Saturday 24 February 2018

Shake us all up, Bruce

July will be Springsteen month in Ireland with five giant gigs on the island.
July will be Springsteen month in Ireland with five giant gigs on the island.
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Expect lots of Dust Bowl ballads – and rousing rockers about emasculated workers – floating in the atmosphere across the nation next month. July will be officially Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen month in Ireland.

The blue-jeaned heir to Woody Guthrie and John Steinbeck will play five giant outdoor gigs on these shores in July: starting on the 16th at Thomond Park, Limerick; the 18th at Pairc Ui Chaoimh, Cork; the 20th at King's Hall Arena, Belfast; before finishing with a brace of shows at Nowlan Park, Kilkenny on the 27th and 28th.

And they are all, unsurprisingly, sold out. That's the primal power of The Boss, the itinerant prophet of a faded tradition of social conscience. People flock to see him like he is a messiah in their midst.

It could turn into a scene from Monty Python's Life Of Brian, but Bruce is way too copped on for that. You can see why, when Bruce first emerged in the late Seventies, he was touted as the new Bob Dylan.

As Bruce himself said: "The old Dylan was only 30, so I don't even know why they needed a f**king new Dylan."

Be that as it may, it has been argued when those two planes slammed into the Twin Towers that the new Dylan was entrusted with the almost biblical task of healing the soul of America.

Bruce went some way with that healing process on the subsequent classic albums The Rising and Devils & Dust. He sang on The Rising in response to the events of September 11, 2001: "Precious blood bind me / Lord, as I stand before your fiery light."

On his inflammatory 2012 Wrecking Ball album, Bruce berates the financial systems of the world over the people he believes they have robbed and betrayed.

He sings of "robber barons" and of rising anger in him thus: "If I had a gun / I'd find the bastards and shoot them on sight". Unlike certain other multi-millionaire rock singers, Bruce understands the times he lives in. Anyone who has listened to his music over the last decade or so will know that the spirit buried within it is one of being cheated and lied to.

And like Peter Finch in Network, Bruce is mad as hell, and he's not going to take it any more. And Ireland could do with a bit of that at this time in our history. Some of you are probably groaning loudly reading that last sentence. OK, rock-critic reverence of Springsteen is, of course, predictable if sometimes a little annoying too.

The ragged honesty Bruce has brought to his songcraft he has also brought to bear on himself. He hasn't shied away from admitting his struggles with depression. "When you are that serious and that creative, and non-trusting on an intimate level, and your art has given you so much, your ability to create something becomes your medicine," Patti Scialfa, Bruce's wife since 1991, told The New Yorker last year. "It's the only thing that's given you that stability, that joy, that self-esteem. And so you are, like, 'This part of me no one is going to touch.' When you're young, that works, because it gets you from A to B. When you get older, when you are trying to have a family and children, it doesn't work. I think that some artists can be prone to protecting the well that they fetched their inspiration from so well that they are actually protecting malignant parts of themselves, too.

"You begin to see that something is broken. It's not just a matter of being the mythological lone wolf; something is broken.

"Bruce is very smart. He wanted a family, he wanted a relationship, and he worked really, really, really hard at it – as hard as he works at his music."

Asked how her husband finally succeeded, Patti said: "Obviously, therapy. He was able to look at himself and battle it out. That didn't scare me. I suffered from depression myself, so I knew what that was about. Clinical depression – I knew what that was about. I felt very akin to him."

Patti also added poignantly that she remembered "when my family became pretty wealthy, and some people tried to make us feel bad about being wealthy. Here's the bottom line. If your art is intact, your art is intact.

"Who wrote Anna Karenina? Tolstoy? He was an aristocrat! Did that make his work any less true? If you are lucky enough to have a real talent and you've fed it and mined it and protected it and been vigilant about it, can you lose it?

"Well, you can lose it by sitting outside and drinking Ripple! It doesn't have to be the high life."

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