Second-guessing Springsteen

Clarence Clemons, left, takes a break from the saxophone to sing to the crowd at a Bruce Springsteen concert in Buffalo in 2009. It was Clemons' final show before passing away in 2011.

I began writing this article on Monday afternoon, after sitting on the idea all weekend. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about whether or not Bruce Springsteen truly was the best there ever was. But as I began writing, I changed course. I stopped entertaining the notion that he might not be, and dug into my stance that he is. And since I needed to buy some time, I wrote what I wrote on Monday. Clickbait and foreshadowing. The calling card of a bad writer and a lazy salesman. I hoped it would spur some responses from you all, and it did:

Growing Up, I went through phases where I listened to certain bands or genres of music nonstop before moving on and finding something else. My parents usually had the radio set to 97 Rock, so when I started outgrowing my No More Monkeys Jumping On The Bed cassette tape, I found more enjoyment in bands like the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd. I despised when my sisters would ask to listen to Kiss 98.5 or Star 102.5 because that new stuff never interested me.

I remember having a copy of The Buffalo Bills Ultimate Tailgate CD and after listening to it, asking my dad if he liked Quiet Riot, and his reaction which seemed more confused than anything. There’s nothing wrong with Quiet Riot, but looking back, they’re not a band anyone really likes. And that’s basically how I discovered music as a kid – bouncing from vinyl to vinyl or CD to CD and stumbling across things I liked.

The amount of time phases would last varied. The first time I ever got really into Supertramp, I made a disc of all their best songs and brought it everywhere for an entire summer just to jam out to “Cannonball” whenever I could. The first time I ever heard “Party in the U.S.A. ” it was mixed with Biggie’s “Party and Bullshit”, which – along with many other events that weekend – really got me into rap and hip hop. When the movie Mamma Mia came out, I went to Best Buy and bought Abba’s Greatest Hits because I couldn’t get the songs out of my head.

College immersed me in country music, which I now love, despite what a 13-year-old me would have said. I can listen to almost anything now and find something redeeming and worthwhile in it. Several artists, like Will Smith, Billy Joel, and the Rolling Stones have spanned time and space to still be considered some of my all-time favorites. But in my opinion, no artist is better than Bruce Springsteen.

Through my LMFAO phase, my Imagine Dragons phase, and my inexplicable Tiësto phase, one constant I always fell back on was that Bruce Springsteen was the be-all-end-all, the alpha and the omega, the crème de la crème. If I ever saw him walking down the street, I would've looked and said ‘there goes Bruce Springsteen, the best there ever was in this game.’ And I had every Reason to Believe I was right.

I saw him live for the first time in 2007, on his Magic tour. Magic wasn’t one of my favorite albums at the time, but it has really grown on me. I was hoping he’d play staples throughout the set, but the dark and dim theme of the album permeated the selections, and for good reason.

In 2009, I went back to see him in the widely-anticipated finale of his Working on A Dream tour. The 200-plus minute show had a little bit of everything, and absolutely blew my pants off. It remains one of the two best shows I’ve ever seen. About a year and a half after what was widely believed to be the band's last live performance, iconic E Street saxophonist Clarence Clemons passed away at the age of 69. I taught myself how to play the saxophone not too long after.

My best friend Aaron named his car after Clemons. Retro movies like Eddie & The Cruisers and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure fueled the Fire behind my rationale. As I started to explore the logic behind why I liked him so much, there were a few things I came up with that began to explain it.

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band provided much of the inspiration for Eddie and his Cruisers.

Clemons played one of the Three Most Important People in the World in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.

For starters, Bruce’s music isn’t niche. He can blast you with a powerful, driving beat or bring you down with something slow and sad. His ability to easily traverse musical stylings makes him one of the most durable and talented artists there ever was. He even crooned Dublin with a phenomenal rendition of "Erie Canal," which sounds ridiculous, because who would’ve ever thought that song would be even remotely relevant beyond an elementary school music class in Western New York?

Second, his music and personality make him seem like a guy you’d love to have a beer with. I don’t really know how I can expand on that much further. Either you’d see it or you wouldn’t.

Beyond that, there’s something spiritual about what Springsteen is doing in his music. I could never quite find the words to articulate it, but Caryn Rose summed it up pretty swiftly for Vulture:
[Born to Run] distills every single element of Springsteen’s sound into four-and-a-half minutes, which contains the essential question his entire catalogue tries to answer: “I want to know if love is real.”

There are plenty of artists out there who can write a song for just about every mood or situation you can find yourself in, but I am adamant that Springsteen not only has more songs on the whole to fit each category, but better ones as well. Whether it's in the Meadowlands or at a greasy dive bar in the middle of Nebraska, you can piece together an entire set of songs to fit the atmosphere.

I’m not here to change people’s minds and I know plenty of people will say he Ain’t Good Enough For You, but I wanted to put my side of the story out there.

And one final note: If praising Bruce Springsteen led to a successful career in sports, I pretty much would have been the emperor of the universe in ninth grade. Shame it doesn't really work that way.

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