Bruce at 62

From The New Yorker:

What’s your favorite Springsteen song?

Nearly half a century ago, when Elvis Presley was filming “Harum Scarum” and “Help!” was on the charts, a moody, father-haunted, yet uncannily charismatic Shore rat named Bruce Springsteen was building a small reputation around central Jersey as a guitar player in a band called the Castiles. The band was named for the lead singer’s favorite brand of soap. Its members were from Freehold, an industrial town half an hour inland from the boardwalk carnies and the sea. The Castiles performed at sweet sixteens and Elks-club dances, at drive-in movie theatres and ShopRite ribbon cuttings, at a mobile-home park in Farmingdale, at the Matawan-Keyport Rollerdrome. Once, they played for the patients at a psychiatric hospital, in Marlboro. A gentleman dressed in a suit came to the stage and, in an introductory speech that ran some twenty minutes, declared the Castiles “greater than the Beatles.” At which point a doctor intervened and escorted him back to his room….Springsteen arrived and greeted everyone with a quick hello and his distinctive cackle. He is five-nine and walks with a rolling rodeo gait. When he takes in something new—a visitor, a thought, a passing car in the distance—his eyes narrow, as if in hard light, and his lower jaw protrudes a bit. His hairline is receding, and, if one had to guess, he has, over the years, in the face of high-def scrutiny and the fight against time, enjoined the expensive attentions of cosmetic and dental practitioners. He remains dispiritingly handsome, preposterously fit. (“He has practically the same waist size as when I met him, when we were fifteen,” says Steve Van Zandt, who does not.) Some of this has to do with his abstemious inclinations; Van Zandt says Springsteen is “the only guy I know—I think the only guy I know at all—who never did drugs.” He’s followed more or less the same exercise regimen for thirty years: he runs on a treadmill and, with a trainer, works out with weights. It has paid off. His muscle tone approximates a fresh tennis ball. And yet, with the tour a month away, he laughed at the idea that he was ready. “I’m not remotely close,” he said, slumping into a chair twenty rows back from the stage….

Springsteen came to glory in the age of Letterman, but he is anti-ironical. Keith Richards works at seeming not to give a shit. He makes you wonder if it is harder to play the riffs for “Street Fighting Man” or to dangle a cigarette from his lips by a single thread of spit. Springsteen is the opposite. He is all about flagrant exertion. There always comes a moment in a Springsteen concert, as there always did with James Brown, when he plays out a dumb show of the conflict between exhaustion and the urge to go on. Brown enacted it by dropping to his knees, awash in sweat, unable to dance another step, yet shooing away his cape bearer, the aide who would enrobe him and hustle him offstage. Springsteen slumps against the mike stand, spent and still, then, regaining consciousness, shakes off the sweat—No! It can’t be!—and calls on the band for another verse, another song. He leaves the stage soaked, as if he had swum around the arena in his clothes while being chased by barracudas. “I want an extreme experience,” he says. He wants his audience to leave the arena, as he commands them, “with your hands hurting, your feet hurting, your back hurting, your voice sore, and your sexual organs stimulated!

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Kenton

    “Spirits in the Night” off the first album. I have some quirky interests music-wise and that song works great on a cigar-box guitar, and on a guitar tuned to DADGAD.

  • Alan K

    “Thunder Road” from the album Born to Run.

  • Tony Springer

    “Blinded by the Light” (album version)

  • Steve Sherwood

    “Land of Hope and Dreams…The River…Ghost of Tom Joad…Rocky Ground…” So many great songs, how do you choose? I’ve always loved his Catholic faith-haunted view of the world.

  • http://www.philipvickersfithian.com John Fea

    Please don’t get me started, Scot. If I had to choose:

    Born to Run, Jungleland, E-Street Shuffle, Open All Night, Growin’Up, Rosalita, The Promise, Hungry Heart, Out in the Street, Highway Patrolman, Land of Hopes and Dreams, The Rising, Into the Fire, Rocky Ground, 10th Avenue Freezeout, Long Walk Home, Thunder Road, Kingdom of Days

  • http://www.momentarydelight.com Darren Beem

    The River.

    It’s a beautifully melancholy song.

  • http://www.nateweatherly.com Nate W.

    I grew up without much of any exposure to “secular” music. My parents weren’t overly strict about it (I was allowed to buy 1 M.C. Hammer cassette to correspond to the 1 New Kids on the Block cassette my sister begged for) but it was just assumed that “christian” music was more Godly.

    Ironically, my path to reclaiming my faith in the last couple years has coincided very closely to my concerted effort to expose myself to Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums which of course includes “Born to Run” near the top of the list.

    One of my most profound recent epiphanies came while listening to “Born to Run” (the song). I just remember thinking, all of a sudden, “this song is about heaven…” At that moment my thoughts crystallized and I understood that heaven is all that every person ever really longs for, whether they name it that or not. We all long to run away from wherever we are, break free from the oppression that traps us, enjoy living with the people we love, and finally be free from the pressure of having to be anything except ourselves. Somewhere amidst the guitars, engines, leg wrapping, and that amazing ending I found myself in compassionate solidarity with every other human being ever created.

  • Steve Sherwood

    Too bad this thread has not generated more comment today! Are there no Bruce listening theology nerds out there, or just a small smattering of us? I’ll take Springsteen, the other Bruce (Cockburn) and Bono’s U2 as my worship music most days of the week.

  • http://growinggrace-full.blogspot.com/ Chris Donato

    “Thunder Road” or “Born to Run.” Depends on the day.

  • Michael O’Neil

    The River, Born to Run, Prove it all Night

  • http://www.nateweatherly.com Nate

    Steve Sherwood – Still haven’t listened to Cockburn, but I’ll swap him for Bob Dylan and agree with you. : )


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