“Be able to keep two completely contradictory ideas alive and well inside of your heart and head at all times. If it doesn’t drive you crazy, it will make you strong. ” — Bruce Springsteen

I’ve always loved Bruce Springsteen’s fervent adoration of Elvis. His fantastic memoir devotes an entire chapter to what it was like hearing Elvis’ music for the first time – and the chapter doesn’t once include the word “Elvis”. That’s how UNDERSTOOD it is who Springsteen is talking about. Here’s a good article about the whole Bruce/Elvis thing. If you haven’t read his memoir, I highly recommend it! Fascinating. That and Keith Richards’ memoir are well-dog-eared door-stops in my library. And Springsteen is (unsurprisingly) a wonderful writer, evoking whole worlds in a few carefully placed words:

“When it rains, the moisture in the humid air blankets our town with the smell of damp coffee grounds wafting in from the Nescafé factory at the town’s eastern edge. I don’t like coffee but I like that smell. It’s comforting; it unites the town in a common sensory experience; it’s good industry, like the roaring rug mill that fills our ears, brings work and signals our town’s vitality. There is a place here—you can hear it, smell it—where people make lives, suffer pain, enjoy small pleasures, play baseball, die, make love, have kids, drink themselves drunk on spring nights and do their best to hold off the demons that seek to destroy us, our homes, our families, our town.”

I haven’t written much about him, but here are two pieces (one of which wasn’t written by me at all):

Over the last couple of years, I had a lot of fun posting my brother Brendan’s music writing from his old blog. He did a 50 Best Albums list, and then did a whole series on bands he loved, shows he’s attended, artists he revered, etc. I love Bren’s writing. I posted all of it.

Bruce Springsteen’s eerie Nebraska was #45 on Bren’s 50 Best Albums list (and the numbering was pretty much arbitrary, just a way to collate all of it.) I love Bren’s words on the album, particularly because he’s not a huge Springsteen fan.

In 2019, I reviewed Blinded by the Light, based on journalist Sarfraz Manzoor memoir Greetings From Bury Park: Race. Religion. Rock’n’Roll. Manzoor broke free of his immigrant family’s expectations because of Springsteen’s music, which showed him a way out. It’s a wonderful movie (so many critics included words like “I’m not a Springteen fan, but–” in their reviews. Hey. It’s not about YOU. Who the hell cares. Bazillions of people DO love Springsteen. Welcome to the minority.) Anyway, right around the time that Blinded by the Light came out, my niece and nephew – ages 5 and 3 – discovered Springsteen and became obsessed. I wrote about this in the review. My niece Beatrice was Bruce Springsteen for Halloween. Like … that’s the level we’re talking about when we talk about Bruce Springsteen.

And finally: I love that Eric Church – country-rock-and-roll-crossover-superstar – wrote a song about Springsteen, and what Springsteen’s music evokes for him. Beautiful lyrics. Song as sense memory conduit. This is what music does for us. It transports us back.

“The primary math of the real world is one and one equals two. The layman (as, often, do I) swings that every day. He goes to the job, does his work, pays his bills and comes home. One plus one equals two. It keeps the world spinning. But artists, musicians, con men, poets, mystics and such are paid to turn that math on its head, to rub two sticks together and bring forth fire. Everybody performs this alchemy somewhere in their life, but it’s hard to hold on to and easy to forget. People don’t come to rock shows to learn something. They come to be reminded of something they already know and feel deep down in their gut. That’s when the world is at its best, when we are at our best, when life feels fullest, one and one equals three. It’s the essential equation of love, art, rock ’n’ roll and rock ’n’ roll bands. It’s the reason the universe will never be fully comprehensible, love will continue to be ecstatic, confounding, and true rock ’n’ roll will never die.” — Bruce Springsteen

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5 Responses to “Be able to keep two completely contradictory ideas alive and well inside of your heart and head at all times. If it doesn’t drive you crazy, it will make you strong. ” — Bruce Springsteen

  1. Clary says:

    Hi Sheila
    I don’t know if you’re aware of the journal B.O.S.S. The Biannual Online-Journal of Springsteen Studies. No joking!
    I quote: It aims to publish scholarly, peer-reviewed essays pertaining to Bruce Springsteen. This open-access journal seeks to encourage consideration of Springsteen’s body of work primarily through the political, economic, and socio-cultural factors that have influenced his music and shaped its reception. BOSS welcomes broad interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary approaches to Springsteen’s songwriting and performance. The journal aims to secure a place for Springsteen Studies in the contemporary academy.
    The current issue, Vol. 4 (2021) has an article called Everyday People: Elvis Prestley, Bruce Springsteen and the Gospel Tradition.
    I thought you might like to know.

  2. mutecypher says:

    Bruce knows his classics. The first quote above is a lot like the Red Queen’s comment
    “Sometimes, I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” Some Lewis Carroll, and Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.”

    Then there’s the Colonel Parker implication in “artists, musicians, con men…” Which reminds me of the first sentences in the foreword of Born to Run, “I come from a boardwalk town where almost everything is tinged with a bit of fraud. So am I.” And Col. Tom reminds us of He Who Wasn’t Named. The Snowman and the Showman.

    His comment “People don’t come to rock shows to learn something. They come to be reminded of something they already know and feel deep down in their gut” echoes Samuel Johnson’s “People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.” He knows the classics. And respects them

    I saw The Pretty Reckless last month, at a fairly small hall. Just being 60 feet from the stage and shouting the lyrics brings such a feeling of liberty. A reminder of what life can be. True rock ‘n’ roll will never die.

    It’s interesting to think of Bruce as a reminder rather than an instructor. As someone who sings “hey look at this, you know what I’m talking about.”

    • sheila says:

      I’ve never seen Bruce live – but a friend of mine has and the shows are of legendarily longn length. like, 4 hour shows. and he’s running around and jumping on pianos and the man is in his 70s. He gives the people what they want. You buy a ticket – even if you’ve gone to see him 20 times – he’s gonna play everything you want to hear. I really respect that.

      // Just being 60 feet from the stage and shouting the lyrics brings such a feeling of liberty. /

      Yes! Seeing Imagine Dragons at Fenway was the first conccert I had been to in a long LONG time and it was exhilarating!

  3. Shawn says:

    I never cared for Bruce until I listened to his album The Ghost of Tom Joad. His sober delivery worked beautifully on that album, and I realized I just never cared for his standard vocals, to me, overbearing. But that album, he let it all drop away and it was purely the songs that spoke loud. I think Nebraska was also made in that vein, but I haven’t ever listened. I am very much a lover of other artists covers of his songs. Especially Camera Obscura’s Tougher Than the Rest, and Patti Smith’s Because the Night. I should put a playlist together!

    • sheila says:

      Nebraska is eerie. His albums are always built as albums – not a collection of singles – and so I definitely recommend you give it a listen in its entire. My brother’s piece expresses the feel of that album better than I ever could. nebraska has my personal favorite Bruce track – State Trooper.

      You definitely should put a playlist together! That would be fun!

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