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A Conversation About Bruce Springsteen

Recently we decided to collaborate on an essay about Bruce Springsteen for this issue. What follows is our e-mail conversation about Bruce.
Joe Sartelle and Steven Rubio

Issue #9, November 1993

AUTHORS' NOTE: Recently we decided to collaborate on an essay about Bruce Springsteen for this issue. What follows is our E-mail conversation about Bruce, 'recorded' over a period of about three weeks in October. In the great tradition of live rock and roll albums, we spent many hours in the studio, editing our comments to make them 'right,' but we hope the spontaneity of our online performance survives the editing process, and we invite you to have 'bad conversations' of your own — and share them with Bad Subjects.


The first and only Springsteen concert I attended was in 1978, during his tour in support of Darkness on the Edge of Town. I was fifteen and living in Houston, and while I was a frequent concert-goer, Springsteen was something 'special,' a big deal in the way that other concerts were not. Partly this was because Springsteen had not toured in several years due to the legal hassles that had delayed the release of Darkness, but it was also due to already well-established reputation as The Greatest Rock and Roll Performer Of Our Times. A Springsteen concert promised three or four hours of the main attraction, with no warm up band. I got what I wanted; it was one of the most memorable shows I ever attended, even though we had lousy seats to the side of the stage. In particular, I remember Springsteen's then-new version of 'Santa Claus is Coming to Town,' with thousands of Xmas lights adorning the stage facade, and the thrill of hearing a song that was available only in concert — a thrill experienced several times as Springsteen and the E-Street Band played two or three other new songs that turned up on The River two years later. I also remember the final encore, with all the lights on and everybody dancing like crazy in the aisles and on their seats.

Indeed, when The River was released I had to have it so bad that, even though I was working for a record store, I went out and bought a copy from our competition, because our shipment hadn't arrived yet. I still have a polaroid of my 17 year-old self, looking very 1970s in long, feathered hair and a velour shirt, standing in Record Town checking out the new album's liner notes. But as much as I liked that album, Springsteen was by then just another rock star that I enjoyed listening to; I never became a die-hard Springsteen fan in any serious sense of the term. I've never even read Dave Marsh's classic biography, Born to Run. I have, however, continued to purchase and enjoy all of Springsteen's records up to the most recent, with the exception of the live album, which is where I drew the line at cash investment in his career.


The first time I saw Bruce Springsteen in concert was in October of 1975. I was very sick the day of the show; as we parked our car in a lot next to the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, my wife handed me a bag and I began puking into it. She got out of the car, where she was immediately hit on by a guy asking if we had any extra tickets. Peering into the car where I was still barfing, she replied, 'I don't know, wait a second.' I wonder now why it was that, even before I had experienced Bruce live, I was already in obsessive fan mode: no way I was missing this concert! After the show, which was great, the greatest, the greatest of the greatest blah blah blah, I knew I would suffer through a lot more than a mere vomit attack to see Bruce in concert again.

And see him again I did. Once in '76, three times in '78 (at one of which I touched Bruce on his boot, leading me to drive around for years with a bumpersticker on my car that read 'I Touched Bruce Springsteen'), five times in '80 (all in one week, in three cities: Portland, Oakland and Los Angeles), once at a Gary U.S. Bonds club date in the early 80s, once during the Born in the USA tour, twice at SuperStar benefit shows, once during the Tunnel of Love tour, and twice during the recent No More E Street Band Tour. And I'd go see him tomorrow if he was playing in the vicinity. For me, once was not enough.

Why did I do this? Why do I continue to do this? It isn't just his music; I love it, but I can listen to his music at home. What is the concert experience offering me that keeps me coming back for more? And why Bruce, and not any of my many other faves? Are his concerts THAT good?

My musical taste isn't exactly esoteric, and I don't shun the popular merely because it is popular. On the other hand, I think the Velvet Underground is the greatest rock and roll band of all time, which may not seem like much now, but they were most definitely esoteric in 1967 when I was 14 years old and living in a white working-class Bay Area suburb and no one else was singing about Heroin. So I am not unduly impressed with the popular ... but ever since the first time I saw Bruce in concert, I wanted every single person I knew to experience him, as well. I wanted him to be the most popular musical artist in the world; I wanted to share him with everyone.

And I still haven't explained what exactly it was about his concerts that made me such a fan/believer. Another anecdote: it's 1985, and Bruce is at the peak of his popularity, having finally won over virtually the entire music community (with the important exception of black fans ... Bruce was always very unfunky). I am sitting in rightfield at the Oakland Coliseum, part of a stadium-filling crowd of some 60,000. Bruce is on a stage in the centerfield bleachers. Most of the audience is watching him on one of the enormous video screens that have become de rigueur at such events. For some of his longtime fans, this concert tour of football stadiums is the ultimate expression of Bruce's downfall: too popular to play the small venues where he had shown so many of us so many good times, he was reduced to a tiny figure on a real stage, or a giant figure on a fake video.

But when he played 'Glory Days,' the entire stadium was in heaven, dancing, singing along, rapturous smiles on our faces. Bruce Springsteen remains the only performer I have seen who could turn a football stadium into a corner bar. And it was the best damn corner bar in the world, because we had 60,000 of our closest friends with us.

Rock and roll, especially as it has been interpreted by fans who grew up in the 1960s, is supposed to be about creating a massive community around 'our' music. The belief in a mass community is not a bad one; it has fueled more than a few prospective utopias. However, the reality of a mass utopia centered around a commodity like rock and roll music has become, over time, little more than a joke. Indeed, any remnants of a belief in such a possibility for music is often denigrated as the worst example of cheap 60s nostalgia. Lester Bangs understood what was happening to the mass rock and roll audience when he wrote, on the death of Elvis, 'We will never again agree on anything as we agreed on Elvis. So I won't bother saying good-bye to his corpse. I will say good-bye to you.'

And then there was Bruce, about whom Greil Marcus wrote in a slightly different context, 'A concert by Bruce Springsteen offers many thrills, and one is that he performs as if none of the above is true.' In Bruce, we had community. Though Marcus later wrote, while musing over Bruce's megastardom, 'When Springsteen plays in a coliseum filled with sixty thousand people, what is at issue is not the size of the audience, but the intensity of its desire to be confirmed as an audience,' in fact I think Marcus' earlier quotation is still applicable, which is why I was so happy to share Bruce with all those 'Glory Days' fans at that coliseum. We did not want to be confirmed as an audience ... we wanted to be confirmed as a community.


I believe there's a certain amount of truth to the claim that Springsteen's concerts really are something special, that he is a charismatic showman and performer like no other that post-Elvis rock music has produced. There's no arguing with the way fans like yourself respond to Springsteen; I would just want to point out that he does not 'work' in that way for everyone. For example, I am invested in Star Trek in much the same way that you are invested in Springsteen. However, I know that even though there are millions of Trek fans out there whose appreciation borders on a kind of worship (which is true on a lesser scale of the cult of Bruce, too), the idea that there is something intrinsic or essential to Star Trek that produces the investment falls apart when you consider the larger number of people for whom the show simply doesn't hold any special appeal. (As opposed to people who bash the show, or who like it but are ashamed to admit it — both of these groups clearly have some kind of investment going.)

The desire to be recognized or confirmed as a 'community' and not just as an 'audience' is not peculiar to Springsteen fans; Trekkers gather together in mass at their conventions for similar reasons. However, as I argued in my essay 'As if We Were a Community' (Bad Subjects #1, September 1992), just because a mass gathering like a concert (or a Trek convention or a gay pride parade) makes us feel confirmed as a community doesn't mean that we in fact are a community. Rather, we are a market of consumers who have paid for a commodity (the live show), one of the pleasures of which is that it allows us, for a limited time, to feel like we're part of a big community. The feeling you describe is part of what we pay to consume, not a 'surplus pleasure' above and beyond the commodity of the performance itself. I note that Greil Marcus, in the quote you provide, does not go so far as to say that Springsteen actually overcomes the problem of a 'mass utopia centered around a commodity,' but only says that Springsteen 'performs as if none of the above is true.' Which, now that I think of it, is like saying that Springsteen is so compelling because, even if his performance is a kind of lie, at least he acts like he means it.

And that suggests a way of understanding the connection between Springsteen and Ronald Reagan, which otherwise might be dismissed as merely historical: the fact that Springsteen reaches the peak of his popularity at exactly the same moment that Reagan reaches his, 1984-85, the moment of 'Morning in America' and 'Born in the USA.' Both performers are known for their capacity to convey the quality of 'sincerity' in their performances of their 'authentic' selves; both achieved the greatest mass appeal by linking their personas to symbols of American patriotism. One might wish to protest that while Reagan was clearly a big manipulative fake, Springsteen is the genuine article, but I would point out that there are plenty of Reagan fans who would argue just the reverse. How you see the question of authenticity depends almost entirely on one's position as a consumer of either of these two public personalities: if you're inside the fan 'community,' he's sincere, but if you're outside, he's phony.

I would also add that rock music fans, perhaps more so than any other popular culture audiences, are deeply invested in the distinction between the 'authentic' and the merely 'commercial,' despite the well-established fact that such distinctions are always breaking down. Thus we have the irritating but amusing case of 'alternative' music culture, which buys and sells its music just like any other market, while insisting in its routinely snotty way that because its music is more difficult and unpleasant to listen to, it is more 'authentic.' Hence the many pseudo-debates about a band like Nirvana, which has implicitly destroyed the whole mystique of 'alternative' music by becoming a mainstream phenomenon without sacrificing its dissonant sound and sneering attitude. Consider the ironies of a recent headline for a story in the entertainment section of the San Francisco Sunday paper: 'Grunge Hits Pay Dirt: Anti-establishment postpunkers make big bucks in mainstream' (SF Chronicle 'Datebook,' October 24, 1993).

The case of alternative music culture points up the basic problem in 'communities' organized around taste preferences in popular culture: since it's all commercial culture, rooted in the buying and selling of commodities, there's not much more than attitude and self-assertion to distinguish one 'community' of fans from another in any absolute terms. I mean, what's the difference between the alternative music crowd versus the Springsteen crowd versus the country crowd versus the soul crowd (etc.) beyond the specifics of their taste preferences in music, fashion, and attitude? No wonder popular music has been the locus of so many theoretical and critical efforts to decode the 'meanings of style' and to emphasize what the music means to the fans themselves. Returning to a point made above: considered subjectively, all these various fan 'communities' feel their own music and its culture is very, very different from the others; but considered objectively, they are all versions of the same thing, never sounding so much alike as when they are insisting upon their distinctiveness. From this perspective, the contempt for the mainstream which is so much a part of the alternative music scene is a measure of how hard it has to work to deny to itself how much it resembles what it claims to despise (in other words, no surprise here, what the alternative music fans really despise is themselves).

And if this internal divisiveness is true of the audience for popular music generally, then it will also be true within specific fan audiences, such as the fifty thousand Springsteen fans who, according to you, Steven, all responded to 'Glory Days' just as you did... Or did they? That's the question I want to raise, using the case of 1984 and the popular reception of both the album and the single of 'Born in the USA.'

It seems pretty clear that something happened to Springsteen with the release of that album and the explosion of his mass appeal that followed: the available meanings of his image and his music were altered forever (even for the fans who argue against such an idea). At the time the album came out, I still suffered from the knee-jerk 'popularity is always inauthentic' reflex common to the young, alienated and overeducated. Even though I really liked the music on the album, I became somewhat sniffy and disdainful as it turned Springsteen into that year's mega-star (or rather, the other one after Reagan himself). It didn't help that the song 'Born in the USA' (which I still think is one of the most powerful pieces he's ever done) was being received and appropriated by much of the public as a Reaganesque national anthem of born-again patriotism.

But who's to say that people were wrong in doing so? While Springsteen fans might argue that a right-wing take on the song wasn't Springsteen's fault, since the song is 'really' a bitter reflection on how America has abused and neglected its Vietnam veterans, it's clear that the way in which the album and the artist were packaged tended to invite such 'misreadings.' There's the American flag on the cover with Bruce in front (well, Bruce's butt, anyway): red, white, and blue-jeans. And then there's Springsteen himself, clean-shaven and newly experienced with Nautilus equipment. Gone is the scruffy and scrawny street poet, replaced by a wholesome, buff and all-American Bruce (OK, I admit it worked for me). The video for 'Dancing in the Dark' only reinforced the conservative implications of the packaging: Springsteen, who had hitherto made only 'artistic' videos in which he did not himself appear (for the 'artistically serious' and thus not much fun album Nebraska), was now being offered up as teen idol and fantasy heart-throb.

Now, all I want to ask you, Steven, is the following: is this your Bruce? And if not, what do you do with the fans who got turned on to his music and performances because they responded to these 'misreadings' of Bruce's image? The very fact that Springsteen was trying so hard to be inclusive, to build a 'community' through his music that was as broad as possible, was in some sense the undoing of that 'community.' Because it isn't a community, but a market of consumers; the bond is that of the 'cash nexus' (as Marx and Engels put it), not a shared history of common work and common goals. So why shouldn't the reception of 'Born in the USA' as fist-pumping celebration of vaguely fascistic American nationalism be just as legitimate a response as any other? Were the people who appropriated Springsteen's music in 'right-wing' ways also confirmed as part of the same community you felt yourself to be a part of?


First, I agree with Joe that my definition of 'my Bruce' is problematic, for precisely the reasons Joe mentions. There was a time when any one Bruce fan could somehow speak for ALL Bruce fans; we all had our personal experiences with Bruce, but part of being a Bruce fan was being a member of the shared history of the Bruce Fan Community. You knew you were safe letting another Bruce fan 'represent' all Bruce fans, and you knew any Bruce fan was a friend of any other Bruce fan. (Whether this was in actuality the case is irrelevant; the belief that it was the case is what matters.) With the mega-stardom of Born in the USA, though, the above assumptions could no longer be categorically true. Now, a Bruce fan could be, well, a 'non-Brucefan.' I can never remember, in any of the dozen Bruce concerts I saw in the pre-Born in the USA days, thinking about any of my fellow audience members that they were 'different' from me. But, beginning with the Born in the USA tour and continuing to this day, we 'Brucefans' regularly are confronted with fellow audience members who aren't 'really' Brucefans (they generally check out babes and wait for the opening chords of 'Born in the USA' before they get up in drunken glee to punch their fists in the air). And we are stuck with the problem endemic to all groups who wish to expand their horizons to include 'everyone': once confronted with 'everyone' we aren't so sure we want them in our group, after all.

I also think Joe hits on something important in his references to authenticity and the Bruce Concert Experience. One surprise for many first-time Bruce concertgoers is how 'stagey' his show is; for some reason, the influence of West Side Story isn't as commonly stated in articles about Bruce as the influence of, say, Gary U.S. Bonds, and when people do mention West Side Story, it is primarily to note the similarity of early Bruce songs like 'Jungleland' to West Side Story in terms of subject matter and melodramatic musical appeal. But, as Dave Marsh once said, a Bruce concert is about as spontaneous as Pearl Harbor, and there is an almost Broadway feel to the manner in which Bruce uses lighting and music cues and his own considerable acting ability to, yes, 'manipulate' his audience. Why does such an obviously manipulative performer, then, inspire such a belief from his fans that Bruce is somehow more 'authentic' than other rockers?

Partly, the audience seems to be celebrating the work ethic. No one works longer or harder in concert than Bruce, and he has regularly stated in interviews over his entire career that he feels he owes his fans every ounce of his energy and ability, every time he hits the stage. This might also explain why, even after Bruce made the Forbes list of highest-paid entertainers, his fans 'believed' in Bruce's solidarity with the working-class: he might be making $40 million a year, but he WORKED his butt off for that $40 million. In 1980, I saw Bruce five times in one week in three cities separated by a thousand miles; it was clear at the time that the best way to emulate my hero was to WORK hard at being the best fan I could possibly be.

But, for those of us who have seen Bruce time and time again, there is also an appreciation of the familiarity of Bruce's routines that we respond to positively. Rarely, if ever, has Bruce Springsteen represented something new: Born To Run sounded like the history of music from 1954-1975 when it came out, and it still sounds like that history, but it most certainly does NOT sound like the 'future of rock and roll' circa 1975. There is nothing in Born To Run to suggest that the next two decades of popular music would include disco, punk, new wave, rap, hip hop, rave, and Garth Brooks. There is a built-in nostalgia factor in Born To Run; to give oneself to the world of Born to Run in 1975 was to feel a part, not only of the moment, but of history. We paradoxically remembered the music the very first time we heard it. Subsequent replays over the course of the past twenty years have added to that feeling of nostalgia. The familiarity we have with Bruce's music is part of what we like about it; again, it makes us feel like a community with a common history. Bruce becomes 'authentic' in this scenario, not because he is somehow more 'real' than other performers, but because ever since he first entered our consciousness, his 'inauthenticity' drew on the same 'fake' cultural elements that we used in creating our own public and private personas. We share a fake culture. Bruce 'authentically' relies on this fake culture to inform his own art and, by extension, his own life. He uses the inauthentic in authentic ways. He 'believes in hope that can save.' His belief is authentic; when he performs for an audience, that belief (in the liberating possibilities of rock and roll) comes across in a very un-ironic way. In a cynical world, Bruce's belief in liberation is authentic.

What remains is the question of how this un-ironic belief in himself and his art is any different from the similar belief of a Wayne Newton. Bruce fans believe that Bruce believes, but one imagines that the audience for Wayne Newton in Vegas believes the same about their hero.


Of course, this opens up the much more difficult problem of deciding which cultural texts and/or artists are 'really' authentic. Ultimately I think that the battles over cultural taste preferences — the need to feel that 'my pleasure is better than your pleasure' — are an enormous spectacle which serves to distract us from more fundamental political and social questions. Of course, popular culture is a great point of entry for engaging such questions, but what frustrates me about the way the debate is usually mounted, especially among fans themselves, is that the discussion seldom moves very far beyond the Beavis-and-Butthead paradigm of 'cool' versus 'sucks.' That is, most of what fans have to say, whether they are just ordinary folks or professional 'critics,' boils down to some version of the following: 'This is really great, authentic and meaningful because I get so much pleasure out of it; and since my pleasure seems authentic to me, the source of it must be, too. And if you don't feel the same way, then you have no right to criticize or judge.' Or people take the reverse position: 'I think this is stupid, boring, derivative crap, and anybody who likes it must be a moron.'

The problem is that you can't dispute subjective feelings: if somebody tells me that something gives them pleasure, I don't have much grounds for an argument. So at the level of the individual and his or her taste preferences, all choices are indeed more or less equal; Springsteen, Wayne Newton, Star Trek and alternative rock all 'work' in pretty much the same way for their respective fan audiences. But at the level of the social and political, I think that some taste preferences are better than others, that a passionate investment in Springsteen or Star Trek is more morally defensible than a similar investment in Wayne Newton or alternative rock. I confess that there are limits to my liberal pluralism.

However, I'm not going to take the time here and now to defend such a provocative statement; rather, I just want to use it to underscore the powerfully divisive consequences of identities formed through taste preferences and commodity consumption. We spend too much of our time as a society and culture fighting over objects and their consumption, trying to decide what are the 'right' sorts of objects and the 'right' ways to consume them. The steady increase in the amount of attention we devote to cultural consumption should be understood as a measure of the extent to which, individually and collectively, we are becoming more and more alienated from both the idea and the practice of political community. Many people search for an experience of real community through popular culture; but being a part of a particular target market cannot satisfy the desire for membership in a community. All we can get is a temporary feeling of community, which lasts not much longer than the act of consumption, and then fades away, which is why we must consume repeatedly; a substitute gratification always remains a substitute, distracting from the real needs and desires but not satisfying them.

But — as you have always argued so well, Steven — even if popular culture is 'just' a set of symptoms, it still provides us with useful tools for social and political analysis; we can read the symptoms for the underlying conflicts. Which, to conclude, brings me back again to 'Born in the USA.' The response to that song, and that particular moment in Springsteen's career, makes sense as a kind of logical end-point of the message that Springsteen had been communicating through his music. That message is both paradoxical and coherent; commenting on the song 'Born to Run,' Dave Marsh explains it this way:

'The lyrics are still remarkable, sketching a philosophy of determined outward rebellion, a desire to move, a sense of goals and purpose that skirt the edges of the larger-than-life. But this hopeful abandon is tempered by an equally powerful melancholy; the future seems so bright largely because the present's so dismal.' (The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made.)

With 'Born in the USA,' I think that Springsteen hit upon a kind of perfect distillation of his message: a bitter and angry song about how American society uses and betrays the ordinary man, but also how those same ordinary men affirm their American identity despite the bitterness, because the depth of their disappointment is the measure of their investment in its promise. Unlike alternative music, with its own paradoxical combination of self-loathing and arrogantly smug superiority, the sort of rock music that Springsteen represented at least offered the hope that there was a place for everyone, that we could use the music to work together to build something better. There was even a place for the assholes who punched the air with their fists to the chords of 'Born in the USA.' In looking at Springsteen's career since then, it's as though he saw quite clearly how hard it would be to sustain that hope in the face of the problems of inclusiveness, and he retired to a more personal and introspective stance. So what lesson might Springsteen be said to offer us, in his career and his music? Perhaps it's just the simple one that we shouldn't expect our commodities, no matter how much they 'work' for us, to provide us with the communities we desire; we can only do that ourselves, by working with each other.


Joe's analysis is intelligent, and though I think he is too harsh on alternative music (when Joe Strummer sang that he wanted to walk down any street looking like a creep, he may have been arrogantly thumbing his nose at the 'popular,' but he was also including in his walk all of us who felt like creeps, a step nearly as inclusive as anything Bruce Springsteen has done), I think what he has written here works beautifully as a Bad Subjectian view of the flaws in the notion of a community based on the common consumption of commodities.

I also thank Joe for coming up with the idea of this article in the first place. Much as I love Bruce Springsteen, I had never tried to write anything about him; this piece has given me a chance to think about Bruce, and has thus been a wonderful experience for me.

And now, while wanting to avoid the anti-intellectualism implicit in a mere celebration of what we love, I feel the need to end this essay with such a celebration, for to write about Bruce without attempting to convey my feelings for him and his work would be a lie.

Being popular has never been a problem for Bruce in the way it is for alternative bands like Nirvana. He has never been content with only an 'alternative' audience, and so he is committed to a long run of being a popular artist. He wants to maintain his artistic vision and integrity, but reaching out to as many fans as possible is a part of that vision, and so he can't just turn his back on the popular. Instead, Bruce is a prime candidate for the Tony Bennett of the Boomer Generation, the one guy who will be most fondly honored in his later years.

Bruce can't abandon his fans by destroying himself, like the Sex Pistols did, or even attempt to abandon them by upping the artistic ante, as Nirvana is trying to do, because his fans are a part of his art. We recognize this; it is a large part of what makes us love Bruce Springsteen more than other favorite performers. For me, 'Rosalita' is Bruce's loving call to his audience, as beautiful a metaphor for his relationship to us fans as 'Can't Help Falling In Love' was for Elvis. In 'Rosalita,' Bruce comes wailing into town to rescue Rosie from her mom and dad and her boring old town. He ain't there on business, baby, he's only there for fun. Reminding us that closets are for hangers, Bruce sneaks us out the bedroom window in the middle of the night and drives us down the road to a pretty little place in Southern California where they play guitars all night and all day, so hold on tight! The music is the most delirious of all of Bruce's songs, and the song served as a show-closer for Bruce for many years. Songs like 'Born to Run' promised us the world just around the corner, but 'Rosalita' drove us around that corner, burning rubber, and delivered us from evil.

But because his fans are a part of his art, Bruce must move forward with tiny steps, if he is to move forward at all, because he can't lose the past that his longtime fans represent and still remain 'himself.' However, Bruce Springsteen is also a vital artist, one who continues to produce vibrant work, and also one who at times must feel constrained by the need to remain loyal to the fans who are loyal to him. And so, during the Tunnel of Love tour in 1988, he tried a different, more 'adult' approach to his concerts. When I saw him, the first half of the show focused on his new album, with its mature love songs and relatively subdued musical presentation. It was wonderful music, played with heartfelt emotion, and it insisted on its difference from what Bruce had done before. As a fan, I appreciated this music, but then, I appreciate a lot of music; I LOVE Bruce, and so there was something disappointing about that first set.

Then Bruce came back for the second half, and he and the E Street Band tore into one monster number after another with the glee of a teenager and the consummate professionalism that years of playing together had brought them. He sang his greatest oldies; he sang the great oldies of others that he had made his own; he rocked and rocked and rocked some more. It might have been the finest ninety minutes of Bruce Springsteen I had ever seen, and I had seen a lot of Bruce Springsteen.

But, in its clear acceptance of the difference between the Bruce of 'Tunnel of Love' and the Bruce of 'Little Latin Lupe Lu,' it was also a harbinger of the future. Bruce's art needed to move on, but he was too devoted to his audience to move forward too quickly. And so he took 'one step up and two steps back.'

By his next tour, the E Street Band was gone, replaced by an assortment of lesser-knowns, though the Professor remained on keyboards. Bruce no longer sings other people's oldies; as he said many times during the tour, he's been around so long now he has his own oldies, and indeed, since 'Born to Run' sounded like an oldie the day it came out, he's probably right. (He also only sang 'Rosalita' once on the entire tour.) Clearly Bruce hopes that by detaching himself from his old band, he can accomplish the artistic move forward, even as he continues to work harder than anyone to provide his longtime fans with the best show he can give them. One thing hasn't changed; though the songs are different, the spirit is the same. In 'Born to Run' Bruce sang that someday we would get to that place where we really wanted to go; now he sings that the Light of Day is just around the corner. One day we'll get there ... until then, tramps like us ...

Joe Sartelle is a graduate student in English at UC-Berkeley, writing his dissertation on Stephen King. He is also Chief of Operations for Bad Subjects.

Steven Rubio is a Bruce fan and graduate student in English at UC-Berkeley. He is also head of Bad Subjects Online Services. He can be reached through e-mail at the following Internet address:

Copyright © Joe Sartelle and Steven Rubio. All rights reserved.