Bored in the U.S.A.

Ironminds, 1999-09-01, by: Mike Bruno
Bruce Springsteen?s live shows send aging boomers into fits of rock ?n? roll ecstasy, but the Boss? deification leaves the MTV generation scratching their heads.
So the Boss and his E Street Band got back together. Of course you?ve heard. It?s just about the only thing music writers talk about these days. Let?s see if I?ve got it. The live show is the absolute greatest of all time, Bruce Springsteen?s energy is unrivaled by any other performer, he?s this incredibly down-to-earth, regular New Jersey fellow, and his lyrics speak to the working man instead of to ... well, whomever all other rock ?n? roll supposedly speaks to. He?s the man who inspired music critic Jon Landau, who later became Springsteen?s manager, to write: ?I saw rock ?n? roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.? That was 1974. This is 1999.

I was 1 year old when Landau penned that phrase. I know my saying this will tick off those who worship in the house of Bruce, but I just don?t get it and neither do about 90 percent of the other music lovers born after 1972. (Of course every single member of the remaining 10 percent is now preparing to write me the world?s nastiest ?you?re a brazen moron and you fucking suck? e-mail.) But back when I was an 11-year-old kid in 1984, I was digging Prince?s ?When Doves Cry,? Van Halen?s ?Hot for Teacher? and Corey Hart?s eternal ?Sunglasses at Night.? The only folks who listened to Bruce were ?old? people well into their 20s. Women who hung out with my mother and talked about his butt, guys who grew out their stubble to replicate his famous mug, and parents who could explain that ?boss? used to mean cool (or something).

For kids my age he was just the guy who sang ?Born in the U.S.A? and did that frightfully lame dance with Courteney Cox in the ?Dancing in the Dark? video. (It was later annexed by Eddie Murphy who uses it as his ?white man dance.?) Sure, most of us recognize ?Born to Run? when the classic rock station squeezes it between Joe Cocker and the Eagles, but our Bruce experience is more in the ?Glory Days? vein. And although we sang along when it was (over)played on the radio and MTV, it didn?t make us weak in the knees, proud to be working-class Americans or think we?d seen the future of rock ?n? roll. Along with a handful of Rod Stewart songs, the Born in the U.S.A tunes are OK, and that?s that.

The amount of coverage Springsteen?s tour has received in the mainstream media ? especially where I live on the East Coast (Boston, to be exact) ? really shows the generation gap between today?s 30- and 40-something music journalists and folks my age. The Boston Globe put the Boss on the front page with a teaser to the huge Bruce tribute in the Arts section a full week before the concert even came to town. I can understand a couple of stories but a one-week preview? It was like the World?s fucking Fair was coming to town. Once Springsteen actually showed up and played the Fleet Center, he was again on the front page, this time with a huge photo above the fold. All the stories are rehashes of the same canned details about his awesome stage presence and stamina (see my opening paragraph for a sample), and they all ardently defend the Boss as a still-relevant figure who has shaped rock ?n? roll ? no, shaped America.

Who?s arguing? It seems as if some of these writers/fans realize that Bruce?s heyday has past. After all, it?s been over 10 years since he parted with the E Street Band and gave us the weak VH1-ish tune ?Tunnel of Love? (remember that garbage?) The fact is, if you were a fan back in the 1970s, you know how great Bruce is/was and don?t need someone to tell you six or seven times in a week. For the rest of us, Bruce is not the future of rock ?n? roll, but a shining example of its illustrious past, and the ?Born in the U.S.A? guy who did the song ?Streets of Philadelphia? for that Tom Hanks movie six years ago.

The annoying thing is how these Bruce-fanatic writers create a catch-22. Boston Herald music writer Larry Katz recently wrote, ?There are two types of people: those who love Bruce Springsteen and those who have never seen him live.? Fair enough. Perhaps all the massive raving the Globe has bombarded the uninitiated youngsters with would ring true if we?d actually experienced a show. But who in their right mind is going to shell out $70 just to see the ?Born in the U.S.A? guy? Who am I kidding? If you weren?t in some way connected to someone who was in line at the box office for the first few hours of ticket sales, you couldn?t see Bruce on any of the five Boston dates without shelling out hundreds, or even thoU.S.Ands, of dollars to a ticket broker or scalper. No writer in the world can convince me the show is that good.

Which brings me to my last point. If Bruce is the do-it-for-the-people rock ?n? roll purist everyone says he is why are his tickets so much damn money? Doesn?t he want to bring in new people? How about cutting his fans a break? I suppose most of his boomer fans, like Bruce himself, cashed in on the 1980s, made a decent living for themselves and have no problem dishing out the cash to revive that raw, unbridled rock ?n? roll tiger that?s been sleeping inside their designer suits over the years. Bruce singing for his fellow working man doesn?t mean the same thing in 1999 that it did in 1974. And let?s face it, the Stones are getting to be just plain sad, even for aging boomers. Still, the least the E Street Band could have done is put out a record and toured with some new material. I think I smell a bit of the cha-ching theory going on here. I?ll bet they don?t miss the opportunity to release a live album after the tour. (Gee, I wonder if that will sell.)

But I digress. The Boss does deserve his props. He makes a lot of people happy, he was good for rock ?n? roll, and I?m sure his live show is emotional, long, energetic, yadda yadda yadda. I?m also sure (even before I get the maelstrom of hate e-mail) that there are some people my age who have been touched by his lyrics or who fell in love with him after being dragged to a show by an older brother or an aunt, though I?ll bet they?re the same young people who pay good money to see Billy Joel rock out on his piano. But for the rest of us born after 1972, we?re a little tired of all this Bruce stuff, and we?re looking forward to when he goes back to his Jersey mansion (or to the one he has in L.A.) and lets the music journalists go back to finding something new to write about.