How Bruce Springsteen Ruined My Day and He Can Wreck Yours Too.
One Step Up and Two Steps Back down the Tunnel of Love.
You can’t listen to Bruce while you write. Technically, you can, but it won’t do you any favors in the focus department.
Your brain will split; you’ll be singing along with him, while the other half of your brain attempts to think, write and read, all quite poorly.
Then there’s the other problem. Bruce takes you with him, and before you know it, you’re down the road, your mind’s drifting across the scenes he paints as you ride with “The Boss” through the story of his album.
All his songs on a single album are connected. He carries a theme and tells a story. He is one of the best, if not the best story-telling singer/songwriter. But, unfortunately, if you’re not prepared to go on the journey, Bruce Springsteen will ruin your day, and it’s precisely what Bruce, unsympathetically, selfishly did to me.
It’s easy to picture. I’m sitting at my desk working on a feel-good piece. A lovely story about my daughter, a Christmas wish, and my subsequent trip across the globe via the internet to deliver her requested present. The present was a big deal — the journey to get it even more extensive.
Because I was feeling upbeat, despite layers of personal hardship pressing me flat like a Panini, I scrolled through my Spotify for a playlist that carried the mood of hopefulness and celebrating small victories. That’s about all I have going for me these days. Small victories, winning tiny battles, and surviving another day. So queue a playlist to help keep me afloat.
I swiped past my usual chill beats, the Jack Johnson, Bahamas, and Phosphorescent. Next, I vetoed the lists titled “Groovy, Come See the Sunshine, and Wanderlust,” none of those quite fit. Then, a little further down in my “recently played” list sat Bruce. My favorite album of his, Nebraska, was a bit too bare and morose. So I bumped over to the “My Best Boss” playlist.
My writing resumed with the gentle, poignant, and beautiful “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” I was there, sitting near the campfire with Bruce. While he searched for the ghost of Tom, I worked to revive the memory of a memorable experience with my daughter. Bruce and I fell in sync.
Then, Bruce went and sabotaged me.
“Woke up this morning, the house was cold
Checked the furnace, she wasn’t burnin’
Went out and hopped in my old Ford
Hit the engine but she ain’t turnin’”
First off, I’m always cold lately. The house thermometer says 21°c/70°f, but I’m wearing a shirt, underneath a long-sleeve, with a sweater overtop. You got me there, Bruce. It’s chilly.
Secondly, I own an old Ford. A 2007 F-350 diesel job. The old girl has nearly 500,000km/310,000miles on her. I always worry about her turning over. I can’t afford a new truck or for her to break down. I know she’s tired and not as fancy as the new girls with the Bluetooth and backup camera, but she’s tough, she’s reliable, and she’s all mine. Still, Bruce made me a little sad as I raised off the chair and looked outside at her rust-wearing wheel wells and badly cracked windshield.
The end of the first verse came along, and the melancholy set in.
“We’ve given each other hard lessons lately
But we ain’t learnin’
We’re the same sad story, that’s a fact
One step and two steps back.”
Marriage is wonderful, and marriage is hard. Unfortunately, my marriage is firmly in the “hard” stage. I’m out of empathy, and my wife is out of patience. It’s not the recipe for a great time. So, we rely on the solid foundation we built our relationship upon in order to survive.
Somewhere under the blanket of frustration and neglect, there are memories, but that’s all they are — fleeting pictures of an unbound love affair a lifetime ago and the drastic difference between then and now.
“Bird on a wire outside my motel room
But he ain’t singin’
Girl in white outside a church in June
But the church bells, they ain’t ringing
I’m sitting here in a bar tonight
But all I’m thinkin is
I’m the same old story, same old act
One step up and two steps back.”
Married in the last week of June in the fruit basket paradise of my home province, it wasn’t just a celebration; it was a party. I handled the food, made the wedding cakes, yes plural — one spiral-tiered wedding cake and a dark chocolate groomsman cake dressed in a fondant tuxedo. Chef friends arrived to cook and serve the food on the day of, and my wife handled everything else. My sister and her lunatic boyfriend, later to become her insane husband, ran the DJ booth and delivered the music until the fuzz showed up to shut us down at 3 am.
The Honeymoon was a weekend in a remote private resort, access by boat only, skipping across an enormous lake then staying in, of all things, a massive, magnificent treehouse. We, my wife, and I were going to set a new standard for married couples doing it right, and for a long time, we did. It was a glorious run.
Then the trappings of life and the reality of going the distance set in.
“It’s the same thing night on night
Who’s wrong, baby? Who’s right?
Another fight and slam the door on
Another battle in our dirty little war
When I look at myself, I don’t see
The man I wanted to be
Somewhere along the line, I slipped off track
I’m caught movin’ one step up and two steps back.”
Bruce holds the human experience of marriage in the palm of his hands, and his words seemingly pull the echoes of regret from my soul. How did we get here? Oh yeah, I fucked up. A selfish act, a few poor financial decisions, and an ego that wouldn’t allow me to let go of a business I’d built up over a decade, that’s how. Add a few personal tragedies, a plummet in the productivity of my chosen professional field, and a drastic reduction of income all turned the tide of happiness in the home. Picking myself up off the mat to get back in the fight and carve out a new career, then injury and illness. Finish that cake off with still less money.
But in the end, it’s those two lines that hit hardest.
“When I look at myself, I don’t see
The man I wanted to be”
Not even freaking close. The desire and ability to be a good father is the glue that’s left holding this thing together, but it’s a one-dimensional model.
“There’s a girl across the bar
I get the message she’s sendin’
Mmm she ain’t looking too married
And me, well honey I’m pretending”
And boy, are we ever both pretending. The Mrs. is a master at holding up the façade, but so are many others. The difference between her and me is that she cares so much about what others see. I don’t care at all. Let them see whatever they want. It’s not making my life better or worse.
But, the other half of me still has a breath that dreams of things wanted and needed. Oh, he’s playing the make-believe game hard. Playing with temptation through a screen and typed nuances and innuendo. All he’s waiting for is to receive a woman with that “message she’s sendin’” because it’s something and just a flicker of knowing he’s still got enough-is enough.
“Last night I dreamed I held you in my arms
The music was never-ending
We danced as the evening sky faded to black
One step and two steps back.”
I still want to dance. I still have some moves. I still feel the music.
But don’t go feeling all torn up for me just yet, because Bruce does what he does. After he takes you down to the carnival of life, he sets you on the Ferris wheel and takes you up where you can see the whole crazy, scary festival that moves beneath your dangling feet with another of one of his tracks.
“Well there’s another dance
All you gotta do is say yes
And if you’re rough and ready for love
Honey, I’m tougher than the rest.”
Then more hope;
“I got a dollar in my pocket
There ain’t a cloud up above
I got a picture in a locket
That says, “Baby, I love you.”
“Rain and storm and dark skies
Well now they don’t mean a thing
If you got a girl that loves you
And who wants to wear your ring.”
And just maybe, maybe that hope is enough.
“Now I’ll do wh at I can
I’ll walk like a man
And I’ll keep on walkin’”
Because the only other option is;
“But there’s things that’ll knock you down you don’t even see coming
And send you crawling like a baby back home
You’re gonna find out that day, sugar
When you’re alone, you’re alone
When you’re alone, you ain’t nothing but alone.”
So be wary; listening to Bruce Springsteen can ruin your day, but he’ll also give you another day to want.