springsteen at 70

Bruce Springsteen. Photo by Danny Clinch.

It was all I could do, in honoring Bruce Springsteen 70th birthday, to keep from playing my favorite Boss album, “Nebraska,” a vanguard work that celebrates its own milestone (the 37th anniversary of its release) next week. Brilliant as it is, though, a record that begins with the confession of a murderer (a character based heavily on spree killer Charlie Starkweather) whose final wish while being strapped into the electric chair was to have his girlfriend sitting on his lap, is probably not the way to usher in a birthday celebration.

Then again, Springsteen’s artistic profile is so vast and extends so far beyond what most mainstream audiences view as being definitive, that really any sideroad his music has journeyed is worthy of revisiting as he hits 70.

It could be the brassy folk charge of “We Shall Overcome” with his short lived Seeger Sessions Band, the harrowing affirmation of “The Rising” that brought the Boss into a ravaged 21st century, the folk meditations of “The Ghost of Tom Road” or the forgotten beauty of later E Street Band records like “Magic” and “Wrecking Ball.”

To most, understandably, the Springsteen legacy is constructed around his initial spree of recordings cut between 1972 and 1984 that took his music off of the Jersey boardwalk and onto the streets of America, celebrating its simplest joys, its most impenetrable restlessness and, increasingly, a view of the working world that encroached on the political.

But politics has always meant many things in a Springsteen song. It could be as global as the atomic-powered “Born in the U.S.A.” or as personal as a stroll down the boarded-up neighborhood within “My Hometown.” Perhaps purposely, those songs bookend the Boss’ best-selling album, 1984’s “Born in the U.S.A.” International sales for the record now center somewhere around the 30 million mark.

In the end, though, what may the most fitting way to honor Springsteen at 70 is to simply rejoice in the sheer physicality and invitation of his live performances, many of which are now officially available digitally and on recordings. That, collectively, remains the foundation from which all the glorious extensions of his music have bloomed. The 5 o’clock jubilance of “Out in the Street,” the epic romanticism of “Rosalita” or even the escapist urgency that detonates three of his most established classics, “Thunder Road,” “Badlands” and “Born to Run.” Stick those in a birthday cake and watch the room go boom.

What I take the greatest comfort in with Springsteen at 70 is that his story isn’t anywhere near complete. His newest work, the brilliant “Western Stars,” sounds unlike anything he has previously done, a record of vivid Americana imagery and spacious but beautifully subtle orchestration. A film, chronicling the only performance thus far of the record’s serene music, will hit theatres in a matter of weeks. Plus, there is already serious talk of a new E Street Band record and tour for 2020.

So Happy 70th, Boss. I’m thankful, as they say, for the memories, but more appreciative that a few more journeys up, down and slightly off the ramps of the American badlands still await us.

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