' ' Cinema Romantico: Springsteen & I

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Springsteen & I

“Bruce and I have been friends since 1985. Even though he doesn’t know me.” 

So a guy gets dumped. But the guy’s going to a Bruce Springsteen concert, so he fashions himself a rudimentary sign that declares: “Bruce, I Just Got Dumped.” We cut to actual concert footage. Bruce sees the sign. He reads it aloud into the microphone: “Bruce,” Bruce says, “I Just Got Dumped.” He understands. “We’ve all been there.” So Bruce brings the guy up on stage and gives him a hug. Then Bruce and The E Street Band tear into “I’m Going Down”, the greatest I Just Got Dumped Song there ever was.

There is an essential truth in this passage, a passage that an outsider, a non-Springsteen fanatic, a non-devout disciple of E Street might not understand (or want to), and it is this: Bruce Springsteen is our therapist. He talks us through things in his songs and makes us feel better. He helps us make sense of the world and all that we struggle so mightily to understand. Watching that moment unfold I nodded along, partly because any time a girl has dumped me do you know what song I play? “I’m Going Down”, of course.

A few years back a call went out to all Springsteen fans to record confessionals. Thousands were submitted and director Baillie Walsh, essentially working more as an editor, and his team sifted through the footage to craft a galloping, miraculous eighty minute ode to Springsteen-ism. It mixes bits of Springsteen concert footage – from the 70’s up through now – with an untold number of talking heads, explaining what Bruce means to them, what made them fans in the first place, etc.

One detail you will notice right away as the fans commence speaking is their languages and accents, their colors and creeds. There is a predictable stereotype of Springsteen, primarily invented and perpetuated on account of one song and one album cover, that he is a flag-waving jingoist. A real Springsteen fan knows this is nowhere near the truth, and “Springsteen & I” should debunk it once and for all. English, Aussies, Danes, Koreans, on and on, everyone stands up and testifies. A Polish man explains how Springsteen’s music mirrored his own feelings about communism in his country in the 80’s. Walsh immediately transitions to a performance of “Born in the U.S.A.” In other words, lyrical content aside, his themes are always universal. He speaks for all of us, man. Young, Old, Gen Y, Baby Boomer, a Truck Driver with a Masters, and so on.

One of the best, and most crucial, recurring passages involves a husband, who is not a fan, being interviewed by his wife, who is a fan. As someone who attends concerts solely on account of his loved one he appeals directly to Bruce to please, for the love of God, shorten the concerts. (Springsteen routinely plays upwards of three hours.) It’s funny, but it’s also our one vantage point from outside the fanatic circle. Look, I understand how this documentary and this devotion could play to an outsider. It could probably seem a little………cultish. And that’s because, well, hell, it kinda is.

And “Springsteen & I”, admittedly, whole-heartedly, is not, nor meant to be, an objective look inside the House Of E Street. If you know nothing of Bruce and watch this film, you will likely not glean much deeper insight into what makes a Bruce fan. Many of the testimonials, so many of which are heartfelt and beautiful, are admittedly identical to the kind of rhapsodizing any fan offers regarding his or her idol. But then I think that’s why this documentary garnered but a few one night showings as opposed to a proper release. It’s not intended to create believers, but to be enjoyed by those who already believe.

An older gentleman, hair graying, wearing sunglasses, drives down the highway, talking into the camera mounted on his dashboard. He speaks in a halting monotone, searching for the precise words to explain what Bruce means to him, but struggling. “His music,” he says, “is like flipping through a family photo album.” He pauses. He searches for more words. Well, what can he possibly say? Then...he begins to cry. At first, it’s a little funny. It is. I laughed. Not because it's pitiful - far from it - but because, well, it’s kind of ridiculous, isn’t it, that we all have this most personal relationship with someone we've never met.

He keeps crying. And then…I started crying. I did. Right there in the theater (and I wasn’t the only one). Because how I could not? Because I understood exactly what that guy was trying to say and exactly why he could not find the words to say it. Because I am that guy and that guy is me and all Springsteen fanatics are each other.

Tramps like us, baby.

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