It’s 1.47am and I can’t sleep. TMoTH is away at a family wedding. The Offspring are asleep. Even the critters are asleep. Only I am still awake – and really I shouldn’t be, since I need to be up in a few hours for boxing training…..
I didn’t intend to still be awake at this time. I watched DVDs with The Offspring then came to bed thinking I would check my email and turn out the light. Then I remembered I hadn’t watched the keynote speech from SXSW . Why would I want to watch that you ask? Well, because the speaker was Bruce Springsteen.
The key note speech is amazing - it’s funny, it’s touching, it’s smart – and so much more. In it Springsteen talks about the things that influenced him, the things that made him want to do what he does. He talks about hearing The Animals and how, when he listened to them, he wanted to do what they did. He wanted to make people feel the way they were making him feel.
I sat here in bed, listening to the wind drive leaves around our front lawn, my mouth open in amazement. You see I’ve heard those words before – except usually I’m the one saying them and I’m talking about Springsteen.
When I was 12 we lived on a farm in a fairly remote area of the east coast of the north Island of New Zealand. My father had died the year before and my mother was working every hour of daylight to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table while lawyers do whatever it is lawyers do with wills and estates.
We had no television and our nearest neighbour was about two miles away. We did however have a radio and every Sunday afternoon I would sit at the table with my ear pressed to the radio listening to Casey Kasem’s Top 40.
This particular Sunday, not long before my 13th birthday, Kasem announced a new song from some guy I had never heard of. As the song began to play I remember very clearly being mesmerised and forgetting completely about my French homework.
The singer was Springsteen and the album was The River. Springsteen wasn’t big in New Zealand at the time and I was only 12 – too young to really understand the themes in his music – so it’s not surprising I didn’t really know who he was. But I loved what I was hearing and by the time Fade Away was released I did know two things: a) whoever he was, I was hooked and b)I wanted to do what he did: I wanted to write things that made people see images in their head and feel something they didn’t know they felt.
That was 33 years ago – and today I feel exactly the same way. There is a joke in my family that Springsteen is ‘the other man’ in my life and luckily for me my partner Dennis is as big a fan as I am – although he does have a rule that there are to be no pictures in the bedroom. I have no idea why….
Springsteen’s lyrics inspired me- and still inspire me – to start writing. My dream is to one day interview him – if only to get the chance to thank him for all the joy his music has brought me over the years. So it felt a little surreal to hear him say the very things I’ve been feeling all these years.
Many of Springsteen’s songs have inspired in me ideas for stories – both short and long – but I have never had the courage or the confidence to write them down. They are, afer all, his songs. His stories. I have this weird, unwritten rule that while his music and lyrics are possibly the greatest influence on my creative writing, I can not use them as a spring board for that writing. Why? Who knows?
So, when he went on to not only explain, but demonstrate, how “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” and “Badlands” were (and I quote) “the same fuckin’ riff, listen up, youngsters — this is how successful theft is accomplished.” I, unlike everyone else, did not just laugh.
I got excited.
Not that kind of excited – get your minds out of the gutters. Okay maybe a little but that’s not what we’re talking about here.
I got excited because Bruce Springsteen gave me a green light to use all these characters who have been living in my head all this time; he may not have looked up and said “hey, the loopy red head down there in New Zealand, get over it, it’s just the same fuckin’ riff, write it already” - but he may as well have.
It’s funny, his new album Wrecking Ball makes me feel that same breathless wonder I felt when I was 12 and hearing him for the first time. I sit and listen to it, sometimes (often) in tears, and I wonder “how does he DO that? I want to do that.”
My next thought is invariably “I am so grateful he does that.”
For so many years, his music has held my hand and my heart, and played the background music to my life. Like I say, since the age of 12 I’ve wanted to interview him - partly so I could say thank you for all his music has brought to me.
But maybe the way I say thank you is to use that riff…