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Now More than Ever, Springsteen Speaks to Boomers

The Boss' celebrated one-man show on Broadway is relevant to many

By Shayla Thiel Stern

Like millions of others, my husband and I are big fans of Bruce Springsteen. Our first wedding dance was to Thunder Road and we’ve seen Bruce with and without the E Street Band at least a dozen times over the years. When he launched a limited-run Broadway show in 2017 (Springsteen on Broadway), a one-man spoken word and music tour de force that has garnered him an honorary Tony Award, I knew immediately what I was giving my husband for his birthday.

Credit: Henry Ruggeri

Rolling Stone’s review of Springsteen on Broadway called it an “intimate triumph … one of the most compelling and profound shows by a rock musician in recent memory.” We saw the show in early May, and it really was. Springsteen, who is 68, is able to relate and speak to people in a certain life stage in a way that few other popular artists of our time can (and in my case, elicit tears and laughter while doing so). Here are several examples that show The Boss is like so many of us:

Caregiving for a parent  From behind a single grand piano on stage, Springsteen discussed the influence of his mother on his outlook and art and confided that she’s battling Alzheimer’s disease. His mom is still truly happy when she’s dancing, he said, so he takes her out dancing whenever he can. So many of us have served as caregivers to parents who are slipping as they age, and so many can relate to the feelings of loss, exhaustion and relief in occasionally coaxing out a spark of their personality that seems to have become lost. Turns out, even the world’s biggest rock stars go through this.


Remembering Vietnam  Everybody who’s listened to the Born in the U.S.A. album knows Springsteen’s views on Vietnam, but hearing him discuss Vietnam in his own voice — rather than in the characters of his songs — was a revelation. He spoke about friends he lost to the war, the guilt he felt for getting out of the draft, cynicism over the government escalation and his inspiration by a chance meeting with Born on the Fourth of July author Ron Kovic. The last led Springsteen to become more involved with Vietnam veterans. All told, he sounded like so many boomers who are still working through their feelings about the war. If you haven’t listened to Born in the U.S.A. lately, give it a fresh listen; in our current divided political climate, songs like My Hometown and the title anthem feel more relevant than ever.

Mourning friends  I wasn’t surprised to hear Springsteen speak so openly about the loss of his longtime E Street saxman Clarence Clemons. But I was surprised how much his talking about their friendship and years of making music together — not to mention some wisdom about race and power — gutted me. By now, we’ve all lost people we love who left the world too soon, people who made significant contributions to our lives and who we remember through memory and music. As he sang a slow, piano version of Tenth Avenue Freeze Out in “The Big Man’s” honor, I remembered a friend I lost to suicide 10 years ago who loved that song.

Finding joy in growing older  “You sit around getting older,” Springsteen sang, followed by a spoken, self-deprecating, “There’s a joke here somewhere and it’s on me,” as the audience laughed with approval (and some self-perspective). Despite an epic performance that was often wistful and even heart-wrenching, so much of what Springsteen evoked was truly the joy and wonder so many of us feel as we grow older. He reminded us of the gratefulness for the partners and friends we still have, the pleasure for the music we still get to listen to and create and the inspiration from the changing, challenging world around us. There’s still joy in growing older and sticking around, Springsteen seemed to suggest. Watching his performance left no doubt.

Shayla Thiel Sternis the former Director of Editorial and Content for Next Avenue at Twin Cities PBS. Read More
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