The Second Coming Of Bruce

August 23, 1992|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

Bruce Springsteen plays the Capital Centre in Landover today and Wednesday. The dates of the concerts were incorrect in a story that appeared in Sunday's Arts & Entertainment section.

The Sun regrets the errors.

In an interview with the English music magazine Q a few months ago, Bruce Springsteen was explaining why, after almost two decades of struggle and success, he felt it necessary to break up the E St. Band. "The way I look at it is," he said, "I get paid to write a new song, and I can't keep rewriting the old stuff."

A good analogy, except for one thing: An awful lot of his fans really would prefer that he keep rewriting the old stuff.


It isn't an unusual situation. These days, rock and roll is full of stars whose glory days are gone, but whose audience remains eager to hear those old songs again. Some accept the situation as the price of longevity, and simply resign themselves to a career built around oldies. Others opt for the illusion of vitality, delivering new albums that stress stuff similar to (though rarely as exciting as) the music that made them famous in the first place.

Bruce Springsteen wants to take a different course. Instead of nostalgia, what he wants is reinvention -- a chance to reshape his sound and image so that they reflect who he is today, not who he was 15 years ago. He wants to trade the legacy of "Born in the U.S.A." for the luxury of being born again artistically.

But will his fans let him?

Forget the doubts over his commercial viability and the articles asking whether his audience has become Bored in the U.S.A. Springsteen-mania has hardly run its course, as ought to be clear to anyone who has tried to score tickets for his current tour (both Monday's and Tuesday's shows at the Capital Centre have been sold out for weeks).

Yet despite what has been written about the loyalty of his audience, the fact is that what many of these fans cherish has more to do with Springsteen the Myth than with Springsteen the man. Their "Boss" is an average guy from Jersey whose work stands for freedom and fidelity, a vision built around the purity of love, the promise of the open road, and the power of rock and roll.

Many of these qualities can be found in the real Springsteen, of course. But there's no way a millionaire rock star can be just an "average guy" -- just as no "average guy" ever has to cope with things like industry expectations, media scrutiny and fan pressure.

Even so, some Springsteenians feel very much betrayed by the ways in which his private life has swung closer to rock star reality than Jersey-guy fantasy. It isn't just the matter of his divorce, or the dismissal of the E St. Band; these fans get testy over even the slightest deviation from the Myth.

For instance, even though Springsteen started his U.S. tour at the Brendan Byrne Arena in a show of loyalty to his New Jersey faithful, he wound up getting booed during the first show for having mentioned his move to Los Angeles. Obviously, tramps like him shouldn't run so far.

To his credit, Springsteen understands that this sort of myth-mongering is a normal by-product of fame. Even better, he recognizes that having his fans find the cracks in the myth is part of the process that will eventually free him. As he told Q, "Whatever your recent image is, there are elements that are part of who you are and part of your personality, but a lot of it is just some sort of collective imagining. . . . It can end up being confining, and so the best thing to do is have all the holes poked in it."

Talking openly about it has so far been a part of the process for Springsteen -- laughing in Rolling Stone, for instance, that his being in New Jersey "was like being Santa Claus at the North Pole. . . . It's like you're a bit of a figment of a lot of other people's imaginations." He has even made joking comments from the stage about the less-than-chart-busting sales of his current albums, "Human Touch" and "Lucky Town."

Where he really gets to the heart of the matter, however, is in his music. As a recording artist, Springsteen has always been obsessed with the importance of narrative. Part of the reason he takes so long when making these albums is that he won't settle for something that merely collects a group of songs; there has to be a sense of story behind those melodies, some reflection of who he is and what he has to say.

That's why he keeps describing his last album, 1987's "Tunnel of Love," as an attempt to "reintroduce" himself as a songwriter. This was more than a matter of moving from the mythic to the personal on the lyric sheet; Springsteen's sound was going though some equally important changes.

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