Understanding the Boss.

As a Canadian teen in the 1990s, Bruce Springsteen was the epitome of everything I disliked. Just look at the cover of Born in the U.S.A. – that American flag, those jeans, the white t-shirt. The song “Born in the U.S.A.,” with its bombastic productions, ’80s synths, and anthemic chorus, was what I was against, man. Yet, he was inescapable (“Streets of Philadelphia,” anyone?). For all my resistance, radio still ingrained the Boss into my brain. And then as grew older and wiser (y’know, 15-16) and I explored things other than “alternative” and “punk” music, I began to ease up on Springsteen. I began to know the hits from the radio, a few other tracks here and there, and picked up The Rising in ’02.

So I finally decided to buy that cool new Bruce Springsteen collection that has all of his albums from Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. through Born in the U.S.A. I’ve always been a fan of the Boss – though rather casual. I felt it was time to really dig in. I mean, The majority of his albums from the ’73-’84 period constantly make it on all of those ‘greatest albums of all time’ lists. Well, I dunno what it is about these albums, but they make sense. I totally get Springsteen. I think once a man turns 30 the Boss speaks to you in a language you can’t understand until then.

Songs like “Working on the Highway,” “My Hometown” (both from Born in the U.S.A.), and “Thunder Road” (from Born to Run) – songs I was familiar with – suddenly resonate deeper and hit harder than they did in my late teens. A song like “Factory” from Darkness on the Edge of Town (a freaking phenomenal record, by the way) wouldn’t have stirred me either way at 20, but now… now, it knocks the wind out of me.

Through these albums, one witnesses Springsteen’s evolution from wordy Dylan-esque rock ‘n’ roll revivalist (just listen to how The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle burns through the entire history of rock ‘n’ roll) to one of the most prolific and matured artists of the ’70s and ’80s. Lyrically, the Boss builds on established themes of rock – broken hearts, teenage dreams, and the like – but he constructs them in such a complex way, weaving them into intricate narratives and character studies, creating emotionally challenging pop songs.

Ultimately, these albums deserve the amount of praise they’ve received over the last few decades, I only regret that it took me until 30 to understand the Boss.

About James Hrivnak
The H is silent.

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