A Few Good Men: Bruce Springsteen

I had the Bruce dream again. A salute to Bruce Springsteen, a good man.

Published August 8, 1997 7:00PM (EDT)

i had the Bruce dream again. No, not that one -- that seems to be a
thing of the past. This new dream, which I've had four times in the last
two weeks, goes like this: I'm at a Bruce concert, front row seats, almost
unbearable anticipation. But when Bruce opens his mouth to sing, my son
starts wailing that the music is too loud and -- scene shift -- we're
outside the arena and I'm rattling locked doors.

I guess I should fill you in on a few salient points. I have attended
many, many Bruce Springsteen concerts over the past 20 years, but only one
since my son was born almost six years ago. Indeed, some of the happiest
moments of my life were spent at Springsteen concerts. A long time ago,
when I was a rock critic, I wrote (of a particularly wondrous E Street Band
gig), "Springsteen's idea of what a rock concert should be is fairly simple
-- it should be Christmas, something anticipated, slow coming, cherished
and festive," and I can't think of a better description now. I once went to
three Springsteen concerts in three nights and I know that's nothing
compared to a lot of other Bruce-heads out there but, for me, it was
heaven, and not bad considering I had to get up and go to work the next
morning. I met the editor who gave me my career at a Springsteen concert. I
met the rock critics I'd idolized for years at Springsteen concerts. I met
Springsteen at a Springsteen concert. (What did I say? Something along the
lines of, "Geah.") I spent several happy weekends driving down to the
Jersey shore to watch E Street Band sound-alikes in little Asbury Park
bars, in hopes that HE might show up to jam.

Am I leaving something out? Oh, yes. Of course. The crush. Well, I'm not
used to mentioning that. Back then, rock criticism was a male-dominated field and many of those male writers (and readers) considered
women rock critics to be something akin to groupies with typewriters. So
we couldn't acknowledge the obvious, that rock 'n' roll is in large part
about sexual attraction, for fear of Not Being Taken Seriously. Meanwhile,
the boys jerked off their smitten odes to Debbie Harry and Pat Benatar and
Kate Bush (and they still do it today, for Jewel and Tori Amos and that No
Doubt chick) ad nauseam. But I digress.

A lot has happened to me and Bruce (separately) over the years. Now,
with all that history between us, Bruce and I have a different sort of
relationship. It's familiar and comfortable and not without its little
irritations, like, Bruce, can you please stop that Woody Guthrie schtick
for one minute and play some rock 'n' roll! But mostly when I think
about Bruce nowadays, I think, well, here we have A Good Man. And I have
seen him at his worst, mind you, his worst, like the 1979 No Nukes
concert in Madison Square Garden, where he celebrated his 30th birthday
with the public humiliation of his ex-girlfriend-the-famous-photographer.
And I know you screamed "Idiot!" along with me when Bruce married the
wrong girl,
that 25-year-old model-slash-actress, when it was so
obvious that Patti, his backup singer and sometime girlfriend, his peer in
age, class, experience (a Jersey girl, yet!), adored him.

But this is how good A Good Man Bruce is. He realized his mistake. He
went back to Patti, got into therapy and started writing the first really
mature love songs of his career. Fidelity songs like "If I Should Fall
Behind." Sex songs like "Secret Garden." Miracle of birth songs like
"Living Proof." He and Patti had three babies, ba-da-bing, ba-da-bang,
ba-da-boom, and on "Lucky Town" (the best marriage and family album since
John and Yoko's "Double Fantasy"), he made monogamy and child-raising sound
like an adventure as excellent as anything undertaken by his old boardwalk
rats and grease monkeys.

Some critics sneered that Bruce had gone soft. Me, I had my own son by
then and it felt so good listening to Bruce, my old pal, singing
about this love so terrifying and complete. He knew. He understood. And
because Bruce got rich, critics sneered when he continued to sing about
displaced workers and illegal aliens -- as if being successful meant you
had no credibility to care about the world your kids were growing up in.
But Bruce keeps right on singing and caring and making quiet speeches about
how America used to be the land of equality and justice and fairness and
what happened? A good, good man.

Mostly, what I admire about Bruce these days is how prioritized his life
seems. Family, number one. Making the music and the statement he wants to
make, number two. Everything else, last. I look at Bruce and I see a grown-up -- dependable, responsible, settled. And I say, "Wow, I want to be like
that when I grow up!" And then I remember: I am grown up.

Well, back to the dream. My very tolerant husband analyzes my bossus
this way: Bruce represents my youth, which I'm thinking
about more and more and trying in vain to recapture because I've just turned
f-f-forty. Now, my husband is a sweetheart for trying to sort this out for me, but isn't that the silliest thing you've ever heard? Isn't it?

By Joyce Millman

Joyce Millman is a writer living in the Bay Area.

MORE FROM Joyce Millman

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Bruce Springsteen