In 1975, I met the Boss, a blue-collar Italian-American with long hair and a beard.
That’s where the fairy tale parts with reality because my Boss was a returned Vietnam vet, still wearing an olive drab shirt that said US Army above one pocket and Verderosa above the other. Charlie Verderosa ran the local Long Island Press office and is the last guy I ever called Boss and maybe the only one who ever earned the right to be called that.
Which brings me to the gentleman pictured above. Bruce Springsteen has been all over the media I consume lately and I’m not quite sure why. But enough ink and pixels have been spilled for me to start seeing patterns.I could probably start with any one of a dozen statementsthat would be deemed heretical by adherents of the Church of Bruce. So let me start with what is sure to be the worst thing an acolyte could hear:
Chris Christie is more honest about who Bruce Springsteen is than the man himself.
Consider David Remnick‘s profile of Bruce in the July 30 issue of The New Yorker (subscription required). We see a lot of Bruce there, up close and personal, and the contradictions pile up faster than snow in a blizzard.
Consider: His credo is authenticity but every fist-pump and stroll around the stage is choreographed. He’s a shaman, but he’s an entertainer. He channels Woody Guthrie but he lives like Lloyd Blankfein. He calls for shared sacrifice but must be the most anonymous donor and volunteer ever since no one has ever heard a peep about his eleemosynary activities. He’s at heart a singer-songwriter–that most personal of musical types– who uses a teleprompter.
That last bit may be the best. In and among a lot of rationalizing about the role of technology in the show, Remnick let’s us know that Sinatra used one in his later years. Maybe Sinatra is the dean of New Jersey-born entertainers and so can grant a waiver, but it rings as hollow justification. Any jazz combo, as the song has it, “makes it up on the stand.” For that matter so do any of the jam bands–the Dead, the Allman Brothers, even the young un’s like Widespread Panic. I’ve seen aging soul singers–the ones Bruce speaks of in hushed tones–sing without aides mémoires.
The audience is complicit in all this and accepts the premises Bruce sets forth. But it’s a mess. Really, he’s just a rock star from the 70s whose been rewarded in a way we’ll never see again. You can’t square all this in a way that makes any sense, yet there’s a desperate longing to. It’s a community of the like-minded, but there’s a less than endearing simple-mindedness to it that suggests the recipe contains a longing for easy answers along with the Leni Riefenstahl, stadium-filling theatrics.
Can it all be squared? I don’t think Bruce is going to do it so that leaves it up to the fans and, evidently, there’s no bigger fan than New Jersey’s governor, Chris Christie. At least that’s what I gather from two recent pieces by Jeffrey Goldberg . The first, which appeared in the July 2012 issue of The Atlantic, told the tale of attending a Springsteen show with Christie. This is my favorite part, only slightly edited for space:
Christie…says, “Attention please, it’s a lecture. Lecture time.” Springsteen begins to mumble…and I can’t make out a word he’s saying. I ask Christie if he understands him.
“You want to know what he’s saying?,” Christie asks. “He’s telling us that rich people like him are fucking over poor people like us in the audience, except that us in the audience aren’t poor, because we can afford to pay 98 bucks to him to see his show. That’s what he’s saying.”
Wait a second, this is Bruce Springsteen we’re talking about, the guy you adore?
“I compartmentalize,” Christie says.
I love it, compartmentalize.
But I think Christie’s on to something and it becomes more clear in the second installment from Goldberg. Essentially a transcript of an interview, Christie goes on at some length about what he doesn’t buy in Bruce’s persona. The interview itself is a fascinating, and humanizing, outlook into the mind of not just a politician but a fan. Christie wants to find a way to find common ground with his hero, he just wants Bruce to admit his inconsistencies.
I’m not sure that’s ever going to happen. I think Bruce is a thoughtful guy whose tried to educate himself. But without a little bit of rigor, without someone pushing back and saying, “Well what about this?”, it’s too easy to just strip out the parts that fit with your world view. Of course it winds up muddled. And whose going to tell The Boss he’s wrong?
I’m never going to be a huge Bruce fan. Like The Rolling Stones, I think he’s got a strong C120‘s worth of material. Unlike Chris Christie I don’t have the energy to try and make it all align. But I understand and respond to torment and on that front Bruce deserves and earns my respect.
Let me put into practice an idea, often recommended to me, that I’ve rarely put into practice and let The Boss have the last word. This is from The New Yorker:
“Look, you cannot underestimate the fine power of self-loathing in all of this. You think, I don’t like anything I’m seeing. I don’t like anything I’m doing, but I need to change myself. I need to transform myself. I do not know a single artist who does not run on that fuel. If you are extremely pleased with yourself, nobody would be fucking doing it.”