"Rock Talked Revolution But Springsteen Still Writes, Plays Evolution"

Brian O'Neill

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (August 2002)

Cleveland -

You Stroll through the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame and you see Mick Jagger's tiny valvet jumpsuit from 1972 and the pants that Rick Springfield wore during his 15 minutes of fame two decades ago and you think:

I'm getting way too old for this.

So then why did you pack four friends inside your station wagon, four friends old enough to remember the day President Kennedy was shot, and make a 270-mile round trip at midweek to see a rock show?
For Bruce Springsteen, of course.

I wouldn't have figured this 30 years ago.

First time I saw Springsteen was in 1973. Took my first girlfriend to Madison Square Garden to See Chicago - the band, not the city - and this scruffy unknown opened for them. He was booed, but I thought he was great, and came back to my Long Island high school telling everyone we ought to get this Bruce Silverstein to play at the gym.

Yeah. I know. My girlfriend didn't think I was a good listener, either. But I was briefly ahead of the curve. Because two years later, when Springsteen released his landmark album, "Born To Run", he rescued rock 'n' roll from the twin demons of the age, disco and bong music.

In an era when the classic rock pose was a kind of a listless narcissism, here came this guitar-wielding dervish backed by America's all-time greatest bar band. At a time when my suburban high school divided into jocks and hippies and greasers, Springsteen would have been in the last camp, but as the most eloquent greaser in the history of mankind.

He sang about cars and girls and carnival rides and girls and dodging fights and movies and did I mention girls?

"A screen door slams/Mary's dress waves/like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays/Roy Orbison singing for the lonely/Hey that's me and I want you only/Don't turn me home again/I just can't face myself alone again."

Maybe you had to be about 19 in 1975 to understand what a miracale Springsteen was. First time I saw him after he broke big, it was December in Oswego, N.Y., and his showstopper in this college town was a souped up "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." It has become a seasonal cliche since, but it was a revelation then that unabashed, unpretentious, innocent joy could be part of a rock star's stage persona.

If that was all there was to him, Springsteen would have flamed out long ago. Isn't that what rock was supposed to be about? "Hope I die before I get old" and all those other words The Who happily eat every time the dust off "My Generation" for yet another farewell tour?

Springsteen never stopped writing for his generation. He just happened to notice we've grown some together. He and his E Street Band are not like, say, the Rolling Stones, who essentially sell tickets to time machines. Pretending you're young again has undeniable allure, but it's a dead end. Give me the guy who's still evolving, still searching for answers and finding a few. Give me Springsteen. His album, "The Rising," is in its second week at No. 1 without a drop of teen-age angst in the mix.

When I pulled into the grage beside the Gund Arena the other night, four Pittsburghers were ahead of us tailgating. Jackie Bauer, Leah Killeen, Jana Phillips and her brother, John Halloran, grew up together in Lawrenceville. Now the women are thirtysomething suburbanities who can't count how many Springsteen concerts they've seen since they caught him at the Stanley Theater in 1978. But his new stuff is as much for them as ever.

Loss, courage, perseverance, longing and redemption - these remain Springsteen's themes, but he's 52 and a father of three now, and his words are informed by the events of Sept. 11 and the loss of his New Jersey neighbors. He did "Born To Run" during his first encoure, but "My City In Ruins" began the second, and there was no pretense about running from our awful reality, only the defiance of overcoming it.

My section of the arena looked a bit like the "before" picture of The Hair Club for Men, but then most of The E Street Band did, too. Springsteen sang 22 songs, half from the current album, over nearly three hours. I looked around and wondered how many among the 20,000 or so could claim his work ethic. I confess I can't.

Rock 'n' roll is not what it used to be, thank God. That means it still lives.

David, thanks for sending me the article.