied ‘till he rules everything.” If Springsteen is right, we’re just tides pulling in and out for this indefinite fulfillment, never to be satisfied, even by riches and power. As a nation of multi-clashes—multi-cultural, multi-religion, multi-everything—America may have different variables in each equation, but struggle remains the one constant shared by everyone. Springsteen taps into that struggle, in tune every time.

I find it downright unbelievable and wrong that Springsteen has been stuck with the nickname, The Boss. I don’t care how he got the name, or if he greets himself as The Boss every morning to his reflection in the mirror; I don’t buy it. Although I’m okay with calling him The Legend or The Best or My Favorite Person I Have Never Met, I will only subscribe to The Boss label in a time of sarcasm, and even then, sparingly. Donald Trump should have bought the rights to use “The Boss” as his new name instead of “You’re Fired” as his demeaning catch phrase. By Trumpian standards, a real capitalistic boss is someone “above” another worker, on “another level,” who gets paid to tell the worker what to do, looking down like Big Brother, watching, waiting for the worker to do something wrong so he can right it, getting off not only on his authority, but also on the impact his authority has on his worker and the productivity of the company.

I don’t know about you other lifelong fans, but Bruce Springsteen is not, has never been, and will never be my boss. Trump deserves to be The Real Boss, because to him and other corporate leaders out on yachts, Bruce Springsteen is just a dollar sign, a commodity guaranteed to turn a winning profit worldwide. No matter how financially successful the E-Street Band tour, Springsteen somehow manages to stay on our level, never giving in to the pitfalls that tempt most corrupt opportunists (see also: has never, ever sold out), always remaining leery of capitalism because it keeps the people down and creates injustices that keep them down.

Not only is Springsteen on our level and our side, he’s also an artist, so he serves his audience as a spiritual guide, a messenger, the empathetic poet with questions and possibilities, but not a lot of straight answers because everyone’s coming from a different angle. His lyrics understand the human condition because he’s not afraid to share his innermost thoughts with us in a way we can all understand, through the accompaniment of rock and roll.

His songs aren’t always perfect, but neither are we, so they end up telling us things about ourselves that we could never admit. Just like us, he has weathered change, made mistakes, and experienced emotional ups and downs throughout his career. It’s deceptive to presume that any man we call The Boss has never made a mistake, except mistakes he can blame on the workers. Springsteen would never do that to his fans; therefore, he is not, and will never be, my Boss.

Like any American Success Story, Bruce Springsteen had humble beginnings. He first engaged himself in the rock and roll cause like a death-defying electric jolt to an era destined to be jaded. While they weren’t purging themselves of Nixon and being otherwise tumultuous, the moral vacuum of mid-1970s cleared way for the renaissance of Bruce Springsteen.

Immediately after colliding with an early live show experience, John Landau, a rock critic who later became Springsteen’s manager, claimed, “I’ve seen the future of rock and roll, and its name is Bruce Springsteen.” This future loomed uncertain, depending on the passion of a poor New Jersey nobody like the world on Atlas’ shoulders. The beauty of Landau’s statement not only lies in the fact that he was right, but also in that Springsteen’s impact was so unexpected.

Even the man himself didn’t know what he would eventually become, bound to the point of no return in his career, driven by the romanticism of making it, not in the sense of success, but artistically, writing music that matters to people and performing tirelessly night after night. Before becoming America’s favorite home-grown arena rock star, Springsteen was a struggling artisan, slumming it on the Jersey Shore, romancing girls named Sandy and Jane under the boardwalk with promises of breaking out of the small town trap, singing the gospel of blue collar industrial depression out on the highway, and living on 4-hour marathon gigs at hole in the wall bars that made actual holes in walls look like palaces.

After being plucked out of obscurity and signed by Columbia Records’ John Hammond as a product to be hyped as the “New Dylan,” Springsteen decided to play the role and give the Man exactly what he wanted. But the result, his 1973 debut album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. was as far a cry from Dylan as “Like a Rolling Stone” was from “Mr. Tambourine Man”—two entirely different species sharing the same brilliant genetic makeup.


I’ll stop there for now. Stay tuned for my homage to Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., which, while not as politically powerful, introspective, and desolate as 1978’s Darkness on the Edge of Town, still remains the most lyrically vibrant, touching, and raw Springsteen album, representative of the true future of rock and roll because, after all, he was still a poor struggling American at the time of its creation.

And until I do return to this topic with something worthy of this album (might be tomorrow, may take me forever to put into words my awe of “It’s Hard to be a Saint in the City” alone), here’s a quote to ponder, regarding the performer’s ability to decide his own destiny. Taken from a 1974 phone interview with Crawdaddy founder Paul Williams, at the time Springsteen’s record company was threatening to drop him because Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. wasn’t exactly selling like the Partridge Family. Anyway, this is vintage Springsteen struggle. The best part? It’s still true.

“Some people can be stopped, and other people can’t be stopped, you know? It depends if you’re dealing with people who CAN stop, or not. Like me, you know, I can’t stop, they can’t make me stop, ever. It’s like once you stop, that’s it. You might as well…I don’t know what I’d do.

But it’s like that. If you’re dealing with people who can say, ‘Well, hell, I’m going back to, you know, hanging wallpaper, that was easier than this,’ them you can stop. Those people are going, ‘Oh man, I’m gonna go back to college, forget this stuff,’ those people can be stopped. People say, ‘Hey, what should I do? Gee, I don’t know if I wanna play, or if I wanna get married to my girl, I’m having a real hard time deciding…’ Well, if you have to decide, the answer is right there. Don’t do it! If you have a choice, then the answer’s no.

It’s only the ones who, some people really don’t have a choice, and those people who—the record company, I don’t like to use the term ‘record company’ ‘cause they always get painted as the bad guys—it’s like the pressures of the business, or whatever, are powerless in the face of what is real. You just can’t stop somebody with things like that. I don’t think.”


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