Forget the re-mastering of The Beatle’s back-catalogue.
Bruce Springsteen, a genuine working class hero (and an artist that John Lennon expressed admiration for in his final radio interviews in 1980), turned 60 on 23 September 2009.
Happy Birthday, Boss!
So Robert Forster, formerly of The Go-Betweens, but now the music critic for The Monthly magazine, thought that Bruce’s latest long player, ‘Working On A Dream’ was a disappointment.
Hell, I wasn’t disappointed. What did Forster expect? A religious epiphany?
After a painfully short marriage to the model and actress Julianne Phillips in 1985 (and their subsequent divorce in 1989),
Springsteen and his second wife (of 18 years’ standing, Patti Scialfa, have continuously toured the world while making music together and apart, while in the process raising three children out of the celebrity spotlight.
The Boss is a gentle and giving man in real life, as opposed to the muscular Rambo persona of the Born In the USA years.
When Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa, had their first child, Evan, in 1991, Springsteen’s empathy and tenderness has arguably never been better expressed than when he wrote the following heartfelt lines in his song ‘Living Proof’ (from the 1992 album, Lucky Town:-
Now what’s sure on the boulevard
Is that life is just a house of cards
As fragile as each and every breath
As that baby boy sleeping in our bed.
Any real Springsteen fan knows that Bruce’s best work has often sprung from his tortured relationship with Catholicism.
Songs in the magnificent 1978 Darkness On the Edge of Town album are replete with Biblical titles such as The Promised Land and Adam Raised A Cain.
In the pre-Patti days, Springsteen was known for performing three hour musical marathons which, in retrospect, represented a strange amalgam of ecstasy and self-inflicted punishment.
The son of a tone-deaf Irish bus driver and a kind-hearted Italian Catholic mother who loved records, Bruce, as he pointed out on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart earlier this year, grew up during the hard times of the late 1960s when black and white working class kids from New Jersey were cannon fodder for the Vietnam War draft.
Springsteen is a wealthy man now, but, he stuck his neck (and wallet) out for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and for the Hurricane Katrina victims.
Growing up in a household “with no books” (as he once told an interviewer), Springsteen was fortunate to meet Jon Landau, a Brandeis University graduate and a contributing editor to Rolling Stone magazine in 1974.
Landau went on to co-produce the stellar Born to Run album and, after a two year court battle, was able to ensconce himself as Springsteen’s manager, a position he has held ever since.
Springsteen, a community college drop-out, has turned out to be a sage in the long run, in no part due to his incredible work ethic, intellectual curiosity and resilience, but also due to the efforts of Landau (who was once married to Janet Maslin, a former film critic at The New York Times).
Jon Landau introduced Springsteen to key American cultural signposts.
Signposts such as the short stories of Flannery O’Connor (which inspired the depression-era feel of the 1982 Nebraska album), as well as the films of groundbreaking film legend John Ford, whose influence continues to resonate in Springsteen’s work.
This is best exemplified by the classic Woody Guthrie-John Ford inspired Youngstown from 1985’s under-rated The Ghost of Tom Joad album.
Springsteen has had his critics over the course of a 37-year recording career but I say “hang the critics”; the wonderful closing track on the Tom Joad album, ‘My Best Was Never Good Enough’, is a perfect riposte to unrealistic critics and fans such as Forster.
When my wife and I saw Bruce play the Tom Joad songs at the Palais Theatre in Melbourne in 1997, the positive review of Bruce’s stint of shows at the Palais was headlined in The Sunday Age with the intriguing headline, ‘The Man Who Was Not God’.
I’m amazed that Springsteen did not issue an immediate press release, in response, apologising for not being God.
Springsteen does not need to record or perform anymore.
He certainly does not need to carry the burden of using his vexed celebrity to endorse political candidates as he did so passionately in the 2008 American Presidential election (and as he, John Fogerty and others unsuccessfully tried to do in the 2004 election for the Democratic Party presidential nominee, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts).
But he did, because he cares and because he has never sold out.
One will never hear a Springsteen track adorn a television advertisement, for instance.
Every Springsteen artistic offering is a gift, some better than others.
Bruce has been part of this writer’s inner emotional and intellectual life for 30 years now and it is with great gratitude that thousands of friends, fans and music junkies around the world continue to pay homage to the graveled-voice genius that is Bruce Springsteen.
Happy 60th Birthday, Jersey Boy.
Theo Giantsos is a freelance journalist.