How Bruce Springsteen Killed Music For Me


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By Jay Kirell

Want to know what I listen to when I find the time to actually listen to music nowadays?

Ke$ha.

Yeah, the pop singer with the dollar sign in her name who looks like she spent the night in the dumpster behind the elementary school art class.

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How did I get to this depressing point?

Well, back when I cared enough about music to actually have an emotional investment in it, I used to listen to what would now be considered “classic rock” although, at the time, it was just music that people 10-15 years older than me listened to that I thought sounded cool.

So I went through high school and college liking the type of music that hadn’t been played on radio in over a decade, all the while blissfully ignoring whatever was going on in pop and rap because it sounded so different than what people I trusted were into.

And during my formative music-loving years (12-20) which also happened to be from 1990 to 1998 – I was into nobody more than Bruce Springsteen.

I had heard this popular 80’s stuff – the Dancing in the Dark and the Born In the USA, as a kid because my parents had his album, though only that single Born in the USA album.  It wasn’t until I met a kid in high school who was a total Bruce nut, that I got introduced to everything Springsteen did in the 70s (his first four albums) and early 80’s stuff (The River, Nebraska) that totally got me to become as big a Springsteen fan as anyone.

I bought all his albums.  I bought all the box sets.  I bought demos and live tracks from different shows.  I read all the books written about his life.  I was a walking Bruce Springsteen Wikipedia page- which basically describes anyone for whom the blue-collar New Jersey singer has connected with over the years.

I loved him for the same reasons everyone loves Springsteen – the storytelling lyrics, the bombastic rock sound that slid along a spectrum from Jersey shore bars to football stadiums, the common-man image.

I’m not saying he’s everyone’s cup of tea – but for those who are fans of rock music, it’s hard to deny that at one point if Michael Jackson was the King of Pop, Bruce Springsteen was the King of Rock.

And it’s quite apparent to anyone who calls themselves a fan of Springsteen, as good as he was, he never wanted to be king in the first place.

And it was because of that decision – to tone down his sound to something much more intimate immediately after his arena-rock sound shot him into Elvis-level popularity – that doomed Rock & Roll as a genre.

Rock has always needed a face.  From Elvis, to the Beatles, to the Rolling Stones to Bob Dylan – to, (the plan was) – Springsteen.

He was supposed to take the genre to new heights and lead a generation of new working-class storytelling artists into packed stadiums and arenas and lead Rock & Roll into the 21st century.

By all rights we should be at the end of the first decade of the “next big thing” in Rock & Roll.  The act that Springsteen should have passed the baton to after two decades of dominating the charts in the 80’s and 90’s.

It never happened.  Not because Springsteen dropped the Rock & Roll baton when it was ready to be passed on – no, he dug a hole and buried the baton while he was the only one on the planet fit to carry it.

When he followed-up his immense Born in the USA album with the soggy Human Touch/Lucky Town he told his fans “thanks for taking this bombastic ride to the top with me, now enjoy the descent to grumpy suburbanite having a mid-life crisis.”

And pretty much that’s Springsteen’s body of work from 1987 onward – his quest to be the anti-King of Rock by lurching from late 80’s pop to folk to country-western to bluegrass, all the while the foundation of Rock & Roll itself crumbled while Bruce was off finding himself.

By the time he was coaxed back into playing Rock & Roll by the events of 911, I was already over him.  Even a few of the genuinely beautiful songs Springsteen churned out immediately after the attacks serve to just remind me of how much he could have turned out over the years if he wasn’t off experimenting with different genre’s instead of evolving the one that made him rich and famous.

When I gave up on Springsteen, I gave up on Rock & Roll, and when I gave up on Rock & Roll, I gave up on music as an art form that I can genuinely connect with.  Rap and country and pop music all have individual songs within their genres that I love and have listened to repeatedly, but come and go like shooting stars.

And Springsteen was the sun, as far as musical influences go.  He had the sound I loved with the lyrics I needed to hear.

Absent both, over the years I’ve come to view music as something to listen to in the background of my daily commute, or in the background of my surfing the net, or in the background of life in general.  It is no longer a focus of mine.

So that’s why I listen to sappy pop acts with absolutely no depth to them.  I don’t want to think and listen to music anymore.  I did that once and it betrayed me.

So when a Ke$ha song comes on the radio for three minutes – yeah, I’ll roll the windows up and blast that.   Its the least I could do to thank Springsteen for killing my dreams of what music could do.

Besides, it’s only fitting – as one of Springsteen’s unreleased tracks from his breakthrough Born to Run album was a song called ‘Tik-Tock’ – which was released 35 years later as a hit single for…

…Ke$ha.

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