Flying Home With Bruce

The flight on Jet Blue always goes by fast because they have those fabulous television sets (even if most of the channels are ESPN or Fox News). I swear, I couldn't find anything, and I really tried, but that's how I ended up watching nearly all the episodes of The Surreal Life. Surprisingly, I learned a few things about life in general: 1) obnoxious 22-year old models can get any man they want if they're creepily aggressive and persistent (that chick from America's Top Model) 2) over-the-hill ex-child stars can be much hotter than over-the-hill ex-models (Christopher Knight (Peter Brady) vs. Marcus Sheckenberg)(Fine, make fun of me, but li'l Peter has some really hot biceps) and 3) never underestimate anyone, as yesterday's perky girl band bassist can become today's perky fetish dominatrix (Jane Wiedlen of the Go-Go's).

But then The Surreal Life marathon ended, and I started to feel gross, like I'd eaten a couple bags of potato chips. Too much junk food for the mind. Luckily, to counteract this, I found out that VH1 was playing its own marathon of Bruce Springsteen videos, and that kept me occupied for the rest of the flight.

I never called Bruce Springsteen the Boss; it feels like a mad-up nickname that doesn't fit him right. My appreciation of Bruce was at odds with most of my other musical tastes (brit pop; grunge; garage bands; punk; rap), but there was something about him. There are those who dismiss him as just another working class. overly-patriotic white boy, but they aren't looking hard enough. Early Bruce was all about being a misfit, an oddball, a dreamer--something that a middle-class Indian girl who stole library books could relate to. His most exuberant songs are all about trying to get out on the open road and chase down dreams (Born to Run, Thunder Road), but when he sings soft and low (Secret Garden, I'm On Fire), I will believe anything he tells me. Yes, I had a crush on him, like I'd have a crush on so many blue collar poets, because he was a man who loved women and all their secret gardens--without being any less of a man. My favorite image is the video from Tunnel of Love--the abandoned carnivals, the song of rebirth, and a scruffy, sexy, wiser Bruce singing, "you learn to live with what you can't rise above." I feel like I'm always trying to catch up to him.

Watching Bruce on the plane seemed fitting, because his music was one of the reasons I came to New York. Not because I thought he was representative of boys from Jersey (although it was startling to find out how off the mark I was on that one). It's because when he sang "it's a town full of losers/and we're pulling out to win," I really believed he was talking to me. I felt to born to run; I had things to do; I didn't fit in. There were a lot of images and daydreams that brought me to New York in particular (Debbie Harry playing at CBGB's; cocktails on top of the world; all-night Eurotrash parties in abandoned warehouses; writers huddling in coffeehouses in Tompkins Square; vintage clothing stores), but Bruce is the reason I ever thought of leaving town.

Now things are different. He has political and social caushes; he has a family; he has an Oscar. And while I'm glad that people have finally started to take him seriously as a writer and poet--someone who embraces all of America, not just garage mechanics and good ol' boys--I think I'll never feel the same way as I used to about him. My Bruce has stopped wanting to run out and tackle that open road, and I'm not sure I have. But maybe that's just fine. As the plane landed yesterday, I realized that the Bruce I loved, the voice of running away, has now become the soundtrack of coming home.