My friend John emailed me this morning. ‘Don’t forget, today is Bruce’s 65th birthday so go big on The Boss,’ he said.
He’s winding me up because I’m not a fan of Bruce Springsteen. In fact, of all the singers or bands whose popularity puzzles me, Springsteen is at the top of the list.
I think I’ve a good handle on why he’s so popular. He’s got that whole 'blue collar American life story' nailed down. It’s all dusty highways, blue jeans, drives in cars, and meeting a loved one at the diner or beauty spot. It is pure Heartland Rock. He writes about tough times and good old fashioned values and small-town America, with an emphasis on the contrast between decline and disillusionment and the will to survive and remain proud.
That’s all well and good, but why do so many South William Street hipster types appear to ‘relate’ to these themes so much? If it’s not that bunch of posers, it is flocks of suburbanites whose only experience of the American heartland struggle is watching an episode of Friday Night Lights on Netflix with a bottle of overpriced IPA in one hand while tweeting furiously with the other.
The sheer devotion that people give to Springsteen really amazes me. I’ve never seen anything like it. A few years back he played some gigs at the RDS, and I believe it was the first time in a while since he’d played Ireland before. People were literally freaking out. Everyone, and I mean everyone, seemed to be going to the gigs and jumping up and down on social media, hollering their delight like a bunch of brain-washed churchgoers at an evangelical preacher’s mass in the Deep South. Grown adults, normally of sound mind, were tweeting nonsensical things like ‘BRUUUUUUCE!!’ and expecting me not to scratch my head and fear for their sanity. The worship is something quite remarkable and hard to fathom. I mean, he can carry a tune but he's hardly Elvis Presley come back from the dead.
I can understand the significance and influence of Dylan and Cohen. I get Tom Waits. I like many of Neil Young’s songs and I think he’s a fine songwriter. Bruce? It just doesn't work for me. Perhaps I can’t get over Dancing In The Dark, which seemed to be played on a loop during any music television programme that I watched during the 1980s. In fact, for many years I only associated Springsteen with that song, as well as Born In The USA (yeah, yeah, I know it’s actually an anti-war song.) These two songs were played to death on Irish radio during the 80s. My parents’ friends liked this kind of music. I remember them going to Slane in 1985. (My folks were way too cool for The Boss; they were more into Planxty and John Denver.)
So to me Bruce was synonymous with the average middle-class Irish family. We're talking dinner-party tunes for people who aren't really that much into music.
Years later, while I understand fully that he really can craft a great song and he ‘speaks’ to a lot of people, I’m still finding myself standing beside the Springsteen bandwagon, not really sure there’s a seat on it for me.
Lastly, I do find ‘The Boss’ quite an objectionable nickname. I mean, this guy is supposedly all about the workers and the little people and the grassroots decent folk, and then he wants us* all to call him ‘The Boss’? Nah, he’s not the boss of me.
*Okay, so maybe he didn't come up with the nickname, whatever.