“35 summers on, let’s go down to The River and see what we find.”
With those 13 words, Bruce Springsteen basically encapsulates everything that I hope to achieve with this blog. But since concision wasn’t on the top of Bruce’s mind when writing The River – the double album that practically willed this website into existence – I shall use a few more words to explain what you should expect to find on these pages in the coming months.
Howdy Tramps, and welcome to Write All Nite. If you’re here, you probably know me as one of two people:
- The Checkered Shirt Guy. If you recognize that name, I don’t need to explain its origin. If you don’t, hey look – I wrote a whole, long article about it here.
- Steven Strauss – that’s my parents-given name. A brief bio: born in Baltimore (Jack), bred down San Diego way, realized it was a town full of losers and pulled out of there to win, shuffled just north of Bruce’s hometown to go to college at Columbia, learned how to learn more from a three minute record by getting a degree in English, serenaded sufficiently by New York City to remain after graduation, lived on 53rd street, worked on 57th street, saw my name up in them city lights as a Broadway producer, then finally left that job to pursue my runaway American dream of becoming a writer – thus ends the Sparknotes version of my last 25 years burning down the road. Other stuff happened, but those are stories for another day and page.
This blog is my first foray into turning that aforementioned dream into a reality. But what will I be writing about here? A multitude of subjects, but let’s start with the predominant one, which you can probably guess by now:
THE HEART-STOPPING, PANTS-DROPPING, HOUSE-ROCKING, EARTH-QUAKING, BOOTY-SHAKING, VIAGRA-TAKING, HISTORY-MAKING, TESTIFYING, DEATH-DEFYING, LEGENDARY…BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN AND THE E! STREET! BAND!
Due to perhaps an enormous twist of fate, Bruce and the band announced that they would be touring behind the recently released 35th anniversary box set of The River right around the time that I quit my job to become a writer.
As any die-hard Bruce fan knows – all of whom I will forevermore exclusively refer to as “tramps” – his music tends to become the soundtrack of your life. Though I grew up hating his music because I knee-jerk assumed it was only for “old people,” I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I began to open up to his music once I came of age. Mindless youthful pop, it is not. I don’t want to get too deep into it now because this is merely an introduction, but Bruce’s music strikes the perfect balance between being intimately personal yet wholly universal. Understanding that dichotomy – and where you fit between those two inextricable polarities – requires a certain level of maturity.
I reached that maturity around the age of 17, which was also when I first saw him in concert. Recently, a good friend of mine told me that he believes the music that you listen to between the ages of 17-22 becomes the music that means the most to you for the rest of your life. I don’t know if that’s true for everyone, but I definitely know it’s proven true for me thus far.
There have only been two people in my life who were not only there for me but also helped me through everything from my first relationship to my first heartbreak, my first affair, my acclimating to leaving home, my acclimating to living alone in a new city, my worries, my hopes, my dreams, my desires, my deepest fears, my first real relationship, my grandest aspirations, my identity crises, my existential crises, my tears (dear god, so many tears), and of course, my joy. Only two people, and those two people were myself…and Bruce Springsteen.
And those are really the only two people that this blog will be about. I’ve always loved to write, but writing and being a writer is very different. This blog will hopefully serve as the bridge between me merely doing the former and me becoming the latter. But the only way to become a writer is to write. So that’s what I’m going to be doing: writing. A lot. About Bruce and – through the lens of his music – myself.
In the same way that Bruce conveys the universal by delving into the intensely personal, hopefully what I write about Bruce and myself will resonate with you. And hey, if I was actually writing ONLY for myself, I wouldn’t be publishing it anywhere. Again, writing vs. being a writer. You play a big part in my quest towards the latter.
Okay, but seriously Steven/Checkered Shirt Guy, what the fuck are you going to be writing about?
I’m in the process of telling you, jeez hold your damn horses.
As I was saying (thousands of words ago), Bruce announced he and the band were going back on tour a few months after I quit my job to become a writer. Those few months were some of the most excruciating of my life. I knew that I wanted to be a writer – writing is one of, if not the only activity that feels totally right to me while I’m doing it – but I had no idea how to become a writer.
I toiled away week after week trying to write a piece with which I was happy enough to actually release to the world. But I failed. Miserably. With only my own standards to meet, I was never content with what I had written. There was always something that could be improved. There was always an idea in my head that I just couldn’t figure out how to get onto the page. And there was always that crippling insecurity in the deepest reaches of my psyche that forced me to face the un-faceable: what if you can’t be the only thing in life that you can possibly imagine being?
Needless to say, I was completely lost. But like all of the other previous times when I strayed too far from the road that is my life, my everyday savior decided to stop relaxing with his feet up in the swamps of Jersey and instead gathered his trusty, lifelong band-members back together for another jaunt around the world.
Truthfully, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band were far from my depressed mind when they announced they would be going back on tour. Not only that, instead of touring behind new music as per the norm, they would be touring behind The River – my absolute favorite album – to celebrate its 35th anniversary.
Which brings us back to the quote that started this piece, and what exactly I’ll actually be writing about here. Shall we parse the quote out? Yes. Yes we shall:
“…let’s go down to The River…”
First, a completely random but completely necessary aside that’s essential in helping you understand this quote. When writing about Bruce’s music, song names will be in quotations and album names will be italicized. This is actually important because almost all of Bruce’s albums share a name with a song on them. So, for instance, since The River is italicized in the quote above, it refers to the album. However, if I were to tell you that “The River” was my favorite song on the album, it would be in quotations. Now, kids, let’s put it all together: “The River” is one of my favorite songs on the album titled The River. Capiche? Good. Back to business:
Once Bruce announced that he and the band would be going on tour, I knew that I had to do whatever I could to join them for as many shows as possible. When I had felt lost in the past, Bruce’s music and concerts allowed me to find my way back to the road. So many of his songs feature characters trying to find themselves on the road, it was only fitting that I would once again be doing the same.
I’m lucky enough to be able to go down to The River many times on this tour by seeing a plethora of shows, and I will definitely write about them here. However, I will NOT simply churn out straight-forward recaps. The great folks over at Backstreets.com already do an excellent job at covering that front, and I don’t want to step on their toes…ESPECIALLY because they’ve been kind enough to allow me to write a few recaps and I don’t want that to end.
BUT, I will say that their reviews – for the most part – focus exclusively on what happens at every concert. That’s all well and good, and I totally understand that most people are only really interested in finding out the what…but personally, I’m much more interested in the why. What happens at a show is more than anything simply a list of facts, whereas trying to come up with theories as to why Bruce decides to do what he does involves a fair amount of conjecture on my part.
These subjective interpretations bring us to the next part of the quote that I want to unpack, so let’s get nitty gritty:
Notice how I italicized exactly half of The River in this quote? You probably thought it was a typo. If you did, you thought wrong.
Integral to Bruce’s aforementioned balancing act between the personal and the universal is his masterful ability to write lyrics that can be interpreted in a variety of different ways, from obvious ones such as whether Terry is a boy or girl in “Backstreets,” to those that could inspire multiple essays to fully explore their meaning such as “is a dream a lie if it don’t come true…or is it something worse?”
I absolutely love wading through these murky artistic waters to find all of the possible explanations as to why Bruce decided to include a certain lyric in a song or why he decides to perform that song in a specific concert. The best type of critical writing makes me question the meaning of pieces of art that I’ve long thought I fully understood, and a majority of my writing will be devoted to exploring all of these possible truths.
I’ll be doing deep, DEEP dissections of his songs, albums, live performances, and perhaps even his personal life in hopes of uncovering new epiphanies about these subjects.
I italicized half of The River in this quote to give you a little crash course in what I’m talking about. Since the quote comes from Bruce’s nightly introduction to The River album performance portion of the concerts, it’s impossible to know if he’s talking about the literal River album or if he’s talking about figuratively going down to the river, which is a classic act of spiritual, communal rejuvenation widely associated in the western world with religious baptisms. Since Bruce can’t use my type of italics/quotations textual key when he speaks, we’re left to our own devices in figuring out what he means.
Personally, I think he consciously phrases the quote – and all of his writing, and even what aspects of his personal life he decides to share – in such a way as to to pack as much potential meaning into his complexly nuanced words as possible. I will do my best to offer every interpretation that I can think of by unpacking what I find in a similar manner to what I’m doing right now with the above quote.
Regarding my odd half-italicization of The River: hopefully you understood that I was trying to convey to you that the literal music – symbolized by the album-denoting italics – is always more important and thus comes before my figurative interpretations of that music, symbolized by the plain text. Though I may spend more time focusing on my interpretations of the songs versus the songs themselves, it should always be understood that the music is by far the more essential element in this equation. The songs are timeless and unchanging, whereas my interpretations are very much timely, based on the here and now, and could change at any given moment.
If I can put this type of simple thought into a dumb blog, you really don’t think Bruce did the same when he spent hours upon hours toiling away at writing these songs?
But even if he didn’t, perhaps that doesn’t matter. Which brings us to:
Clearly I will be sharing a Big Man-sized amount of purely subjective interpretations with you, and you’ll probably disagree with a lot of them. When dealing with subjective matters, there is no right or wrong answer, and art is perhaps the most subjective matter of all. Now here comes an unpopular opinion that I need to include here because it’s one of the foundational tenets of my approach to this sort of writing (I’m even going to put the sentence in its own paragraph to emphasize the importance):
A random audience member’s interpretation of a work of art is just as valid of an explanation of that work as the original intention of its artistic creator.
Hearing an artist explain their art can undoubtedly prove enlightening, but their words should never be taken as complete gospel. Instead, the artist’s interpretation of their own work is simply one amongst many possible interpretations. If 20 people hear a song – including the writer of the song – there immediately becomes 20 different interpretations of that song, each one valid. If an artist wants their work to mean one thing, then they shouldn’t share it with anyone. Once shared with the world, art no longer belongs to its creator. Instead, it belongs equally to every single person who consumes that art.
Enough abstract talk; let’s get specific. As I’ve already explained, I will be dissecting a lot of Bruce’s songs to uncover their hidden meanings. This won’t happen for a variety of reasons, but let’s say I were to put forth in an article an interpretation of one of his songs that Bruce directly negates in a subsequent interview. Afterwards, I still would not consider my interpretation to be incorrect because untrue interpretations of art cannot existence. Remember: art is about truthS, not THE truth. There is no right or wrong in a subject as subjective as art, and that holds true for the creators of art as well.
I’m a big believer in the human subconscious, specifically how we can often not even be aware of why we do or say or believe certain things. That’s why Bruce has spent much of his career trying to understand himself through his music; he knows that the deepest goldmines available to us all are ourselves, and he’s been digging for his entire life.
But just as someone who writes can’t be a writer until they share their words, so too can someone not fully understand themselves until they see that self through the eyes of others. Locked inside of our own consciousness, we are incapable of adopting a more objective perspective on ourselves. But once you share your self with others, you allow yourself to be seen and perhaps better understood by more external perspectives. And that, dear reader, is where you come in, and this is why I decided to highlight the fact that Bruce includes a contraction that means “let us” in this quote.
As I wrote before, this blog is mostly for myself…but that doesn’t mean you don’t play a very important role. Since I’ll be proposing a lot of unprovable subjective interpretations of his music, you will surely and rightfully disagree with me at times. I honestly hope that you do. If I didn’t want to hear your thoughts, I wouldn’t be publishing my writing here. Trying to find truths in anything – including art – is always a struggle, and all struggles should be tackled by communities, not individuals.
Bruce actually talks about this idea at every concert in his introduction to The River that the above quote comes from. He says that the album – on one level – is about community-building; with it, he attempted to create a community for himself comprised of the characters featured in the songs on The River to help him think through the trials and tribulations of coming-of-age. Though he viewed himself as mostly a Jersey bum outsider for most of his young life, his early career success forced him to become a man of the people.
Yet what type of relationships – the foundation of any community – was he to form with these people? He didn’t know the answer, so he wrote an album that basically cycles through every type of possible relationship, allowing him to converse with his characters about his relationship questions.
Yet that wasn’t the only community he was forming. As I just wrote, the characters in his music had begun attracting real people to him, and so began the creation of the E Street Nation. Bruce has said that he views his career as a lifelong conversation with his fans, and though he’s clearly the one leading the conversation, we all play an important part. I think this ties into why Bruce makes an incredibly concerted effort to involve the crowd as much as possible during his shows.
Singalongs, crowd surfing, finger-pointing, waving, dancing in the dark with some lucky dame (or dick)…heck even calling out a random guy in the audience and inviting him backstage – Bruce doesn’t just dabble in all of these antics for fun; they all both figuratively and literally bridge the customary gap between performer and audience.
Bruce has often said that he will stop performing on the day that he looks into the crowd and no longer sees himself staring back at him. He understands the vital reciprocal relationship between him and his audiences, and he wants them to be active participants in that relationship. Fans obviously see themselves in his songs even though they obviously weren’t written with them specifically in mind, and Bruce self-admittedly sees himself in his fans.
Similarly, I hope that you discover new revelations about both what I’m writing about and even yourself when reading my articles.But I also want to discover new revelations from YOU as well. In the same way that Bruce leads his musical conversation with his fans but still wants us tramps to participate in it, so too will I be leading the conversation here on this website but still want to hear from you. As such, please please please feel free to leave comments here or contact me on Facebook or Twitter or email.
I’ll be writing about Bruce’s songs – which can be seen as conversing with them in a way – to learn more about both them and myself, and your contributions to this conversation are critical to all of our understanding. Who knows, I may even publish what you write and share the spotlight for a change. Just the Checkered Shirt Guy paying it forward…
As I’ve written, though I’m writing mostly for myself – like Bruce does – I sincerely hope I can have an impact on other people. And the only way for me to know if I’m succeeding in this regard is if I hear from you! So don’t be one of those people who just stands there with their arms folded at a concert. They’re no fun anyways.
“35 summers on…”
Now that you’re hopefully comfortable with the idea of Bruce’s music containing multiple truths, we can tackle the beginning of this quote. Though he introduces the full River album performance every night by talking about community-building, he ends the album by talking about time during “Wreck on the Highway.” Given the fact that it’s a song about death – and how the eternal shadow of it looms over us all every day of our lives – Bruce is clearly looking at the concept of time through the prism of his own mortality.
Though the band can still rock anyone into submission, it’s no secret that these may be their last days. And as such, they seem to be looking behind them more than ahead of them. This is a tour of reflection, especially given the fact that they’re touring behind a 35-year-old album as opposed to new music. Throughout the concerts, Bruce talks a lot about what he was thinking as a young man writing these songs versus how he views the songs now as an old(ish) man.
And at last, we arrive at the question that has kept me from launching this blog in the weeks since I thought of doing so – a question that may have even popped into your mind as you were reading this opus:
Bruce has million and millions of fans around the world, all of whom have something to say about Bruce. What could I possibly write that others couldn’t convey better? I by no means know more about Bruce than a lot of the lifelong tramps out there, and I obviously haven’t been to as many shows given my relatively young age.
But there was a moment during the band’s recent stop in Philadelphia on February 12 that changed my mind, all thanks to one man:
Near the end of that show’s main set, Bruce and the band took an old warhorse out for a spin: “Jungleland.” One of Bruce’s most memorable and encompassing masterpieces, the song is undoubtedly best remembered for the deceased Clarence Clemons’ transcendent sax solo that serves as the emotional crux of the song. For about 25% of the song’s nearly ten-minute duration, all of the chaotic noises and lyrics and sounds fade away into some of the most beautiful two-minutes-and-thirty-seconds ever recorded on vinyl. It is without a doubt one of the most landmark achievements in the storied careers of both Bruce and especially Clarence.
So much so that some didn’t know how the song could survive his death. Who could ever fill the shoes of such a Big Man? How could the song be played without him? It seemed impossible and perhaps even hopeless to try and scale those heights.
As always, Bruce responded to those questions with the simplest of answers: all you have to do is put one foot into one of those shoes, do the same with the other, strap on that saxophone, and just blow. And that’s exactly what Jake Clemons – Clarence’s nephew – did.
And on that cold Friday night in Philadelphia, Bruce gave Jake his first chance on this tour to make his uncle proud. With the entire support of E Street Nation both within the arena and listening/following along at home, Jake – as he now has multiple times since the passing of his Uncle – delivered a masterful performance that had many in tears.
Was it the same as Clarence’s renditions? Of course not, as it shouldn’t be. Only Clarence can play like the Big Man, and Jake isn’t Clarence. The fastest way for art to fade into meaninglessness is by performing it in the same way forever. And Bruce and the band are too smart to make such an obvious mistake. With ample respect paid to the past and to the man who helped shape this masterful solo, Jake put his own spin on it as only he could.
Two songs later, at the end of “Thunder Road” – a song that will most probably and fittingly be played at almost every show on this tour – Bruce strummed his guitar solo on the left platform while Jake blew his sax solo on the right platform. They were looking at each other, locking eyes. In the connective air between these two men – separated by the rest of the band and the crowd below – resided the last 35+ year history of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. All of the songs, all of the shows, and all of the memories were encapsulated in the distance between Bruce and Jake as they played one of the band’s most famous tunes.
If Bruce represents the past, Jake represents the future. Though Bruce created all of these songs, he knows his days of playing them are numbered. And once he’s gone for good, the songs will belong to the next generation. And Jake is that next generation.
Though some lifelong tramps may resist the idea that their generation’s claim on these songs and these shows is coming to an end, Bruce is willingly passing them along. This tour isn’t comprised of the Boss giving his age-old audience some more new music. Instead, he’s allowing those who may not have been alive to see The River – the album that he says best captures the full magical life of the E Street Band – performed live in 1980 the chance to finally do so before it’s too late. All of the stories contained within these songs helped create and define the community that we now call the E Street Nation, and that community needs an influx of new voices to survive.
The new voices on stage have belonged to the likes of Jake and Jay Weinberg, drummer Max Weinberg’s son that stepped in for his absent father for a handful of shows on previous tours. Keeping it a family affair only reinforces Bruce’s career-long focus on exploring what past generations give to the next, and where we take it from there. Since he’s quickly becoming a member of that past generation – which he must realize when he sees so many faces of the next generation popping up in his crowds – he’s consciously trying to communicate to his audiences what he wants to pass on and what from his past he may want us to change. He understands that we inherit the sins but we also inherit the flames, specifically the flames that so ignited him all those years ago to write his way out of his given conditions in the hopes of finding something more on the road out there.
Yet unlike Darkness on the Edge of Town – the album that these lyrics appear on – The River doesn’t just contain songs of relentless anger and desperation; it includes healthy doses of those, but it also contains the joy and the hope that Bruce has always tried imparting to his audiences at his live shows. More than any of his other albums, The River depicts life in all of its infinite, contradictory complexities. Though Bruce may have found one way to live with those complexities way back in 1980, his everyday solutions implicitly proposed on the album may not be the best answers for today.
And that’s why he’s asking all of us every night of this tour to go back down with him to The River to see what we find. Though The River was written 35 years ago, it still has plenty to say about today as long as we understand that the meaning of these songs may have changed in those three and a half decades. For after all – to slightly misquote another tour staple – we must never stop pushing until it’s understood, and these “Badlands” start treating us good.
And though Bruce can help us understand how all of his music has changed over the years, sometimes it takes a red-headed woman fresh ears to get a dirty job done to truly understand how old music speaks to the here and now. And you know who has fresh ears? The Checkered Shirt Guy – otherwise known as me – that’s who.
I know I’ve compared myself a lot to Bruce throughout this piece, but trust me when I say that I by no means put myself anywhere near his level. BUT, Bruce has served as one of my ultimate role models, and I feel like putting his preaching into practice may be the best way for me not only to honor him but to thank him for everything that he’s done for me. If I can even make one person understand that his music wasn’t just timely but also timeless, it will have been worth it.
And that’s why a good portion of this blog will be devoted to re-explorations of his catalogue of songs and album. Yes, his music has been dissected for years, but very few have done so recently. And VERY few of those doing the dissecting grew up in the 21st century. If we want to understand how his music bridges the gap between the centuries – and in turn predict how it will be perceived for many years to come – shouldn’t that endeavor be tackled by someone who has studied the ins and outs of the 20th century but still very much considers himself a product of the 21st?
So that’s what I’m going to do: dig deeper than anyone has dug before into his songs and albums to see what new discoveries I find so many years after the first earbuds heard his brilliant music.
On that night in Philadelphia, as Bruce and Jake were playing “Thunder Road” on either side of me, I contemplated just how much had changed in the temporal distance that separated the two band-members. Since Jake was literally born in the same year that The River was released, and since Clarence was just a little older than Jake is now for the original River Tour, and since a large majority of Bruce fans were introduced to the Boss and the Band during that time since it was their first global tour, and since so many of those old fans are now bringing their young kids to experience this music for the first time live with the exact same album, now feels as good a time as any for someone caught in the middle of all of these confluent events – me – to explore what Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band used to mean, what they mean now, and what they may mean for the next generation.
Did you notice how I slightly misquoted Bruce’s quote in the previous section? Though this is a prime example of yours truly almost surely looking waaaaaaay too deeply into Bruce’s chosen words – many of which may be mere afterthoughts to him – I find it quite interesting that Bruce says, “…let’s go down to The River AND see what we find” versus “…let’s go down to The River TO see what we find.” Who knows if it was a slip of the tongue that may slip the other way on any given night…but I actually think that’s a pretty profound difference.
If he had used ‘to,’ it would’ve implied that the only reason we were revisiting this music was in the name of serious re-evaluation. Though that’s undeniably a noble intention – and one I will very much be pursuing throughout these pages – it would prove too limiting for Bruce. Instead, ‘and’ connotes that this intention is merely one amongst many for Bruce in playing The River every night. The others? He specifies that as well every night earlier in the very same introduction: “laughter, tears, comradery, sex, love…” etc. etc. etc.
Similarly, you should not expect that every article I post will be an attempt to completely redefine his music. Though a lot of them will be serious, I hope to include equal measures of levity as well. And sometimes, I may just write a love letter to a song or tell a personal story. Who knows. I’m a wild card. Expect the unexpected.
Another interesting word choice for Bruce: “35 SUMMERS…” instead of “35 YEARS…” Want to know what’s really odd about that? Neither The River was released during the summer – original release date: October 17, 1980 – nor was this quote said during the summer.
Alrighty Brucey, so what gives? What gives is that Bruce clearly views The River as a summer record. Not only because songs like “Sherry Darling” and “Out in the Street” capture the carefree spirit that makes so many people love summer, Bruce also understands that summers are a more manageable and personal microcosm of an entire year. Years are cyclical – winter turns into spring which turns into summer which turns into fall which turns into winter and so on and so forth ad infinitum until we die. Lives get lost in the ceaseless tide of monotonous years, full of responsibilities as vital as paying taxes and as meaningless as shoveling snow.
Summer, on the other hand, is often seen as a time of infinite possibility within the confines of a finite amount of time. Some people view summer as a time to struggle through their summer jobs so they can enjoy the rest of their year. Some people view summer as a time for unchained vacations. Summer can encompass summer flings, summer loves, and of course summer heartbreaks. Whereas a full year requires most of us to eventually face the responsibilities of our lives, summer can be both an escape from life AND a re-commitment to that life.
This is the sort of interconnected dichotomy that Bruce loves, and it reminds me of my relationship to Bruce’s music in a way. Though some view art as a means of escape from their daily lives, I view art as a way to make me feel more connected to my life. Bruce’s music increases my empathy for those both around me and from all walks of life, and thus through the lessons found in his songs I often reconnect with aspects of my life that have been lost in the flood of everyday, mindless mundanity.
Though the story of a life is told over the span of years, very often short summer stories can reflect much larger, life-spanning ideas and trends. The vastly different experiences that can be had during those summer months captures the range of possible experiences afforded to us at all times in our lives as long as we adopt the right perspective. After all, summers can feel brief to some yet endless to others. The River perfectly conveys this diversity of experience: it contains short songs and long songs, seemingly nonsensical tunes AND intensely serious ones.
Using the album as a guide, I hope my posts bear the same range. Some will be long and some will be short; some will be goofy and some will have aspirations of grandeur. In the same way that someone first listening to The River could never know what type of song to expect next, I hope to continually surprise you with what I post here.
Yet all of my posts will hopefully have some goal more than just getting words down on paper. To elucidate what I mean, I’m going to leave Springsteen behind temporarily for the next best artist whose last name begins with an ‘S:” Shakespeare.
Though Bruce is undoubtedly my #1 artistic love, he sadly can’t tour 24/7, and it’d be naïve to expect him to be around challenging me with new music for the rest of my life. As such, I’ve had to find other interests along the way. Of those, my three preferred ones are film, television, and especially theatre. If I ever want take a break from writing about Bruce, or if I ever see something that just strikes my fancy, I have every right to write about it here.
Why? Because a) it’s my blog and I can do whatever the fuck I want, and b) I’ve already warned you that this might happen. Look at the top of the website – note the parenthetical “and a taste of other charms.” Those other charms: movies, TV shows, musicals, plays, and whatever else compels me to sit down in front of my laptop and bang on these keys. Everything that I wrote in regards to how I’m going to analyze Bruce’s music – and how I’m analyzing his quote here – also applies to these subjects.
So as I was writing: Shakespeare often equated summer with the forest life, which was in contrast to the stark, cold life of civilized society in the cities. If people lived meaningful but dull lives within the walls of the city, they escaped their boring lives for carefree fun by heading out to the forests that surrounded the metropolises.
Yet similar to Springsteen, Shakespeare understood that this wasn’t a simple dichotomy. Though the lovers of A Midsummer Night’s Dream escape the realistic, civilized restrictions placed upon their love in the city by foraying into the forest, the latter doesn’t so much allow them to ride off into the sunset together as it does provide for them a freer place to test out and ultimately understand the nature of love. They in turn take the lessons that their time in the forest teaches them and apply those to their “real lives” in the city.
I think Bruce has a similar view of summer. Yes, it’s an escape…but it’s an escape that can teach many valuable lessons that you not only ultimately bring back but actually brings you back to your normal, everyday life. Just like “hard times,” summers come AND summers go, so these months both bring you away from your life AND eventually bring you back to it.
In a way, my time on tour with Bruce is a version of this type of summer retreat. I don’t have many responsibilities right now, and some may argue that I’m very much leaving my real life behind…but I’d posit that I’m simply on a foray into the forest to see what I might find. And whatever that may be, I will surely bring it back with me when I make my inevitable return to the (New York) City.
And this blog will be a way for me both to chronicle my adventures and discover/explore the enlightenment buried within those adventures, for all adventures – no matter how seemingly trivial – contain some form of enlightenment if you look at them the right way. Instead of just mindlessly enjoying the fun and games of a Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band tour, my writing here will always keep me accountable and connect me to my city life because, as much as I love to write, it can be a grueling fucking process. Though seemingly fun, it’s still the working, the working, just the working life.
But hey – Bruce repeatedly celebrates the benefits of just such a life. As he says, nothing worthwhile can come from something that doesn’t require hard work. And since he’s the Boss…
“…and see what we find.”
Confused? I hope so. If you weren’t, then why would you have any interest in coming back to find out more? Like in Bruce’s best songs, full stories only reveal themselves after multiple listens, after you give both yourself and the song time with each other. If you understood every aspect of a song in the first go-around, why would you ever listen to it again? The best things in life are those that slowly reveal themselves to you over time, which is what I’m going to do here both with myself and with Bruce’s music.
Am I saying that the last 7,500 words – the purpose of which was to inform you of my goals here – weren’t sufficient enough to tell you everything that I want to convey? Yes, I in fact am. When hearing a story, it always helps to know the path the storyteller took to get to the place that prompted him to begin his tale. And that’s what I’m going to be trying to communicate over the coming months: the story of Bruce and his music and this tour, and how all of those contain multitudes of subjects that can enlighten and entertain and enhance our lives through considered and convivial reflection.
Hopefully you now have a better idea of how I got here, why I’m here, and where I may end up taking us in the coming months. But to be honest: I don’t even know the answer to that last part yet. If I did, I would just tell you where we’re heading to save you hours upon hours of reading time.But just like a plethora of Bruce’s characters over the years, I know what road I’m on, I see it rising in front of me, but where it may end nobody knows.
That’s why I want to conclude this piece by touching upon this part of the quote; Bruce doesn’t tell his audiences what they should expect to find because he doesn’t even know himself. He may perform the album every night, but you just never know what you might find on that 33rd time.
Which brings me to my final story (for today) and then it’s time to hit the road. I don’t remember where I heard this story, and for all I know it’s most probably apocryphal…but like Bruce’s best stories, their fictional natures don’t mean they contain any less truths. So here goes:
When Bruce was writing songs for the album that would become Born in the U.S.A., he was a man obsessed with the idea of becoming a global superstar. That pressure loomed over him, inspiring him to write more songs than he ever has at any other point in his career because he wanted to ensure the album included his absolute best work. And how was he supposed to know what his best work looked like unless he plumbed the depths of himself to extract every possible song?
Near the end of this period of excessive productivity, as the album’s release date approached, he felt as if he had a collection of songs that he imagined would make him a household name around the world. And yet, Jon Landau – his manager – disagreed. To his ears, he still hadn’t heard a guaranteed #1 hit single. Bruce – at his wit’s end after writing literally hundreds of songs – basically threw a tantrum, telling Jon to politely go fuck himself and that it was now his responsibility to find a hit radio song out of all of the possibilities Bruce had already given him. As Bruce stormed out of the recording studio, Mr. Landau apparently yelled, “C’mon Boss – you know you can’t start a fire without a spark.”
Though still furious, Bruce couldn’t get that line out of his head as he was sitting in his house that night. He walked into the studio the next day with yet another song. Next thing the world knew, Courteney Cox and Bruce were “Dancing in the Dark” into people’s hearts all across the globe.
I wanted to end with this story for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it’s a great example of how even Bruce’s personal real-life stories – in addition to the fictional ones he tells in his songs – can be explored in so many different ways to reveal hidden truths, such as: note how Bruce’s excessive verbosity ended up leading to him achieving his dream of becoming a global superstar, but the song that put him over the top was almost an afterthought.
Though some may argue that excessive verbosity is a complete waste of time, I’m of the belief that such rambling can lead to a promised land that’s better than the one you promised yourself you’d find. And again, I titled this blog Write All Nite because that’s exactly what I’ll be doing: writing and writing and writing and writing and then writing some more. Who knows what spark I might find in the most unexpected of places?
Regarding that idea of finding your own promised land, Bruce has always had a fascinating relationship to the concept of dreams, such as his dream to become a superstar through Born in the U.S.A. In a typical Springsteen-ian interrelated dichotomy, Bruce has often equated the act of dreaming with youth, yet he still understands that adults often benefit from retaining their childlike dreams. Though I could literally waste the rest of your life listing every single time he mentions this idea, I’m only going to include my two favorites here, starting with one from The River:
“Once I spent my time playing tough guy scenes / But I was living in a world of childish dreams / Someday these childish dreams must end / To become a man and grow up to dream again.”
“Mister, I ain’t a boy, no I’m a man / And I believe in a promised land.”
Being 25-years old, I’m in a transitory stage of my life where my childhood is ending forever and my adulthood is irrevocably beginning, much like Bruce was when writing The River. In the same way that Bruce says every night of this tour that he wrote The River – his first album on which he explored the type of serious relationships that he had yet to experience personally – to bring himself one step closer to living his dream of actually experiencing such relationships firsthand, so too will I be writing all of my thoughts here to bring myself one step closer to living my dream of becoming a professional writer.
Yes, I know – and I’m sure Bruce did as well – that writing for yourself isn’t the same as living your dream of writing for someone else, in the same way that writing about relationships isn’t the same as living your dream of being in such a relationship yourself, but allow me to use one more lyric to defend the role of writing in achieving one’s dreams:
“To say I’ll make your dreams come true would be wrong / But maybe, darlin’, I could help them along.”
And that’s what this blog will hopefully do: help us along on this road that we’re travelling down together, even if it won’t make all of our dreams come true. Over the next few months, I’ll truly be living every interpretation of a “runaway American dream.” I write ‘every interpretation’ because I’ve never been able to decide if Bruce intended that phrase to mean Wendy and the singer of “Born to Run” are themselves living a runaway American dream by simply hitting the road, or are they chasing after an eternally elusive runaway American dream that they’ll never be able to live?
Hopefully we’ll find the answer to that question over the coming months, but my inclination is that it’s somewhere in between the two interpretations. Perhaps chasing the American Dream IS living the American Dream, even if you never get to that place where you really want to go. The only way a dream can be worse than a lie is if you never pursue it.
AAAAALL of this is to say: welcome to my dream. Grab your ticket and your suitcase, thunder’s rollin’ down this road. Well I don’t know where we’re goin’ now, but I know we won’t be back. And I need a good companion now, for this part of the ride. Let’s keep pushin’ till it’s understood, and maybe one day we can finally meet in the promised, bad junglelands of high hopes and dreams.
The trains leaving – all you have to do is get on board.
 And one number.
 My justification for a writer misspelling a word contained in the title of his website: I liked the repetitive bookend look of Write All Nite…or the Write All Night URL was just taken. I’ll let you decide.
 Never found that little cafe though…
 Got stuck in traffic down there quite a bit too…
 There were many incidents…to say the least.
 One that clearly loves over-utilizing forced Bruce references and footnote asides…speaking of the latter, shout out and R.I.P. to Bill Simmons and Grantland, respectively, for helping me to understand that such running-commentary asides are better suited for footnotes than in-text parentheses.
 And here you may have thought I was disparaging you before, my kind reader. Not so! ‘Tramps’ is in fact a term of endearment in Bruce’s world…isn’t that right, Wendy?
 AKA my tramp of a father. Hi, Dad!
 And if anyone thinks that’s the best way to describe Born in the U.S.A.…well just wait until I get around to writing about that album, which I feel is one of the most misunderstood works of art from the 20th century. What a bold, hyperbolic claim! Get used to them.
 Which is yet another story for another time. I will say that I apparently attended a concert on The Rising tour in 2002…but since I was a 12-year-old selfish brat who wanted to be the boss every minute over seeing the Boss, I barely remember it. Do I still count it in my official Bruce tally of the total number of times I’ve seen him in concert? Of course!
 Hi, Scott!
 Heck, I don’t even know if that’s going to be true for me since I hopefully have much more life to live in the future .
 Hi, Lindsay!
 Better than one.
 For the most part…more on that in a bit.
 As I’ve learned in the months since I quit my job.
 Most will probably say too much, but there’s a reason (or two) that I named this blog Write All Nite
 It’s not, but it’s close.
 More so than with any other musician that I’ve ever experienced, Bruce’s music and live shows are intrinsically linked.
 He’ll apparently be playing the entire album in sequence at almost all of these.
 I will always publish the original, longer versions here that I submit to Backstreets before their editor-in-chief Chris Phillips works his wonderful and necessary (clearly) editing magic on my writing. That way, you can read both if you so desire.
 More on conjecturing in a bit.
 If you think the word truth can’t be plural, then this probably isn’t the blog for you.
 Jesus was apparently the first person ever to be baptized, and John the Baptist did the deed in a river.
 He probably wouldn’t even want to because it would be way too easy of a shortcut for listeners, and he knows that people should work to understand the truth. “Keep pushin’ till it’s understood…” indeed.
 This hypothetical scenario entails either a ludicrous coincidence OR Bruce somehow reading my writing…let a man dream here.
 And it had to be a double album because no single album can fully contain the differentiated complexity of life.
 Otherwise known as fans.
 There’s a reason they’re called BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN and the E Street Band, not just the E Street Band…and perhaps another reason he used a contraction in the quote above instead of spelling out ‘let us’ was to emphasize the importance of the action that he’s leading OVER our role in it.
 Though the F-word is always somewhere on the menu when it comes to almost every aspect of Bruce’s concerts, and it’s usually near the very top.
 Every single tramp that I’ve ever met has at least one story about the Boss that they’re impatiently waiting to share.
 Full disclosure: I was unequivocally one of those people…though tears may actually be an understatement. Have you ever been to Niagara Falls? Much more accurate imagery for what I’m talking about.
 The obligatory point to the heavens and all.
 True story: I totally thought the lyric was “You inherit the sins, you inherit the pain,” which also makes sense in context…but as always, Bruce’s version trumps mine.
 I often wonder if we even come from the same universe.
 That’s probably not actually going to be the case, but this blog ain’t called Write All Nite because I’ll be posting SHORT articles! Have I warned you enough times yet that I named this blog Write All Nite because I tend to dabble in excessive verbosity? If not, don’t worry – there’s one more coming!
 My dissections will focus more on his lyrics and less on the technical aspects of his music because I’m a writer, and words speak to me more than notes. If that’s a problem, deal with it.
 I keep pulling fast ones on y’all!
 Writes the guy listing every single thing that his readers should expect here.
 As someone who just returned from the likes of Buffalo and Cleveland in the middle of February, let me tell you: I fucking wish it was summer.
 Though the holiday that gives its namesake to “Independence Day” obviously falls in the middle of summer, I hesitate to use that song as an example of what I’m writing about because Bruce isn’t really referring to July 4. Thus the reason this anecdote only deserves a footnote!
 Boss forbid!
 I’ll also be referencing some of these subjects while writing about Bruce OR referencing Bruce while writing about the other subjects. I’m just a loose cannon like that.
 I literally always call it A Midsummer’s Night Dream for no apparent reason. Oh, and I guess I should include as well an italics/quotations/underlines key for all of the other subjects that I’ll be writing about here. Easy enough: titles of movies, plays, musicals, and TV series will be italicized; specific episodes of TV series will be in quotations; titles of books will be underlined (I’d be shocked if you ever see one of those in these pages).
 Even though the album ended up including seven (!) top-ten hit singles, you never know if any of them would’ve made it onto the airwaves without the perfect introduction to the album.
 As evidenced by the length of this “introduction.”
 I’m not actually going to dissect these songs now because a) I want to devote entire posts to doing so and b) I’m ready for this introduction to be over, as I’m sure you are as well!
 AKA getting paid to do this.
 Again, assuming that someone else will pay you.
 Because such a lofty aspiration requires more than just writing.
 And make sure to pack a chair so you can relax while reading my excessive verbosity. Have I used the term excessive verbosity enough times in this piece? Not even close.