A Midwestern Kid Learns (Eventually) How To Love Bruce Springsteen

The first song I remember hearing by Bruce Springsteen was Dancing in the Dark.  I was walking my paper route wearing a toaster-sized set of blue “Tandy” headphones, when the DJ announced breathlessly that the new single from the Boss had arrived in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

Being a 14 year old kid from the Midwest, the only Bruce songs I had been exposed to on our town’s one rock n roll station (Q-FM-96) were Hungry Heart, Born to Run, and Rosalita, though they usually only played that one early on Sunday mornings along with Working Man by Rush, Whipping Post (live) by the Allman Brothers and Do You Feel Like I Do by Pete Frampton. Even then I assumed the Sunday morning DJ was as tired as I was and wanted to sleep through the long tunes. (Though he was probably “tired” for different reasons than I was. Anyway…)

He played the new Bruce song, I thought, “Ok, whatever.. That wasn’t too bad” but then I heard it again, and again, and again, and again….. “Who is this guy? Why is this happening?” Every day…All times.. More singles… more airplay….Videos on MTV…no escape… My entire paper route music time being chewed up by some guy from New Jersey who did not have loud guitars! Outrage. I felt like the Boss was being jammed down my throat and I had the classic teenage reaction. “I hate Bruce Springsteen”, I announced on my school bus to the shock of all my classmates and especially our driver Herb, who would blast I’m Going Down over and over on the afternoon ride home.

So entrenched in my position, I turned down the opportunity to see Bruce perform in Cleveland Stadium on the Born in the USA tour. American Electric Power had recently relocated from New Jersey to Columbus and my Garden State cohorts (and parents who were driving) begged me to see him live so that I could understand what I was missing. They would even buy me the ticket. Having recently seen KISS play in Dayton on the Lick It Up tour, I figured I knew a thing or two about real rock n roll. “Not impressed. I pass”

3 years later-

It was spring of my senior year in high school and my best friend Biggie and I were sitting in my parent’s basement shot-gunning Busch beers at 1 am. Being the only guy in our high school who wrote songs and would wear Billy Sqiuer T-shirts to school, I was voted best musician and biggest rock n roller by the high school paper. (Biggie was voted 2nd biggest rock n roller btw) I also wrote about music for said paper and had gotten a copy of the Bruce Springsteen Live 1975-1985 five record set for review. Being in the proper frame of mind for schoolwork, we started listening. Obviously, this band didn’t sound like the one on the radio. Everything had so much more energy. The world was starting to open up.

What really hooked me though was the acoustic side starting with This Land is Your Land and running through the Nebraska selections. For the first time I got to hear Bruce’s songs bare boned and stripped of all production. Wow. What great songs. What great lyrics. By the time Reason to Believe was finished and the needle was picking up, I was hooked and knew I needed to re-listen to his entire catalog and focus on the songs and not the production.

Production is a matter of taste. A song is either great or it isn’t no matter how loud the guitars are turned up. I put on Thunder Road and imagined Bruce playing that song all by himself. Now I get it. Hearing a song as only one voice and one instrument is like being a parent and watching a baby grow into a person. No matter what they wear or what stupid thing they do, you love them just the same. I fell in love with all these great songs and for the rest of that summer I listened only to Bruce Springsteen. (And truth be told, Van Halen’s 5150. But hey, I was seventeen and you could mow the grass to it)

By the time Tunnel of Love was released, Bruce Springsteen was my favorite songwriter (along with Ray Davies) and had shaped my person in countless ways, both musically and spiritually. This time I did not miss the show in Cleveland. I even bought my own ticket.