Life lessons from “The Boss”
April 8th, 2012
Warning! The next few minutes of your life are going to be dedicated to Bruce Springsteen. However, before you start to think that I’m using this as a platform to honor an artist that I’ve idolized or been fond of for ages, think again.
Extreme bell bottom blues
“The Boss” and I had a rocky go at first, and my reasons are sound. When I was a young figure skater just trying to make my way in a tough world, I had to attempt to gracefully tote my self-conscious, adolescent, lanky self in a skin-tight, American flag leotard with extreme bell-bottoms and gold sequence trim…to the tune of “Born in the USA.”
To this day, those opening notes make my stomach drop, reliving the horror of skating into the swirling lights, literally in a patriotic cat suit, trying to play it cool in front of whatever 5th grade crush was probably sitting in the sticky bleachers. That little number alone gave me serious reservations about “The Boss.”
However, this all recently changed when I heard his keynote speech from the SXSW music festival in Austin, TX. His speech was titled, “The Meaning of Music”, and while I say this often in SheTaxi blogs, I feel that his speech presented some serious parallels to life in general. Before I dive in, I must warn that it’s all obviously focused on music, but as I’ve mentioned time and time again, I think that everyone has an “art” or a “skill”, however unlike Mr. Springsteen’s musical gift.
I can’t begin to successfully interpret his lessons, but I can transcribe the passages that had the most lasting impact. Not great blogging skills I realize, but good enough…you’ll see. As he says, with that caveat, “I move cautiously onward.”
First, he opened by suggesting that the idea of a “keynote” speech made him uncomfortable because he felt it suggested that there was one key note to be struck to explain whatever is going on out there, when in reality, that’s not the case at all. As he explains, “The purity of human expression and experience is not confined to guitars, to tubes, to turntables, to microchips. There is no right way, no pure way, of doing. There is just doing.” Chills already? Yes, me too.
Music about everything that matters
He went on to describe what has gone on musically in his history; he briefly discussed many of my absolute musical idols, including Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, among others. Now this here is a shameless plug, as I really doubt I will ever get enough of either of those artists. In my opinion (and evidently his too), they have brought so much more than simply music to our ears.
As Bruce explains, to an individual growing up in the 50s and 60s, “everything felt false everywhere you’d turn, but you didn’t have the words. Bob (Dylan) came along and gave us those words and those songs. The first thing he asked you was, “how does it feel to be on your own?” He gave us the words to understand our hearts. He didn’t treat you like a child; he treated you like an adult. He didn’t write about something, he wrote about everything that matters in every song.
Bruce then went on to describe that prior to Dylan, Woody Guthrie was singing about hard times, too. “Woody’s gaze was set on today’s hard times but also somewhere over the horizon there was something. Woody’s world was a world where fatalism was tempered by a practical idealism. Speaking truth to power wasn’t feudal, whatever its outcome.”
A Universal Struggle for Identity
These passages remind me that we all struggle and we’re all on a search for identity, regardless of age, gender, social status, environment or calling. It’s not easy and it’s not always glamorous, but it’s inevitable. Even though Bruce is describing growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, it doesn’t sound unlike the unease many members of my generation have felt growing up in the 00’s. However, identifying how you feel, taking yourself seriously, questioning influence and understanding what really matters is at the core.
House of Mirrors
Additionally, possibly more important that dwelling on how you feel is the importance considering why you feel that way. How did you get here? Bruce Springsteen really helped me realize that I don’t think often enough of those who have had an impact or effect on me – or those that have helped me reach where I am today. Yet, this reminded me that it’s incredibly important to do so. And as he explains, “Authenticity is a house of mirrors. It’s all just what you’re bringing when the lights go down. It’s your teachers, your influences, your personal history and at the end of the day, it’s the power and purpose of your music that still matters.”
Our history, outlook and purpose
So as I listened to this hour-long speech the first time, then a second time and perhaps a third (yes, a third!), I realized that it’s time I forgive my absolute grudge against “The Boss” for representing the force that made the horrendous spandex ensemble mandatory. His speech was moving and offered life advice about building character and self-assurance, not unlike the inadvertent consequences of said skating show. He also urges that as we travel through life, we consider our history, our current outlook and most importantly, our purpose. To do so, he left us with these words ringing in our ears:
“Open your ears, and open your hearts. Don’t take yourself too seriously; take yourself as seriously as death itself. Don’t worry; worry your ass off. Have iron clad confidence, but doubt; it keeps you awake and alert. Believe you are the baddest-ass in town and that you suck; it keeps you honest. Be able to keep two completely contradictory ideas alive in well inside your heart and head at all times. If it doesn’t drive you crazy, it will make you strong. Stay hard, stay hungry and stay alive…”
You can listen to the whole thing here.
And I encourage you to.