Last week I began listening to Bruce Springsteen’s new album, “Wrecking Ball.” I became an avid fan as a fresh faced, decidedly not from New Jersey teen, and while Bruce and I parted ways a bit for a time, I was excited to hear what he had to offer. My response? Meh. It wasn’t bad, but I didn’t love it. The critics disagree with me since the album has gotten really strong reviews. That’s fine, I just don’t love it. An album is “good” if you like it, “bad” if you don’t. It doesn’t matter what the reviews say.
Yesterday during the three hour return trip from dropping my daughter back at college after spring break, I happened upon a satellite radio station that was playing nothing but Bruce. I hadn’t heard some of the songs they were playing in decades: "Downbound Train,” “Incident on 57th Street,” “Point Blank.” Those songs literally gave me the chills. Intermixed were songs from “Wrecking Ball,” and with the old songs they sounded pretty good, so why didn’t I like these new songs more? I hate it when people only like oldies, as if there isn’t any good new music. Am I a hypocrite?
Having ample time and no other personal issues that I wished to contemplate during my solitary drive, I began some self analysis on my relationship with Bruce’s music. It all began in the mid eighties during the “Born in the USA” era… (Commence squiggly dream music)
If you were born earlier than about 1975, you probably remember what I’m talking about with that album. It really put Bruce on the mainstream map, although “Born in the USA” was his seventh album. It sold 15 million copies and produced seven hit singles. But aside from the somewhat overplayed title track, not to mention songs like “Dancing in the Dark” and “Glory Days,” there were some other really good songs on that album (aforementioned “Downbound Train,” and “Bobby Jean” to name a few). I was a high school junior, and I was hooked.
“Born in the USA” was my introduction to Bruce (aside from a casual “Hungry Heart” here and there before I could appreciate it), and few artists since—and certainly before—made such an impression on me. So enamored was I with Bruce’s music that I resolved to backtrack with my hard earned babysitting money to acquire the preceding six albums, which I did in the order of their release, beginning with “Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ” and concluding with the painful “Nebraska.”
I listened to each album (well, cassette) until I knew all of the songs by heart before moving on to the next. If the album didn’t come with lyrics, I put my Walkman through its paces by transcribing the words to each song, practically wearing the poor thing out with all the stopping and rewinding three seconds at a time.
I know it sounds ridiculous, particularly coming from a girl who attended a private high school in the suburbs, but I really felt like Bruce’s songs spoke to me. I loved the romantic stories in “The River” and “Rosalita.” I sympathized with the unemployed workers and those who blew their paychecks on their girlfriends each Friday night. I loved Bruce, easily the most sincere and talented artist ever. It was a musical coming of age for me.
Fast forward a couple years to 1987. I was by then a sophomore in college and had completed my Bruce Springsteen education up to that point. Imagine my excitement and anticipation for the release of his follow up to “Born in the USA.” This time I would be ready to take the journey with Bruce, not play catch-up after the fact.
Now imagine my disappointment when I wasn’t head over heels for “Tunnel of Love.” How could it possibly have met the expectations I had for it? Bruce’s music has always reflected his own life and views, and by then he was in an unhappy marriage to an actress (I knew it was a bad move to marry her, by the way). I was a (very slightly) more worldly college student by then, and maybe our paths had crossed earlier and were moving in different directions, Bruce’s and mine. Or maybe “Tunnel of Love” just wasn’t nearly as good as “Born in the USA.”
None of Bruce’s subsequent albums have had much of an impact on me, and maybe they never will again. But those early songs that helped me really discover how powerful music could be for me, those are the ones I will always love. Here are my favorites:
- "Blinded by the Light"
- "For You"
- "Spirit in the Night"
- "It's Hard to be a Saint in the City"
- "Incident on 57th Street"
- "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)"
- "Hungry Heart"
- "She's the One"
- "Point Blank"
- "Cadillac Ranch"
- "Downbound Train"
- "Working on the Highway"
- "I'm On Fire"
- "No Surrender"
- "Bobby Jean"
- "I'm Goin' Down"
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