An ode to ‘The Boss’

Sunday, February 17, 2019 - 9:49pm

Rolling Stone

Rolling Stone Buy this photo
NOSELL

Art is steeped in nostalgia. One piece of art can have a million different memories for a million different people. Bruce Springsteen, The Boss, may not be the artist you’d expect to see in a student newspaper in 2019, but here he is. Springsteen is a rock ‘n’ roll legend, one that is beloved and cherished — in vastly different ways — by two Daily Arts writers.

Bruce Springsteen and the spring of 2011

I’m Black. I’m female. I’m under 40. I have no ties to New Jersey other than an unwavering allegiance to Teresa Guidice, and yet I hold a strong passion for The Boss. As I compose this love letter to my favorite unexpected liberal, I am listening to “Hungry Heart” and being flooded with memories from the spring of 2011. Sixth grade … good times. I already know what you’re thinking: What buffoon listens to the Born in the U.S.A. album, an album explicit in its analysis of the struggles of Vietnam veterans, to be reminded of middle school? Especially when said buffoon did not attend middle school in 1984, but in 2011?

The answer is the buffoon whose piece you’re reading, and my justification is Pandora.

Although universally clowned now, there was a point in time when Pandora was the premiere music streaming app, and, arguably, an entire sub-generation’s (1997-2000 babies, stand up!) musical sherpa. In fact, I attribute most of the foundations of my current musical tastes to Pandora’s all-knowing algorithm — which may or may not suspect is my guardian angel. How else can you explain being pointed in the direction of testosterone-fueled Springsteen from “Material Girl Radio,” a station overwhelmingly populated by the likes of queer and feminist icons like Donna Summer, Barbra Streisand, Culture Club, Joan Jett and Madonna? Yes, you could make the argument that the algorithm recognized I had an affinity for ’80s music, and aptly suggested one of the biggest albums of the decade. BUT. Wouldn’t it be more fun to imagine a guardian angel working tirelessly to introduce 11-year-old me to the discography of Bruce Springsteen?

I cannot remember exactly which Bruce Springsteen song I heard first chronologically, but I can remember the first song that made me stop and take notice of the weird album cover with some man’s tight ass on it: “Working on the Highway.” Again, odd that my gateway song into fandom was not even one of the many singles on Born in the U.S.A. that cracked the Billboard Top Ten, but then again, Bruce and I are not a conventional match — why would we would have a conventional meeting?  

“Working on the Highway” appealed to me then because it reminded me of summer, specifically the music I would hear on my day-long excursions to Six Flags Over Georgia. It was bright, cheerful, poppy and most importantly, had an overload of synthesizer. I didn’t yet have the language to express that I was a ho for synth-pop, but dear God, was I. It was only a matter of time before I found “Glory Days,” (a song with even more synthesizer), then the remaining singles off the album, then “Born to Run,” and soon, Bruce had a new fan.  

My sixth grade summer was still the best time in the universe, and the last spring months of school leading up to it were a close second. The days were longer, field day was on the horizon and by this point, parents and teachers had long-since given up the control they held in September. Also during this time, my club soccer team had practice. So three days a week, my father and I made the long, sun-soaked drive to the complex and the sweaty, grass-scented drive home. In the moment, I hated these drives, but of course, in hindsight, I have to appreciate them for providing me the time to be glued to Pandora and ultimately shaping my musical tastes. Excuse the tired platitude, but I would give anything to go back to our beat-up Jeep Cherokee and hear “Hungry Heart” for the first time. That’s the beautiful thing about nostalgia. One song or one artist can completely bring you back to an entirely different time in your life that may not seem significant, but once you open Pandora’s box (pun fully intended), the obscure memories begin pouring in.

So thanks, Bruce — not just for refusing to let Republicans use your music — but for the memories of 2011.

Ally Owens, Daily TV Editor

I learned more from a three-minute record than I ever learned in school

Unlike Ally, I do have ties to New Jersey. No, wait — more than ties. I have a visceral, deep, uncomparable love for New Jersey. The Garden State. The armpit of America. The most disrespected and underrated state in America. My home. I love everything about my state, from the near-death experiences on Route 22 to the fact that it is literally the only state you can order Taylor ham on a bagel and no one even thinks twice about it. I could write a novel on New Jersey — a modern Bible that would easily rival the works of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John in both relevance and notoriety. Instead I will dive into a single gospel, one that honors my God, my muse, my surrogate father: Bruce Springsteen.

I did not fall upon Springsteen by chance. In fact, it was the opposite of chance — I couldn’t avoid being a Springsteen fan if I tried. Every car ride with my parents was complemented by Springsteen’s words, overpowered only by my mother’s off-pitch scream-singing of them. I came out of the womb knowing every single word of his discography, my childhood soundtracked by the gruff yet poetic voice of The Boss.

There is not a single memory I have of New Jersey that cannot be matched with a Bruce Springsteen song. From Devil’s hockey wins punctuated by the banger-worthy synth of “Glory Days” to beach trips washed in the sunny glow of “Sherry Darling.” I have danced my heart out to “Rosalita” along with a crowd of baby boomers on a Jersey shore rooftop, and I have cried alone to the aching desperation of “Bobby Jean.”

My devotion to Bruce has grown alongside me. While as a child Bruce was an inevitable constant in my life, as an adult he has become a conscious choice. Listening to Bruce brings me back to my roots — to long drives on the parkway, bagel breakfasts in the morning and dance parties in the kitchen with my mom.

It would be a disservice to this story to not dedicate a section to my mother, for without her I would not be a Bruce fan. Both my parents were born and raised in Jersey, and yes, my father has his fair share of Bruce clout. But it is my mother whose devotion to her teenage idol has been passed on to me. She’s been to over 10 Bruce Springsteen concerts, some as a rockin’ ’80s chick sneaking out of the house and some as an equally cool suburban mom staying true to her past. My first and only Bruce concert was with my mom in the summer of 2016, a climatic event we had been meaning to do together for years. The show lasted for four and a half hours in the steamy summer sun of New Jersey in August, standing bright and proud above the open air of Metlife Stadium. Bruce wove through the classics and surprised us with some bluesy deep cuts — all fantastic of course, but it was the end of the marathon of a concert that nearly brought me to tears.

As soon as Bruce brought out the harmonica, I knew it was happening. I turned to my mom and said the only two words either of us wanted to hear: “Thunder Road.” And “Thunder Road” it was. Bruce ripped into arguably his best song with intensity, but it was unmatched by the ecstacy of my mother and me. If you’ve never listened to “Thunder Road,” first of all, I’m sorry. Second of all, please for the love of Bruce listen to it, and you will feel changed.

Just as I thought the night was ending, Bruce decided to slap me across the face. He played “Jersey Girl,” a cover that has stripped Tom Waits of all rights to the original — this is Bruce’s song. As he crooned his love for a Jersey girl, Bruce invited a couple up on stage to slow dance. They proceeded to get engaged as Bruce burst into the final chorus and fireworks shot into the Meadowlands sky. If it feels like I'm vomiting these words up, it's because I am — this was literally one of the best moments of my life.

All at once I saw my past, present and future. I saw myself as a bobbed-hair, wide-eyed child prancing on the Jersey sands to “Dancing in the Dark” with my mom and grandma. I saw myself as a soon-to-be high school senior screaming “Born to Run” on car rides with the friends she might not see again. I saw myself as a bride with a faceless groom, the sweet lyrics of “Jersey Girl” serenading our first dance. I saw myself as a mother, carefully indoctrinating my own daughter with Bruce’s music to continue the cycle. All of this came rushing to me at once, an entire lifetime composed of lyrics and guitar riffs and saxophone solos. I could end this symphony with my own finale, but instead I’ll leave it to The Boss.

What else can we do now? Except roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair.”

Samantha Della Fera, Senior Arts Editor