During the worst of my anxiety this spring, I had a panic attack at every red light. There are seven stoplights between my house and my work, and one of them I go through twice due to daycare dropoff, so there were sixteen times a day when I might start to hyperventilate in my car and wonder if I was going to hit the gas and ram into the car in front of me. The only way I could get through was to count the seconds of each stoplight. I learned that the longest one was a minute; most were only 30 or 45 seconds. Knowing how long I had to stay there made it bearable.
After I got out of the hospital I no longer had that panic at stoplights, but I still had panic in the car, and the only thing that got me through was listening to â€œThunder Roadâ€ on repeat. As a friend of mine said, there are worse coping mechanisms. In a future essay Iâ€™ll talk about why that in particular is such a brilliant song, but for now I want to talk about Springsteen more generally, because his music has helped me out so much in the past few months.
I moved from â€œThunder Roadâ€ on repeat to Born to Run in its entirety, and then to Darkness on the Edge of Town, and, of late, Tunnel of Love.
I didnâ€™t like Bruce Springsteen when I was a kid, because all I knew about him was that Ronald Reagan used â€œBorn in the USA,â€ and, like Reagan, I hadnâ€™t actually listened to the lyrics of that song. So I was a Springsteen late bloomer, coming to him only in graduate school, acquiring albums as they showed up at the public library or as I found them as cassettes at Goodwill.
In the summer of 2002, my friend Meg, dead now these five years, spent a month on the psych ward, where Iâ€™d visit her every day and bring her coffee (in those years the psych ward wouldnâ€™t serve you caffeinated coffee from the cafeteria, though theyâ€™d let you buy Coke and Mountain Dew at 8 pm, but people could bring it in for you). One day she got a pass and we went out to a movie â€” Minority Report, I think. I had a tape in my car that was Darkness on the Edge of Town on one side and Born in the USA on the other. â€œThis is the all Springsteen all the time car,â€ I said to her, and she approved, though the Boss himself once gave her a Heineken backstage when she was fourteen, which isnâ€™t the sort of thing a recovering addict normally approves of.
I used to play â€œTougher Than the Restâ€ for my grandmother and tell her it was the most romantic song Iâ€™d ever heard. â€œWell,â€ she said, â€œit certainly says I have flaws and you might too.â€ I think she was still a fan of the songs of her youth, which were a little realistic, to my mind, but we all prefer the music of our youth.
At my tenth high school reunion someone handed my friend Tim a stack of quarters and told him to pick music from the jukebox. â€œCome with me,â€ he said, and we started flipping through the albums. I was going to vote for â€œNo Surrenderâ€ when we got to Born in the USA (â€œWe learned more from a three minute record, baby, than we ever learned in schoolâ€), but he said â€œI suppose we have to play â€œGlory Days.â€ We agreed we had to, even though it was so corny. Thirteen years later I find it less corny, perhaps because I am now a single mother like the one in the song, and my social life consists of a beer now and then after my kid is in bed.
I used to think there was something wrong with loving things that so many other people loved, but Iâ€™ve gotten past that as Iâ€™ve gotten older, and thus I feel free to love Springsteen with abandon. Iâ€™ve listened to â€œPromised Landâ€ while driving through the Utah desert and argued about the lyrics to â€œRacing in the Streetsâ€ with someone from Pennsylvania/New Jersey. Iâ€™ve come to understand that Reagan was as wrong about Springsteen as he was about everything else. Iâ€™ve used the phrase brilliant disguise in an essay and made someone think it was mine (I â€˜fessed up). Iâ€™ve listened to the more recent albums and loved them, too, which is a rarity â€” most artists donâ€™t have that much staying power.
I measure my love for my son against Janeyâ€™s love for hers. I measure the men I meet against the narrator of â€œTougher Than the Rest.â€ I measure patriotism against â€œBorn in the USAâ€ and defiance against â€œNo Surrender.â€ Whenever I drive fast I hope that the two lanes can take me anywhere, and Iâ€™m ready to take that long walk, even if the ride ainâ€™t free.