Growing up, the music of Bruce Springsteen filled my Erie, Pa., house on a daily basis. It was the soundtrack to life in the Fitzgerald family, the omnipresent musical force that no one felt the need to question. Bruce was simply the accepted standard, as typical as CCD classes on snowy Saturday mornings, as routine as those few hours each Sunday when the whole world, in my eyes, paused to watch every play of the Steelers game in true diehard fashion. For me, the influence of Springsteen’s music was just another one of the many sentiments a kid picks up during those impressionable years from the parents he idolizes. Indeed, love of Springsteen was as ingrained in me as the manners they taught me and the teams they told me to love.
As a kid, idolizing your parents means assuming that the things they are passionate about must truly be incredible. It becomes easy to quickly build those things up in the mind as some magnificent fantasy that we can only hope to someday understand. But as we grow up and develop our own unique worldviews, we usually conclude that those things aren’t nearly as compelling as we originally thought. Interests and opinions that once seemed to be the glue that held everything together are revealed to, in fact, be deeply flawed, and adulthood no longer looks as fun as it did before. This growing apart, it seems, is an unavoidable step in the process of gaining independence. Despite the series of revelations that expose every superficial difference, there are always certain things that anchor the members of the family and remind them how similar they really are, things that make differences seem obsolete. For my family, that anchor has been—and continues to be—the music of Bruce Springsteen.
Until recently, the reason why Springsteen’s music was the household standard was completely over my head. It’s fair to say I was more surprised when I learned that not everyone loved Springsteen than I was during the talk in fifth grade. My dad would often say, “It just feels like every single Bruce song is about me,” and I would nod in agreement without really grasping what he meant. I would even sometimes wonder if Bruce was actually the god that we made him out to be, or if it was possible that I was just so used to his sound that it had inadvertently become the paragon for good music. But at the ripe old age of 19, I think I’m finally starting to understand. Maybe his music so moved my parents because it has the strength to bring serenity and hope in times of despair, and the power to inject pure adrenaline into the mundane parts of life. Maybe they feel a special connection to his music because the words remind them to keep their hearts centered and their eyes fixed toward the things that really matter, but also help gently push them into the often-ugly experience of solemn self-reflection. Maybe his lyrics fill them with memories of better days while also pumping them up with anticipation for what’s coming next. At least that’s what I have experienced through the healing catharsis of the Springsteen discography.
It stands to reason that my own Bruce affinity is derived mostly from its constant presence throughout my childhood. But as I journey through college, Bruce’s message has developed and changed along with me, allowing me to respect his work in an entirely new way. Songs like “Badlands” and “The Rising” used to seem like the ultimate pump-up songs, but now their themes of determination and abounding hope resonate in a way that is both refreshing and profoundly humbling. Some of Bruce’s earlier masterpieces like “4th of July,” “Asbury Park,” and “Lost in the Flood” were the kinds of tunes that usually had a bit less attention paid to them, but now the authenticity of their poetic storytelling and goosebump-inducing one-liners is more enrapturing to me than even the loudest, hardest-rocking anthems of his contemporaries.
Bruce’s music can be interpreted in ways that are as malleable and dynamic as the lives we lead, meaning the words of a given song can continue to accompany us no matter how much things have changed since the first time we heard it. And to me, that’s what makes Springsteen’s music so meaningful—and it’s what makes his ceaseless presence throughout my life entirely justified.
Featured Image By Columbia Records