Most people who know me would think I am a pretty easy going individual. But, although I may appear to be fairly mild mannered on the surface, I am actually quite obsessive about certain things – actually to an extent that some would think is out of proportion (except for others who share the same obsession of course). Yes, I really do get obsessive about some things. In fact I can’t bring myself to disclose some of those on-line, but I admit I have a mild obsession with Bruce Springsteen (for those needing to be brought up-to-speed just check out my review of The Promise from several years back).
It isn’t something I need to consult a Psychiatrist about just yet, but I am certainly monitoring it.
It also isn’t that I have seen him and his E-Street Band obsessively – maybe still single digits, creeping into double digits – I can’t exactly remember (I don’t hoard ticket stubs or programs, but I try to take in a concert or two ever other year). For sure there are many more Springsteen obsessives in the world than I. Indeed, back at a gig in Cardiff in 2008 the mate I was with went to the bar and reported he’d been chatting to an elderly lady clocking up her 89th concert. Now that’s an all-consuming and probably clinically-defining obsession. In fact it probably qualifies as ‘sad’, as well as rather expensive.
So why do I admire the guy quite so much?, Why, in my book, he is a contender for the title of “The Greatest Living American” if there were such a title.
Actually it isn’t because of his music. Obviously I love it otherwise I wouldn’t spend what I do in going to the gigs, buying the apparel, bootlegs and so on. No, what I admire about the guy is his worth ethic.
He’s 64 for heaven’s sake. In fact it was his birthday last week. Have you seen how he looks these days?? Check it out.
I am sure Bruce would claim the Beatles as one of his influences. Who doesn’t in that age group? But who’d have thought how wrong McCartney could have got it when he wrote “when I get older, losing my hair, many years from now….when I’m 64”?. Bruce has a full (ish) head of hair and looks like he takes care of himself. He looks and acts fitter than someone half his age. I am sure when Paul penned that ditty back in 1967 he didn’t have a 64 year old Bruce Springsteen in mind.
However, that is one thing – looking after yourself and working out. There are millions of people the world over trying to hold back time by lifting weights, running and being careful what they eat. But this guy is putting in a shift, no question. He ain’t dialing it in, that’s for sure. Try and name a harder working performer. A 3hr+ concert is the norm. If he sidled off before the cock crew you’d feel cheated. It is almost unheard of from the E Street Band not to deliver a set somewhere around the 200 mins mark. Yes they have a back catalogue that runs to many, many hundreds of songs, but it doesn’t mean they want to be doing it 3 to 4 hours, 200 days a year. And of course they don’t need to. I would imagine they are all set financially. It isn’t about money. It is about legacy and spreading the joy.
No, the reason I admire what Bruce Springsteen does isn’t about the music. It’s about the passion and the optimism that he represents.
He isn’t called ‘The Boss’ for nothing. He runs his ‘company’ like a CEO. Yes Springsteen aficionados know all about his payroll and his proscriptive style, but I think it is worth concentrating on his leadership. It is obvious to anyone that follows the Springsteen bandwagon even a little closely that Bruce is an archetypal CEO. He outlines his vision to his employees (The E Street Band). He recognizes the talents of his staff members and publicly promotes them – witness that evocation in every concert of the E Street members and their roll-call to the audience. He obviously knows that whilst he is the leader of the band he needs some people to lead and people of the highest talent. He surrounds himself with the very best talent available. In fact many of them could have gone off to be CEOs of their own bands – Steve Van Zandt, Clarence Clemons (RIP), Nils Lofgren – but no, they stayed in the band, working with the master (as a side note, why would Lofgren, a superlative guitarist and someone who could have become a major rock star in his own right, contend himself with working for the Boss? – I think it is because he is in awe of a leader who is the Greatest Living American rock star. Incidentally Nils actually played on “After the Gold Rush” Neil Young’s seminal album, as an 18 year old – that’s how good he is).
Springsteen is a performer par excellence. He gives his audience what they have come for, in their droves. He delivers – every time. He comes across as relatively humble. He is not Bono – all political posturing and self-aggrandizement. He is not trying to suggest he is anything other than an honest working class bloke who is able to represent his class in song. Even if he were a gazillionaire, he would still represent the working class. That’s why although I like U2, I could never hold Bono up as a paragon. Indeed that view was further cemented this week when I heard him impersonating Bill Clinton on US TV, effectively bragging about what they have achieved together with their fight against AIDS and other charitable works. Worthy yes, but it came across as pompous and arrogant. I think the word that describes Bruce, and differentiates him from most rock stars (Bono especially), is ‘grounded’.
So I eulogize about Bruce not because his music is the greatest ever produced – I know too much about most genres and performers to avoid that particular viewpoint – but because he represents all that is positive, all that is humanistic and all that is to be celebrated about being alive.
I am not an American, and perhaps it is heinous or sheer cant on my part to suggest he is the Greatest Living American, but to me his qualities of leadership, service-orientation and straight-forward no-nonsense approach, is hard to beat.
If you are one of my transatlantic readers and disagree that he’s the greatest living yank, then please use the comment box to correct me. You’ll have to state a pretty good case though.