Lemme tell ya’ll little story ‘bout a girl who is me… a poor journalist, she was broke to a T. But then one day, she was pissed off, to say the least, so she applied for jobs and she moved to the big east… Connecticut that is, ESPN… lots of insurance… She is: The Connecticut Hillbilly! (cue the banjoes.)
Yes, that’s how it felt to move to (cue “Immigrant’s Song”) the Land of the Ice and Snow, but before I got to that place, I had to realized my life need changing.
So back up. And cue the Bruce Springsteen.
When I was growing up, I HATED Bruce. I mean, I thought his style was the most corporate, jingoistic crap you could imagine. I thought he was all-pro Reagan, anti-progression, etc. – even at 10, I had this streak in me, I remember. But later, I realized Bruce was 100 percent Sympatico with my beliefs of the power of the working man, the beauty of compassion and the wonder and mystery of small-town life. He’s exactly who I wanted to be when I grew up – but I didn’t know it then.
I didn’t know that until a few years after my mom’s death, when I found myself surrounded by people who weren’t good to themselves, or who had gone on with their lives, settled down and started raising families. I was broke – I mean, BROKE, emotionally and financially — and was living in a house I should never have bought, with friends who had other ideas about life’s meaning. I didn’t know who I was anymore, really. I just knew that I’d worked too hard, and felt like I was entitled, to more. And that I couldn’t relate to people I’d related to before… partying wasn’t as fun anymore, I’d had my heart broken by death, love and everything else, and I was just tired of everything.
Getting over that entitlement was a good first step, but acknowledging that I needed MORE from life was a better one.
So it was maybe 2008 or 2009, and I had started to understand the whole Bruce Springsteen appeal, but I hadn’t had my “I LOVE THIS MAN” moment yet—but was about to. I was in my bathroom, getting ready to go out. I had the music player on Shuffle. “Dancing in the Dark” came on, ushering in memories of Courteney Cox dancing with The Boss on stage in the 80s video. I’d picked up along the way that “Born in the USA” was about the least-patriotic song ever, and that Bruce was about as far from corporate jingoism as I was. So I let it play, thinking, “wow, maybe I like this song more than I remember.” As I applied mascara, leaning over to look in the mirror, I really listened:
“Message keeps getting clearer
Radio’s on and I’m moving ’round the place
I check my look in the mirror
I wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face
Man I ain’t getting nowhere
I’m just living in a dump like this
There’s something happening somewhere
baby I just know that there is
You can’t start a fire
you can’t start a fire without a spark
This gun’s for hire
even if we’re just dancing in the dark”
And it was like it was a whole new song. I was old enough, wizened enough, experienced and enlightened enough to GET Bruce. I also got really into Bob Dylan at that time, but that’s a blog for another time. Working, living, heartbreak, love, desire, loss – those are all anthems in both of those troubadors’ life’s works. And I’d finally lived enough to understand. And the message WAS getting clearer. By the second – and I always dance around my house, which I found a little coincidental. I wasn’t aging, really, but I didn’t know who I was anymore when I looked in the mirror, so CHECK. I wanted to change everything, but didn’t know how.
But then came the guitar solo, and with it, a call to action:
“You sit around getting older
there’s a joke here somewhere and it’s on me
I’ll shake this world off my shoulders
come on baby this laugh’s on me
Stay on the streets of this town
and they’ll be carving you up alright
They say you gotta stay hungry
hey baby I’m just about starving tonight
I’m dying for some action
I’m sick of sitting ’round here trying to write this book
I need a love reaction, come on now baby gimme just one look”
If I’d stayed on the streets of Tulsa, they would’ve carved me up alright. The last straw was when a woman I was working for (doing way too much for a part-time PR person, let me tell you) treated me like a dog, calling all my hard work into question. I let her make herself better by tearing me down. So I needed a love reaction — and that reaction was self-love and self-confidence. I’ll show you, I thought — and I meant it.
Then I went home that night and applied for every job I could. And now I live in Connecticut and work for the Worldwide Leader in Sports.
I didn’t leave right away, but the night I heard that song while getting ready to go out and probably drink too much, Bruce Springsteen broke through. And he was the spark that started the fire for me, the one that told me to get my shit together, to forgive those who hurt me and forget those who refuse to admit they’d hurt me, to shake the world off my shoulders.
My life changed that day, a little. Through the next few years, I lost friends, some forever. But for the first time in my life, I’d found ME – and I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, but I was willing to let go of the reins long enough to look around, and gave myself enough credit to believe a dream might come true.
Working at ESPN has been a dream – and a nightmare sometimes, but just a short one that’s worth it. I’m not sure I would’ve realized the dream if A) my mom hadn’t died and changed everything and B) I hadn’t lost so much in the way of love, money, friends, etc., C) I hadn’t embraced my faith and D) If I’d elected to hit skip when that song came on.
“Dancing in the Dark” was at least 30 years old when it changed my life. And I seriously doubt it’ll be the last time a Bruce lyric has that profound effect on me. I’ll never doubt him again.