Springsteen and I

It occurred to me while reading these thoughts on One Direction and fandom from Lucy Robinson that one of the greatest aspects of Springsteen & I (which I saw last night) is that it openly celebrates unadulterated fandom from the kind of music listener who is commonly presented as a ‘snob’ these days. Bruce Springsteen is pretty much the archetypal ‘old man with a guitar’ of our age, held up as emblematic of ‘rockism’ and beloved of the kind of people who could never listen to Ke$ha. Yet the fans in the film (ranging from kids through to pensioners) are as excitable, as enthusiastic and as devoted as the most hysterical One Directioner, It’s a very sweet and heart-warming depiction of the profound importance which music plays in the lives of those of us who’ve let the magic in; it’s also a moving tribute to the relationships which this can lead to. A mother proudly watches as her 10 year old son shows off the close-up photo of Bruce he managed to take after they both attended his concert; a couple reminisce about how they initially bonded over their mutual fandom and dance around their kitchen to a tinny stereo, lamenting that they’ve never been able to see Bruce live; a middle-aged woman explains how her first Bruce concert changed her, awakening a previously-dormant sexuality and a newfound appreciation for rock ‘n’ roll. In one of the loveliest moments a woman who could be a grandmother films herself alone in some woods (her first ever video, apparently) as she speaks about how Bruce is one of her oldest friends even though he’s never met her.

What the film offers which a One Direction equivalent couldn’t possibly duplicate is an appreciation of the musical relationships which endure and which sustain us. More than acting as a soundtrack to their lives, these people speak time and again of how Bruce’s songs are part of their being and how they offer the kind of intimacy which allows them to feel that they are seeing some kind of truth regarding life. One man speaks of how the lyrics are such that he feels he can smell Bruce’s coffee and share in Bruce’s failures and triumphs, an observation which reduces him to tears. A woman in her 20s speaks about her job and how Bruce’s music has helped her to accept that it’s ok to have a degree that she doesn’t use in her job as a truck-driver. It’s fandom but it’s also didactic and transformational. Bruce himself gets this in an after-credits scene where he meets some of the fans from the film. Asked what motivates him to get on stage every night, he explains simply that music changed his life for the better and he wants to be able to give that gift to other people. This is pretty much exactly what I meant when I wrote previously that caring about what they did was the most fundamental thing an artist could offer. The intense, ephemeral love for a short-lived pop act is something many of us experience and it’s great while it lasts but we’re kinda not supposed to acknowledge that it’s a temporary rush which probably has more to do with our own adolescent states than anything else.  It’s seen as patronising to say that and preferable to pretend that we don’t ever change . Yet we do and the music which speaks to us evolves and changes in turn. If we’re lucky, the artists whom we love at 13 will change us, inspire us to check out more music, books etc, If we’re lucky, they’ll develop as we do and we’ll have a hell of a journey together. One Direction are clearly aimed at children and no doubt speak to their experiences but their music would be pretty useless at capturing the peaks and troughs of a 33-year old (unless it’s a particularly stunted one). Maybe they’ll progress, as (the far superior) Take That did but there’s nothing wrong with recognising that acts being loved by lots of kids isn’t a huge virtue in and of itself. What we rather should acknowledge is that our love for music doesn’t diminish with age. It’s no less ‘pure’ just because you have a life, responsibilities, problems and passions which take you away from it. Rather our relationship with music deepens and it permeates us in ways we couldn’t possibly begin to quantify or adequately describe. It’s a great thing and it should be celebrated.

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2 Comments

  1. Great post – raises some really interesting questions about the extent to which our models of understanding fans are based on infantalised models and what should we do about big grown up men fans? Wonder if you can pin down what constitutes the lines between the pop we love when we are 13 and the music that sustains the sort of length of engagement you describe here. Thinking about John Street’s writing about Springsteen is that Springsteen has to perform his masculine, class authenticity, whereas pop relishes its transience. Anyway I’ve got no answers but love the questions you are raising.

  2. This is a great post. I’m in the midst of organising a conference on my own 13 year old music fan obsession (Quadrophenia) and thinking about just these issues. Is it hard to predict what One Direction will mean, though, to kids who grow up with them, the way we (or at least I) have grown up with Springsteen? Is there something inherent in Springsteen’s music that makes for a deeper, more sustaining fan relationship (his subject matter about class and masculinity as Lucy says, his literary sensibility, his musical sophistication (arguable, probably)) or is it just about the particular moment you hear what you hearit, how it becomes injected into your life? I would say I love the Who and Springsteen (and other slightly cooler bands too) because I grew up with them, but it might be more accurate to say they are what I grew up into. Can a short-lived pop act (One Direction) care about the great ephemerality of what they do, and can that ephemeral moment then live on, just as authentically, in fans who grow up with it? All really interesting. (I think I’m posting as my Quadrophenia symposium account, but I’m Pam Thurschwell)

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