Is it possible, at this point, to have a fresh take on The Boss? What could be written about the imposing, near-mythical figure of Bruce Springsteen that hasn't been spilt across countless pages, articles, and teenage diaries of years past?
I'll admit, it's a daunting task for someone to whom Bruce means so much. When the words of someone you've idolised have had such an effect on your life, the words you yourself write always feel hopelessly lacking.
The answer, of course, has always lain with Bruce himself, his supernatural ability to hit the right spot for wherever you are, wherever you end up. Bruce is always looking inward, even when his songs become thrillingly expansive. The only way to talk about The Boss is to talk about yourself.
There's a Bruce song for everything. Stare out the window of a car or bus as the intro to Backstreets rises like a tidal wave through the streets around you. Dream impossible dreams to Thunder Road or The Promised Land, of getting out, of making it big, of living the life you always wanted. Sob over lost loves to the mournful climax of Bobby Jean, or kindle the flames of reconciliation to Valentine's Day. Turn Hungry Heart or Rosalita or Darlington County up to eleven and let the good times roll. Drop a pin on Nebraska and find yourself clinging to the lost, doomed souls that roam within the sparse compositions of Atlantic City and Johnny 99 and State Trooper. Miss the ones you've lost to My City of Ruins; feel the deepness of real love to If I Should Fall Behind. Bruce is a storyteller, first and foremost, but the heart of the music rises from his own life, his own struggles. In his specificity, universality arises.
I've travelled with Bruce, experienced some of the best moments of my life with him, and many of my worst. I've seen him live, twice, once in his hometown of New Jersey. The night after, a man proposed to his wife as Jersey Girl swelled through the MetLife Arena.
Bruce has never shied away from the work, inspiring a feverish romanticism about the world that is hard-earned, but subtly sweet. His devil-may-care early records — so meticulously, miraculously composed and yet seemingly effortless — have that youthful frisson of an artist giving it their all.
His later records are like signposts for the American life — first loss, falling in love, getting married, having kids, getting divorced, getting old — and every milestone he passes he leaves an indelible mark upon. Is there a more affecting paeon to middle age drift than his post-breakup album Tunnel of Love? He has been, at different times, a friend, a brother, a father figure.
Now on the eve of his 70th birthday, Bruce's output is more introspective than ever, but also the most thrillingly inventive it's been in at least thirty years. Many have remarked that his work of late — an orchestral, sweeping album, a broadway show, a tone-poem film — are the first thrilling salvos to the final act in an almost unparalleled rock'n'roll career.
I'll be honest, The Boss finally entering his seventh decade strikes a note of fear in me. Not that he doesn't have a lot of road to go — as a septuagenarian Bruce is undoubtedly healthier and fitter than I will ever be. But something about the number '70' rings with finality — a sign that the Bruce of old is eventually going to hang up his guitar for the last time.
I know this has been on Bruce's mind — it's right there in his music. I wonder if he worries, or if he's excited. I wonder if I'll feel the same way should I be lucky enough to hit seventy. That's the thing, though — Bruce has always known that things can't last. You can't hold a life in amber, any more than you can leave a car that's built to drive to rust in a garage. You can only keep running — and Bruce knows a lot about running.
Once, I turned to Bruce when I felt I had nowhere else to turn to, and it kept me going through my darkest hour. More than any artist I can think of, the whole damn thing with The Boss is that he's for everyone — come as you are, leave burning with intoxicating life.
Happy birthday Bruce — I'm happy to be here, and I'm happy you are too.