on favorite records
Every young person has an idyllic picture of what their life will be like when they’re “grown up.” (Often, we hold onto these visions for so long that it takes years before we realize they’re still in our heads and that no matter our age, it’s very hard to find a place in life where you believe you have in fact “grown up.” We are all Peter Pans in our minds.) My image of that life started bubbling up in my late teens and early twenties, as I moved to New York and spent considerable amounts of time peeking into the windows of brownstones on the West Village streets where I worked and studied. Those apartments were grown up; they had rows of bookshelves and expensive paintings and always a wall or a carpet or curtains in the velvety dark red that signifies wealth. I imagined that I would someday wake up early in one of those apartments, curling up with a book on the couch at sunrise and putting on my favorite record.
It was during these years that I fell in love with the music of Bruce Springsteen. The songs that resonated on the radio during my childhood sounded worlds better on the jukeboxes of the dirty East Village bars I inhabited; everything he sang sounded better as the younger version of me swooned in the direction of every scruffy dude with an overly effusive opinion of “Thunder Road.” At some point, I settled down a little bit, leaving grad school for a career and moving for a five-year stretch into a studio apartment in (way, way) uptown Manhattan, where I had no bookshelf-lined walls or velvety red anything. I had a record player, though, and on Sunday mornings I’d wake up around sunrise to make coffee and breakfast and put on Springsteen’s Live 1975-1985. I had hardwood floors, which felt important, because it is far more romantic to dance across a hardwood floor to the songs of Bruce Springsteen than to do so on carpeting.
About that: It is, and has always been, deliriously easy to romanticize lives in the framework of Springsteen’s songs. His entire catalog romanticizes our everyday lives to make it just that easy for us to do so. In my mid-twenties, it was an obvious stretch to think of Springsteen as prophetic: with relationships, with life changes, or any time I’ve driven from the Chicago airport to my parents’ farmhouse in rural Wisconsin. He’d called it in “Cadillac Ranch: “Hey little girl in the blue jeans so tight / Driving alone through the Wisconsin night.” He called it in “Thunder Road”, when he evoked the image of the girl dancing across a porch while a radio plays. “It’s not your lungs this time, it’s your heart that holds your fate,” he warned me in “For You.”
Springsteen, for better or for worse, fills in the cracks of ordinary life and makes them sound far more appealing than their realities. He also makes it sound like it’s possible at any given moment to hop onto a motorcycle and ride off into a sunset, but to be home in time to wake up for work the next morning. His songs work best on Sunday mornings, and so years after I’ve grown up and partially into the person I assumed I would someday be, I’m still putting on Live 1975 – 1985 and dancing lightly across hardwood floors while I wait for weekend breakfasts to bake in the oven. Through his rose-colored glasses, every part of aging – from the longing for the apartments that we’ll never afford to the chasing of the scruffy dudes to the pure, simple pleasure of drinking on porches – feels like the right thing to have done.