Music

Literally the Best Thing Ever: Bruce Springsteen

We clicked instantly, like a first love.

Collages by Naomi

It was a dank, rainy day when I decided to watch the film Badlands. It follows Kit and Holly, a young couple on the run from the police across America. I stood in my misty garden afterwards to try and clear a headache while my mind was whirring, full of the tumbleweed scenery, unable to forget the voices of those two strange characters.

There was something else too. The Wikipedia on Charles Starkweather, on whom the film was based, read: “Bruce Springsteen’s 1982 song ‘Nebraska’ is a first-person narrative based on the Starkweather events.” I Googled “bruce springsteen nebraska” and found this:

The opening harmonica haunted me from the moment I heard it. I couldn’t shake it loose. It was beautiful beyond words; it was my Springsteen epiphany. The most affecting film I had watched had inadvertently introduced me to the music that would begin to affect me more than any before. And all on the same day. Doesn’t it just feel like music, films, and books choose you, rather than the other way ’round?

I was a 16-year-old girl living in a suburb of Birmingham, England. Sixteen was an age when I felt very insecure—maybe you wouldn’t think Bruce Springsteen would be the main contestant to suddenly become my musical hero and general life inspiration. His name can conjure a testosterone-heavy symbol of the “American dream,” a denim-clad butt shaking around with a young Courteney Cox, proud to be BORN! IN THE USA! The 1984 album of that name sounds like a collection of greatest hits, the songs are so memorable. And “Dancing in the Dark” is probably the best music video you will ever see:

I love that brash, confident ’80s American hero Bruce with all my heart. But he is a lot more than that.

This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever tried to write, because what can I say to do him justice? How can I sum up my intensely personal feelings about a public legend? Bruce is at once a huge overwhelming icon and a whisper directed to the tiny corners of people’s ordinary lives. I think Joe Strummer summarized it better than I ever will:

HIS MUSIC IS GREAT ON A DARK & RAINY MORNING IN ENGLAND, JUST WHEN YOU NEED SOME SPIRIT & SOME PROOF THAT THE BIG WIDE WORLD EXISTS, THE D.J. PUTS ON ‘RACING IN THE STREETS’ & LIFE SEEMS WORTH LIVING AGAIN… LIFE SEEMS TO BE IN CINEMASCOPE AGAIN.

After my “Nebraska” experience, I began to collect and listen to Bruce’s early records. I propped them up on my desk so I could see them from my bed. The album artwork burned into my brain. Every morning I would start up my turntable and life was in CinemaScope again. For a few weeks, in that flush of discovery, I was able to forget most other feelings. It is a pattern that has repeated since with other albums and musicians. But Bruce was the first.

I suppose Bruce Springsteen was the first musician I heard who communicated in a way I could completely understand. As if he talks in my language. Being a musician is the only job Bruce has ever had—it doesn’t seem like a secondary thing to him, or a route to fame and fortune, but an instinct. It was only through his passion that I discovered how important music can be for myself. We clicked. Like a first love.

I started with his first two albums: Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. and The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle were both released in 1973 and are both infused with youth and dreams, characters and adventures. My favorite songs from them are “Spirit in the Night” and “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight).” I also love the outtake “Thundercrack” from E Street Shuffle:

That song is my personal anthem. I love everything about it, and the video of him singing it above. Bruce with his beard! Clarence Clemons playing saxophone! Bruce and Clarence’s duet! I hadn’t heard anything like this before; it’s mix of genres, constantly upbeat and weaved full of stories. His voice there is all youthful conviction—it seems to say, Look, being young is confusing, but it can also be fun. Plus, how much do you just want to throw yourself at young Bruce Springsteen? Or is that just me? (I think the girl doing just that in the “Rosalita” video is me in a former life).

Later I became captivated with 1975’s Born to Run, with its wall of sound. This album just rips out my heart and stomps on it. I think I’ll only make peace with it when I can drive down an open American highway with it playing full blast. It is the only way. (The other way is alone in your bedroom, lying on your bed with closed eyes, imagining those open roads.)

Bruce’s early albums gave me a chance to escape reality and to dream. To become excited by the possibilities of life. The next album he made, Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978), was about what happens when your early dreams confront reality. This is my album, perhaps because I am constantly questioning myself and my own reality. It is the battle of life made into a perfect set of songs. It’s also one of the best examples of how visual Bruce’s music can be. The documentary about the making of Darkness is fascinating and love-deepening and tells of how Bruce described to mixer Chuck Plotkin the sounds he wanted by describing images—which totally makes sense to me. For my most played song ever, “Adam Raised a Cain,” Springsteen told Plotkin to think of a movie showing two lovers having a picnic, then the scene suddenly cuts to a dead body. Whoa!

Bruce’s concerts are legendarily great, and his songs are often best when he performs them onstage. I would (and still do) spend nights I couldn’t sleep on YouTube, compulsively watching his shows. He opened my eyes to the magic and art of live performance. My favorites are mostly on the 1978 Darkness Tour.

That piano opening! Bruce’s guitar solos! Clarence, Clarence, Clarence! It’s utter heaven. If you have no reaction to that video, I don’t think we can be friends. And this is just one example! Enter the YouTube black hole with me!

On top of all this, I simply love Bruce Springsteen, the person. I mean, he does impressions of himself and takes breaks in concerts to chug strangers’ beers and dances with his mom on stage.

I am 18 now, and I’ve grown so much in the two years since I discovered Bruce, in both in confidence and in height—his music certainly helped with one of those. When my identity was lost, music help me find a backbone, and it has comforted me ever since. So when I say “Literally the Best Thing Ever: Bruce Springsteen,” what I also mean is “Literally the Best Thing Ever: Music.”

Now my only real goal in life is to see him live. And preferably be another one of those lucky girls who are pulled onstage for “Dancing in the Dark.” I will light candles in front of my records and pray for more U.K. tour dates, because to witness one of his three-hour sets would be the apotheosis of every which way his songs have ever made me feel.

I could write for 10 times longer about Bruce Springsteen, and it still wouldn’t be enough. This isn’t the end though. Some of his songs will grow in meaning, some will become nostalgic, some will always make me dance with joy. Most important, they will be a continued companion while I figure out where—and if—the Promised Land exists.

45 Comments

  • rosiesayrelax August 20th, 2012 3:06 PM

    Springsteen reminds me of my friends mum so much. She likes him. A lot.

    Rosie Say Relax

  • Abi August 20th, 2012 3:23 PM

    I love how passionate this article is!

    • Naomi August 21st, 2012 6:39 PM

      bruce makes me passionate

  • Ingi August 20th, 2012 3:30 PM

    Springsteen is the best!! I love how his music is so diverse and full of many different feelings. I listen to it a lot, specially when I need something to lift my spirits, or just making the bus ride to school awesome:)
    I saw him live this summer and it was soooo good! They were at it for almost four hours, it was so much fun!

  • bee_6 August 20th, 2012 3:32 PM

    we’re almost 10 years apart but I definitely feel you on this! We even have the same favourite songs & albums. Though I would add that Tunnel of Love (seriously) surprisingly came through for me a couple of years back. I feel like there’s always something new to discover.

    I hope you get to see him soon! I’m seeing him for the 2nd time this Friday and I’m so excited!

  • Flower August 20th, 2012 3:35 PM

    This is stating the obvious but he is really quite awesome <3

    http://www.bobblyrainbowsocks.blogspot.com

  • oliviarose August 20th, 2012 3:35 PM

    Totally agree! So glad this article exists! go Naomi!
    “Broooooooooce” is amazing and seeing him live was one of the best music experiences I’ve ever had. and for a 62 year old man- daaaaaamn, I would. I WOULD.
    I highly recommend everyone turn off their bedroom light, lie down on their bed and listen to New York City Serenade in the dark. Best thing ever.

    • bird August 20th, 2012 4:08 PM

      damn I would too!!

    • Velvetmary August 21st, 2012 6:43 AM

      we all would, right?
      He’s just….. aaawrrr.

  • radiofireworks August 20th, 2012 3:50 PM

    BRUUUUUUUUUUCE!

    I grew up listening to Bruce (literally – my mum went to see him play while I was still in the womb, he was my first gig!) I saw him for the third time (fourth if you count womb-hood) a few months ago and it was AMAZING.

    Born to Run is definitely one of my favourite albums ever. It’s so bittersweet and helpless and hopeful and just, wow.

    I have to say though, surely the only people who think that Born in the USA represents the American dream are people who haven’t actually listened to the lyrics? I know it’s been mistaken as a super-patriotic song a lot though, like when Ronald Reagan used it in a political campaign…awkward. (We’ve just had a similar “…really?” moment in the UK when London Calling by the Clash was used in an advert welcoming people to the Olympics.)

    • koolkat August 25th, 2012 6:36 AM

      Oh good I wasn’t the only one who noticed how stupid using London calling was!

  • meggyg August 20th, 2012 3:57 PM

    you have no idea how happy this made me. springsteen will always be my favorite artist as well as my mother, father, brother, uncle EVERYONE in my family loves him. which just adds to the “home” feeling i get while listening to him. i saw him at madison square garden on the working on a dream tour and cried. it was also clarence’s last tour before he died which i also cried when that happened….i guess you could say I’m a fan

  • meggyg August 20th, 2012 4:00 PM

    i would like to add that oliviarose’s suggestion, should you obey it, will be one of the best decisions of your life.

  • bird August 20th, 2012 4:06 PM

    He is so great live it’s unbelievable – his concerts make you want to do something crazy – like jump out of a window ’cause you feel like you could fly, or just do a Forrest Gump and run and run and run … ’cause, baby, we were BORN TO RUUUUUUN!!!

  • christinachristina August 20th, 2012 5:00 PM

    I just realized that I have Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. on vinyl in my collection, but I’ve never actually listend to it… I’m not even really sure where it came from. But that is definitely the first thing I’m doing when I get home tonight.

    • Naomi August 21st, 2012 6:37 PM

      did it go well? I HOPE SO

  • laurenniee August 20th, 2012 5:22 PM

    Seeing as I’m from Staffordshire, England I completely get the how Bruce Springsteen is perfect for rainy English mornings. Midlands love.

    • Naomi August 21st, 2012 6:37 PM

      have you noticed that staffordshire ALWAYS makes midlands today? why does it hog the news so much?

      • laurenniee August 21st, 2012 6:50 PM

        I have no idea, it’s so small and dull. But then I guess we do get the lorry driver downing plum brandy and driving the wrong way down the M6/the man getting drunk on rum with their uncle and going off on a groping spree round Tesco and the person breaking into a car because they thought a dog was dead on the back seat and it turned out to be a soft toy.
        Gotta love Staffordshire, erm what?

        • Naomi August 21st, 2012 8:19 PM

          omg and every single time they mentioned that man they had to specify that he was drunk off “home-made plum brandy” and i died every time. and why in the footage did they have to circle the massive lorry going the opposite direction to every other car AS IF YOU WOULDN’T NOTICE. ahhh the local news is my life blood.

        • laurenniee August 22nd, 2012 7:27 PM

          I died at the bit when they were like “The lorry driver said he didn’t remember a thing.”
          Of course he didn’t, he was drunk off home-made plum brandy. What a champion.

  • Coconut Bible August 20th, 2012 5:37 PM

    This could not be any more perfect!
    God! No surrender’s my personal favorite.
    Finally if I may brag a bit, I had the chance to go see him this summer! I cried, I had goosebumps, my mouth hurt from intense smiling etc… but damm did it worth the money!
    Naomi, thank you <3

  • Toilets August 20th, 2012 5:44 PM

    Normally I when I get really into a band or singer, I have a quick obsession and then overplay them and move onto something else, but Bruce is FOREVER AND EVER.

  • old hands August 20th, 2012 6:32 PM

    All the adults around me have some connection to Bruce- like my Mom worked in Asbury Park in the early seventies when he was playing around there, my friend’s dad played with him in a band when they were teenagers (allegedly), my dad “lived near” him.

    He came to my university in 2009 and talked with Robert Pinksy and it was amazing. They sang together and had conversations about the creative process. I can’t remember what he said really. I was in the third row and had an amazing view of his jaw.

  • I.ila August 20th, 2012 6:34 PM

    Yessssssss thank you. My dad and I rock out to Bruce in the car all the time.

    Rookie should do a Literally the Best Thing Ever: Tim Burton. It would be so cool.

    • filmfatale August 21st, 2012 7:41 AM

      When I was a little girl, my dad moved to the other side of the state. On those weekends in the summer when he saw us, he’d pop Born to Run in the tape deck as we neared Storrow Drive. Dad would then do his best to time his merges into traffic to the breaks in the title track. There was nothing like getting off the pike during that pause at the end of Clarence’s solo. Dad would open the sun roof as the song started to wind down and we were (on a good night) a few blocks from his apartment.

      My dad died many years ago. Listening to Bruce makes me think of him something fierce.

  • Kyle Janet August 20th, 2012 7:31 PM

    I have lyrics from Backstreets tattooed on my shoulder. I loved this :)

  • camila August 20th, 2012 7:50 PM

    I was 13 when I discovered Bruce Springsteen through Jordi Sierra i Fabra’s book “Nunca Seremos Estrellas de Rock” (“We will never be rock stars”). I had never heard of Bruce before that moment (he is not very popular in Chile) and I became obsessed with Born to Run and Badlands. Now, I’m almost 18 and Badlands is still one of my favourite songs ever. And Bruce was sooooooo hot when he was young.

  • pixie pop August 20th, 2012 8:32 PM

    Thank you so much for writing this article. It’s beautiful. This is what I wish I could write to say how much Tyler Glenn (the singer from Neon Trees) means to my life.

  • kaygeeh August 20th, 2012 9:46 PM

    ARE YOU ME? except youre cooler and younger! This sums up exactly all the feelings I have for Springsteen. Legitally in love with that man. I’m going to get to see him on Friday and I hope I’ll get to to dance in the dark! Wish me luck!

  • BritishFish August 20th, 2012 10:57 PM

    This is so beautiful I don’t even know what to say. As a person who’s dedicated her life to music I couldn’t agree with you more. The way a song or musician can inspire you is unlike any other feeling and you’ve inspired me just now. Wish I knew more people my age with a similar taste in music.

  • sn0wwhite August 20th, 2012 11:37 PM

    I adore this article.
    Listening to the Boss reminds me of my childhood driving around with my dad with the windows rolled down on the highway.

  • Tara August 20th, 2012 11:40 PM

    HOW DID I KNOW YOU’D BE THE ONE TO WRITE THIS? NAOMI WE ARE SOULMATES. BRUCE IS A GOD. HE RULES AND SO DOES THIS.

  • Flossie August 21st, 2012 4:40 AM

    Lawks a mercy, have you SEEN photos of 70s-era Bruce?! The man was sex in blue denim. Actually, all eras of The Boss are sex, and I would go dancing in the dark with any of them.

  • Velvetmary August 21st, 2012 6:37 AM

    Oh my god. this made me smile :D
    I freaking love this man and his music, I grew up with him. :)

    Saw him last month in Prague and it was one of the best concerts ever played!

    I am not the only one here who finds him totally sexy, am I? ;)

    Good job on this article, btw ♥

  • Impybat August 21st, 2012 7:55 AM

    I gasped when I saw this!!! So much love to Bruce since I was a little girl. We saw him the other night at Gillette Stadium. He is so amazing. Bruce is the real deal.

  • MusicPub August 21st, 2012 9:36 AM

    I spent those years in between [Born to Run and Darkness] waiting for his return, both sonically and in the flesh. And when he did return, a changed man, a grownup with a new anger and dissonance to his sound, I felt bereft. I had to fucking adjust.
    I mean, I really had to listen to that album, hard, over and over again, to find where I could meet him, or really, where he was meeting me. This was when listening to an album meant lying on the floor, head between your speakers, dropping that needle over and over to play that song again and again. Skipping this one or that one, it’s formulaic and tired, or is it? Play it again and realize, no, there’s something different here. And when I listen now, I can hear it all. The genius of that album. The anger and the disenchantment. And the rage in those guitars! … from the limited edition Springsteen book, The Light in Darkness

  • Afanen August 21st, 2012 12:42 PM

    I totally agree on Bruce Springsteen being just great. They call him The Boss for a reason.

    What I miss in your article though, is one aspect I find very important about Springsteens work:

    His music is always, from the sound of it, unmistakably American. It makes you think of freedom, wide lands and open highways. But in his lyrics, Springsteens America is always the America of the not-so-fortunate, of those who are hard-working on minimum wages, and still get the dirt kicked in their faces.

    Iconically his greatest hit, “Born In The U.S.A.” has this open and proud vibe to it (like you said about the video), but the lyrics are in stark contrast to that patriotic sound.
    It’s about a guy from “A dead man’s town” that is forced to fight in vietnam. When he comes back home, he only gets kicked and shoved around.

    The song is, despite it’s happy and patriotic vibe, scorching critisim. This, in my view, is true for most of his songs.
    It makes it easy to relate, because his point of you is very often yours.

    I always found a political component in his songs, that’s what I like about it.

  • Coco Jane August 22nd, 2012 12:19 AM

    I grew up in New Jersey and it is pretty much mandatory to be into the Boss. My mom met him when he played at her high school and she dated his drummer in the 70s. Hands down, the best concert I have ever been to was when my whole family went to see Springsteen play at the Meadowlands, and I totally shed a little tear when he played “Atlantic City.” Bruce Springsteen is literally the best thing ever!!!

  • George The Mammoth August 24th, 2012 3:05 PM

    I’ve been listening to Bruce since I was almost 3. My brothers and my dad always insist on listening to The Boss when we drive somewhere. Bruce is The Man!!

  • Spotty August 25th, 2012 3:58 PM

    “The Ghost of Tom Joad” never fails to make me cry, it’s lovely. Bruce is the best.

  • Elana August 29th, 2012 4:30 PM

    This article is perfect. I’m also from England (London) and know exactly what you mean about Bruce and the rain.
    I grew up with my Mum playing his music round the house so he has always been in my life in some way.
    When I saw him in Hyde Park this summer with my sister and Mum it was the most incredible night of my life. I cried multiple times (when he played the most beautiful version of Thunder Road, ditto The River, I was singing along through my tears), cheered myself hoarse and DANCED the whole time despite the pouring rain.

    Bruce Springsteen is my hero. His talent, passion, and pure energy is inspiring. He truly is The Boss.

  • cream_horn November 2nd, 2012 7:43 AM

    What a great piece; I feel very much the same way, still, even after many years of Bruce fandom. You’ve captured so many aspects of his appeal and his talent.

    Apologies if this is already mentioned in one of the other comments that I missed but for another great look at the importance of Bruce in a young woman’s life I’d heartily recomment Elizabeth Wurtzel’s book Prozac Nation (not the film though!) – it even specifically references my alltime favourite recording, a ’78 live bootleg of The Promise that really captures the intensity of Bruce’s darkest material.

    I hope that next summer maybe you will get the chance to catch the live show – if so then I’ll be there too! I’ve done a dozen shows over the year’s and this year’s were better than ever. There’s really no substitute for Bruce live, especially if you’re in the pit!