The Boss: Springsteen
By Keith Lacey.
When most people approach age 70, they are slowing down – considerably.
But that’s certainly not the case with The Boss, better known as Bruce Frederick Springsteen.
With Friday’s international opening of the acclaimed film Blinded By the Light, which features more than a dozen classic tracks from the iconic rock and roller, it’s remarkable how Springsteen’s career shows no signs of slowing down as he approaches his 70th birthday on Sept. 23.
Blinded by The Light tells the story of a Pakistani teenager named Javed growing up in the small English town of Luton in the early 1980s whose life is changed forever when he hears Springsteen’s music for the first time.
Raised in a family facing economic turmoil – the teenager’s father has just been laid off from his factory job – and racism at the height of Margaret Thatcher’s reign of error in England – Javed dreams of being a writer and poet, but his family, especially his stubborn father, insist he pursue a career as a doctor or lawyer.
When Javed’s friend Roops hands him cassette tapes of Springsteen classics Darkness On the Edge of Town and Born in the USA, Javed’s life is transformed. Through the powerful and indelible lyrics of The Boss and his stories of pursuing dreams and leaving dead end towns, Javed finds salvation and the strength to pursue his dreams.
Javed’s story is not unfamiliar.
That was me in the early 1980s and there are countless others whose lives were changed and transformed through the power and glory of Bruce Springsteen’s music.
When I was a teenager growing up in the hard rock mining town of Sudbury, Ontario, I found happiness and freedom through the power of rock and roll music.
I was fortunate enough to grow up in the greatest period of rock and roll music ever made and grew up listening to Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Dire Straits … and too many other great bands to mention.
By the time I was 16, me and my brother Kerry were proud owners of a massive record collection that became a great source of pride for both of us.
As much as I loved all of the above, I can honestly say in retrospect that my “a ha” moment – one I will never forget – was listening to the classic Born to Run when I was 17 years of age.
With headphones clamped around my head and the dial turned to 10, I can still remember the shivers rolling down my spine as if it happened yesterday.
I simply couldn’t believe the powerful imagery in Springsteen’s lyrics and the cacophony of guitars, organ, saxophone and wall of sound created by Springsteen’s guitar and the incredible E Street Band.
I literally had tears in my eyes the first time I heard Thunder Road and Jungleland for the first time. I had read and heard about Springsteen, but had no idea that music could literally “talk to me”.
From that day forward, I became and continue to be an unabashed believer in the power of rock and roll and the incredible talent of Bruce Springsteen.
I immediately went out and bought Darkness on the Edge of Town and his first two albums, Greetings from Asbury Park and The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle.
After listening to his first four albums, I was convinced he was amongst the best artists I had ever heard, an opinion that has never changed to this day.
This was all before the Born in the USA album erupted and turned Springsteen from a superstar into a megastar who has sold out arenas and stadiums around the world ever since.
While Springsteen has tens of millions of fans around the world and remains maybe the only rock star who can still sell out stadiums on every continent, there are many rock and roll fans who don’t like or don’t get his music.
And that’s fine. Music is subjective.
Personally, I don’t really care much for about 60 percent of the songs Springsteen has written over his 50-year career.
However, when he’s good, he’s really good and when he’s great, he’s amongst the best that has ever lived.
In my humble opinion, I will place Springsteen’s music from 1973 until 1987 and the release of Tunnel of Love, up against another other rock artist in history.
No one can argue, when all is said and done, that Springsteen is one of the true greats of rock and roll.
Paul McCartney is the only other rock and roller I can think of who remains as beloved and admired around the world.
As great as Springsteen is on record, he’s one of the very few artists in rock history who is much better – and I mean otherworldly better – in concert.
He is, without argument, the greatest live performer in rock and roll history.
You literally have to see it to believe it. Until you have seen him and the untouchable E Street Band in concert, you really can’t grasp the power, intensity, energy, showmanship, musicianship, sadness, exhilaration and joy that comes with every performance.
I first saw him in 1984 at the beginning of the Born in the USA tour. I had been lucky enough to already see The Who three times, Rolling Stones and many others by this time.
On a beautiful summer day at the old Exhibition Stadium in Toronto, I watched in awe as Springsteen had 45,000 fans literally eating out of the palm of his hands and having the time of their lives.
During those days, he played two long sets, with a long intermission – total running time of almost five hours, including almost four hours on stage.
I was in awe at the quality of the music, the stamina of Springsteen and his band, their passion and, most of all, just how much damned fun I was having.
When you see Springsteen and the legendary Clarence Clemons, all 300 pounds of him dressed in a pink tuxedo and pink top hat, it leaves a lasting impression.
Needless to say, I was hooked.
I saw him seven more times on that tour over the next two years and am proud to say I’ve see Springsteen in concert 31 times over the past 35 years.
Some of my friends think I’m nuts. I consider myself unfortunate as I’ve met many others who have seen him many more times than that, including one other diehard from my hometown who has seen him more than 400 times.
Once you’ve seen a Springsteen concert, you literally can’t wait to do it again and it makes seeing any other performer or band pale in comparison. He’s that good.
Bruce has made a few missteps along the way – his biggest ditching the E Street Band for more than a decade – but thankfully he regained his senses and continues to make great music.
His latest album, Western Stars, was released two months ago and I have to admit, with the exception of a couple of tunes, it’s not really my cup of musical tea. The album features orchestral pop influenced by the likes of Burt Bacharach, Jimmy Webb and Glenn Campbell and shows Springsteen is never one to rely on his laurels.
It did soar to No. 1 on the rock charts and has gained widespread critical acclaim.
His biography, Born to Run, was released a couple of years ago and is simply magnificent and became a national and international best-seller.
Anyone who loves Springsteen – or rock and roll – should read it.
He’s also just coming off the spectacular success of Springsteen on Broadway, his one-man show that detailed his lifelong musical journey and battles against his father and mental health (depression). What was intended to be a brief stay on Broadway extended out to more than 200 performances over 18 months and became one of the hardest tickets to acquire in the history of Broadway.
Anyone who doubts the man’s talents should watch the Netflix broadcast of Springsteen on Broadway. It is art at its highest form, incredibly moving and brilliantly captures one of the most remarkable careers in music history.
Springsteen has announced he and the E Street Band will soon be heading back into the studio to record another full-band rock album and will then embark on yet another world tour.
I travelled to Seattle in 2016 for concert 31 and can honestly say Bruce and the band are as good as ever.
If you remain a skeptic, I urge you to make the effort to see the legend live and I guarantee you won’t regret it.
Bruce Springsteen has provided the soundtrack of my life – and to millions of others – and for that I say a simple thank you.
As I approach my 58th birthday in a couple of weeks, I can honestly say some of my greatest memories have been provided by attending Springsteen concerts and meeting so many wonderful people around the world and by the power of his music that still rocks me to my core 40 years after putting on those old headphones.