Bruce Springsteen is my favorite songwriter. It’s not Dylan. It’s not Simon. It’s not Lennon or McCartney. It’s Bruce. That’s not to say I don’t love the other guys, it just that I find myself drawn over and over to Bruce (we’re on a first name basis here). I’ve never really sat down to figure out why until now, but I think I’m figuring it out.
Bruce has, and has always had, his finger on the pulse of America. He is a chronicler of the stories of this nation. But more than that, he is a spokesman for humanity itself. Bruce has a way of merging together all of the complexities in the human experience, sorrow, frustration, anger, love, and joy in a way that makes them make sense.
It’s that joy in particular that is particularly unique to Bruce. Lots of us songwriters can write the sad songs, the angry songs, the songs about being worn down and tired (Bruce still does those better. Go listen to The River. It will break your heart). But joy, joy is hard. It’s hard because it can feel shallow, aloof. But the joy that Bruce sings is weighed down in sorrow, and that’s what makes it so potent. It’s joy in the midst of hardship.
Through these hardships Bruce has often been our guide. Born To Run and Born In The U.S.A helped the country deal with the ravages of Vietnam. The Rising walked us through the grief and pain of 9-11. And the more recent Wrecking Ball, Bruce voices our anger at at the corruption of the financial system and the broken promise of the American Dream. Yet in all of these records, this hardship is met with joy. There’s the longing for something better in "Born To Run”, the hope of recovery and rebuilding in “My City Of Ruins”, and the promise of redemption in “Land Of Hope And Dreams”. His songs put meaning to human suffering. And by the magnitude and longevity of his success that meaning has been felt by the masses.
If you’ve ever been to a Bruce show you know it’s a party. A 3 hour sermon and the gospel is rock and roll. And everyone there is a believer. They’re believers because they’ve been there. They’ve felt the pain. They’ve felt the longing. And for these 3 hours they’ll feel the joy, the kind of joy weighted in sorrow. The kind of joy that is real. That is human. The kind of joy that can last.
That’s why Bruce is my favorite songwriter. Because of his joy. Because in the tears you know that there will be laughter, you know that there will be dancing and that “together, we can break through the sadness… cause tramps like us, baby, we were born to run”.