10 reasons why Bruce Springsteen is 'The Boss'
Bruce Springsteen is The Boss, but why? Ed Power attempts to explain it...
How to explain the ever-green appeal of a warhorse who, at 65, continues to cast an imperious shadow over rock and roll? There are the tunes obviously. Springsteen can flick up his collar and rock as hard as musicians half his age while also delivering ballads of extraordinary depth and tenderness. And there is that dogged stage presence. Six decades into his career, by rights, he ought to be burned out, and washed up, and yet, every time he strides from the wings, it's with a swagger that simply can't be faked.
Most of all, though, his appeal is surely rooted in a belief in the transformative power of rock and roll. Springsteen comes not to preach or to offer a shoulder upon which to figuratively sob. But he does want to communicate with his followers at a deeply emotional level – beneath the sweat and the strut, he is prepared to wear his heart, unflinchingly and uncynically, on his sleeve. In an age when so much in the culture feels faked or phoned-in, this arguably makes him unique. Springsteen is 110 per cent real and, to Irish audiences, that continues to prove irresistible. Here, then, are ten qualities that make Springsteen "The Boss".
1: He Never, Ever Goes Through The Motions.
Springsteen concerts routinely stretch past three and a half hours – and sometimes go on much longer. In rock and roll, as in life, there's an argument one can have too much of a good thing. In the case of Springsteen, more always equals MORE. On his 2013 tour of Ireland, for instance, he reprised, in its entirety, his landmark Darkness On The Edge of Town album, digging out obscurities without it feeling like an indulgence. His performances are epic in an era when rock stars seem increasingly small and irrelevant.
2: His Best Tunes Are Timeless.
Born To Run, The River, I'm On Fire… these songs are older than many of his fans. And yet, so imbued are they with pain and yearning, blood and sweat, they feel ageless. The urge to slip free of the constraints of small town claustrophobia, the wish that our lives that turned out different, the ennui that comes as you grow older and realise you can never truly go back…. these sentiments speak as strongly to Irish people today as to Springsteen, the frustrated young man in the depths of suburban New Jersey.
3: Even His Terrible Stuff Is…Kind Of Okay, Actually.
Let's not pretend Springsteen has never had a misstep. Born In The USA, his 1984 juggernaut, suffered from terrible eighties production – the synths on Glory Days, for instance, would not have felt out of place on a Level 42 dirge. Still, for all the clunkiness, even this fumbles have a curious charm. When Springsteen shows he is mortal, we like him all the more.
4: He Reminds Us Of A Time When Rock Music Meant Something.
At a moment when Kodaline and Coldplay are what passes for stadium rock, can we agree the genre has one foot in the waste bin? The biggest stars of the era are unabashed pop figures such as Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran (yes we know he plays guitar - but, really, he's a pop star). In that context, Springsteen reminds us how it used to be – when we truly believed rock 'n roll could change the world. You watch him commanding his vast band, sweating, stomping, just about holding it together, and you wish music still had a vital place in the culture. Springsteen is a lot of things –and yet he was never merely an entertainer.
5: But He Never Got Preachy.
You know what Springsteen's politics are without him ever slapping you about the head with a metaphorical inflated hammer. He delivered a devastating anti-war message with Born In The USA – no matter that a fair chunk of America mistook it for the blurtings of a knee-jerk patriot – and channeled the pain of small town, blue collar poverty on Nebraska and Born To Run. Yet there was never a 'Bono moment' where his politics slipped into preachiness. You can enjoy Springsteen regardless of your political perspective – and therein lies the difference.
6: It's Not Just About Bruce.
Though the E-Street Band are essentially hired hands, Springsteen is always generous with the limelight. He understands that the spine-tingling magic he brings to the stage is a work of collective will. Everyone has their turn in the spotlight – and Springsteen never lets ego get in the way.
7: He Has Aged Scarily Well.
Nobody expects sexagenarian rock stars to maintain the buffness of their youth – but it always helps if they can. Where close-peers David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney et all have succumbed, to varying degrees, to the aging process, Springsteen remains in uncannily good shape, as swim-suit pictures from several years ago testified. When performing muscular, swaggering rock, it is enormously useful that you still look the part.
8: He Doesn't Take His Music For Granted.
Having struck upon a winning formula in the early 80s, Springsteen might have spent the rest of his career presenting fans with variations on this narrow theme. But that isn't his way and he has not been above surprising, even shocking his audience. There was the downbeat 'divorce pop' of 1987's Tunnel Of Love, the knee-slapping folk of 2006's We Shall Overcome: Seeger Sessions, a collection of Old Timey standards with a palpable Irish lineage. Even when he returned to the 'classic' Springsteen sound with 2007's Magic LP there was no sense of pandering. Springsteen follows his muse and does not allow commercial considerations dictate.
9: He Has Good Taste.
In his position, Springsteen could easily have cut himself off from modern music. But he remains an astute follower of trends. He has collaborated with Arcade Fire and The Gaslight Anthem, in the process displaying a marked humility towards his follow musicians.
10: He's A Regular Dude.
Springsteen still lives in suburban New Jersey (albeit in a vast mansion) and walks among us in the fashion of a mere mortal. The Gaslight Anthem's Brian Fallon recalled the singer once gatecrashing a party, just like a workaday acquaintance might. "I threw this barbecue one time and, in the middle of it, we heard a knock at the door. It was Bruce Springsteen. He just invited himself. Seriously man - what do you say when Bruce Springsteen shows up? "