Tramps like us: baby we were born to seek truth, passion and the Boss
You don’t understand true fandom until you’ve been stuck in a lift in a Philadelphia hotel with three Bob Dylan obsessives. The unscheduled delay may have only lasted 15 minutes, but there was time for a heated exchange of views on Visions of Johanna, featuring such angry phrases as “abstract neo-philosophy” and “figurative phraseology” .
You often come across near pathological levels of fandom within popular music, though I believe the polite term here is “over-attachment”. These aren’t the common or garden nutters who follow a band around the world but only have a pair of drumsticks and a hastily scrawled autograph to show for their troubles.
The extreme fan would be on first-name terms with the guitar tech, would have had the person who mixed the early demo tapes round to lunch (technically: a kidnapping) and is to be found 24/7 on official or unofficial fan forums flinging abuse at apostates.
In the new documentary Springsteen and I, a woman tells about how she repeatedly used to hold a picture of Springsteen up to her infant son and say “Daddy”; another peremptorily states, “I just can’t get through the day without listening to Bruce”. Another says, “Think of a time in your life when you were completely and totally happy. That’s what it’s like for me to be singing Born to Run with thousands of other people at a Bruce Springsteen concert.”
What distinguishes the many fans who bear witness in Springs- teen and I, though, is the appropriate nature of their fandom. They are each, in their own way, responding to the “truth and passion” of the music. Or as producer Ridley Scott has it: “This beautifully crafted film allows us a unique and powerful insight into the relationship between a recording artist and the impact he has on those who connect so profoundly with his music.”
It has been noted that Springsteen is no longer just a musician – he’s a belief system. And there is something Pentecostal about his live shows. He’s the Dylan you can understand, perhaps the only rock star you would feel comfortable going for a beer with. He’s got the blue-collar cred and the protestsinger cachet; the fist-pump anthems as well as the reflective tales of redemption. He’s enormodome and indie-folk at the same time.
In the fascinating book, Tramps Like Us: Music and Meaning Among Springsteen Fans, author Daniel Cavicchi argues that true fandom can help people make sense of the world – both Bruce’s and their own. Springsteen and I (due in cinemas in July) is like a film version of Tramps Like Us. It’s the first feature of its type to de-stigmatise fandom and celebrate it as a meaningful and healthy form of behaviour. Leavened with humour, and with the occasional metaphoric eyebrow raised at certain types of excess, it’s a documentary to cherish.
And in this fan community you are allowed to write, as arch-fan Nick Hornby once famously did, that although your favourite Sprinsteen song is Thunder Road, you do find it “overwrought, po-faced and corny”. Gosh, that’s liberating.
Here’s my act of lèse-majesté: I hate, loathe and despise Dancing in the Dark. And I once returned Human Touch to the record shop for a refund.
Bruce Almighty: he’s not just a musician, he’s a belief system