"Searchin' for a little bit of God's mercy,
I found living proof."
I don't remember the first time I heard Bruce Springsteen, and I don't remember when I started to love him. I know that, after downloading Napster, "Born to Run" was one of the first songs I downloaded. But so was the Green Day song from Godzilla.
Somewhere along the line, though, I got caught up in The Boss. I went from owning nothing more than his Greatest Hits to Born To Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town, and all his other obvious masterpieces. Then it was Disc 3 of the Essential Bruce Springsteen, which features such hidden gems as "Trapped" and "None But the Brave." Then it was all of his remarkable live work, and then it was Tracks, four discs of outtakes that are infinitely better than 99% of the world's published, marketed music.
And at that point, there was no going back. Bruce and the E Street Band had long since reunited, he was on a tour for Devils & Dust, and my girlfriend at the time had gotten me tickets to my first live Springsteen show in Providence. It remains the greatest gift I've ever received, one I discussed in detail on my old website. His solo performance of "For You" on piano was the first time I ever cried during a piece of music; the passion of his lyrics was so evident when all the bells and whistles were stripped from the recorded full-band version.
From there, it was a Camden show on the Seeger Sessions tour (an underrated show, possibly the most fun I've had at one of his concerts) and, of course, three shows with Bruce in the USA, America's finest Springsteen tribute band. There are many arguments you can make to support seeing Bruce in the USA (trust me, I've made them all, mainly in a glowing review written by yours truly in BU's Daily Free Press) but the one that holds the most water with me is "I want to see people playing Bruce's music who love it as much as I do." Either those guys are tremendous fakers, or they really love going out there 100 nights a year playing 30-year old songs written by someone else. Either way, it's the next best thing you'll get to The Boss himself.
But that won't be an issue this year, thanks to the quick release of his new album, Working on a Dream. This album seems like it might be both a blessing and a curse -- a curse because, on my first listen, it seems like a subpar (or at least polarizing) outing, a blessing because a 2009 tour is already confirmed. I saw Bruce Springsteen four times in 2008 - the tour opener in Hartford, a practically front-row outing in Washington D.C., Danny Federici's last full show with the band in Boston and their Boston stadium show at Gillette. It was a wonderful quartet of rock, but, like any good Bruce fan will tell you, there's no limit on how many times you can see this man perform.
And this tour could mean more than any. While Bruce himself seems almost immortal, the E Street Band has already lost one member, and age seems to finally be catching up with them. Clarence Clemons has been reported in somewhat-ill health on numerous occasions, and the scarcity of his movements at shows offers support to that hypothesis. Meanwhile, Max Weinberg will soon be the band leader on The Tonight Show, and frankly, if Conan is to make it at that level, he needs all his cylinders firing. He'll need Max.
Basically, the days of the E Street Band could be numbered, so I certainly advise you all to get as much of them in as you can. I'll be doing just that, with intentions to go to at least four shows, possibly five if a Hartford show is announced. The rumors that Bruce will be playing whole albums at certain shows is titillating, as is the fact that, while Working on a Dream appears to have flaws, "My Lucky Day" is arguably the best song he's put out this whole decade. It's the perfect live tune, and I look forward to hearing it at the Super Bowl halftime show and throughout this wonderful tour season.
People who don't understand my love for Bruce Springsteen ask why I need to pay so much to go to all these shows, how I can support a hundred-millionaire old man who is no longer remotely like what he once sang about. What these people don't seem to grasp, though, is that there is no reason that 25-year-old Bruce Springsteen should resemble 62-year-old Bruce Springsteen. In fact, it would be sad if he did. He has become something more, something truly special, and I feel bad for those who cannot see that.
Bruce Springsteen is an old man, an aging rocker, sure, but he has also released at least three truly wonderful albums in the 2000's. He plays "Born to Run" every night, but Magic and The Rising showed a truly perceptive, spot-on mind that no longer looks into itself but instead gazes deeply into the world around it. He has an unbelievably loyal army of both band members and fans who would follow him into the depths of hell; they believe that everything he does is right because, for the most part, it is.
For a man whose fame became overwhelming a long time ago, Bruce Springsteen has held onto the core of himself as well as a human being can. His withdrawals from the public eye have been limited at best; rarely has an extended period of time gone by since 1972 without a new offering of his truly memorable music. Listening to his body of work from beginning to end is a remarkable look at the maturation of a musician, and at the same time, watching him live in 1972 and in 2008, you see the same bar band out there giving their all night after night. He is everything a true fan of rock would want; as Jon Landau predicted a long time ago, Bruce Springsteen was the future of rock and roll, and he has also become its present and its past.
Steven Van Zandt said in this month's Rolling Stone that each unreleased song that ended up on Tracks was a personal battle for him; he bemoaned the fact that songs like "Loose Ends" and "Restless Nights" (read: classics) weren't on an official album. He sounded pleased that Bruce released Working on a Dream without specifically commenting on the music itself; perhaps Van Zandt has always felt the way the fans do, that Bruce is a genius, and that the more we get, the better. Maybe it took until Bruce was 62 years old, and maybe the end result is not his finest outing, but for a man whose 37-year career is among the best in rock 'n' roll history, getting him on stage and in the public eye again and again before it's too late is the real reward.