"Me and Bruce"

The Women Syndicate, 2000-10-05, by: Tad Bartimus
Among Friends
I'm giving up Bruce Springsteen

More precisely, I'm giving up the idea that some day, somehow, somewhere I will sing backup for Bruce Springsteen. This outlandish notion has roots so deep I can't remember when I didn't accept it as inevitable, just as I knew I would make a million dollars, spend a year in France and wear a size 10 Donna Karan cashmere wrap.

All I needed to do to get ready to tour with Bruce, I told myself for years, was tie up some loose ends: get the house clean, teach my husband to bend over in the refrigerator, put a little extra money in the bank. Instead of counting sheep, I'd close my eyes and see myself standing on the edge of The Boss's spotlight as great sounds came out of my mouth. I'd be wearing black leather and knee-high boots, flaunting cleavage that miraculously appeared, shaking a tambourine. I'd be a hot mama, as they say in the music biz. Could happen, I'd tell myself, as I drove down the highway caterwauling "Born to Run." Could happen.

After all, Bruce has been there for me since I got hip enough to pay attention. We'd traveled together from Ripple wine and concrete block-and-board bookcases to Dewar's and Ethan Allen. Knowing he was out there, always ahead of the pack, giving voice and beat to my generation's anger and angst, reassured me I wasn't the only one hanging out over the edge. I hated falling in love with a scumbag but felt better about my bad judgment when The Boss let us in on his own romantic train wrecks. He went into therapy at the same time I was untangling myself from my own family web. He found true love, I found true love. We were on parallel tracks, 'ol Bruce and me, only his were painfully, bravely public while the rest of us cockroached off his lessons and contented ourselves with singing in the shower.

Ten years after the Vietnam war ended, a Hanoi teenager in a Yankees baseball camp invited me to hop aboard his motorcycle and whip around his city at midnight. We roared past a B-52 bomb crater as big as the block it had obliterated, past the lake where Sen. John McCain, R- Arizona, fell to earth when his Navy fighter plane was shot down in 1967, past the old "Hanoi Hilton" POW prison where his captors took him for the next six years. Riding along in the night, the kid turned up his stereo and there was Bruce, singing born in the U.S.A. to a million former enemies and one ex-war correspondent bawling her eyes out. The kid and I joined in (born in the U.S.A, I was born in the U.S.A., born in the U.S.A, I'm a long gone Daddy in the U.S.A). When the song was over I'd made my own separate peace with Vietnam.

Age enforces selectivity on youthful dreams. I still cling to the hope I'll spend that year in France. But the only way I'm likely to get a million dollars is if the Prize Patrol has a wreck in my driveway. And that Donna Karan size 10? I'm a full-figured woman for the duration. Which brings me back to that black leather hot mama standing on the edge of Bruce's spotlight. It's time I admit to myself that no amount of listening to Aretha Franklin can save me. The voice is going but I've still got the shower.

Thanks, Bruce, for saying it for the rest of us. Thanks for the daydreams, the music, the memories. Most of all, thanks for showing us that if we have a song to sing we ought to jump in the shower and sing it for ourselves.