The Boss and I

The first CD I ever bought was Born in the U.S.A. by Bruce Springsteen. It was 1985, and I got it when I purchased my Sony Discman from the small electronics store on our High Street. As an American kid living in England, I didn’t know much about Bruce Springsteen. Still, I had heard a few people in school talking about him, and the album cover seemed more patriotic than a bald eagle soaring past Mount Rushmore while firing an AK-47 and drinking a Coke.

I got a second CD that day: Paul Young’s The Secret of Association. Unlike Springsteen, I knew all about Young. He was well-known in the U.K., and the album was No. 1 on the charts. I still remember skipping the syrupy “Every Time You Go Away” — the biggest hit from the album — to get to the faster-paced “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down.”

So, as you’ve probably figured out by now, I listened to Young way more than Springsteen. But Springsteen had a longer-lasting impact. I’ve bought every album since Born in the U.S.A. I dipped into his older songs, like “Thunder Road,” “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” and “Atlantic City.” I learned to appreciate both the high-energy rock songs and the slower, more intimate ones.

In 2023, I have no idea what Young is doing, but I know exactly what Springsteen is up to: Last night, he kicked off his first tour in six years — right here in Tampa.

Now, I don’t consider myself a big Springsteen fan. I enjoy his music and recognize his artistry, but I don’t know all the songs. I only know a handful of lyrics. And if you asked me which song came from which album, I’d probably give you the wrong answer every time.

Nevertheless, I didn’t think twice about getting tickets. I saw Springsteen in concert once before — it was right after The Rising was released — so I know what a dynamic performer he is. And the Complimentary Spouse had never seen him live. Many of our friends got tickets. And my cousins’ husband, a die-hard fan, was going to fly down from New York to see the show. It wasn’t just going to be a concert — it was shaping up to be a shared cultural experience.

Springsteen took the stage at 8 p.m. and played for nearly three hours without a break. He opened with “No Surrender,” and I couldn’t help but wonder if a song about staying strong in the face of adversity was a deliberate choice in a state where people’s rights and dignity are under attack. Perhaps “No Surrender” should be our new rallying cry!

I was surprised at how many songs I couldn’t recognize. As I said, I’m not the biggest Springsteen fan. But I’m a fan nonetheless, and I’ve heard his music quite a bit. When you’re dealing with an artist whose career spans several decades, a casual listener will miss a few things.

When I knew a song, I felt alive and engaged. When I didn’t, it was a weird experience — everyone around me was dancing and singing along, and I felt like a novice among experts. I was in a 400-level course when I didn’t even pass the 100-level prerequisite.

Springsteen’s cover of the Commodores’ “Night Shift” was exceptional. He reclaimed “Because the Night” from 10,000 Maniacs. And “The Rising,” performed live, gave me chills.

Springsteen saved the best for last. For the encore, they turned on the house lights and went through a whole bunch of crowd-pleasers, including “Rosalita,” “Dancing in the Dark,” and “Glory Days.”1

For the last song, the house lights went dark again and the other performers left the stage. With just a guitar and a harmonica, Springsteen performed “I’ll See You in My Dreams.” It’s about love, loss, and death — themes worth exploring when you’re a 73-year-old man. It was a quiet yet powerful way to end the evening.

Did last night’s concert convert me to the Church of Springsteen? Not really. I’ll always be a fan, but never a rabid one. But I walked away more in awe of the man and his music than before. And, once the ringing in my ears goes away, I’m eager to explore more of his work.

That CD is long gone, but Springsteen is still here. And that makes me thankful.

Now let’s check out some photos!

1 I have come to dislike “Glory Days.” A lot. The song celebrates the joy of being in high school and implies that life goes downhill after you graduate. No LGBTQ person I know looks back at high school fondly. If we weren’t being tormented, we were sacrificing our mental health to conceal who we were. Those were other people’s glory days, not ours.

In other words, the world Springsteen is describing doesn’t seem to have people like me in it.

I’m only harping on “Glory Days” because it’s top of mind. I think this way about a lot of things these days. At my age, it’s unsettling to look back at the cultural touchstones of my youth and discover I was invisible in them.

This is in no way a knock on Springsteen. He is an ally, and I like that he’s authentic and finds inspiration in his personal journey. This has nothing to do with what he wrote. It’s about the way it makes me feel.

Plus, plenty of other songs don’t reflect my life experiences. After all, I’ve never left a cake in the rain, and yet I love “MacArthur Park.”