Is this just a ploy for me to have an excuse to wax poetic about the Boss? Sure, but 15 concerts, over 30 bootlegs, a 5-year subscription to “Backstreets” the Boss fan-zine and several books later, I think I have learned a thing or two. His music evokes themes of connectedness and community, passion and hope; his performances inspire and transcend, challenge us and leave us brokenhearted (only because they end!) Sounds a lot like sports and spirituality to me.
Truly, a Springsteen concert is a “religious” experience. Religion comes from the root “religo” which means, “to be bound to.” And what a fitting description for a man who intimately connects a football stadium full of people for one evening and beyond. “The Ties that Bind” are his message, his band, their friendship, their music, their stories and their witness (to Rock ‘n’ Roll!)
In his article “Life Right Now” Joseph Gerics states “Springsteen’s optimism and idealism were always the horizon of songs like “Badlands” and “Promised Land.” The language of faith and hope became more explicit in “The Rising,” and religious imagery emerged in “Devils and Dust.” These themes were less prominent on this tour, but Springsteen’s vision of social justice is implicit in “This American Land’.” Does he find “God in all things?” I’m not convinced he does, but one thing is for sure, Bruce Springsteen delivers on the yearning and touches the edges of religious language and imagery.
And if such imagery does not suffice, I think it’s fair to say the man himself does. I have told a number of the athletes I coach that they make ME a better competitor and athlete. I witness their training; I see their exemplary work ethic day in and day out. During several half marathons, I have mustered strength during miles 10-13 by simply visualizing how girls on my cross country team really “go after it” during their races—“No retreat, baby no surrender.” The Boss is no exception. The 1984 program for the “Born in the USA” tour claims his nickname is “the hardest working many in show business.” Attend one of his 3-hour concerts—no opening act, sans set break and you will see for yourself he is; this guy is in good shape! Urban legend Bruce wore a pedometer during a show and he covered five miles. I believe!
I attended the opening show of the “Working on a Dream” tour in San Jose. It was the first time I didn’t get into the “pit” area with my General Admission ticket. Two hours into the show, standing without a chair and watching the stage from afar, I wondered how I could possibly teach the next day. I was exhausted! I saw the 58-year old on stage, playing guitar and harmonica, belting it out and knew I must dig deep. The passion and energy he brings to his job inspires me to do the same. I came to school the next morning resolved to “teach hard today.” Coaching was the encore. Springsteen doesn’t play one or two songs in his; he commits to five to six. If the Boss can do it, so can I.
The music of Bruce Springsteen has carried me through my own training and athletic challenges. In the winter of 2000, my uncle sent me bootlegs of the 1999-2000 Reunion tour. I had 3-plus hours of unadulterated “mojo” on command. This gift was fortuitous as a record snowfall (until this past year) prevented me from road running for two months. I churned and burned through those CDs while running on the treadmill so much, that I cannot listen to them to this day. It’s not Bruce’s fault that I let this happen—I blame the treadmill. And I will never forget while rowing at Notre Dame how I survived weight lifting. We had morning practice six days a week and Tuesday and Thursday afternoons were reserved for the weight room. As I completed my reps, I would think: this is bad, but not as bad as living in “Youngstown. Here in Youngstown. My sweet Jenny I'm sinkin' down. Here darlin' in Youngstown” Have you ever been to Youngstown, Ohio? If you have you understand what I mean. If you haven’t, listen to the song on “Tracks.”
I have always believed “I am a River girl, but Darkness is my favorite album.” While the tone and themes of “The River” are more reflective of whom I am as a human being and as a Christian, I just love the songs and the flow of that 1978 gem “Darkness on the Edge of Town.” “Badlands” in particular, is foundational for my outlook on sports and spirituality in my own life. Time and again I have remembered to “keep pushing till it’s understood, till these Badlands start treating us good.” Today, however, it’s not about my faith or athletics. Rather, “for the ones who had a notion a notion deep inside. It ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.”
Bruce, I’m more than glad you’re alive. Thank you Lord for the man, the music that is Bruce Springsteen. 61 today.
Bruce-the underrated guitarist
Bruce with a legendary crowd
Workin' on a Dream
Bruce and his guns