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Bruce Springsteen and Me

June 28, 2021 | by Rabbi Nechemia Coopersmith

Springsteen helped me get through my angst-filled years as a teen.

"I have seen the return of Broadway, and its name is Bruce Springsteen."

So begins Nick Corasaniti's rapturous review of the return of Springsteen on Broadway, the first show to a paying audience in 471 days, ending its longest closure in history. (The line is a clever riff on Jon Landau's famous declaration in May, 1974, "I have seen the future of rock and roll and its name is Bruce Springsteen.")

I still have a soft spot for Springsteen. When I was a teenager I was a huge fan and saw him and the E Street Band perform their unparalleled 4-hour concert four times. Truth is, all my close friends were fans, as well as my older brother who played drums in Springsteen-esque high school rock band.

It wasn't just good ole rock n roll. Springsteen captured in words, images and music the deep angst that was roiling inside me, a confused 15-year-old trying to make sense of the world. From his stories about people yearning for freedom, independence and redemption, to his primal guttural screams at the end of Jungleland, Springsteen spoke to me like no one else did.

Feeling like Holden Caulfield surrounded by a sea of phoniness, I was yearning for meaning and purpose but had no idea where to find it. Bruce Springsteen eloquently captured my pain and it was like this super cool dude was reaching out to tell me, "I get you kid, and it's gonna be alright."

Take his song, Thunder Road, about a lonely guy who comes to save a girl stuck in a town of broken dreams with his guitar and car that will take her to the promised land.

…the night's busting open
These two lanes will take us anywhere
We got one last chance to make it real
To trade in these wings on some wheels
Climb in back, heaven's waiting down on the tracks…

Hey, I know it's late, we can make it if we run…

From your front porch to my front seat
The door's open but the ride it ain't free

And the song's triumphant ending: It's a town full of losers and I'm pulling out of here to win.

In 11th grade I decided it was absolutely essential for my classmates to discover the incredible meaning and insight of this song. So earnest and woefully naïve, I wanted to wake them up to the reality that there is so much more to life than the conveyor belt society has placed them on, and who better than The Boss to give them this insight.

I asked my English teacher if I could take over a class to delve into the lyrics; it's poetry after all. I guess my earnestness won him over (and he was too kind to point out my naiveté) and he agreed. Looking back this was the beginning of my career as a rabbi. I didn't yet believe in God and Judaism meant nothing to me at the time, but I was clued in to Judaism's primary goals – a lifelong quest for truth and a responsibility to help mankind in the deepest way you can.

It would take me a couple more years to "ride out and case the promised land", and discover the power of ancient Jewish wisdom to tackle my angst. I am grateful to Bruce Springsteen for taking my hand during that perplexing time and showing me a little faith and magic in the night.


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