Bruce Springsteen is seventy. I feel compelled to write something to celebrate Bruce’s music now he’s hitting seventy, simply because his music has been a major and fundamental component of my own life for thirty-two years now, both as a demented fan and as a spirit guide in my own career. By Ian Prowse.
I’ll start by saying I don’t understand it; I barely like American ‘rock’ music, bar-band meat and potatoes fare bores me rigid, I have no interest at all in cars and there is no similar genre to his at all I would ever play at home (Southside Johnny and all the rest have made no impression at all upon my musical psyche). I will even say I completely understand why people may not like him – I appreciate your prejudices and I get why you’re not arsed.
And yet… and yet… I hold him so high in the very fibre of my being that Bruce is winning my World Cup, the next closest artist in my pantheon of musical loves is the Northern Premier League. He is so far out on his own. Why? I’ve asked myself that question many times… God, I love music so profoundly, it has been the central joy of my entire human existence, the one that has never ever let me down (the music that is, the business is another matter). There are bands and artists that you can hear just a few notes by and you’re a weeping mess on the floor – I have so many of those, so many songs, memories, albums, but with Bruce there’s something I’ve never been able to do.
I’ve never been able to get to the bottom of it. I remember gorging myself on The Who, the genius of Townsend’s writing, but after a while I got to the bottom of it. “That’ll do”, I thought, “you’ve sucked that well dry and it was brilliant”. I can’t get to the bottom with Bruce, there’s always another layer to peel back. For example, there’s a song on his new album called ‘Moonlight Motel’, his dealing with the passage of time is almost too beautiful to listen to. It’s defiant too and I’ve no idea how he does that. Bastard.
We always had the ‘Born To Run’ album in our house, borrowed off a cousin and never returned, we liked it in the same way we liked the ‘Saturday Night Fever’ double LP, nothing more. The crossing of the Rubicon from casual admirer to emotionally entwined committed soldier of the New Jersey Boardwalk took place in 1987 when I went shopping with my friend Grant Hartley. Grant bought the ‘Tunnel Of Love’ LP from Penny Lane Records, but was going off on holiday: “You might as well borrow this for the week,” he said. The emotional detail of Springsteen’s marriage falling apart devastated me, the songwriting unlike anything I’d ever heard about men and women. Side Two is brilliance, the final song ‘Valentine’s Day’ being the one that really hit home: “That ain’t what scares me baby, what scares me is losing you… “. Fuck me, I’d been there alright.
I tell Grant, he says all the albums are magnificent and makes me a mixtape of songs from the ‘Live 75-85’ five LP boxset: ‘Thunder Road’, ‘Growing Up’, ‘Spirit In The Night’, ‘Rosalita’, ‘Adam Raised a Cain’, ‘Darkness On The Edge of Town’, ‘The River’ (with intro) and ‘The Promised Land’ all leap from my little cassette player. Somewhere between ‘Tunnel Of Love’ and these live songs my prejudice to the innate Americanness of it all slipped away… it might have been the sound of the bands playing, it might have been the joyous Springsteen-isms (“Big man assist me please!” “It was bye-bye New Jersey, we were aiiiiiirbourne!”) or it might have been the gateway song, the one that you access and everything about that artists changes for you. That song, for me, was ‘Racing In The Street’.
I couldn’t care less about car parts, but here I was sobbing my heart out at the story within. That was it, I was in at the deep end where I still swim to this day. Perhaps it resonated that he was from an unloved profoundly industrial area (New Jersey) as I was (Ellesmere Port) with one of the world’s greatest cities just across a mighty river (New York) pulling you into its immense gravity like a satellite (Liverpool). It must have something to do with the emotional intelligence displayed across all those records, the profound understanding of the human condition with all its frailties; it can only be bettered by William Shakespeare in my humble opinion. An autodidact, Springsteen’s like a scientist relentlessly searching for the answers to all the traumas of this foul and confused existence, searching, searching, searching… to be releasing records like ‘Western Stars’ at 70 (there’s five fantastic songs) is probably his greatest triumph, none of the other ‘greats’ are doing that.
To be honest, I don’t care if you don’t like Bruce! You couldn’t wind me up about him the way you could have about The Jam in 1978, this is between me and him and it’s private. And I haven’t even mentioned the one thing he’s probably best known for: the legendary live performances. He can turn a huge multi-tiered stadium with 80,000 into a sweaty club, no one can touch him, of that I will argue with you. Or better still, come with us next Summer to one of the great stadiums of Europe, come take it all in, it will most likely be your last chance.
Happy Birthday, Boss. Thank you for all the music.
Why Has Bruce Springsteen Never Played Liverpool? by Alan O’Hare
Magic: Springsteen On Broadway by Ian Salmon
“It’s strange that E Street has never played Liverpool” by Nils Lofgren
Rock ‘N’ Roll Star: Little Steven in Liverpool
Meeting Across The River: Garry Tallent At The Cavern
Just A Vowel Away: The She Street Band
Pic: Ian Prowse with Bruce Springsteen on Broadway