In a few minutes I’m heading out to buy Bruce Springsteen’s new cd, Wrecking Ball. This will be the 15th or 16th time I’ve rushed out on release day to buy his music, starting with Darkness on the Edge of Town back in 1978. Over the years the urgency to hear the music RIGHT NOW has dimmed a little, especially since new tracks are now available before the release date. Still, a new Springsteen album is definitely a day of celebration for me.
I first saw Bruce in concert on October 16, 1976, when he performed at the College of William and Mary. At the time I was a freshman, living in a dorm right across the street from the concert hall. I wasn’t really a big fan prior to the show, although I loved the song “Born to Run.” The only other song I’d heard at the time was “Mary, Queen of Arkansas,” which I hated (and still don’t like). But lots of students at W&M came from New Jersey, and their excitement swept me up. Besides, I went to every concert that came through town, because I loved music and because the other big source of entertainment was watching a blacksmith shoe a horse in Colonial Williamsburg. That was cool to watch the first few times, but after a while . . . not so much.
Saying that the concert changed my life is probably an overstatement, but it certainly had a major impact on my life. The emotional connection Bruce had with the audience was practically tangible, but what impressed me even more was the emotional connection he had with his music. From the very first song (a version of “Thunder Road” with only a piano backing), I knew this man believed in rock and roll, that music can save your mortal soul (to paraphrase Don McLean). This was the first concert I attended where I felt an immediate connection to the performer, and not in an “I’ve got a crush on the singer” way. Needless to say, within a couple of days I’d bought the three albums he had out at the time, and when Darkness came out a couple of years later I started my release-day streak.
In some ways, Bruce Springsteen is the soundtrack to my adult life, starting with that first concert when I was 18. I bought his records at Penguin Feather Records and Tapes back when funky stores sold albums along with bongs and pipes. Later I bought them at Tower Records when bigger stores weeded out the smaller ones. By the time CDs came around, I bought them at Borders or Best Buy, or ordered them from Amazon. When I was teaching high school, I went to buy tickets from a teenage scalper, grateful that his house was a few blocks away from the boundary of the school where I taught. No matter where I bought the music or heard the concert, the emotional purity and honesty of the music always grabbed my heart and forced me to feel right along with him.
Over time Bruce Springsteen became an American icon, the conscience of a country, the voice of a generation. Today I’m going to buy his latest, and let his music speak to my heart once again