The Boss is top of the live pops - he was recently voted No.1 among the 50 best acts currently performing.
This accolade from a Rolling Stone panel of experts came as no surprise to many of us who unhesitatingly place Springsteen concerts at the top of our own “best ever” gigs list.
But my rock hero did have a rather different surprise in store for me a while back. I learned that while my younger self was gratefully gleaning a much-needed whiff of rock and roll redemption from his songs his marathon concerts were driven by “self-loathing and self-hatred”.
Yet the sense of exhiliration his fans feel at his gigs also kicks in for him when he takes to the stage.
“You are free of yourself for those hours; all the voices in your head are gone. Just gone. There’s no room for them. There’s one voice, the voice you’re speaking in,” he told New Yorker editor David Remnick.
This public confession of his private struggle has given me a whole new perspective of the typically intense Springsteen concerts I have attended from London’s Wembley Arena in the 80s to a recent show-stopper at the Fenway Park home of the Boston Red Sox.
I was revelling in the liberating joy of his performance.
He was revelling in a brief interlude of freedom from dark voices in his head.
Others facing similar problems might be crushed by the weight of such (unjust) self-condemnation, but Springsteen has channeled something potentially destructive into a creative energy that has - for decades - enriched millions of lives globally.
Both scenarios point to a very real need for a way out - a way to quieten or, better, silence the inner voice of self-criticism, no matter how severe and familiar it has become.
In my teen and university years I had a persistent argument going on in my head that repeatedly undermined my peace. Yet I found the diatribe could be silenced. After graduating I adopted a spiritual practice. I found it calming to start each new morning by pondering sacred texts. I learned how to take quiet time to still my thinking even in the flow of my busy day, to listen for a more positive voice - the voice of divine intuition.
From that kinder, gentler inner communication a new self-awareness began to emerge. It spoke of a divine love for me and for all. In the decades since, this sweet and supportive sense of assurance has become the more consistent refrain in my consciousness.
Such spiritual resources have brought me freedom from my previous mental struggles. But they have given me more. As an American Psychological Association article points out, habitual negative self-thinking is an “unconstructive repetitive thought” pattern that can lead to “difficulties in physical health”.
That’s what I’ve found over the years, that self-condemnation is one of the mental gremlins which needs to be identified and uprooted to help restore physical wellbeing. A solution that has worked for me is prayer. Not a pleading, but a protesting of everyone’s divine right to experience what it means to be loved by a Creator who doesn’t send or support mental darkness.
On the contrary, that love, when tangibly felt, can ease us out of mental and physical pain.
One of Springsteen’s less frequently performed songs, “Cautious Man,”captures the struggle of a man torn between two inner voices - love and fear. Billy Horton finds himself “alone on his knees in the darkness” praying for steadiness. Yet he still finds himself mentally bullied into walking out of his marriage.
But only briefly. “He got dressed in the moonlight and down to the highway he strode, When he got there he didn’t find nothing but road.”
Billy returns home with the realisation of a coldness inside “that he couldn’t name” which “would always remain”. Yet, in one of rock’s most beautiful articulations of a spiritual moment, Springsteen sings: “At their bedside he brushed the hair from his wife’s face as the moon shone on her skin so white, Filling their room in the beauty of God’s falling light”.
Could a coldness within really cling on in the presence of such light? Isn’t divine love’s infinite warmth sufficient to melt away the chilling critique of inner voices?
Voices which have only ever given us a false view of ourselves. Voices which have simply sought to conceal the profound beauty always there, inherent in each of us.
Voices that are never speaking on God’s behalf.
Tony Lobl is a Christian Science practitioner
Bruce Springsteen dedicates this song to a friend who is “going through the darkness on the edge of town”.
“You’re not guilty” by Christian Science practitioner Julie Ward is the second talk of a mini-lecture series held at the Angelika Film Center in Dallas, TX in March 2012.
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