It ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive: Springsteen at 70


There’s a scene from Gurinder Chadha’s 2019 film “Blinded by the Light” in which the Pakistani protagonist has an epiphany upon ingesting the lyrics to Bruce Springsteen’s 1984 smash “Dancing in the Dark” for the first time. It’s as if an atomic bomb has been dropped on his consciousness and life as he knows it will never be the same again. From that moment on, everything he does is filtered through The Boss’ affinity for yearning and unbridled curiosity for what lies beyond the confines of one’s insular existence.

I experienced a similar moment of clarity on Nov. 22, 2009 when I caught Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in Buffalo for what would later become their final show with Clarence Clemons manning the saxophone. The defiance of “The Promised Land,” Bruce’s snarling solo on “Lost in the Flood,” Steven Van Zandt’s 59th birthday present in the form of “Restless Nights,” an overlooked power-pop ditty that suggested even Springsteen’s “B” material could be stronger than anything that passed for top-40 gold during the aughts. It all sent a wrecking ball (pun intended) straight through my soul and left me feeling as if the three-and-a-half hours I spent inside HSBC Arena was a catalyst for deeper self-discovery.

As a 21-year-old intellectual introvert who spent more time studying human interaction than engaging in any, the confidence with which Springsteen presented himself lyrically spoke to me, because he validated a lot of the feelings I had but never externalized until I started living and writing on my own terms. I wanted to find a girl who would meet me in the fields out behind the dynamo. I was ready to keep pushing until it was understood that I deserved to be taken seriously as a writer. And, most importantly, I respected my roots yet recognized that the desire for something greater didn’t make me a bad person, just somebody whose ambition was beginning to outgrow his surroundings.

Whether it was the life-affirming jolt of “Born to Run” or the sparse, DIY demons of “Nebraska,” Bruce had an album for every situation. His catalog fueled me through multiple college degrees and provided the soundtrack to my life at a time when I desperately needed something other than myself to believe in.

It’s both the universality and immediacy of his message that enables him to surge into his seventies, a reality that even the detractors can acknowledge as impressive. He’s still out there proving it all night, still out on that hill giving it everything he’s got in pursuit of keeping the American Dream alive. He’s always understood that the dream is only as strong as those willing to fight for its survival, so, as we barrel towards what promises to be one of the defining election cycles of our time, consider that none of us should be persecuted for how we choose to live in our American skin.

Bruce brought us together with the post-9/11 lament, “The Rising,” and, given how deep our divide continues to get, it may be time for him to do it again.

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