Today is the 67th birthday of Bruce Springsteen, a man I’ve seen play in concert 26 times. If you haven’t heard (with the media blitz, you’ve probably heard), he also has an autobiography, Born to Run, coming out. What makes Springsteen’s biography unusual is there’s no ghostwriter – it’s all Springsteen. The early reviews have compared it to his legendary, marathon four-hour concerts. (I don’t have an early copy. Bruce Springsteen is the one person I don’t want any media contact with in any way. Doing this job sometimes has a way of souring feelings toward, well, everybody. I refuse to take that chance with Bruce.)
The big media takeaway has been Bruce’s ongoing battle with depression – a fact that’s both somehow surprising and comforting. It’s easy to think, If Bruce Springsteen has to fight depression, what hope do the rest of us have?, but it’s also comforting to know that if Bruce can talk about this, maybe thousands of others can talk about this. Maybe people will read about what Bruce has fought through and realize they aren’t alone. And here, now, I want to write about how Bruce Springsteen got me through my own depression and changed my life forever.
(I’m going to try to get through the sad stuff as quickly as possible, so please bear with me. And some of this I’ve written before, but I always leave some stuff out. I’m going to include it this time.)
The first time I saw Bruce Springsteen play live was April of 2000 in St. Louis. It was his reunion tour with the E Street Band. I went on more of a lark than anything else: I knew Bruce’s radio hits from Born in the U.S.A., Tunnel of Love, Human Touch and Lucky Town, but not much else. I certainly wouldn’t call myself a “fan,” but I had heard he was very good in concert. People forget that Bruce Springsteen in the ’90s wasn’t the Bruce of the ’70s and ’80s, or the Bruce we know now. He seemed more introverted at that time. His last full album was five years prior, an acoustic album called The Ghost of Tom Joad. It would be like if Bruce had released Nebraska in 1982 and just kind of stopped making music. So even I knew that a reunion with the E Street Band was special and might be a one tour only thing. (As we now know, it wasn’t.)
I went with my girlfriend at the time (we had started dating in college five years prior) and two of my best friends, one from high school, Dan, and one from college, Jorge, who didn’t know each other before that night. Seeing Bruce Springsteen live was a transformative experience and made every other concert I had seen to that point moot. I’d say I only knew a handful of the songs he played that night, but it didn’t matter. His first song was “The Ties That Bind,” a song off The River that is hardly a deep cut for people who follow Springsteen at all, but it was the first time I had ever heard it. There were few “hits.” But it didn’t matter. I knew I was in the presence of the best.
After, it felt like pure euphoria. I was so happy! I remember my girlfriend jumping on Dan’s back, getting a piggyback ride through the streets of St. Louis. It was at this point Jorge decided he wanted a piggyback ride. I made it maybe four steps before I planted my face into the sidewalk. A lot of people had a lot of questions for me at work the next day. It was worth it.