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Springsteen offers us relevance

July 26, 2002 1:02 am

HERE COMES Springsteen again, this time with a tour and a new album.

No matter what the mode, The Boss, especially with the E Street Band, is a shot of adrenalin for my soul.

For those of us who were born in the early to mid-1950s and have followed the path of rock 'n' roll since listening to the invasion of The Beatles on a tinny transistor radio--in the dark, with an earplug--the music has been a lifelong friend.

Of course it's not unique to our generation that we associate certain tunes with memorable times, both good and bad, happy and sad. But no genre of popular music has had the staying power of rock 'n' roll, such that my kids and I may well enjoy the same music--Britney, the boy bands and rap aside.

So what is it about Bruce Springsteen that sets him apart from all other rock 'n' roll acts on the planet? There are other bands and artists who have been around for more than 30 years. There are others whose body of work leaves you in awe of their talent.

What Springsteen brings is a relevance to our time that few artists, if any, can match. It's in his music, his lyrics and his work ethic.

I admit that I was a relative latecomer to Springsteen, catching on with his Born to Run album in 1975, about the same time he made the cover of Time magazine. I had to go back, which is still the case today with new music discoveries, and check out the early stuff. That's the place where most Bruce Springsteen fans trace their appreciation of his talent.

Whether he's singing of a couple of teenagers' first time, of a worker's long day at the factory, or lamenting the lot of the Vietnam veteran who wasn't exactly welcomed home, Springsteen touches our minds, beliefs and emotions.

Some people may think that "Born in the U.S.A." is a patriotic anthem. It is, in a way, but not the way they think:

Got in a little hometown jam

So they put a rifle in my hand

Sent me off to a foreign land

To go and kill the yellow man

Born in the U.S.A.

In a recent interview with The New York Times, Springsteen told of a chance moment as he walked near his New Jersey home in the days after Sept. 11. A fan who recognized him and called out, "We need you" as he drove by. Springsteen was touched by that.

"That's part of my job," he said. "It's an honor to find that place in the audience's life."

With Springsteen, it's never about drugs or booze or busted up hotel rooms or assaults on photographers. Cliche or not, it is always about the music.

There's a reason he was selected to lead off the "America: A Tribute To Heroes" telethon last September, and that is because no one better than Springsteen could convey through music the grief and anger Americans were experiencing at the time, instill us with hope and express for us our certainty that America would bow to no challenge.

Last week I was about to step out of the car when I realized I was hearing the title cut from Springsteen's new album, "The Rising."

Of course it is great; it couldn't be anything but. So I sat and listened, ignition off, in a closed car on a 95-degree day. I had chills, not only from the song itself, but from the anticipation of 14 more songs on the new album that will be in my hands and in my ears on July 30. All but two were written after Sept. 11.

One of those songs is called "Into the Fire:"

The sky was falling and streaked with blood

I heard you calling me, then you disappeared into the dust

Up the stairs, into the fire

Up the stairs, into the fire

I need your kiss, but love and duty called you someplace higher

Somewhere up the stairs, into the fire

May your strength give us strength

May your faith give us faith

May your hope give us hope

May your love give us love

With the announcement of his upcoming tour, I entertained fantasies of reveling at yet another concert with Bruce and the E Street Band. I flashed back to the Capital Centre in 1979, to the Dean Dome in Chapel Hill in 1987, to the MCI Center in 1999. Everyone likes to reflect on their Glory Days, the times of their lives. These were among mine.

I admit that my days of dropping everything to wrangle tickets for a rock concert may be in the past, but I was on hand for a telephone dialing marathon on July 13 as friends attempted to land their tickets. Venues across the country that seat 25,000 people were selling out in 18 minutes, as fast as modern telephone marketing could handle the onslaught.

The phenomenon is without compare. There's nobody who commands such a universal, worldwide following. Yet Springsteen does it without regular hits on the radio, though "The Rising" is about to change that, and make concert tickets even harder to get as a new generation gets hooked.

I love my Allman Brothers, Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac and Bruce Hornsby. And there is so much good new music coming out all the time.

But Bruce Springsteen has laid claim to a class by himself. We need him, and he's coming through.

Bruce Springsteen's new album, "The Rising," comes to record stores on Tuesday. That morning, in a rare live TV appearance, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band will be featured on NBC's "Today" show with a broadcast from Asbury Park, N.J.

Springsteen himself will be on ABC as Ted Koppel's guest Tuesday on "Nightline" at 11:35, and again Wednesday (actually Thursday morning) at 12:05 on "Up Close."

Bruce and the band are also scheduled to appear on "Late Night with David Letterman" Thursday and Friday nights at 11:35 on CBS.

RICHARD AMRHINE is a writer and editor with The Free Lance-Star. You can write to him c/o The Free Lance-Star, 616 Amelia St., Fredericksburg, Va. 22401; send e-mail to ramrhine@freelancestar.com; or call 374-5406.





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