No surrender: why Springsteen matters

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IOL Bruce Springsteen

Associated Press

Bruce Springsteen during his performance at the Bellville Velodrome in Cape Town earlier this week. Picture: Schalk van Zuydam

Renee Moodie saw the meaning of rock and roll and its name was Bruce Springsteen.

Cape Town - Somewhere in the bleak South African 1980s, I discovered Bruce Springsteen.

It might have been the 1985 release of Born In The USA which prompted me to go find some of his earlier music, or it might have been something else. Either way, I had soon taken all of his records out of the music “library” in Rondebosch that let you have albums for two days - just enough time to tape the record on to a cassette (sorry, Bruce - I bought them all later once I was a bit higher up the food chain).

So there I was catching the bus to work in what seems now to have been a perpetual grey landscape and listening to Dire Straits and Prince and Talking Heads on my Walkman, and then also Springsteen.

His music on the three early albums seemed to have been written for me personally - indeed I lived in a bad land. And the song that I listened to over and over again, till I knew every single word, was Jungleland on Born To Run.

It seemed, somehow, with the magic of great writing, to exactly describe things as I saw them (even though of course it was not at all about apartheid South Africa).

IOL spingsteen pic by Bob Seddon

Picture: Bob Seddon

When Bruce sang (words from memory): “The poets down here don't write nothing at all / They just stand back and let it all be”, he seemed to sum up everything I felt about the desolation of the place we were in.

So he became important to me. I wanted to know more, so I read some books, and over the years became the kind of person who buys every new release regardless of what the reviews say because I don't care about the reviews - I know Bruce will always have something interesting to say (in much the same way that I was the kind of person who would buy every book Terry Pratchett ever wrote: he was my other touchstone).

And the years brought what they always bring: the long arc of life.

In that arc, South Africa went from desolation to grace to something else. I got older, married, acquired two stepsons and eventually had my own living proof, a son. Friends changed, moved away, came back. Other friends and comrades died. Bobby Jean, where are you now? They were both the glory years, and just the ordinary years of a person making her way in the world, working away at her craft as a journalist.

And on the journey, always there was Bruce, working away at his craft.

I didn't always like every album or every song - I'm really still not sure about some of the stuff on the Rising, and Magic never really did it for me. And there were some things I didn't get and still don't: what was all that about splitting with E Street? I've read all the things he says about it, and it still feels wrong to me.

But then who am I to judge? I don't really know him, or need to have him perfect. I just need him to be there, being the backing track of my life.

And that he has done.

There's a song for everything: some I have mentioned or referenced.

Just one other example: if you've never heard If I Should Fall Behind, go buy a copy of Lucky Town (an album much better than anyone thinks) and listen: it is the best song about a long-term relationship every written.

Here's a verse:

“Now everyone dreams of a love lasting and true

But you and I know what this world can do

So let's make our steps clear that the other may see

And I'll wait for you

If I should fall behind

Wait for me.”

I knew as a Springsteen fan of the legendary live concerts, and always dreamed of going to one. When he released Wrecking Ball and a long-awaited world tour, I saw my chance: we went to England and saw him at Hyde Park in 2012 - the concert that got cut off.

And it was wonderful: there I was with the 50 000 other people who also knew all the words. But still I would have liked to have seen him here, where I live.

And he came.

So there I was on Wednesday night at the Bellville Velodrome, taking part in the communion of a Boss concert in my own hometown.

For me it was not seeing the best live band in the world do their impossibly fabulous thing (Rolling Stone does not lie). It was the real life embodiment of the long walk of faith and trust I have had with this artist: that he will keep writing, that he will keep performing, that he will keep being the best he can be for his fans.

It was the expression of the great rock 'n roll promise, the one Springsteen and I still believe in: that for one night, you will be transported out of your life and taken somewhere magical.

And for the long-term hardcore Springsteen fan, of course such a night is not just magical, it is deeply comforting.

When he sings, as he does on Wrecking Ball:

“Now, when all this steel and these stories

Drift away to rust

And all our youth and beauty

Has been given to the dust

When the game has been decided

And we're burnin' down the clock

And all our little victories and glories

Have turned into parking lots

When your best hopes and desires

Are scattered to the wind

And hard times come and hard times go and

Hard times come and hard times go and

Hard times come and hard times go and

Hard times come and hard times go and

Hard times come and hard times go

Yeah, just to come again

Bring on your wrecking ball

Bring on your wrecking ball

C'mon and take your best shot

Let me see what you got

Bring on your wrecking ball.”

He is not just singing about the economy. He is telling me - personally, just as he did all those years ago - that he understands what it is like in this arc of life, now. He is telling me I can still get out of bed every day and take on the world and its wrecking balls, even if my hopes and desires are scattered to the wind.

Because Springsteen has stayed true to his calling as one of the best poets of our age, I believe him.

He too faces the wrecking ball, and is still standing. And if he is finally standing on a Cape Town stage, doing an acoustic version of Thunder Road, then I am deeply, deeply grateful.

May he come back soon.

* Renee Moodie is Deputy Editor of IOL.

** Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band will be performing at the FNB Stadium in Joburg on Saturday, February 1. Book though Computicket.


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