Nov 262010

Reconsider me?

Here’s a weird thought. See if you can stick with me…

While watching the PBS American Masters piece on John Lennon last night I was constantly reminded how deeply I’ve always related to this public figure. I don’t mean to compare myself to Lennon or anything like that, but—this is embarrassing to admit—I feel about him the way Christians are probably meant to feel about Jesus. (And I don’t mean to compare myself to Jesus, for that matter, so cool your jets.) For a public figure I never met he was a true role model and hero in a world that I’ve always found a little short on both counts. In my imagination and heart Lennon represented just about all that humans can be: creative, intelligent, idiotic, outspoken, witty, angry, tender, cruel, plainspoken, puzzling…. He capped off his abbreviated life by growing the hell up and, on his second try, becoming the father his own father couldn’t have been for him. As a teenager trying to manage growing up without a half-decent father myself that was an especially meaningful final act that I continue to hold onto well into my future.

Among modern-day artists it seems that Bruce Springsteen resonates on almost as deeply a personal level with his fans. Is it anything like the feelings I know Lennon fans feel for their hero? It seems to be, and I hope we don’t have to see The Boss come to a tragic end to gauge just how deeply his fans feel about him. Do you relate to Springsteen on anywhere near as deep a level? What does he represent for you? 

I can understand much about the love Springsteen’s fans feel toward him based on his energetic, hopeful, passionate music and stage show. I get the Brotherhood of the E Street Band and all the manly bonding that represents. I can understand how Springsteen might represent the aspirations of a generation through his public statements on Big Events in our country. But what is it about the man that resonates so deeply, that seems to place him on an immeasurable role model/hero level that a wildly popular artist like Paul McCartney, for instance, probably doesn’t hold? Do his fans recognize something in his life that rings especially true? From my perspective he seems to play things close to the vest and only projects the image he wants to project. Maybe this is something his fans value, but that perception (fair or not) has been a stumbling block for me.

I’ve never paid that much attention because his music only means so much to me, but I rarely get a “read” on Springsteen. I’m curious to know what he addresses in the imaginations and hearts of his fans. Honestly, I goof on Bruce on a regular basis, but what is the personal level of fandom that would make his fans consider revisiting Lucky Town or whatever Somewhere in New York City–like turd in his back catalog that no amount of backstory can justify?


  29 Responses to “How Do Springsteen’s Fans Relate to Him?”

  1. I might be one of these “people” (10+ shows since 1984, every DVD, bootleg, book etc) but I would not show up at his front door (like Elvis or Lennon fanatics might) and mostly because I think he has done a better job of being “one of the guys” and not a holy figure. His success started to go into the stratosphere around the time of Elvis’ and Lennon’s untimely deaths and “resurections” as the Father and Son (I think Dylan will be the holy Ghost by the way). Bruce (and ShoreFire Media) have done a good job of not letting him be a diety in the eyes of the media (save some of 1984-95)

    ..and I really like Lucky Town, so there’s that too…..

  2. mockcarr

    Having grown up (sic) in NJ, the Springsteen fans around me definitely had faith in him as a symbol of pride and hope, no matter how famous and popular he became to the rest of the world. It seemed very personal somewhat like a religion, but I always got the sense that despite how accessible the parables about him were or the content of his hymns were to them, or even how they felt he was “of them”, it still seemed to always be superficial and often about “some guy they knew who said Bruce did/said/stayed after the show and…”. I often wonder what he can really give his fans apart from the performance or song (not that anyone should demand more than that) beyond what they can imagine – Lennon actually tersely articulated what he was trying to do, what he thought the Beatles were, and debunked myths left and right. I don’t know whether anyone expects or wants that from Bruce, they’d rather draw their own conclusions and interpret him themselves.

  3. Good stuff, jungleland2. So it’s his “one of the guys” vibe that most touches you on a personal level? This would be related to the cameraderie of the E Street Band, which even I find appealing.

    It’s funny how different people can see the same artist. As the old Stations of the Boss goof touched on, I thought he was being presented as a holy figure, by his management and the media if not his own doing.

    Dylan is definitely the Holy Ghost!

  4. Excellent, mockcarr. I knew I could count on the Hall to work through one of the many questions that I dare not express elsewhere.

  5. Since I’ve been the one going on about The Promise recently, I should chime in here. I am actually not a rabid Bruce fan but I have been carrying Born to Run and Darkness around with me since high school. The title track for The Promise is like Bruce went out to write Born to Run II with all the characters bummed out after they found they couldn’t escape that trap. Really, it’s like a brand new Beatles track that falls right between Revolver and Sgt Pepper.

    Bruce’s appeal to big fans is some kind of highly personal, very Eastern Seaboard local reaction. I always saw Bruce as kind of a drudge; a guy who works hard at his craft and stays out of rock star trouble. He’s got ambition and ego but he’s got this rapport with his band and he sweats to earn it. And unmentioned earlier, is his early stuff like The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle really does sound like Jersey beach party music you would love to hear handing out at the Carousel in Sea Isle City. The Ed Sciaky, WMMR connection in Philly means lots of people have a very nostalgic connection with his music.

  6. BigSteve

    Another thing is that from the time of Darkness forward till at least Born in the USA, Springsteen started to write self-consciously from a blue collar perspective. That resonated with certain listeners from the eastern seaboard through the entire Rust Belt and into the Midwest, people who previously would have felt that their experiences were not worthy of being sung about. Springsteen himself is not really one of those people, of course, but his father was, and he shared his backstory to the point where he inspired that kind of identification.

    I’m not part of that demographic, and I’ve never felt that way about him. I’ve always admired him more as a musician and an artist without really identifying personally with his subject matter.

  7. BigSteve

    And since we’ve been talking about the Lennon doc lately, let me add that Springsteen went through and wrote about the same kind of coming to terms with adulthood that Lennon did. That’s what was happening on Lucky Town/Human Touch. Those might not be his best albums, but they’ve got a few really good songs on them, especially the leadoff tracks of each (which have the added bonus of featuring a pre-American Idol Randy Jackson on bass).

  8. The big Bruce fans I know seem to hook onto his perceived romanticism and life on the jersey streets (does Rt9 count as a street)

    I do think there is a direct correlation between an artist tightly controlling one’s image and the level of fan “resonation”. Think of Costello and the Clash as other examples. McCartney is too eager to be real and genuine to resonate like Lennon or Bruce

  9. Randy Jackson played on Human Touch, not Lucky Town (ok, one song: Better Days). Pony Boy is his Clean Up Time though

  10. I always thought it was an English thing to put up that front. When Lennon moved to NYC he gave all of that up for good, but he was the exception You would never see McCartney, Bowie, Mercury, Elton, Jagger trying too hard to be one of the masses, in a t-shirt and jeans. Lennon and Bruce give off the vibe of “one of us” that most other major pop stars would never do. Elvis wanted this but was too big a star. Could you imagine Prince or Michael Jackson at the Kmart?

  11. BigSteve

    Better Days is the leadoff track on Lucky Town.

  12. As some of you know, I’m not a Springsteen fan, and seeing the slavish exhibit to his work at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame back in October didn’t change my feelings much.

    However, I did note what a diehard fan (a woman I know) said about him the other day: “What I’ve always loved is the desperation of the young Bruce. I don’t like as much the pomposity of the older Bruce.”

    I think it’s that quality of desperation for rock, the true belief in its transformative power, and especially for ordinary people, at a time when rock was turning quickly towards dress-up parody, that makes some people relate to Bruce so intensely. His desperation to believe was their desperation, and in that way I agree with Jungleland2. Springsteen reached for the Power and the Glory of Rock. And you know, some of the early photos, concert posters for his early bands, and early singles sleeves, had a kind of gritty charm even for me.

    I suppose though there would be more charm in it for me if I didn’t think most of his music was pompous horseshit, including when he was young and desperate to believe.

  13. mwall, you’ve hit on many points of view that resonate with me!

  14. Springsteen has achieved the status he has because as large a star as he has become (see Super Bowl halftime show) he resists becoming a cartoon because he can still go out and connect with people with just an acoustic guitar and his voice.

    He’s a rocker, but he maintains an adherence to folk tradition, whereby the singer is not apart from the audience. There’s a video of him solo, performing Woody Guthrie’s “The Ballad of Tom Joad.” It’s a completely communal feel; something that Dylan was very much uncomfortable with.

  15. mockcarr

    C’mon, Dr. John – that Super Bowl show was worse than a cartoon. Let’s at least give him credit for being smart about his image. These choreographed monologues and “band interactions” are every bit as much a pose as any performer had made. Yet, they are so much more accepted as genuine than any circumstantial happenstance Mick Jagger or any ROCK poseur ever did. I don’t believe he’s earned a pass any more that Paul McCartney has when he scripts his shows and gets lambasted for it. LESS in fact given the output.

  16. BigSteve

    What’s a circumstantial happenstance?

  17. dr john, is this how you feel? I’m still curious to know what about *the man* behind this Bruce Springsteen character resonates for his fans. What resonates about his BRUCE persona is pretty clear. At the risk of being completely insensitive, what personal moment in the life of The Boss would make his deepest fans well up with tears when they show the documentary of his life someday after he’s dead? Does this make sense? I mean, what’s his “hugging baby Sean while wearing the kimono and samurai ponytail” moment, or whatever comparable behind-the-scenes Lennon moment drives home something deeply rooted in our relationship with the man? Will it be some story from the stage about his dad? Will it be him laughing with his arm around The Big Man? I don’t think the rare photos of him watching his daughter compete in an equestrian competition is what hits home with his fans. Honestly, for all the years Springsteen has been in the public eye, I feel like I’ve missed all personal insights on his life other than the high-fivin’ with the E Street Band and the stories about his dad telling him to get a haircut.

  18. shawnkilroy

    being on the cover of People magazine for his divorce from Julianne Phillips.
    most embarrassing, most megastar, most “my image is well out of my control” moment.

  19. Maybe I’m not exactly sure what you’re asking: for me, it’s the music that connects with the audience. For example, no matter how many World Cup soccer games Jagger attends, he has to play with the Stones to remain culturally valid. Same with Lennon, the stories about his life register the strongest through his songs. To argue otherwise is to put a rather heavy emphasis on backstory, and we’re not about to do that are we?

  20. What I’m trying to get at, dr john, IS the importance that backstory plays in Lennon Love – just short of helping anyone like Sometime in New York City. Whether that’s actually important to the music or not is not at issue. It’s a horrible thing that I had on my mind, but I was thinking, “If Springsteen were murdered, what would trigger emotions in his grieving fans beyond his music?” Is there something ABOUT Springsteen as a person that his fans take to heart? Again, it’s not a matter of whether anyone should or not, but what it is they do take to heart beyond his music, if anything.

  21. cherguevara

    Introducing: The Springsteen of…

    A bit of Google fun! The Springsteen of…

    France – Nono Corvette
    England – Oasis
    Italy – Zucchero. Or Vasco Rossi
    Russia – Yuri Sevchuk

    I know who Zucchero is, and obviously Oasis too. Not the rest. I always thought there was a territorial thing, where an artist who had an everyman appeal and whose lyrics had a sense of national identity, became “the Springsteen of…”

    However, my theory is made more tenuous by typing “the rolling stones of…” and “the beatles of…” into Google. Entertaining, though.

  22. If you’re putting it that way, you’re undercutting your own argument. When Lennon was murdered did people really think that the world lost a great father and NYC citizen? Or did they think the world lost a groundbreaking artist, followed by coming to the realization there could no longer ever be a Beatles reunion?

  23. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only 17-year-old boy who felt he’d lost an artistic “father figure,” dr john. I sure as hell didn’t care half as much about the fact that we’d never get another Somewhere in New York City or a Beatles reunion.

  24. Okay, well, beyond the music what I’ll always remember about Springsteen is his integrity, a value strengthened through his battle with his former manager. That’s the backstory: Springsteen is an honest guy who has managed to be and stay a winner in a cutthroat world.

  25. mockcarr

    That’s a thrown off description that’s redundant, I guess, but I meant a thing that looks like it’s due to chance but is actually carefully planned and detailed ahead of time, and designed to stand out as a piece of the show.

  26. You are right on, Dr. John. Mr. Mod, your Springsteen anti-obsession is not very becoming.

  27. jeangray

    Everyone goes on & on about the man’s integrity, but I still think that cheating on your wife w/your back-up singer is pretty slimey. Maybe it’s jus’ me…

  28. I’ll say 7 Hail Lofgrens.

    Sorry, it may not be becoming, but the stuff I posted here and elsewhere has a point, as far as I’m concerned. The total snob/idealist in me wishes we would have kept ourselves to higher musical values in the late-’70s. My beef is a little more with rock fans more than the artist. Springsteen’s fine and occasionally moves mean, old me, but he’s always struck me as the musical equivalent of a comfy, old pair of jeans. I love my comfy, old jeans as much as the next guy, but I don’t pretend they’re worthy of wearing to a formal event. I know it’s nasty and beneath me to continue this theme and then defend myself when called on it, but I think I speak for enough music lovers when I say that I don’t get it, I don’t get the 35 years of nearly unquestioned hype when it comes to Springsteen. Except for the few years when he ditched the E Street Band every new album is accompanied by reviews and features worthy of an message from on high. I think it’s great what he and the E Street Band represent (ie, brotherhood, good times, passion, etc), but I don’t get the extent of attention the guy stirs up. Sure, I’m allowing myself to be a bit of a baby about it, but I like Springsteen came along, rock fans hitched their wagon to him during his span of “Born” albums, and then they got complacent. Coming from a guy who believes that rock ‘n roll “died” in 1983 this may be a ridiculous charge, but I feel about Springsteen like some people may feel about an earlier generation’s immersion in “hippie culture” to punch their lifelong ticket to relevance and entitlement. I would never say this applies to all Springsteen fans, but I’m sure that’s what it seems like sometimes. I’m sure his idealism sincerely inspires a number of his fans, but I can’t help but think of all the Chris Christie types who pay top dollar to see the guy live then do their best to battle unions the next day on the job. (I know, I know, Manson and Mark David Chapman were Beatles fans…)

    Anyhow, I’m sure that’s more than what you wanted to hear, but I get a deep, heartfelt chuckle over my take on Springsteen, and as long as we’re showing some respect for each other and add positive vibes more often than not this place isn’t doing all it can do if we can’t get that part of our relationship to music off our chest now and then.

    Seriously, thanks for calling bullshit on my bad attitude. I won’t make it a habit, but it probably will continue to be part of my personality.

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