The TAO of Bruce Springsteen’s America

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Photo by Danny Clinch

After 146 consecutive shows on Broadway, Bruce Springsteen went off script. He interrupted his teleprompter driven performance to riff on the immigration crisis along our southern border, spawned by the “inhumane” Trump administration policy to separate children from their parents. It’s not the first time The Boss has spoken out against America’s immoral behavior- and it certainly won’t be the last. Springsteen isn’t just America’s most prominent Rock ‘n Roll voice, he’s also become the country’s moral thunder.

It’s been a tough couple of years for those fighting to preserve long-standing American values and morality- but, these last two weeks have stretched that ideological struggle to its limits.

When Jersey born Anthony Bourdain tragically passed nearly two weeks ago, the world didn’t just lose its most well known and admired traveler, it lost one of its most authentic souls. While we may never fully understand why he chose to take his own life, there’s no denying what we’ll miss most about him- which is why the 2018 Tony Awards, just a day after Bourdain’s passing, took on a more pronounced meaning.

In an evening that celebrated America’s best theatre, a couple of Bourdain’s fellow authentic flag bearers for the arts distinctly made their voices heard. On a stage filled with Broadway theatrics and unmistakable talent, “the Pied Piper of Rock N Roll” and the original ‘Godfather,’ Robert De Niro, stole the show- and rightfully so.

The Tony’s presented Bruce Springsteen with a special award for his critically acclaimed 1-man show, ’Springsteen on Broadway.’ De Niro introduced Springsteen, prior to his one song performance, by first addressing the well-behaved patrons seated before him, in the most authentic Bobby D way possible. Somewhere, Bourdain was smiling.

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mural by Jonas Never — Santa Monica, CA

‘Fuck Trump!’ wasn’t just a call of the wild or outrageous stunt- it was a precise reflection of the vast majority of those in the room and the millions more watching across the globe on TV. It was also pure De Niro, who’s never one to hold back an opinion or two when it comes to our current President. Which brings us to Springsteen.

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photo by Danny Clinch

Springsteen, not unlike Bourdain, is not just another Jersey boy who has suffered with bouts of depression. The Boss may be the only outspoken entertainer left who continuously shines a remarkably positive light on the American dream, asking us to understand ourselves, learn from where we’ve been, and see where we’re going. Springsteen remains hopeful- something Bourdain clearly was not.

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photo by Frank Stefanko

In his deeply introspective, inaugural Tony performance, Springsteen masterfully delivered his story- just as he always seems to do. His sensibilities and life philosophies arise from where most of our personal ideologies come from- our childhood home. A sense of place, purpose, community — a universal language that speaks directly to the commonality of our souls.

Comedian Sarah Silverman tweeted that Springsteen made us feel we were all from Freehold, New Jersey (Bruce’s hometown). And she wasn’t joking. As someone who’s experienced over a hundred Springsteen live performances, I can assure you this was exactly Bruce’s intention; and for that matter, what he does best- he makes his story, our story. He assures us we may come from separate times or backgrounds, but we’re all from the same town. Our collection of shared experiences far outweighs our differences- something that appears lost in the current Trump domain.

After seeing ‘Springsteen on Broadway,’ actor Val Kilmer posted an epic Facebook review, declaring Bruce an “American Buffalo” and “a national treasure.” The reigning ‘King and Queen of All Media’ were similarly moved. Howard Stern, who’s been to the Walter Kerr Theatre (home for ‘Springsteen on Broadway’) twice, shed unexpected tears, calling the night he first saw the show, “one of the most emotional nights of my life.” Oprah, gushed afterward, “He (Bruce) was able to break down the human uniform we all wear and speak directly to the interior of me. So much so that I felt my heart aching and my soul resonating, yearning for more. It was the definition of a spiritual experience.”

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photo by Rob DeMartin

With ‘Springsteen on Broadway’ and throughout his brilliant career, Bruce perfectly captures the essence of America, and in it, we the people- all our marks of beauty, along with all our scars of darkness. When you further examine his collective works, you’ll find a number of recurring themes that not only constructed the foundation for his career, but also serve as the fundamental building blocks for America. What do we stand for? What are we about? What matters most? Some find these answers in history books, many with religion- others in politics- and some find them with Springsteen.

De Niro and Springsteen enjoy a moment with President Obama at the 2009 Kennedy Center Awards White House reception

You want to live a better life? Be a better you? Make America great….then, you might be wise to heed the 11 principles of Bruce Springsteen’s America. There’s never been a better time to study: The TAO of BRUCE.

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1. Life

“It ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.”

Badlands, Darkness on the Edge of Town — 1978

What’s interesting about this song lyric is that it came during a time of great professional conflict and identity for the man who penned it. What it points to is Bruce’s never ending reminder to himself, and to his audience, that you have to live your life as best you can, right now! Above all else, Live in the moment!

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Happy Days at the Super Bowl

2. Love

“Everybody’s got a hungry heart.”

Hungry Heart, The River — 1980

It’s no surprise that “love” is the most common theme in song, film, literature and art. Love is universally treasured and sought. Bruce built his professional career around its essence, writing countless songs about chasing love, learning to love, understanding love, and of course, failed love. Bruce will be the first to tell you love is not an easy ride. It takes courage and it takes time. Life is incomplete without love. It’s that simple. The greatest gift you can offer someone is your love. Bruce reminds us to commit to love in My Love Will Not Let You Down, and affirms that Two hearts are better than one” in Two Hearts.

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3. Girls

“I’d drive all night just to buy her some shoes, and to taste her tender charms.”

Drive All Night, The River — 1980

What do heterosexual men want? We want women. Bruce writes and sings about girls exactly how men think about them. Despite “romantic visions” in his head, Bruce reminds us he’s also a realist; albeit, a righteously stubborn one. He’s all too familiar with every man’s frustrations, obsessions, rejections and struggles with the opposite sex. He sings about unrequited love, “When I see you with your man, I wish I was blind.” He understands and shares the same problems we do. Getting them, keeping them and, ultimately, committing to them. Nevertheless, there’s nothing we won’t do to capture your admiration or to be with you- whether you’re a Sandy, Mary, Mary Lou, Wendy, Rosie, Cynthia, Janey, Theresa, Frankie, Candy, Kitty, Linda or a Red Headed Woman. Bruce knows only a girl can cause “that thunder in your heart.”

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photos by Danny Clinch

4. Cars

“I swear I found the key to the universe in the engine of an old parked car.”

Growin’ Up, Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ — 1973

Nothing is more singularly symbolic of American freedom and the American dream than the automobile. A car can take you anywhere you want to go. It’s also the primary vehicle of seduction. Aside from girls, cars remain at the core of Springsteen’s universe.

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photo by Danny Clinch

5. Work

“Early in the morning factory whistle blows

Man rises from bed and puts on his clothes,

Man takes his lunch walks out in the morning light,

It’s the working, the working, just the working life.”

Factory, Darkness on the Edge of Town — 1978

A man’s entire self-esteem is often affected by his work. But a job is only that. Too many of us let our work determine our worth. It’s not great to work. More importantly, work to be important in someone’s life. Work to be great. In the 2010 documentary, The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town, Bruce said, “More than rich, more than famous, more than happy- I wanted to be great.”

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6. Manhood

“I tried to change, I got a job in sales

I bought a shirt uptown in Bloomingdales

Hittin’ cool just like Jimmy Iovine.”

Ain’t Good Enough for You, The Promise — 2010

Becoming a man certainly doesn’t happen overnight or in any particular ceremony- manhood evolves over time. Just as Bourdain attempted on a daily basis, Springsteen aspires to be a better man to himself and to others. While both men could equally be described as “a man’s man,” both knew bravado and ego were not male virtues. Sensitivity and empathy were much more important qualities. Be confident and be bold- but always humble. Determine what you want and go after it. No retreat. No Surrender. “Walk tall or baby don’t walk at all.” Try to be Tougher Than the Rest. And if you have to get down on your knees and beg your woman for forgiveness, do it!

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7. Faith

“Faith will be rewarded.”

Land of Hope and Dreams, Wrecking Ball — 2012

Believing in something that is beyond our grasp or complete understanding is what faith is all about. You don’t necessarily know what “it” is…but, you feel its presence. Whether it’s faith in a religious guide, faith in humanity, or faith in music, faith is a powerful part of our inner strength. No matter how tough times get or how much you’re struggling, keep hope alive. Somehow, someway, you’ve got to find a Reason to Believe. While Bruce is a man of traditional Catholic faith, he doesn’t make any claims that others should follow his path. Rather, we need to find our own road to walk down, one that delivers us peace, harmony and comfort. Without faith- we’re lost.

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photo by Danny Clinch

8. Hope and Dreams

“Tomorrow, there’ll be sunshine

And all this darkness past…

Meet me in the land of hope and dreams.”

Land of Hope and Dreams, Live in New York City — 2001

When Melissa Etheridge spoke on her MTV Unplugged special in 1995 about Bruce’s influence on her life, prior to him appearing on stage with her to perform “Thunder Road,” she said, “If anyone can make you dream, it’s Bruce Springsteen.” Ironically, in grade school, kids picked on Bruce for always daydreaming. Before he was revered as “The Boss” he was ridiculed as “The Dreamer.” Good thing he didn’t listen to them. Everyone has the right to dream. And the most important thing about dreams is they should never stop. In 1984, long time New York Times music critic Stephen Holden recognized the role of hopes and dreams fueling Bruce’s music. “The central tenet of everything Springsteen had ever done was hope.” Bruce famously remarked in a 1998 interview with renown journalist Wil Percy, “I was always trying to shoot for the moon.” 36 years after his debut album, Springsteen released ‘Working on a Dream.’ Dreams keep us moving forward.

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9. Brotherhood

“We stood side by side each one fightin’ for the other.”

Blood Brothers, Greatest Hits — 1995

Nobody wins, unless everybody wins. This is a recurring thought Bruce shares from his pulpit on the stage. We may come into this world alone, and leave it, alone; but in between, we’re “blood brothers” from the same flock. No one truly makes it on their own. One world. One community. Bruce has searched for meaningful connections his entire life. His self-proclaimed “life long conversation with his audience” is not a One Way Street. Bruce vows, it’s the common ties that bind us which really matter the most.

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photo by Danny Clinch

10. Music

“We learned more from a three minute record than we ever learned in school.”

No Surrender, Born in the USA — 1984

A life without music is empty. Beats and rhythms are our lifeline, our salvation. Music feeds our soul and illuminates our world. It moves us and it shakes us. It wakes us and it drives us. It’s the soundtrack to our lives. Of course, Bruce always knows the words that say it best, “The best music is essentially there to provide you something to face the world with.”

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photo by A.M. Saddler

11. Death

“As long as we’re here and you’re here, they’re here.”

Spirit in the Night (interlude), Wrecking Ball Tour — 2012

Death is the one thing in life that is inevitable. Although physically removed from our presence, as long as we remember to speak their names, the deceased will remain in our hearts, as their spirits walk among us forever. Death never felt so comforting. Leave it to The Boss to find a way.

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photo by Danny Clinch

Open your mind to The TAO of BRUCE and your heart will follow…

While the world gazed at a fuzzy far east summit, filled with pre-toxic rhetoric and post uncertainty, it was the humble acceptance words spoken on a Sunday Night, half a world away, from one westerner outside of his New Jersey comfort that might resonate the clearest in this fractured world- and provide an additional meaningful thought we should all retain for all time…

“THANK YOU FOR MAKING ME FEEL WELCOME ON YOUR BLOCK.”

- BS, 2018 Tony Awards, New York City

If there’s any doubt left that Springsteen and his devoted base echo Robert De Niro’s view on Trumpism, look no further than this poignant image captured on the E Street Band’s last tour:

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As The Boss sings:

“Stay Hard. Stay Hungry. Stay Alive. And meet me in this Hard Land.”

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Jersey boy. Bruce Springsteen is my only Boss. I'd drive all night just to...

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