06 March 2012

The Boss

Certain bands and musicians come along at the exact right time. They have the potential to blow your world wide open. And when they do, their impact is left permanently.

I don't remember the first time I had ever heard the name Bruce Springsteen. I was probably a kid, hearing "Born In The U.S.A." in passing on some pop/rock radio station. At face value, the song just seems like a patriotic song from the heartland. Something gimmicky, meant for mass consumption. If you actually pay attention to the song, however, that's not its intention at all. Even to this day, if you mention Springsteen to someone, they'll most likely reference a song from this album (which, mind you, had EIGHT number one hits). What most people don't realize is that Born In The U.S.A. is his seventh studio album. There's an entire library of music released before that, consisting of most of his best work. But, I digress.

Growing up and being completely insatiable when it comes to new music, Springsteen (and the rest of the E Street Band) was a music collective that I never paid attention to. Sure, I saw his numerous albums on the shelf at the library when I was a kid, picking out CDs just because they looked cool. They were always something that was easily shrugged off. After years passed, and my tastes expanded accordingly, I started getting into stuff like Tim Barry, Lucero and other American rock 'n' roll bands with a punk rock swagger.

Browsing through reviews here and there for said bands, Springsteen's name kept popping up. Of Tim Barry's first album, a review said something to the effect of "Nebraska meets Punk Rock". Lucero was hailed as the band carrying the torch that Springsteen lit decades ago. The one stigma I had when it came to The Boss & E Street Band was the fact that they were HUGE, in a mainstream sort of way. Springsteen is an American icon. I'll be the first to admit I'm more pretentious than most, and I never saw myself as avid defender of mainstream music. But with my favorite bands and artists being constantly compared to Springsteen, I knew that there had to be some sort of merit there.

I finally gave into my curiosity and allowed myself to listen to Springsteen with an open mind and actively seek a semblance of understanding from his music. About four years ago, I finally decided to pick up some of his albums from the library and give them a fair listen. It was the summer Jared was finally getting moving to Portland, and it was an alcohol-soaked summer for sure. Perhaps I was grasping for something new to hold onto as life as I knew it was changed forever.

So, I checked out what the library had available. The Rising (2002) and Devils and Dust (2005). Upon first listen, they were great albums and piqued my interest entirely. Given the fact that him and the E Street Band have been writing and recording music since the mid-1970's, I knew that I still hadn't struck the vein that runs through most of the music. And then I discovered Born To Run, the epic 9-song album from 1975.

The harmonica introduction to the first track "Thunder Road" sets perfectly the tone for the album. When the song begins with "the screen door slams, Mary's dress sways", the mind is already bombarded with visuals. Instead of painting sweeping murals of color, the song almost feels like a sepia-toned Polaroid taken as two lovers wait anxiously for each other's embrace. You can see the rustic porch, the dusty car that will ultimately deliver the two of them from the evils of this world. The transient sound of Roy Orbison's music stirs the dead leaves on the porch.

This. This is what I had been hoping for. I couldn't listen to the rest of the album fast enough. I wanted to hear everything at once, I wanted to put nine different copies of the album on nine different stereos. When the title track finally come on about halfway through the album, I was totally sold on The E Street Band. The album has the sweeping glory of youth gone awry, of making hard decisions at too young an age, ultimately knowing that it's for the best. It became the soundtrack to one of the most emotionally draining summers I can ever remember. It gave me the strength to carry on when I needed it the most.

My friend Jacobo was as curious as I was about Springsteen for the same reasons. I was the middle-man between him and The Boss. When I told him that Born To Run was destined to shake his world to the foundation, he was skeptical. Then I played "Thunder Road". He became a believer. That whole summer, in the middle of any number of drinking parties, the two of us would sneak off somewhere to listen to The Boss. It became the soundtrack of friendship, of boozy, bittersweet parties. The youth in our hands like a fragile, antique trinket. Life had changed for good, and we could never go back to how things were. With the E Street Band on our side, we had the strength to face the new world head on.

Springsteen had immediately climbed the ranks of my favorite bands. Upon further listening of all of the other albums, he immediately found his spot in my top ten. It hasn't changed since that fateful summer. With the massive amount of material put out, it's not surprising that a couple of the albums are duds. However, the stuff that is timeless is timeless for a reason. Born To Run (released in 1975) is almost forty years old, and there has been nothing released since then that can even touch the scope and triumphant beauty of the album.

Had I given Springsteen a listen when I was sixteen or seventeen, I would have probably shrugged it off as trite, mainstream garbage, completely missing the point. I am thankful that I put it off for several years, because my first impressions might have ruined the music forever. I now own all but three of his albums ever pressed on vinyl. I am actively seeking The Rising and The Ghost Of Tom Joad.

So, in honor of Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band's new album (released today) Wrecking Ball, I'll raise my mug of strong coffee to you. Your impact has truly left a mark on my life. Thank you.

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