As his 63d birthday nears, Springsteen still a rock icon

A Les Paul guitar with a Bruce Springsteen quote at the National Constitution Center exhibit, which closed last week.
A Les Paul guitar with a Bruce Springsteen quote at the National Constitution Center exhibit, which closed last week. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 10, 2012

'I'll always remember what you told me, Dad," my son Dan said to me one afternoon when he was 18. "Never give up on Bruce."

Danny had been a Bruce Springsteen fan since eighth grade and Born in the U.S.A. He and his best friend, Robert, almost wore the grooves off the song "My Hometown," in which Bruce sang,

"In '65 tension was running high at my high school

"There was a lot of fights between the black and white

"There was nothing you could do."

The two boys, one black and one white, felt the pain and helplessness of the boy in the song.

By age 18, Dan was suffering a little Bruce fatigue, which was common among fans in the wake of Springsteen's years of 24/7 supernova stardom in the mid-'80s. I don't remember telling Dan "Never give up on Bruce," but it was good advice. And last weekend my son, now 40, saw living proof that Springsteen never gave up on himself, his music, his message, or his fans during a typical yet still hard-to-believe marathon concert at Citizens Bank Park that ended after midnight, fittingly, on Labor Day.

That was also the closing day of the exhibition "From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen" at the National Constitution Center, which drew thousands of reverent pilgrims during its six-month run. I spoke to some of them on that last day.

Mark Citrone, a 29-year-old salesman from Boston, made the trip to Philadelphia for the concert with his mother, Judy, and his girlfriend, Emily Kobak. They had tickets for that night's concert. It would be his 30th Springsteen show and his mother's 28th. Judy Citrone took her son to his first Springsteen concert when he was 9.

"I have pictures of him when he was really little holding the little yellow Fisher-Price plastic screwdriver like a microphone and singing 'Born in the U.S.A.' at the top of his lungs," Judy said.

It was a concert at Fenway Park in 2003 that turned Mark into a superfan. He has collected more than a thousand bootleg Springsteen concert tapes from around the world. He searches the Internet after each show during Springsteen tours to analyze the play lists and wish he was there. In contrast, his girlfriend, Emily, had been to only one Springsteen concert before last weekend.

"I never understood why they were so obsessed," she said of Mark and Judy. "But after seeing him, I understand why people love his music. He's an icon. He's timeless."

"He's a mensch," said Roy Siegel, describing Springsteen's enduring appeal. "He's a hardworking guy who represents the working people of America. And he's true to himself. He never put on airs."

Siegel and his wife, Beth, had driven up from Bel Air, Md., to attend their first Springsteen concert.

"It was on my bucket list," said the retired facilities manager at Lockheed Martin. "How many more times can he do this?"

How many more, indeed. Springsteen played two epic three-hour-plus concerts last weekend. Later this month he'll celebrate his 63d birthday. Think of it. Forty years down the road, from the Main Point to JFK Stadium, from Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. to Wrecking Ball, Bruce remains the coolest rocking daddy in the USA. He has channeled his sacred rage into a river of redemption, with the message hurled from the stage like shouts from a revival tent preacher. He is a true believer who makes others want to believe that it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive.

And he's a geezer.

Perhaps the first time Bruce Springsteen was called a geezer (three times!) in print was in 1978, by British rock music writer Tony Parsons in New Musical Express. The author was 24 at the time. The artist was a doddering 28. Despite the generation gap, the cheeky young Brit would later nail the essence of Springsteen's appeal.

"The rest of the world wonders about us Springsteen fans, ponders exactly why we are so batty about the man's work," Parsons wrote in Jamming in 1984. "Here's the reason why. He makes us believe our emotional backgrounds are identical, that he has suffered exactly the same pains, tasted exactly the same pleasures as we have - your life flashes past you but instead of drowning, you're dancing in the dark."

Dance on, my geezer brother. No retreat. No surrender.


E-mail Clark DeLeon at deleonc88@aol.com.

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