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Friday, 23 January 2015

The Power of Love: or, How I Learned to stop worrying and listen to Springsteen

My parents owned Born in the USA when I was a kid, but it was on Vinyl so I never heard it played. Our turntable was long since broken by the time I was born. When the music of Bruce Springsteen filled our halls, but it was the sound of Born to Run, Tunnel of Love and the Essential on compact disc (Born to Run had the distinction of being owned on both formats, Darkness, sadly, only vinyl).

Since then, I've been building my Springsteen library, and it wasn't until today that I heard the eighth track on Springsteen's most popular record for the first time.

And lo, came the tears from a dormant part of my brain that I had nearly forgotten existed. A vault of adolescent loneliness and abandonment was breached by a thirty year old song. Such is the power of Springsteen.

Growing up, I had three best friends: The first, was my neighbour, who didn't go to the same school as I did, didn't really have any of the same interests as I did, and whose friendship was based almost entirely on geography. The second, was my best friend from school -- Laura -- who was funny and energetic and strange in all the ways that I was. The third, and most important was my cousin, Victoria. She had a single mother, and no idea who her father was. It seems like she spent other week at my Grandma's house around the block, and consequently we were nearly sisters. There were sleepovers almost every weekend during the school year, and in summers by the lake we took joint responsibility for looking after our unruly younger boy cousins. Thick as thieves.

In high school things changed, and until yesterday I understood these changes solely in terms of how they made me feel about my friends. Best Friend #1 and I drifted apart, starting a little before high school. We never had much in common, so it wasn't really surprising, and I didn't give it much thought.

Friend #2 went to the same high school as I did, but decided early on that I was not cool enough to be her friend, which is baffling still because she was not cool. She was never cool. Our joint un-coolness was what drew us together in elementary school. But, when high school began and it was apparent that I did not represent valuable social real estate she moved on. I remember with striking clarity the day I found myself sitting alone in the cafeteria. It was the first day of a new semester, and  the handful of friends I usually sat with now had a different lunch than I. Laura approached and I, breathing a sigh of relief, waved to her. I wouldn't have to sit alone after all, thank goodness. She saw me, then pretended she didn't. I was hurt, angry and I never tried to engage her socially after that, except perhaps a little bit some mornings, when my mom drove her to school! I had all kinds of opinions about her after that.

Friend #3 --the best friend, the family, the close-in-age sister I never had, topped them all for cruelty. She'd had a difficult life, in case you didn't pick up on that in her introduction as the bastard child who spent every other week at her grandmothers. Her mother was sick a lot, and depressed. Her family moved out of the city when she was just about to hit adolescence, finding herself in a brand spanking new subdivision where every house looks alike and she had to make new friends. When she did find out who her biological father was, it was a major disappointment. Any one of those factors would be enough to make a teen act out. Together, they were an H-bomb on her self esteem, and she acted out in ways we never would have thought possible - Stealing, lying, running away - the most egregious act of betrayal was falsely accusing her loving step-father of beating her, and taking that accusation to the authorities.

I can trace the trajectory of my feelings for her, like lines on a map: from concern, to anger, to pity, to relief, and finally to forgiveness (this is over a ten year period - and I'm happy to report that all's well that ends well and I'm going to be her maid of honour next year). I can do that for friends #1 and 2 also.

But until yesterday I never gave a thought to how all of this made me feel about myself. Which is where Springsteen comes in. Bobby Jean tells the story of a boy learning his best and only friend has left town without saying goodbye. "I wish I could have called. I wish I could have talked to you, not to change your mind, just to say good bye, Bobby Jean." Listening to it was like meeting my younger self, for the first time.

I spent a lot of time thinking about other people - how they were selfish, or stupid, or whatever - but I never had the perspective to see myself for what they had made me - alone. As far as I could tell, I was still the same person. It was them who had changed - who had sold out or betrayed me, who were selfish or superficial, but I never appreciated just what it did to me, how important it was to have one close friend, how empty we become when they're gone, and we're listening to the radio alone.

Something about this song took me back - A place, a time, a fully realized moment that I thought was lost to me, but got the chance to revisit. I listened to Bruce Springsteen and met myself.

This is why love music. This is why I pay money for music, and rant about how the industry has taken over the art. This is why I'm a true believer. If you're not, I feel sorry for you.