a springsteen journey
a fandom, a divorce, and a reconciliation of sorts
My first exposure to Bruce Springsteen was in 1973 when an older cousin played “Blinded by the Light” for me. I was intrigued by the song, I liked it enough, but not enough to dive into the album it was on. I was eleven. I had better things to do. The song stuck with me, though, and played in my head a lot. I enjoyed the pace of it, the wordplay. I also thought Bruce was hot.
It wasn’t until right before high school when Born to Run came out that I became really familiar with Springsteen. I was listening to a lot of Led Zeppelin and music like that at the time and Bruce’s music didn’t quite fit into the persona I had created for myself so I listened secretly, the same way I had been listening to Elton John. I couldn’t let anyone know that this hard rocker was falling for a softer version of rock music, that I was eschewing fantasy inspired lyrics for the real life hardships of love and loss and the working class.
When Darkness on the Edge of Town came out, I could no longer hide my Springsteen fandom. I was all in. I would tell anyone in earshot that they just had to listen to “Candy’s Room.” I played “Badlands” and “Streets of Fire” for unsuspecting friends in my room when they were expecting me to put on the Grateful Dead. I hung up a poster. I framed album covers. Still, Bruce remained on the periphery as only a handful of people I hung out with were into him. I dove into the punk rock scene, and then soon after the new wave scene, and Springsteen became like a side romance, just lying in wait for me to get tired of everything else I was listening to an embrace his music the way I really wanted to.
It was when I started working at a record store in 1983 when I met a bunch of hardcore Bruce fans, including the man who would become my first husband (we’ll cal him V.) We’d hang out after work and listen to tune after tune of Springsteen’s, and they’d tell me wild stories of shows they went to in somewhat small venues. His concerts sounded like a dream. I knew someday I would get to go to one. I embraced my Springsteen fandom then, and settled into a relationship with V.
Everything blew up in 1984 when Born in the USA came out. Suddenly everyone was a Bruce fan. We couldn’t keep the record in the store. Bruce was everywhere all at once and I got caught up in the electricity of it all. V. and I scored tickets to several of his New Jersey shows, and that was some of the finest, most inspiring, wild concerts I’ve ever been to.
V. and I got married in 1989. Bruce was the soundtrack to our marriage. We played his albums constantly; his voice was part of our household. You could walk into our house at any time of day and there would be a Springsteen song drifting from the speakers. We revelled in it, our kids danced to his songs, he was part of our lives.
We divorced in 1996, and as we split up our belongings when he moved out, I didn’t hesitate to give him all the Bruce albums, even my beloved live 1975-1985 box set. I knew I wouldn’t be able to listen to him anymore. His music represented my married life, it stood for our relationship. It was ours. And ours was no more. He packed up the records, we said our goodbyes, and that was the last time I listened to Springsteen for a long, long time.
I grew to despise him and his music. I had a visceral reaction to anything Bruce because I correlated all that stuff with a marriage that had turned ugly and sour. I got mad about it, fuming that V. had taken from me an immense source of joy. I didn’t realize then that the unraveling of my Springsteen fandom was really my own doing. I allowed our breakup come between me and something I loved deeply. I wanted no part of the memories that his music represented. I couldn’t stand to hear “Born to Run” or “Brilliant Disguise” or any of the other songs that reminded me not just of the good times we had together, but of the days where we were falling apart. I went on with my life; I went through nu-metal stage in 1998 that helped me deal with my anger, and soon after that I started to listen to a lot of emo and indie music. Bruce was long forgotten, a relic from my past.
I don’t know what it was that triggered me one night about three years ago to listen to Nebraska. I had a janky old record player and my son’s copy of the album and it just seemed like the kind of night to listen to some ballads. I was hesitant at first, I didn’t know what kind of feelings the record would trigger, but Nebraska seemed like the least offensive place to start listening to Bruce again. I put the needle down and waited. I waited for something to happen. The memories, the pain, the loathing. But those things never came. Instead, I just enjoyed the album for what it was. I listened to it twice through and felt a sort of relief that the music was not forever ruined for me. Maybe I just needed the space of years to let those memories go. Maybe the fact that V. and I have a very amicable relationship now helps. Whatever it is, I’ve embraced my Springsteen fandom again.
I was in Looney Tunes, a local record store, when I spied a used copy of the live Springsteen box set. Of all the albums we owned, that was the one that seemed to represent my marriage the most. We listened to it often, and I was sad when I gave it up to V. I knew I had to buy it. I knew that having it in my possession again would mean something, would somehow erase the years I neglected Bruce’s music and bring me full circle. I brought it home with me and placed in on the turntable. I felt an immediate sense of relief, like I had broken a spell. The latter part of the record is filled with songs from shows V. and I were at; instead of thinking about the shitty times we had together, I thought about the joy we experienced at those concerts. I thought about the years I wasted not listening to Bruce.
It sucks to lose things at the end of a relationship, especially the music you listened to together. It’s rough to hear those tunes through the lens of now, when then reaches its arms toward you and brings you into the past. But working past that is important. It’s not fair to lose something so beloved because of the memories attached. It’s worth it to explore those things again, to try to get away from the past and reclaim what was once a treasured possession.
I’ve been listening to Bruce so much lately, trying to cram in all the listening I missed. Sometimes it’s rough - listening to the whole Tunnel of Love album for the first time in ages was like ripping off a band-aid- but I’ve managed to reclaim the joy I used to feel listening to Springsteen. I’m so glad to have his music back in my life, especially the early albums that I missed so much. It’s not just about the music, it’s not just about Bruce. It’s about growth and forgiveness and letting go.