By John H. Foote

The autobiography of Bruce Springsteen was akin to sharing an open wound with the writer, his anguish and pain written on the page in blood, his life laid bare for the reader. Who knew the Boss was wracked with depression, sometimes unable to function? Who knew of debilitating self doubt that tormented this rocker, when he seemed so self-confident on the stage with his guitar? Who knew the relationship he had with his father had tormented him for most of his life?

Springsteen is at home onstage with his guitar because he is completely himself and at home. This is what he was born to do. Watch him in concert, the energy, the purity of his work, the near giddy happiness of his soaring rock and roll. He is one with his music, and it with him, but so great, such is the depth of his love for rock and roll he is equally at ease winging with those such as Bono, REM, and others, and singing their songs!

Springsteen is rock and roll incarnate.

He is the greatest poet in the history of rock and roll, his blue-collar background has been the basis for some of the most soul stroking ballads in rock history. Cars, girls, music, small towns, and family have been the basis for many of his songs, singing of a past many of us can relate too, but we have learned more recently he was exposing his own humanity and vulnerability through the years. Be it his connection to music, the tough relationship with his father, his intense political beliefs, his fearlessness in commenting on Reagan, W. Bush, and Trump, his songs about 9/11, Springsteen is so much more than a rock and roll singer, he crossed into being a music God a long time ago.

Poetry in American music began with Woody Guthrie, the torch passed to such singers as Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Don McLean, Jim Croce and Springsteen. There is a familiarity to his songs, an intimacy none of the others have because he lived our lives, he knew us, he was us. Listening to his work one might get the sense he is singing just to you, the feeling being “I know that man, I am that man.” The inherent pain he captures in his songs about lost love is powerful, often haunting because he places his finger on a stinging, open wound.

“God have mercy on the man, who doubts what he’s sure of” he sings in Brilliant Disguise, while in Downbound Train he mourns, “I had a job, I had a girl, I had something going mister in this world, I got laid off at the lumberyard, our love went bad, times got hard….now I work down at the car wash, where all it is ever does is rain…”. In those beautiful pain-filled lyrics he captures the agonies of love gone wrong, something familiar to all.

Yet along with such intimate, soul stroking songs his tunes can be soaring anthems to youth, suggesting hope where there is none, suggesting triumph by belief on oneself. Listen to the scorched earth power in Born to Run, one of his earliest but still greatest songs.

My younger brother Steve introduced our entire small town to Springsteen in the seventies, around the time The Boss was the cover story on Newsweek and Time magazine as “the future of rock and roll.”

In the years since, his concerts became legendary, near four hour marathons, his songs explored the fabric and tapestry of modern America, though he could just as easily explore the past, and each is possessed on an honesty few singers have ever had, Bob Dylan, Jim Croce, and Joan Baez come to mind. Like many he brings his anger about politics to his music, his rage over those lost in Viet Nam, the lives lost in 9/11, and the madness of the Trump presidency, have shaped his songs, but more than anything else is his blue collar upbringing, and of course, music. Steve has seen countless times, and now his wife is a partner in crime with him at the concerts.

A few years ago I interviewed Springsteen for a documentary about the making of the album, Darkness on the Edge of Town, but it should have been Steve. Shaking his hand, tough with guitar calluses, looking into those shy yet wise eyes, I knew, as I did with Francis Coppola and Martin Scorsese, I was in the presence of greatness. Yet there was such casual humble decency to him, he was very easy to like.

The Broadway show is surprisingly simplistic, a factory-like background not unlike those that dot New Jersey, and Springsteen who regales the audience with stories and song. It is as though he has walked far into the past becoming a minister, wandering from town to town talking and singing. The songs, familiar, are acoustic, only his guitar accompanying him, though his wife joins him for a couple of songs. Though we do not see the juggernaut concert Springsteen, we are treated to an intimate Bruce, very aware of what and who he is, carrying it now with new confidence and the ability to laugh at himself. His discussion of growing up in Jersey,  the talks about his father, are familiar because we have heard them in his profound lyrics.

His lyrics are pure poetry, and there are so many great songs not on the stage show, some viewers might feel cheated, but they are not seeing a rock show, they are bearing witness to a rock God exposing a portion of his soul. How often in your lifetime will you see that?

I am absolutely positive my brother watched it at dawn, hope he enjoyed.

Leave a comment