Graham Reid | | 2 min read
Sometimes we forget just how huge Bruce
Springsteen has been: between '75 and '85 alone he sold in excess of
50 million albums (one of them, The River, was a double) and
although he deliberately turned from mainstream success with low-key
albums like Nebraska (in '82) and The Ghost of Tom Joad
('95) that has hardly stopped his juggernaut.
His Greatest Hits released in
'95 notched up a healthy 15 million units, then you can add in the
Live 1975-85 three-CD box set of '86 (13 million in the US
alone) and . . .
You get the picture: here's the man who
was on the cover of both Time and Newsweek
simultaneously in October 75, has won 20 Grammy since '84 – and is
still out there touring to massive crowds. The current double-disc
DVD London Calling: Live in Hyde Park captures Springsteen and
the E Street Band in blistering form in June of last year before an
audience that goes as far as the eye can see.
The Springsteen phenomenon is complex:
here is a multi-millionaire who people believe is a working man; he's
a stadium filler who sings introverted song which can be about meagre
individuals; his lyrics can be about a promised land or a promise
which has failed . . .
He writes short stories and delivers
them either solo with an acoustic guitar or with the bombast of the E
Springsteen is a kind of Everyman: the
working guy from the factory, the Vietnam veteran, the solitary
individual thinking about the state of his nation, the folk singer
who reaches back through Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, the
rock'n'roller who pays homage to the Shirelles and the Clash, to
Dylan and Dion.
In an age of the three minute song (of
which he is a master) he still spins out his into extended versions
on stage, and every night under the lights is a commitment to take
himself as far as he can for his music and his audience.
And at 60, he is still doing it.
In '74, critic Jon Landau famously
wrote “I saw the rock and roll future, and its name is Bruce
Springsteen” but many forget what he wrote in the next sentence:
“And on a night when I needed to feel young, he made me feel like I
was hearing music for the very first time”.
Springsteen never was the future – he
was too grounded in the best rock'n'roll of the late 50s and early
60s – but there is still something about his songs and shows which
live up to the last part of Landau's assertion.
Today however we hear Springsteen's
songs as part of our own history, we can be transported by them to a
place and a time we remember, even if in the case of his Dustbowl
ballads and mythic America these are places we don't know for
His songs often have a cinematic
narrative into which we immerse ourselves. In some ways the very best
of Bruce Springsteen is the
very best of ourselves. His songs speak to those moments when we are
at out most human: vulnerable, thoughtful, celebratory and part of
the great collective into which his music makes us feel welcome.
Sales figues aside – and that perhaps
explains them – that is quite something for a drop-out from
Freehold, New Jersey to have achieved.
That is the redemption that rock'n'roll offers, and Bruce Springsteen at 60 is still living it out.