40 years at Columbia Records: Bruce Springsteen
For anyone approaching 63 years, doctors say your bones start to creak a little more, the hair gets whiter and eyeglass prescriptions grow stronger.What’s not supposed to happen is that you play four-hour concerts in packed football stadiums, with nary a sign of slowing down anytime soon. And yet, this reversal of the aging process is being documented night after night in countries all over the world. It’s happening to Bruce Springsteen, who has long held the mantle of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest showman. Only a few weeks ago in Helsinki, during the European leg of his “Wrecking Ball” tour, Springsteen — already known for his marathon shows — hit the four-hour mark on stage for the first time ever. In a career that dates back to when iconic talent scout John Hammond asked Springsteen to audition in his office in 1972 and quickly signed the young singer-songwriter to Columbia Records, this monumental event represented another milestone that only added to a legacy filled with concerts that have achieved legendary status over time. My Springsteen fanaticism doesn’t reach all the way back to the early ’70s, but I still vividly remember hearing “Born to Run” later on in the decade — I was a little late for the Newsweek and Time magazine covers — and understanding that the Bob Dylan comparisons were apt, but not entirely true. Dylan started out addressing political change for a war-torn generation while Springsteen was singing about the breezy life on the Jersey Shore. Springsteen, however, would soon harness the power of his lyrics to tackle huge issues — presidential elections, Amnesty, poverty and the squeezing of the middle class, among several topics that would resonate with him — and use his star wattage to give them light. But while Springsteen’s influence clearly reaches the masses, his appeal to me has always been personal. Whether it’s digesting the theme of a new album in the solitude of a quiet room or being pressed against the stage at a concert that had the potential to be among his greatest, his impact on my life has been undeniable. I’ve met lifelong friends at Springsteen-related events 30 years ago who are as close to me now as ever. Babies were born from couples who once bonded over “Thunder Road” or “Rosalita.” Having attended 100-plus shows in cities strewn across the country, I can tell you I get as excited now in those anxious moments before Springsteen and his reconstituted E Street Band hit the stage as much as I did before that first show way back when. My friends and colleagues are separated into two categories: Those who understand and tolerate my obsession and those who view me as hopelessly mired in the past. But, as the recent shows at the Los Angeles Sports Arena proved, those who attend a Springsteen concert gain an understanding of what draws the diehards in. It’s Springsteen’s on-stage camaraderie with his band and the audience — the playfulness, storytelling and boundless energy that never seem to evaporate, even when Father Time says the clock is ticking. How long will the carnival continue? It’s impossible to say. I remember the Who, who famously proclaimed “hope I die before I get old,” announcing its farewell tour about 25 years ago and now they’re hitting the road again in support of “Quadrophenia.” Springsteen is returning to Southern California on Dec. 4, at the Honda Center in Anaheim. There will be some who will be seeing him for the first time, and others for the 500th. That common bond runs deep. It may only be rock ‘n’ roll, but it matters in ways we can never imagine. Variety’s Stuart Levine can recite the words to “The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle” in his sleep.