The Only ‘Boss’ That Matters
The Poet Laureate of Freehold and his Band Are Writing a ‘Letter to You’
With little doubt, 2020 will go down in the books as one of the most surreal years in American history. How can it not? Our democracy is sliding over a cliff shoved by men in dark room doing dark deeds, being led by a carnival barking moron. A deadly disease has killed almost two-hundred thousand people and counting. The economy is in tatters, fueled by the pandemic and the devotion to terrible fiscal thinking that governs the party in power. It ain’t been a good year, Jack.
I was resigned to this. Until like a freshly birthing star lighting a new galaxy, the finest rock star to ever walk astride this unworthy Earth announced he and his merry band of melody makers were releasing an album.
‘Letter to You,’ an album by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. As an unhealthily devoted fan, this is the only uplifting news I have heard all year. It was the news we needed, even if it was not the news we deserved.
I came late to the Springsteen church. The experience, especially live, can be described no other way. Before the collapse of my first marriage and a slide into the worst of my lifelong duel with clinical Depression, the Boss was a greatest hits CD for me. How sorely mistaken I was to leave it there for so long.
Springsteen isn’t known for his happy-go-lucky upbeat tunes. Even when the song is a solid rocker, like ‘From Small Things,’ the lyrics always betray longing and tragedy, self-inflicted or not. ‘Ramrod’ and ‘Pink Cadillac’ may be rare examples of the rare Springsteen song that doesn’t amount to much except you can bump and bounce to it if needed. His brain doesn’t seem fit to throw away a word needlessly.
I don’t find the experience of listening to his music depressing — the opposite. In listening to so many tales of struggle and longing, I can always find the thing I want to say or feel but never had the emotional vocabulary to express. Or I can hate on the MAN, after taking in the righteous fire of the NYC Live version of ‘Youngstown’ where all the working class gets is dead children in foreign wars and lost jobs while the fat cats move on to the next profit.
During the time of my separation, I listened night after night, trying to dig into the essence of heartbreak. How do you come back from lighting striking you in the mind? Of feeling like you never deserved the contentment that others might have.
I don’t know, but at least I had a vast catalog of songs from a man who seemed uniquely capable of observing the dark nights of the soul from every perspective one can imagine.
I have a daily list of songs, about 53, that I listen to on rotation every day. I think of it as part of my mental health routine. I don’t know why; I even try to skip a dose for a couple days. But running back to it, I always do. The themes match every part of my life, tells me all I need to know about all the things I’m feeling.
I could hide beneath my covers and study my pain, but I could throw it all to the wind and live life, and the results be damned!
If I fall in love with lonely, I’ll end up that way. So true. I miss clinical loneliness like a former lover. One I never had.
My father and I have the same hot blood burning in our veins, but Adam will not raise this Cain.
Everything seems to fit somewhere in the biography of my life. How can such personal, wounded words mean something to everyone, and yet I can be convinced that they were written so that someday I would hear them and find pieces of a lost heart in them.
Don’t hear me unclear, I love and enjoy my life. But I want to contemplate it. And music is something I have never accessed as a talent. I’m a passive participant. I must insert myself into the worlds that Springsteen is creating.
There is a song on The Rising called ‘You’re Missing.’ Like much of that album, it was an elegy to the fallen of 9/11, from a widower’s perspective. Overwhelmed by grief and the obligations of grieving, longing for the dead spouse that will never come home. It is a touching song. The organ solo at the end sounds like crying feels.
I always think about the dead spouse as Depression. If you suffer from it, think about it that way. Think about something that makes you feel like walking death-causing things like phone calls and tending to children to be all too much. All you want is this pain to be gone. Even when the lyrics have nothing to do with you, they can mean everything to your existence at that moment.
My favorite song by Springsteen is the gospel-tinged Land of Hope and Dreams. Despite our lives, despite our griefs, rights, wrongs, sorrows, joys, despite it all, we all travel in the same direction. No one is exempt from living life.
When he said in that song ‘we’ll take what we can carry, and we’ll leave the rest,’ it was a thunderbolt in my brain. I had started Prozac not too long before I heard this song. It was long; my own mind was giving me a theme song to discover what a light-filled world looked like. Tomorrow will be sunshine and all this darkness past? What an unbelievable thing for a Depressive to write, to hear, to believe.
I could, and will, during my writing life, go on endlessly about Springsteen. But if ever I needed a sign 2020 may not end in a comet striking the Earth, the Boss releasing an album was it.