Throughout 2006, thanks to his audible influence on Brooklyn-based Hold Steady's Boys and Girls in America and the less accurate comparisons to the Killers' sophomore suckage, there was a flurry of press dissecting the "hipster guilty pleasure" that is Bruce Springsteen. While it was good to see the Boss get referenced on Pitchfork, it struck me as much ado about the obvious.
Seriously, how can anyone with ears and a brain not appreciate Bruce Springsteen, let alone the shape-shifting virtuosity of the goddamned E Street Band?
OK, I'll pipe down, back up, and come clean. I was late to the party myself. Thanks to Courteney Cox's lame dance moves and the Reagan administration's misappropriations, I allowed my impression of New Jersey's Chosen Son to be diluted by simple oversaturation and shallow interpretation. My parents were excellent musical mentors, but for some reason Born to Run wasn't in that influential stack of records I grew up with. Honestly, it wasn't until my baseless teasing of local musician and Springsteen fan Barton Carroll ran its course that I slowly started to realize I had totally missed out. Once Carroll shook my shoulders and directed me toward the dark rite of passage that is Nebraska, I was on the road to discovering the man who is truly one of the greatest American songwriters.
Diving into the back catalog of an artist such as Springsteen is both joyous and confusing. I will never tire of him inviting me to hit "Thunder Road," but I will also never understand what he was doing in the Tunnel of Love, other than feeling guilty about ditching his perky, poorly chosen wife for sultry, simpatico bandmate Patty Scialfa. Sometimes songs that I've dismissed come rushing up at me in a second wave and I end up moved to tears, such as the time I really, truly listened to the title track from Born in the U.S.A. "Got in a little hometown jam/So they put a rifle in my hand/Sent me off to a foreign land/To go and kill the yellow man." The fact that the Republican Party was guileless enough to think it could claim that as its anthem is an indictment of conservative politics in itself.
And speaking of politics and being moved to tears, Springsteen's eleventh-hour push to fight Bush's re-election in 2004 with a series of overtly anti-Bush concerts throughout Florida (incidentally, with help from Pearl Jam and Death Cab for Cutie) was one of the more valiant efforts any American musician made during that desperate time. Though he had a history of philanthropy around working-class causes (namely union rights and poverty) and his liberal leanings had been evident in interviews for some time, he had shied away from blatantly throwing his weight behind the left until Dubya pushed him over the edge. He told the audiences that the "country we carry in our hearts" was attainable with a delivery that was unsettlingly beautiful, simply because it pricked my sense of patriotism in a way I no longer thought possible.
Unsurprisingly, as Bush remains in office and the war rages on to more horrific and hopeless levels, Springsteen's art-as-activism edge only seems to be amplifying. Magic, his 25th release and the impetus for his current reunion tour with the E Street Band, is a classic Springsteen record, flooded with the distinct camaraderie and affection that the welcome return of Little Steven and Clarence Clemons conjures. This manifests itself in both subtle and transparent ways, such as "Living in the Future," a rollicking throwback to "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" that weaves allusions to the depression he sank into after Election Day with vivid metaphors about a groundskeeper who "opened the gates and let the wild dogs run." It's a solid, heartfelt effort, and one that definitely inspires the desire to catch one of the man's legendary, tent-revival-style concerts. I've never seen one, and I consider that to be one of the biggest gaps in my concert-attending history.
But sadly, all my experiences of this tour are taking place via YouTube. Bruce has forsaken the Northwest this week in favor of a two-night stint in the Bay area. My only hope is that a second leg of the tour is eventually added and he realizes that a stop in Seattle is in order. He hasn't been here in seven years, so I think it's safe to say I'm not the only one who has a hungry heart.