I hung out with the gothic kids in high school. Black tee-shirts. Doc Martens. Heavy metal. Righteous alienation. We were angry, depressed, rebellious. We hated everyone. We scowled.
Music was loud and angry. Nirvana. Smashing Pumpkins. Type O Negative. Marilyn Manson. White Zombie. Deftones. Rammstein. Metallica. We wore our teenage disaffection on our sleeves.
You know how it is. You fall in with a group of kids. The consensus determines what’s cool and what isn’t. You quietly conform. You listen to what your friends listen to. You like what they like. You wear what they wear. If you have disagreements, you keep them to yourself.
Which is why I never told my friends that after a long day of scowling at the mall, loitering at hot topic, demonstrating our nonconformity by making a giant fucking mess at our table at Carl’s Jr, I’d go home, slip on my headphones…and rock out to Bruce Springsteen.
Yeah, that Bruce Springsteen. Like many artists, something weird happened to him in the eighties, but if you’ve never listened to his earlier albums like “Born To Run” or “Greetings from Asbury Park, New Jersey” do yourself a favor.
It was the cover to “Born to Run” that sold me. I found it, originally, in a stack of LPs that my older brother got for free someplace, hidden between the Sabbaths and the Zeppelins. I don’t know why by brother even had them, since this was well past the record player era. I suppose the men in my family never could pass up free. Anyway, something about that pose, that guitar, that leather jacket. It called to me. I pulled out that warped old record and put it on my parents dusty record player.
And then I heard it. The piano, the harmonica. And Bruce’s inimitable voice.
The screen door slams
Mary’s dress sways
Like a vision she dances across the porch
As the radio plays
Roy Orbison singing for the lonely
Hey that’s me and I want you only
Don’t turn me home again
I just can’t face myself alone again…
How could I explain to them, my tragically cool friends, how Springsteen spoke to my teenage angst, to this unformed yearning in my heart, better than Nirvana or Manson ever could?
Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a place in my heart for the Deftones and Tool and Nine inch Nails. But at some point I got tired of being so angry and depressed all the time. Nine inch Nails was just wrist-slitting music, but in Springsteen there was hope. There was this pull, this desire to go and find something better, to just get up and go.
When I got my first car, I loaded up and went on my first solo road trip, blasting Springsteen and singing along to every word…and then I crashed and had to call my parents to come rescue me. Thunder Road, indeed. But that secret teenage shame is a whole other story.