Journey with the Boss always ends in land of hope and dreams

St. Louis Today, 2002-12-18, by: unknown
The journey began on a warm, breezy summer's night in New Jersey. It was Aug. 7, and as we tailgated outside the arena, we were giddy with expectation, knowing that we were about to set out on a wonderful adventure. And it ended on a cold, drizzly winter's day in Indianapolis. We stood outside of Conseco Fieldhouse on Dec. 17, wearing silly Santa hats, shivering like fools, chilled to the bone as we waited to enter the building. But we knew we'd be warmed, and uplifted, by three hours of rip-roaring music. The music of Bruce Springsteen never lets you down.

And I just finished one of the greatest, most satisfying experiences of my life. I followed Springsteen's "The Rising" tour, hitting about 12 shows. My travels took me to virtually every section of the nation. I made new friends. I took my daughter to three shows. Some of you heard my concert reports on KMOX or read about them in my forum at STLtoday.com/bernie, and my Springsteen obsession was spoofed by my friends at The Riverfront Times. So I feel a need to explain . . .

Now, some of you are undoubtedly asking the question: What does this have to do with sports? Here's my answer: Because I am truly blessed to have this job, Springsteen has everything to do with where I am today. So please forgive me for writing a personal column, which is something I rarely do.

Let's turn back the clock. As a teenager, I ran a family business. It was expected of me. I didn't mind the work, and my grandparents were important to me, but I knew I wanted to do more with my life. I wanted to be a writer. I didn't want to get stuck in a small town, operating a convenience store, caught in a numbing routine. I wanted to be in the world. These were difficult days; I wanted to love and respect my family but felt that I must rebel against the course that they chose for me. And Springsteen's music was a constant source of inspiration for me during that era. The message in his defiant anthems - Born to Run, Thunder Road, Badlands, Promised Land - reinforced my heart.

The words comforted me in ways that no one will ever know. Springsteen reminded kids like me - tramps like us - that there's nothing wrong in wanting a better life, and that we should persist and push through and never give up on our dreams. And I do not believe that I'd be writing a sports column today had I not been challenged and encouraged by Springsteen's anthems.

I admit that I got tired of Springsteen for a while. I didn't like it when he fired the E Street Band, married the Hollywood actress, and moved to Los Angeles. But a St. Louis Springsteen fan named Tom Weaver reminded me that Springsteen had every right to evolve, just as we all try directions at various stages of our lives. Weaver was right, and I felt like a jerk for resenting the changes in Springsteen's life. Besides, Springsteen eventually returned to his roots.

Now, let's fast forward. I've gone through a lot of changes in the last year or so. My father has been battling an illness that seems terminal. I was worried about my own health and being overweight but for some reason couldn't find the courage to do anything about it. A serious relationship ended; a woman that I thought I'd marry decided to move to New York. I don't know if my heart was broken or cracked or about to implode . . .

And Springsteen came to my emotional rescue again, just as he did a quarter-century ago. Much of "The Rising" is about coping with the aftermath of the deaths on Sept. 11, 2001. But the collection of songs apply to anyone who has experienced personal loss, or is fretting over the potential death of a loved one (my dad). But much of the music is hopeful - a reaffirmation of life in wake of death and grieving.

I played "The Rising" dozens of times during my daily walks and runs through Forest Park, as I began an attempt to salvage my own health. Whenever I felt particularly down about my father's condition, I found comfort on several songs on the CD. And when I had sad thoughts about the end of my romance, I'd crank up "Lonesome Day" and feel better.

Springsteen's new music was right on time. Again. And I wasn't alone in this dynamic. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, a devoted Springsteen fan, turned to the song "The Rising" after Darryl Kile's sudden death. La Russa listened when he needed something to help get him through the darkest moments of his emotional angst. "I've always thought the messages in Springsteen's songs are so powerful," La Russa said. "And they apply to our lives over and over again. And it was true again this summer for me. Personally, everyone reaches out in a different way to cope with a tragedy. When each of us were searching for a source of strength of how to deal with losing Darryl, Bruce's song became very special to me. It helped pull me through."

It's an example of how music can touch, and impact, our lives. But I wanted more. I wanted to go back to my younger days when I'd see about 15 Springsteen shows a year. So this past summer I started flying off to "The Rising" concerts, lining up late at night, or early in the morning, to secure one of the 300 standing-room spots in the "pit," area directly in front of the stage. And each invigorating concert made me realize how happy I am to be alive. And as Springsteen once told us, it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive.

Thanks, Bruce.

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