I’ve finally almost put the tissues away after a trip to the doctor and giving up dairy. I’ve been blowing my nose for weeks, since England. Sinus infection is hell.
I’ve been reading Born To Run, Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography, for weeks now too. I finished yesterday.
Did the book affect me so deeply because I’ve been sick, or have I been sick because the book affected me so deeply?
I think both.
I never expected I’d be so moved by this guy’s words and his story. I’ve listened to him plenty, been fortunate to see him a few times, even defended him on occasion. A few years back Eric and I dusted off some Creedence covers for our gigs in Asbury Park just in case he wanted to join us on stage, as he’s been known to do when he’s off the road. (He never showed up!) But ever since I missed his historic Syria Mosque show in PIttsburgh during the Born To Run tour, I have frequently been out of time and out of touch with The Boss.
Yet I knew from the advance press and from the cover photo that this was going to be a special ride. The soulful, awkward picture; the revelations of a fraught relationship with his Irish-American father and how he was blessed with a magic Italian American mom, just like me – the indisputable commitment to his art and his craft; the undeniability of his loyalty to where he comes from and who he came up with and yes, his frequent dance with depression, an egotism bordering on madness, an ability to think huge, to want so desperately to include everyone in his art – well you have to choose your moment to read this kind of book. Mine happened to be when I was suffering with my annual bout with sinusitis. I’ve wept frequently. “What’s he up to now?” Eric reading his Rita Coolidge or Thomas Cobb book beside me has asked. I’d put down the tissue and do some selective reading aloud, avoiding the sections that would make me blubber in front of my husband. Some revelations aren’t meant to be shared, they need to be discovered by each reader, on their own. Those moments where a writer sees themselves so clearly they see you too.
I knew he’d be able to spin his tale, but I just never expected him to tell me so much about myself. About what it means to do what musicians do. He made me feel alternately proud to have stuck at it for so long, ashamed of myself for not working harder, thrilled to be allowed to pick up a guitar or play a song I wrote for a crowd, depressed at every missed opportunity to do more, better. Oh Bruce, why do you have to be so good, so true? Even when you want to catch him on it – hey, you cast people aside, you were a dude, you had Patty to raise the kids, a staff at your bidding – he pays tribute to them all, gives credit and you have to love him and thank him for taking us out there with him. He even describes putting double insoles into his (carefully chosen – style vs. functionality) boots and spraying down his hair for the Super Bowl gig so that when he steps on that stage, well we get to be there with him and it’s a privilege but not how you expect it to be. Onstage is the place his brain takes a rest and he is at peace – like most of us look at the waves on the ocean, taking us away from ourselves – that’s Bruce in front of a massive crowd, and he channels that peace and energy back to keep his patch of sea rolling and it’s a miracle.
Because he knows what it is to be the little guy, that is his greatest talent, so when I stepped on not an arena stage or even a foot high riser but a rug in a living room to play Dan & Liz Ferguson’s house concert the other day, I felt Bruce in my ear or over my shoulder, going isn’t this the best? And when I stand in front of a mic to record a vocal for my new album that matters because it matters to me, there’s the Boss again, next to my heart, going “It’s what you feel inside you need to share that matters.” Yep, it’s Rock n Roll 101 but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded so emphatically and empathically by an indisputable expert.
Maybe I’ve been a little malleable reading this book because I’ve been under the weather but it’s a miracle how the moment you need to hear a voice saying “It’s okay – it’s not easy, in fact it’s damn hard but you can do this, you must do this” – well, who’s been waiting all these years to be my buddy, my coach? That guy in the t-shirt.
So I thought I’d put the tissues away for good yesterday as I closed the Springsteen book and wiped away a last tear. My head was definitely clearing up.
But then I was listening to President Obama’s farewell address last night. He was that voice of measured, seasoned optimism that looks all the more sage and sane – almost saintly – when you compare it to what it’s about to be replaced with. The terrible possibilities of what’s ahead for this country were screaming almost loud enough to drown him out. But they couldn’t. He believes in us. It made me want to “grab a clipboard” as he said, do something. Something good.
As the Obamas left the stage, they played “Land Of Hope and Dreams”. I held Eric with one arm and grabbed for the tissues with the other.