Wednesday is Bruce Springsteen’s birthday, and I am confused. The schools are open, the banks are open, and the mail service is running on time. Seriously? We haven’t made The Boss’ birthday a holiday yet?
Okay, maybe that’s pushing it. I guess I should explain. I’m part of the Cult Of Springsteen; the people who don’t just like him, but who unabashedly love him, and who will chew the ear off any willing listener about just how utterly, undeniably, absolutely brilliant he is. With that said, I’m trying to give up this habit, because I’m starting to think that people like me are why so many people hate Bruce Springsteen.
For quite some time, I was a Springsteen agnostic. I didn’t mind his music, and harbored no ill will toward him as a person, but like so many others, I just didn’t Get It. Surprisingly, what changed my mind wasn’t a listen to a classic like Born To Run or Darkness On The Edge Of Town (although I would go on to love both of those albums dearly). No, it was the release of his 2007 album Magic, which came out about a month into my senior year of high school – a perfect time to start embracing The Boss.
Magic is best known for being the album in which Springsteen expressed his displeasure with George W. Bush, but that has very little to do with why I liked it so much. Rather than the political screeds of “Last To Die,” or the title track, I was more taken in by songs like “Radio Nowhere,” which yearned for a lost age of rock ‘n roll, or “Girls In Their Summer Clothes,” which yearned for a lost age of, well, everything else. The political stuff wasn’t totally lost on me, as I did grow a great appreciation for “Long Walk Home,” a sequel-of-sorts of “My Hometown” in which Springsteen compares the deterioration of America under Bush to a small town that slowly rots into shambles. It was quintessential Springsteen, and for the first time, it really clicked with me.
At the time, though, I didn’t read much into that. All it meant was that I liked *one* Springsteen album. I would still tell anyone who would listen that Tom Petty was just as good, if not better. No, I wouldn’t join the cult until two years later, when the final stop of the Working On A Dream tour was in my hometown of Buffalo. About two months before the show, a Facebook friend of mine posted that he had a spare ticket, and I inquired as quickly as possible. Even though I had yet to become a Diehard Springsteen fan, I had heard rumors of his awesomeness as a live performer for years, and I wanted to see it for myself. On Nov. 22, 2009, I was converted.
Springsteen absolutely blew me away, more than any other performer I had seen before or since. The passion, the energy, the sweat, the musicianship, all of it was just incredible. When I got home at 1 a.m., I collapsed, and I nearly fell asleep in every one of my classes the following day. I didn’t care. I had seen the light.
Finally, I Got Bruce Springsteen. I eventually started buying all of his albums, and the music that once struck me as “fine, I guess” now seemed just as brilliant as rock critics had been telling me it was for years. On that Sunday night in November, I joined the Cult Of Springsteen, and I never looked back. With that said, I’m more than sympathetic to people who will never understand what’s so damn great about Bruce Springsteen, mostly because I was one of them for a fairly long time.
When I consider why people hate Bruce Springsteen, I think about the phenomenon of anti-hype. When you encounter a piece of pop culture that you don’t particularly care for, the rest of society telling you how clueless you are for not Getting It can have the effect of turning a benign distaste into an abject hatred. Think of it this way: all your friends are telling you how awesome and hilarious Arrested Development is. Now, imagine you watch an episode, and you sort of think it’s just okay (yes, I know it sounds strange, but there are people who don’t like Arrested Development). Now, say you tell your friends that you don’t like it, and instead of just accepting that, they constantly browbeat you with claims of its genius, and accuse you of just not being smart enough to understand it. At that point, what started out as a simple “meh, this show isn’t for me” can morph into a “SCREW THIS SHOW AND EVERYONE WHO LIKES IT!” When I consider the most vitriolic Springsteen dissent I’ve heard, I can only imagine it comes from the same place. The more people tell you “Born To Run” is the Greatest Rock ‘N Roll Song In Human History, the more you cringe when you hear the opening riff on your local classic-rock station.
One of the best expressions of exasperation to Springsteen overkill was this piece by Drew Magary at Deadspin, in which he notes just how many sportswriters gush endlessly about how great Bruce is. He seems to be cool with The Boss in spite of this, but not everyone is so generous. Not even every sportswriter. SBNation editor Spencer Hall recently unfavorably compared him to Jimmy Buffet, while Tomas Rios dropped this rather cruel rejoinder:
Rios (probably jokingly) suggests that reading more Springsteen thinkpieces might turn him into a fan (note: I highly doubt reading this one will change his mind), but I would argue it’s the opposite: the more Springsteen worship you see, the more intense each eye-roll gets. Consider Springsteen’s most immediate contemporaries: John Mellencamp, Tom Petty, and Bob Seger. All of them are respected, but none of them are worshipped the way The Boss is. That’s why it’s much easier to think any of those performers are Just Okay without feeling pressured into liking them any more than you actually do.
So yeah, I’m part of the Springsteen Cult, but I’ll try to tone down my rhetoric, because I honestly don’t think it’ll do any good. Not everyone is going to like Bruce Springsteen *Stuart Smalley voice* and that’s… okay. I can enjoy one of my favorite musicians without endlessly lecturing all of my friends who don’t feel the same way. Hopefully, the many throngs of Boss fans out there can do this as well.