Tramps like us: baby we were born to seek truth, pas­sion and the Boss

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - OPINION - Brian Boyd on mu­sic bboyd@irish­times.com

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

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