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Bruce Springsteen is an iconic musician for a lot of people: who doesn’t love Dancing in the Dark or Born to Run? But to me, he is more than that; he is an inescapable part of life at home. My dad is a lifelong fan, so much so that Springsteen is known to us as simply “Bruce”. We are literally on first name terms. When I was younger I took his presence for granted, but moving to Cambridge made me realise how used I was to hearing a bit of Springsteen most days, whether that was the classics that everyone loves, or the funkier side; Old Dan Tucker is a family favourite. In my last two terms at Cambridge, I’ve fallen back in love with Springsteen on my own terms, and begun to understand how his music has shaped my life, from Nebraska to Western Stars.

"It is honesty that has made Springsteen’s music stand the test of time."

My dad has been to too many Bruce shows to count and, like a lot of things your parents love when you’re a child, I just thought either that everyone knew his music like we did, or that my dad was super lame - why would he care that much about one musician? But as I’ve grown up and (in theory) become an adult, I too have formed a lot of emotional connections to a lot of musicians. Last year, Sam Fender released his debut album. I had been following him for some time before that, and I had absolutely fallen in love with his music. It had a nostalgic feeling that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, as well as echoing a lot of my own sentiments about the state of the world. I wondered why music with such strong political overtones felt so comforting to me, and then I listened to an interview he did where he cited Springsteen as a strong influence. It sounded like he had been raised on pretty much the same diet of music as I had, but instead of dismissing it as a strange obsession, he had engaged with it. I found myself listening to Springsteen’s more iconic tracks on the daily, before gradually working my way through his discography.

I was born in 2001, so the tunes from High Hopes, Wrecking Ball, and Magic were the ones I was most familiar with, but as I scrolled through his Spotify page, I was astounded by the sheer volume of music Springsteen has made. His first album came out in 1973, and since then he has released eighteen studio records (not including concert albums), with last year’s Western Stars marking album nineteen. And, somehow, they’re all good! Of course, there are ups and downs, but it is difficult to find an objectively bad Bruce Springsteen album. I’m biased, but I really do struggle to see how anyone could consider him to be anything other than a prolific singer-songwriter and performer. Born in the USA is one of the best rock albums ever made, and he is known for his epic, full-on performances.

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Back when I didn’t really get it, my dad took me to the Wrecking Ball show at Wembley Stadium, and it went on for hours. Looking back, I have no idea why he took me, and I didn’t enjoy it that much, but the atmosphere was electric, and the E-Street Band’s musicianship was incredible. What struck me is that they didn’t really have a set list. There was obviously some structure to the show, but one of the defining characteristics of a Springsteen gig is the crowd suggestions. The audience bring signs with requests, he picks them out randomly, and they get played. I know that there must be some element of rehearsal in this, but the musicianship that a Bruce Springsteen show displays is of the sort that can only really be formed by years of practice and playing together, and being the type of band that every musician aspires to be a part of.

These epic shows are also released as concert albums, and most of them have come to be as iconic as his studio albums, such as Live 1975-85, and most recently Springsteen on Broadway. The version of Born in the USA on this record hammers home the lyrics rather than the melody, emphasising the fact that it is about a veteran of Vietnam coming home. Springsteen himself never fought in this war, and the guilt that he feels about this is emphasised on the Broadway album, noting that because he didn’t go, someone else did. It is this honesty that has made Springsteen’s music stand the test of time, and it is why Sam Fender makes me feel nostalgic. For many, music and songwriting are channels for their frustrations about society, but it is rare to find an artist who focuses on these frustrations and reaches the level of popular success Springsteen has, and for such a long period of time. To some extent, this is probably because he mitigates these messages with introspective, personal songs, which still have the same energy as his anthemic calls to action. I’m thinking here particularly of Born to Run, which certainly offers some insight into Springsteen’s own struggle to make it as a musician, but is essentially a love letter to “Wendy”.


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Bruce Springsteen has shaped my life in ways that I’m only just starting to understand, and I’m incredibly lucky to have such a strong musical influence in my life. I certainly don’t love him as much as my dad does, but I think I do understand it now. As a historian, his music is essentially a primary source about public sentiment at different times throughout late twentieth-century America, and I have a feeling that as the discipline of history advances, music will increasingly become an important indicator for that sort of thing. But for now, I’ll settle for everyone giving Nebraska, Born to Run and Western Stars a listen; you won’t be disappointed.

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