Growing up with Bruce

The healing power of Bruce Springsteen’s music on my childhood

I didn’t grow up going to church.  My mother attended Catholic school as a kid, which left her with a distaste for the Church.  Looking back, I realize that my parents gave me a different kind of religious education.  It was through music. There was always music playing in our house. It drifted through the house when my parents had friends over and when my mother was cleaning on Monday mornings. Sometimes she sat alone in the living room, stoned and deeply absorbed in the music on the record player. Like a Buddhist monk, deep in meditation on the couch.

Bruce Springsteen seeped through my bedroom walls late into the night when I was trying to sleep.  The River album came out in 1980, the same year my father died and I went to live with my estranged mother.  She played it all the time. I learned every song on that album, from beginning to end. The needle dropped on The Ties that Bind; the record spun through until Wreck on the Highway.

Bruce is a lyrical genius.  His words are strands of poetry punctuated by music. I absorbed his words along with the melodies. Not only from The River album, but also his older stuff. These became part of my own story.  His music oozed with the love I craved from my emotionally-hardened mother and deceased father. I used to pretend Bruce was my father, singing just to me, revealing the wisdom I would need to make it in life.  I was the Wendy he sang to in Born to Run. Even when I was too young to understand the nuances of the lyrics, Bruce’s voice and music touched my wounded heart.  

My parents brought me to see him play at the LA Sports Arena when I was eight years old.  My mom had a T-shirt printed at the mall for me to wear to the show. It was peach-colored with black velvet letters affixed to the back that spelled “Springsteen”.  The show was amazing; several hours with multiple encores. Bruce leaped around the stage like an acrobat, full of otherworldly energy. Clarence Clemmons wailed on the sax like an evangelical preacher.  The energy of the crowd was palpable. It was a religious revival with amazing music. It moved me more than any church service I’ve ever attended.  

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