Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Five Life-Changing Bruce Springsteen Songs

My sister Susan reminds me that today is the 60th birthday of the one and only Bruce Springsteen, American hero and prophet of the church of rock-and-roll. Bruce's 40-year career forms the soundtrack not only of a lot of my own life, but of the entire history of the United States over the past four decades. I genuinely do not understand people who don't get Bruce, and must fall back on the assumption that they're European, and it's probably equivalent to my not getting the appeal of soccer.

The Bruce Springsteen catalog is a big chunk of my iTunes library. But here are five of his songs that shaped and maybe even saved my life, in chronological order. Thank you, Bruce, happy birthday, and many more.

1. "For You," from Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., 1973. I was seven years old when this song came out, and didn't hear it for the first time until I was 14. The boy I had a crush on recited the lyrics to this song in a near-manic torrent from behind the wheel of his father's blue Datsun B210, and I thought he was a genius. (I still know him; he is a genius, though not in the way I thought when I was 14.) The song is a frenzied plea to an old girlfriend the singer's trying to win back: "You were born with the power of a locomotive/Able to laugh and cry in a single sound . . . I came for you, for you, I came for you/But your life was one long emergency . . ." I use that line almost every day.

2. "Rosalita," from The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle, 1973. Think about this: Bruce released his first two albums within nine months of each other. They're equally great, and sound just as good 36 years later. This is a full-blown rave-up, featuring Clarence Clemons' immortal saxophone. It's a promise of freedom to sheltered teenaged girls everywhere, which at the same time makes no promises: "Windows are for cheaters, chimneys for the poor/Closets are for hangers, winners use the door/So use it Rosie, that's what it's there for." Some day we'll look back on this and it will all seem funny . . . I can't embed the video, but you can watch it here.

3. "Candy's Room," from Darkness on the Edge of Town, 1978. I was only 13 or 14 when I first heard this song, and had no idea that it's about a man who's the boyfriend of a hooker. Even if I'd understood that, I wouldn't have cared. I cared about the rising, driving guitars on this track, which promised redemption and salvation. You can see a video of a contemporary performance of this song here -- the video is shaky and black-and-white, but it can't obstruct the sheer power of this song. "In that darkness there'll be hidden worlds that shine . . ."

4. "Bobby Jean," from Born in the U.S.A., 1984. This was Bruce's breakout album, but it's probably my least favorite -- except for this song, which I don't think was even a single. In the summer of 1984, I got to see Bruce live at what was then the Capital Centre in Landover, MD. The song is a farewell to an old friend. In the summer of 1984, I was trying to process losses beyond my capacity or control; Bruce showed me how to do it, and offered me the hope of reunion. It seemed at the time that this song saved my life, and even at a distance of 25 years I see no reason to reconsider that.

5. "Mary's Place," from The Rising, 2002. What he did for me in 1984, he did for the whole country in 2002. The Rising was an extended meditation on the events of September 11, 2001, and "Mary's Place" is about a wake. "Tell me, how do you live brokenhearted?" You get your friends and family together, and have a party. The weekend after September 11, my friends and I gathered at the Farmers Market in Los Angeles for karaoke, and we drank and danced and sang until we cried and we laughed and we knew that we would all wake up again the next morning, and probably the morning after that too. "Mary's Place," which didn't come out until the following year, brings that whole night back to me. Turn it up.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

This makes me very sad/happy. Thanks.
Susan

Zach said...

I somehow knew "Mary's Place" would be on here. Good choice!

Tom Ehrenfeld said...

Very nice post. I don't want to rain on your parade by not being idolatrous of the boss, since, in fact, I do believe that he is one of those few artists whose quality really is commensurate with his popularity.

And having seen him in concert four times (including that 84 show) I can say that with the exception of Bob Marley there's no other musician I've seen with such charisma and magic, who can move and excite and completely possess you (in a good way.)

But...I gotta confess that while, yeah, Bruce is a God and all...I never choose to actually listen to his music anymore. Is that a crime? (Certainly not as venal as admitting to have liked both The Da Vinci Code and Shakespeare in Love....) I wouldn't turn it off, but I even have stuff that hasn't made the transition from vinyl. Ellen, you of all people will understand the Georgetown experience (I could never hear Rosalita again in my life and be happy) as a contributing factor.

That said, my five Boss songs that I love: The River, Prove It All Night, Badlands, For You, and for no real good reason, don't make me justify this one, Lucky Town.

AnswerGirl said...

I don't listen to Bruce as much as I used to, either, although I loved Magic. But no need to apologize for loving "Lucky Town;" I consider those two albums (Human Touch and Lucky Town) to be the two most overlooked in the Springsteen canon, though they should have been condensed and combined into a single record. I particularly love "Book of Dreams" and "Soul Driver."

Larry said...

My youngest daughter plays the tenor sax. To her Clarence Clemons is a god, and rightly so. The Boss is an amazing talent, but rock and roll is a team sport. Where would he be without Clarence?

SarahLea said...

For You is one of my five. I think I know the lyrics in my sleep, though I can probably say that about most Bruce songs. I'd throw Thunder Road and Prove it All Night in there too. And Atlantic City...and I'd have to say Dancing in the Dark, simply because on my 19th birthday on the Born in the USA tour, Bruce pulled me onto stage to dance to that song.

Anonymous said...

Right below Dalton's observation of "Be nice. Until it's time to not be nice." is this bit of wisdom:

Poor men wanna be rich, rich men wanna be kings,

And a king ain't satisfied till he rules everything.

I wanna go out tonight, I wanna find out what I got.

Now I believe in the love that you gave me.

I believe in the faith that could save me.

-- Ed

Anna said...

I dated a guy once who practically only spoke in lines from Bruce Springsteen songs. We didn't last long but I found it very intriguing, sexy, and sometimes mildly annoying.

Harry Murphy said...

My first Springsteen concert, 1981 at the Hampton (VA) Coliseum, was a turning point. That year, as epitomized in his "Independence Day," my teenage home life was falling apart, while the novelty and uncertainty of the larger world beckoned. A very sheltered child up to that time, I did a lot of maturing in very short order. "And soon everything we've known will just be swept away." If I did not say so before...thanks.

AnswerGirl said...

That was a night, wasn't it? It's terrifying to think how much of the future was stored in that singular place and time . . .

Scott Peeples said...

My son will tell you that "Lonesome Day" got him through first grade, when he had no idea about the 9/11 context for the song -- we would listen to it every day when I drove him to school. We've been to four Springsteen shows since then -- the first one, I'm pretty sure I cried. And maybe the second one, too.

Anyway, Answer Girl, here are my five:
Rosalita, Born to Run, Racing in the Street, My Father's House, Lonesome Day.

Scott

Peter said...

I'm European and LOVE Bruce Springsteen. Seen him nine times. My Bruce story: at the very first concert - Wembley Stadium 1985 - somehow a friend and I ended up standing next to Steven Van Zandt, utterly unaware of who he was (he'd left the band at the point. At the end of hour no 3 of a storming concert, we both wondered why this strange bescarfed man left. Only to see him a few minutes later, stride on stage and join the band for an hour's worth of encores.

AnswerGirl said...

Peter, that's the coolest story yet! And "Bobby Jean" was supposedly inspired by Steven Van Zandt's departure from the band. . .