Friday, January 27, 2012

Two hearts are better than one

I was asked the other night about the moment Bruce Springsteen's music was cemented into my psyche. As in, the kind of bond where I fell in love and never forgot. Well, I couldn't give a direct answer because my relationship with Bruce has been a series of moments, not one grand moment.

For starters, there was the arrival of Born in the U.S.A. in our house after my father bought the family a CD player and speakers. There was the Bloom County spoof of the Live '75-'85 cover. Then there was the dubbed tape from my uncle that featured Tunnel of Love on one side. Many moments have continued since then, and there's always room for discovery.

Even now. Especially now, actually.

Over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays last year, I managed my way through Dave Marsh's Two Hearts, a compilation of two books he had written on Springsteen. As far as I know, this is currently the closest thing to a "definitive" biography. (Personally, I'd love to see a new book that doesn't feel like a partial biography interspersed with live show reviews and extensive liner notes.)

Yet Marsh's book(s) helped fill in a gap that has eluded me for years: why did so many rock critics fawn over Springsteen? Marsh explained this topic in clear English, steering clear of the kind of babble that made Frank Zappa say one of his most famous quotes. Now that I had this understanding and drive to hear more music, I went about filling in some of my library's holes in Springsteen's catalog.

In only the past few months, I've realized how incredible The River is, and how much of a proverbial middle finger Tunnel of Love is to Springsteen's first marriage. These are not new revelations because I had heard these praises for years. It's only now I have my own personal take, especially with where my life is these days. Themes and topics found on those albums might have not made much sense to me as a kid in elementary school, but they sure as hell make more since as someone who's about to turn 33.

There's something about meeting Springsteen lifers: there's no shortage of stories they like to share. Moreso than the average hardcore fan of say, Styx or Bread. I can remember seeing a Tunnel of Love poster in the back of Donna and Noel's house and getting the feeling this was an important and prized possession. There was a story behind the poster, and many life experiences seemed to come out in Noel's facial expressions and tone of voice.

In this ongoing series of moments, I don't sense these will end someday soon. I might get around to truly understanding why Bruce's records without the E Street Band pale in comparison, but I'm holding that off for another day. Instead, I'd prefer to listen to The River as much as I can as I scour used bookstores for a vinyl copy of Live '75-'85.

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