This is not a review of Wrecking Ball, the new Bruce Springsteen album, but I’m listening to it as I write this. Nothing in this essay is a about Mr. Springsteen, this story is about me. At one time I was passionately in love with Bruce Springsteen songs but I haven’t felt that passion since Darkness on the Edge of Town in 1978. All of Springsteen’s most successful albums were after that, so it’s me and not him. What I want to know is why did his music and my life intersect in 1975-1978 so well, but hasn’t since?
Romantics love to believe that love is eternal – but is that ever the case? Many will question my comparison of love for songs to being in love with people, but I wonder if love is love, and any passion we feel is based on the same laws of attractions. Buddhism shows us that desire is the cause of all suffering. But isn’t that just another description of lost love?
When we meet people with the right characteristics that set fire to our passions, we are driven to keep those passions burning as long as possible. Love is a drug with a painful withdrawal. Whether we fall in love with the girl next door or a new song on the radio all we can think about is how to keep pushing those buttons.
In 1975 I don’t know how many times I played Born to Run. I first heard the album while living in Dallas, but I moved back to Memphis to catch Springsteen in concert in a small auditorium, and it was like being in a hurricane of rock and roll. Of course I bought his two earlier albums, and in the years after that, before seeing him again for the Darkness on the Edge of Town tour, I got into buying all the Springsteen bootlegs I could find. I couldn’t get enough of his music. It was around this time I gave up getting high with drugs, and music was a positive addiction I used to fight the craving of a negative addiction. In 1977 I met my wife and we got married in 1978, so this was a very intense time for me, and Springsteen’s music provided the soundtrack.
I also loved Darkness on the Edge of Town with the same passion I did for Born to Run but something happen after that. When The River came out in 1980 my romance with Springsteen’s music was over. I kept buying Springsteen albums but the magic was gone. Except for a couple live albums that returned to the 75-78 years, I don’t think I ever played them more than once. The passion was over. Why?
That’s what I want to know, why doesn’t love last? I’ve been married for 34 years and love my wife Susan dearly, but we’ve changed, and things now aren’t like when we had to spend every day with each other. I think long-term love is a different kind of love. It’s almost as if the long-term love isn’t about pushing buttons but learning to live with the life between the button presses.
And that explains our modern world. We spend our lives always looking for new highs or trying to find our way back to old ones. And there are exceptions. Some thrills do last. Some songs keep firing those synapses and take us back in time. That’s the difference between human lovers and artistic loves. Art is static, people change. With art we’re constantly time traveling to the past to recapture an old feeling. We want to do that with the people we love, but we grow and change and it just doesn’t work. We can’t ever become young again.
I wished I kept a diary so I could chronicle all the things that turned me on during those years 1975-1978. Those were hard, lonely years for me. I had left the friends I had made during the 1971-1974 behind, to break away from drugs. I dated a series of girls that didn’t work out. I was making friends with a New Age crowd and trying to become religious without any success. I worked a bunch of different jobs, none of which I stuck with for more than a few months. I was still getting high but struggled to quit, and I read tons of books looking for answers. Music made me feel great. Springsteen’s songs weren’t the only ones pushing my buttons, I bought hundreds of albums during those years, but I think his music was the music I loved best then.
I’ve had two peak music times in my life, 1965-1968 and 1975-1978. I don’t understand the symmetry. Each peak involved a passion for dozens of groups and artists, but each peak had a central figure. In the 60s it was Bob Dylan, and in the 70s it was Springsteen. And yes, both of those peaks were during very stressed out years. I needed music during those years to survive. Maybe I’ve never been as passionate about music since because I gave up drugs, got a job, got married, finished college and settled down to a happy life.
Because I loved Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen songs so strongly during those troubled years you’d think the words meant something to me, but they don’t. I admired the words, but it was the music that ignited my passions. It was the music that made me play the songs over and over again. It was the music that made me feel alive.
I’ve often wondered if being fanatic over a song is like being a vampire, an emotional vampire. That the high we get listening to music comes from the emotion the artist felt achieving success and fame, and those powerful emotions come through the music, with fans living off their transmitted feelings. I’ve always felt the songs with the most emotional power are those when the artists are rocketing up with success. Born to Run is an ecstatic album. It’s the album that took Springsteen into orbit. Springsteen matured for Darkness on the Edge of Town, but he was still aiming at the Moon. To me, The River was like a master at work but the excitement of success was over.
The same is true with Dylan. Dylan feels like he had the world by the tail on Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde, and then on John Wesley Harding, he’s painting his masterpiece with a new kind of maturity. I can like and admire the mature artist, but it’s the clawing to the top artist whose songs I want to feed off like a musical vampire.
The last Bruce Springsteen song I ever loved was “The Fever” which was recorded before Born to Run, but I didn’t hear until after Darkness on the Edge of Town, on a bootleg. It was officially released in 1998 on 18 Tracks. “The Fever” is the only Springsteen song I still play often. I never tire of it. It’s the Springsteen song I live with. Thematically, I wished it had been the last song on the Darkness on the Edge of Town album.
JWH – 3/12/12