“I am The President; he is The Boss,” then-President Obama remarked to Bruce Springsteen before awarding him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016. This fine praise from the highest of echelons is more than deserved for one of the most iconic rock legends to have ever lived. Bruce Springsteen’s extraordinary life is one of many ups and downs, full of lessons we can all learn from.
This extraordinary life has led to a lyrical density that is unmatched. His musical stories depict every aspect of working-class American life through his natural, candid lyricism and stirring musicianship. His blue-collared, everyman nature is exemplified in how he sincerely reflects on battles with depression, politics and fatherhood. In interviews he shines, and endears himself to fans from every walk of life, generating his legendary status as a voice of the people and earning the nickname ‘The Boss’.
This organic element inherent to Bruce Springsteen permeates all of his music. Regardless of what part of his career you delve into, his music is always extracted directly from the soul, and this is as clear as day across all of his 20 studio albums, whether that be the raw fire of 1973’s Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. or 2020’s retrospective Letter To You. Just like the man behind them, his musical efforts are dense, featuring a complex mix of themes that make him one of the most fascinating artists out there.
We touched on it briefly at the inception of this piece, but one way that Springsteen has gained the love of pretty much everybody, even those who aren’t necessarily fans of his music, is the way that he candidly discusses mental health – and the black dog that has always plagued his existence. His father, Doug, was a World War II veteran who suffered from severe PTSD and later schizophrenia, and this made an indelible mark on the young Springsteen. Given the way that depression and mental health struggles tore his father apart, Bruce has always been acutely aware of the need for the discussion of not just these issues but everything else.
“I’ve had to deal with a lot of it over the years,” he told Esquire in 2016. “I’m on a variety of medications that keep me on an even keel; otherwise, I can swing rather dramatically and … just … the wheels can come off a little bit. So we have to watch, in our family. I have to watch my kids, and I’ve been lucky there. It ran in my family going way before my dad.”
The revelation that ‘The Boss’ was actually a human and not an otherworldy titan shocked many. But when you take a step back and think about it, it shouldn’t. Honesty has always pervaded his work, and Springsteen had always had two feet firmly on the ground, something which cannot be said for the majority of his A-list, stadium-filling peers. In addition to offering up advice on mental health, in recent years, Springsteen has offered no end of advice on every facet of life.
It is this that gives us our story today. Bruce Springsteen is an artist who is so much more than the persona that he and the media have cultivated over the years. He is a human being who accepts his mistakes and flaws and is a key proponent of personal development.
It is for this reason that we have read through all of the sage advice he has offered over the years and trimmed it down to the five best nuggets that everybody could do with hearing, a shining light in this often murky world; it’s a real shame Bruce Springsteen isn’t in the media more often. Regardless, join us as we list in no particular order Springsteen’s best pieces of advice.
Bruce Springsteen’s five best pieces of wisdom:
Music is the greatest healer of them all…
Springsteen released his tell-all memoir, Born To Run, back in 2016 and embarked on an extensive publicity campaign in the wake of its release. This was the first time that he’d ever discussed his mental health struggles, and in the book, he went into extensive forensic detail about the proverbial black dog. However, the key point he conveyed was that music is the greatest healer, and for him, it has always been his route out of mental health battles.
He told PBS News Hour: “I realised that the only time I felt complete and peaceful was while I was playing or shortly afterwards. It was the first way that I medicated myself, so I always went back to it. The root of that determination came out of a hunger to find a safe and peaceful place, even though it was in front of thousands of other people, which most people wouldn’t consider to be a safe place.”
He powerfully concluded: “I walk on stage, I play, I perform, I create, I write, and that’s sort of where that peace comes over me.” There is a lot to be learnt from Springsteen’s assertions, and they speak volumes of the healing power of song, whether as a musician or listener.
Be present for your children:
From his songs, interviews and memoir, we know that Springsteen had a fraught relationship with his father, something that he has been forthright in amending within his relationship with his own children. In a conversation with Esquire in 2018, ‘The Boss’ gave some worldly advice to parents everywhere. As a parent who’s learnt life the hard way, Springsteen thinks that simplicity and being present are the two keys to a healthy parent-child relationship.
He asserted: “Be present. Be there. If I have any advice to give, that is it. I mean you have to be fully present in mind, spirit, and body. And you don’t have to do anything.”
He concluded: “The funny thing is… if you’re present from when they’re young and if you comport yourself even reasonably well, they pick up a lot of healthy habits. And that discussion happens implicitly. By your behaviour at home and how you treat your partner and what they see.”
Don’t take yourself seriously…
In the book Born To Run, Springsteen is keen to assert that the media image of ‘Bruce Springsteen’, is a fallacy, a conjured up stage persona akin to David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust or Prince’s Camille. In the memoir, he claims that this is just an accentuated version of himself. For instance, he never worked in a factory, as his songs would have you believe. Instead, the on-stage Bruce Springsteen is an effective pastiche of American blue-collar life.
He insists not to take yourself seriously and the need for self-deprecation. A case in point is that a defining theme of his career has been to escape, which he did do briefly in the early ’90s when he moved his family to LA, before being weirded out and swiftly moving back to New Jersey. Now, he currently lives ten minutes away from the street where he grew up. He mused on the irony: “Born to come back.” He then concluded: “Who would have bought that? Nobody.”
Cherish your friends and family
Just like the importance of a healthy, loving relationship, Springsteen has always been keen to emphasise the importance of friendship in establishing a good life. Famously, on the cover of his iconic album, 1975’s Born To Run, Springsteen is pictured smiling, leaning on the shoulder of an unseen friend. If you turn over to the back cover, you are met with an image of Clarence Clemons blowing on his saxophone. Clemons was the man who provided the classic saxophone line on the album’s title track.
Critically, Clemons was one of Springsteen’s best and oldest friends. Sadly, he passed away after suffering a stroke in 2011, and in the wake of his passing, Springsteen said: “Together we told a story that was bigger than anything I had written in my song.” He explained: “When he played, he whispered that story in my ear. And we carried it together for a long, good time. And losing him was like losing the rain. I’ll see you in the next life, Big Man.”
The lesson here is a short one. Cherish your friends and family, as they are the one’s that make you. Our time on this earth is short, so make the most of it. Once you hit a certain age, your mortality becomes apparent, so enjoy the time with your loved ones, as it won’t always be so easy.
In 2019, longtime E Street Band member Jake Clemons, and nephew of Clarence, revealed to Billboard some sage advice that ‘The Boss’ provided him with. In terms of being a successful musician, Springsteen told Clemons: “‘You haven’t earned it… you’re still earning it'”.
Clemons then described the thought process that ‘The Boss’, stating: “So after 40 years of playing, he’s still earning it. This notion of when you go out there to do your thing, you’ve got to work for it like it’s the first time and you’ve got to want it every single time.”
This is such a critical take. There’s never time for complacency. If we want to truly fulfil our potential, we have to push ourselves out of our comfort zone and keep on trucking. This has given Springsteen’s career its remarkable endurance, so why should this nugget of advice not work for you?