I have been a Bruce Springsteen fan since I was a kid in the mid-70’s. I remember vividly when Born To Run came out and the impact that album had on my life as a teenager. In that record, I no longer felt so alone in the world. My best friend Todd and I would listen to Jungleland and drive all around our suburban NJ town late into the night. Searching for some kinda connection. Somewhere. Anywhere. We never found it, but I think that’s part of the narrative of teenage years. The searching.
Bruce the man was always a mystery to most of us. In the 70’s and early 80’s, pre-MTV, he was a phantom. A shadow. You heard about his legendary epic shows, but you couldn’t really see him. Pre-internet age. You really didn’t know what he looked like or much about him. His album covers and the words he wrote where all you really knew and could see.
Then mid-1980’s macho Bruce was born. MTV-style. Sex symbol. Bulging biceps. Born in the USA. Envy of all of the men. Desired by all of the ladies. Rockstar!
Bruce’s journey through the next few decades is one of fame and fortune. But also of deep humility, grace and compassion every step of the way. Clearly a rockstar of global proportions, but a real person it seemed.
His most recent work of art is his autobiography. A dream come true for so many fans like me.
And in this book, I really came to understand the man that I have long admired and connected to. But Bruce doesn’t make it so easy for us to find his own truth. He gives us more than Bob Dylan in Chronicles where you have to really guess which parts of the narrative are real and which ones aren’t. But he reveals less than what Tom Petty or Keith Richards describe in graphic detail of their trials and tribulations in their own autobiographies. (All three books I highly recommend by the way.)
Bruce sets the tone of the book in the forward…”I come from a boardwalk town where almost everything is tinged with a bit of fraud. So am I.”
In other words, that guy you see up there, “that’s not me.” That’s what Bruce is essentially telling us in his book. That man up there onstage isn’t really him. He created this fictitious character as a way to hide from his personal self doubts, demons, struggles, insecurities, embarrassments from his childhood and more.
In our society and culture, men from a young age are taught to be strong emotionally, and of course, physically. To admit weakness is to admit defeat. Any emotions that reveal your suffering, the world will punish you for. At work, if you are emotional, you will be vulnerable and taken advantage of or passed over. In relationships, men have to be the strong one, too. Hide your fears and insecurities. Don’t ever admit self doubt or share your inner most secrets. Plow forward. That’s the narrative society wants us to adopt.
And I think in society men and women do traditionally fall behind a well travelled narrative. Men that are emotionally-honest are told they are soft or weak. And yet women are told it’s totally ok to be emotionally accessible and honest.
I lived that life for 50 years. I was the strong one in my house as a kid. When all hell broke loose, I had to be the one to keep it all together. At work, building a successful career as an entrepreneur, I created a fictitious character that looked the part, had nerves of steel and never ever showed vulnerability. It worked for me financially. It was devastating emotionally.
When I started writing this blog about my spiritual journey, to my great surprise, men started reaching out to me. Sharing the same struggles. Not many, but enough to confirm that I wasn’t alone in my struggles. They felt similar feelings of being lost, scared, searching for meaning.
I once heard Bruce say that most men “lead lives of quiet desperation.” That line always stuck with me. To me it meant that most of us are stressed and miserable at work but too afraid to challenge the status quo. We are taught in society to work and think in a certain way. The right way. Shut up. Do the job. Be strong and don’t complain about how miserable it is. Provide for your family and “be a man.”
Back to Bruce’s book — it really shook me to the core. Not what he wrote as much as what his main message was to me. He spoke about his depression. His personal bouts with mental illness in his family. He laid himself bare for all the world to see and discuss. This enormously successful man. This icon. This man with all the money, power and prestige, telling us he feels like a fraud because the guy onstage, the public persona, wasn’t really him. It was a character he created. It’s who he secretly wished he was.
Of course he didn’t have to do any of this. He could have remained the global icon and rockstar. Hid behind his fame and fortune. Posted beautiful photos on social media and created the fictitious life that a billion people do every day. He could have just continued about his ways exemplifying the celebrity culture that defines our society today.
Fake. Most of it is. From celebrities to your friends and neighbors. All aspirational. Showing the life we really want others to think we are leading. Perfect kids. Perfect marriages. The best colleges. The best athletes. Perfect vacations. The right look. Everything perfect.
Today, more than ever, with the advent of social media, it’s never been easier to hide behind these like buttons, these beautifully manipulated photos and self congratulatory accolades.
But what Bruce has shown me is that it’s better to be authentic than to hide behind a false narrative. That it’s ok to lay your soul out there for all the world to see. That’s a message I think some men can relate to. And women I am sure feel the same way. The strong, confident, self-assured mom is something I bet most women feel they have to project as well.
Ask yourself as you are reading this blog…Is the person I show on the outside to the rest of the world what really lies inside of me? Is my public persona the same as my private persona? For most of us, the answer is no.
For me, my lifelong battle has been with stress and anxiety. I have been deeply stressed at work for 30 years, but hid it from most of the world. It overwhelmed me. I couldn’t overcome it. When Bruce talked about his struggles so openly, I finally saw the truth. It’s ok to be vulnerable, even men. Especially men.
So many men are frauds. I know that sounds harsh, but I really believe that. What you see is rarely what lies beneath the surface.
I have a young son and I talk to him about this. About how it’s so important he talks about his feelings and his vulnerabilities. That he shares his own challenges, emotions and pain with me, his family and those he loves.
And now that I have personally found this courage and freedom to really be my most authentic self, it’s incredibly liberating, freeing and I am finally without the stress and anxiety that has plagued me most of my life. To not have to hide. No more secrets. To be as honest as I can be with everyone and in every situation. Without fear of consequence. That’s how I live now.
So my message to men (and women) like me, follow Bruce’s lead. Not the “Born in the USA” Bruce, the man Bruce. It’s ok to confront your inner demons and to show the world your vulnerability. Your suffering. Your struggles.
More than anything, more than his music, his shows, his political voice, I think the greatest gift Bruce Springsteen has given to me is to teach me what it means to be authentic.