Some people bond with their moms over shopping, others over the latest reality TV show, but my mom and I probably have the coolest thing in common — our love for Bruce Springsteen.
Last weekend, we went to two of his concerts in New Jersey. She flew in from Arizona, planning her trip to see me around the Springsteen concerts. (I still haven’t found the guts to ask her whether seeing me or Bruce was more of a priority.)
The people we met at the shows were as eclectic as they come. At the first concert, I stood next to a banker who bragged about having gone to over 150 shows. While waiting in line, we met an ex-cop whose primary source of income is the Atlantic City poker scene. At the concession stand, I met a female truck driver who signed up for the same gym as Bruce. Nothing seemed to make her more proud than to be able to say, “Oh, I’ll ask Bruce when I spot him tomorrow.”
And then there was my mom and I — two suburbanites from Arizona who plan college visits and business trips according to The Boss’ touring schedule.
Why do so many people, of all ages and backgrounds, love Bruce so much?
On paper, Springsteen’s commercial success is an anomaly. He’s the first to admit that he isn’t the greatest guitar player — even in his own band. His gravelly voice probably wouldn’t make it past the first round of “American Idol,” but it is the voice of multiple generations and thousands of people.
There is something about The Boss that induces a cultish following. A friend of ours, Robin, describes that “something” best. She calls it “The Boss Experience.” When I asked Robin why she goes back to see Springsteen over and over again, she explained that it all started “when [she] stopped caring about things and started caring about experiences.”
Springsteen brings people together by creating experiences. There is not much common ground between a banker from New York, a gambler from Philly, a female teamster from Jersey or the coolest mother-son duo from Arizona — but Bruce unites us through a collective experience.
He does so by inducing what sociologist Emile Durkheim calls “collective effervescence.” Collective effervescence occurs when individuals come together and share an emotion-filled experience.
Religious rituals often invoke collective effervescence, but so do Bruce concerts. As the guitar solos soar and 55,000 people sing along with one raspy voice, the power of the shared experience is impossible to deny.
Inside and outside the stadium, Bruce unites people through his songs’ messages. In a recent column in The New York Times, David Brooks attributes Bruce’s success to his ability to bring people from all walks of life into the hyper-local universe of New Jersey. According to Brooks, Springsteen excels in creating imaginary settings that help us better understand the real world.
I agree with Brooks but think his argument can be taken a step further. Yes, Bruce has a unique ability to draw listeners into his world. Once we are there, though, he doesn’t stop at helping us better understand our reality. He teaches us a common language that makes it easier for us to understand each other.
Fans from Europe to East Rutherford can identify with Springsteen’s music because it’s colored with characters who endure raw hardship and embody hope. His husky voice establishes a common ground that reconciles the different worlds of his fans.
This common ground is built through experiences rather than material things. Whether you are born to run, trapped in the badlands, or just waitin’ on a sunny day, these moments — of tough times, ecstasy and everything in between — are something that everyone can relate to.
Adam Silver is a College junior and masters of public administration candidate from Scottsdale, Ariz. “The Silver Lining” appears every Wednesday. His email address is email@example.com and you can follow him @adamtsilver.