On Saturday 14th June, 2008, at around 9pm, I stood with about 70,000 people in Cardiff Millennium Stadium and sobbed. A 67 year old giant blasted out a ridiculous solo on his saxophone, and a smaller 60 year old in jeans and working boots howled and spun around the stage in front of me. I sobbed because it was Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band, and I sobbed even more because they were playing ‘Jungleland’.
I cant remember the precise moment I fell I love with Springsteen, which is odd. For example, I remember the exact moment 14 years ago when, sitting with my family around the table for a Sunday dinner, aged 12, my dad played ‘The Boxer’ and from that moment on, Paul Simon was an important feature in my life. I remember standing in a music shop in Cardiff thirteen years ago and hearing ‘A Design For Life’ for the first time and thinking of nothing except the Manic Street Preachers for weeks. But with Bruce I can’t. Maybe he’s always been there. I have memories of going through my dad’s vinyl collections as a child and thinking the Nebraska cover was rubbish. I know I bought my mother a copy of the Greatest Hits one Christmas and then stole it to play on my brand new CD player. And somewhere between then and now, The Boss has climbed to the top of my musical heroes list.
Music has always been important to me. I can’t do anything without having at least one headphone in or a record on, and I am physically incapable of leaving my house without my beloved iPod (who, appropriately and somewhat embarrassingly, is named Bruce). Hearing a song can completely change my mood, comfort me when I’m down, make me feel invincible or make me want to curl up and cry. Springsteen’s music seems to do all of this in one go. The hairs on my neck stand to attention just by thinking of the words ‘So put your make up on, fix your hair up pretty’, and ‘I’ll love you with all of the madness in my soul’ is probably my favourite line in a song ever. The first time I listened properly to ‘Hard to Be A Saint in The City’, I couldn’t understand a word of what he was spitting out, but I knew I loved it. When I read the lyrics, I loved it even more. It’s sheer, unadulterated poetry at its finest, and that was on his debut.
Critics have lauded him for the storytelling aspects of his songs, how vividly he depicts characters and situations and how the music reflects the bleak desolation or the desperate hope that they contain. I just love how they make me feel. There’s a frantic-ness that whirls through his music, and I cant quite explain the physical reaction I have, but just listening can make me breathless. That’s not to say we haven’t had our ups and downs. I admit my faith was momentarily shaken when, after getting up early and rushing into town to buy Working On A Dream on release day, I listened to ‘Queen of The Supermarket’. It took me all the way to ‘The Carnival’ to quite forgive him for it, but now, when I still don’t particularly love the song, I have to admire a man who will sing about a supermarket as a place ‘where the cool promise of ecstasy fills the air’. Possibly it’s one of his most profound lyrics.
Then there’s the live shows. I’ve only seen him three times, but that makes more than ten hours hours of watching a man over 60 years old blow every other performer I’ve seen off the stage. There’s nothing quite like the huge roar of a crowd screaming ‘Bruuuuuuuuuce’ (my sister thought they were booing him), or shouting along as he introduces his comrades, wishing that you were part of the ‘earth shaking, booty quakin’ E STREET BAND!!’. In Hyde Park last summer, when Roy Bitten’s piano introduction for ‘Thunder Road’ started, I almost had an asthma attack. I wanted to start a revolution against the banks when they played ‘Death To My Hometown’. Springsteen shows are an event. In years to come, I’ll be able to say I was there when London City Council cut off the microphones at his Hyde Park show and people will know what I mean. However much I gush or ramble on about his greatness, and however annoying it gets, it’s all true! I understand he is just a man, but he is man who wrote Darkness On The Edge of Town and The River. Etc etc etc.
I will stop now, because I don’t want to go into that crazed fanatic territory, but when one of his songs comes onto my iPod, on the bus home tonight, I’ll be right back there. This summer, when I’m standing back in the Millennium Stadium and E Street has come to town again, I’ll probably cry. If they play ‘Jungleland’, with Jake Clemons on sax instead of Clarence (RIP Big Man), the sobbing will start. But since the rest of the crowd will be having similar reactions, I don’t think I’ll be in bad company.