A love of Bruce Springsteen's music explained.

Holy crap, I love Bruce Springsteen. Fortunately, it's a love of which can be spoken.

Let me come clean here: I'd always imagined myself as the subject in myriad Springsteen songs. I wanted to be the one convincing Mary to leave the porch and join me in "Thunder Road," the one who not only walks the darkness of the hall to "Candy's Room," but the one for whom she is saving her love.

Sadly, it's a notion so totally off base it's laughable. And yet there's a life inside his songs with which I, like so many of his fans, identify. Why? Because these tales are generally ours. Although romanticized, these are the lives of those around us; loved ones and friends.

The reason I love him so much as an artist is not unlike that of so many Madonna fans: constant reinvention. Even the phases that I don't enjoy are appreciated because it shows that he continually strives for growth. And with his latest, "Devils & Dust," he does it again.

It's easy to dismiss this set as a return to roads he trod down with "The Ghost of Tom Joad" and "Nebraska," but that misses the point wholesale. The sparse acoustic setting is the environment in which every Springsteen songs ever written began. It is the incubator for everything from the bombast of "Born to Run" to the synth-laden lover's pledge of "Tougher Than the Rest."

And "Devils & Dust" finds a man once "stuck in the swamps of Jersey" and "pulling out of here to win," contemplating life as a father, as a son and as a citizen in a world, from various perspectives that could only have been found in a life lived into its - gasp! - 50s.

He's aging, but so am I. And I find myself connecting as much with him as a father who's - gasp! - pushing 40 as I did when I was in my rebellious teens and 20s, rambling down dusty beach roads and chasing girls underneath the boardwalk (or at least trying).

I highly recommend seeing Springsteen perform these songs if you can. Even a diehard like me heard them open up and breathe in the live solo setting, largely thanks to the acoustic guitar, harmonica, piano, organ and other odd self-accompaniment. Add the introductory explanations and the lyrical abstraction is given a frame of reality through which the characters can be seen -- a storyteller's explanation that fits only between the bars of a song revealed and laid bare.

I have never taken the punch of "The Hitter," negotiated with the prostitutes of "Reno" or struggled with the slim chance of surviving a dive from "Matamoras Banks" in a desperate attempt to carve out a new life in a promised land. But I find that Bruce's songs are still my songs. My emotional struggles are no less punishing than the consequences these characters face in their dire straits, just less obvious.

Nowadays Bruce and I both know there's no redemption beneath a dirty hood or that the salvation in the chords of a three-minute song is fleeting amidst realities of life both moral and mortal. But the stories he tells often remind me I'm not alone.

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