Will I be confined by my DNA, or will I define who I am?

This is the central tension of Springsteen on Broadway: the self we feel doomed to be through blood and family versus the self we can—if we have the courage and desire—will into existence. Springsteen, as he reveals here, has spent his entire life wrestling with that question that haunts so many of us: Will I be confined by my DNA, or will I define who I am? … “Yeah…,” Springsteen says when I sit down with him a couple weeks later and tell him it seems the essential question of his show is “Are we bound by what courses through our veins?” He looks off to his left into his dressing-room mirror… It’s into this mirror and toward these talismans that Springsteen often gazes when he is answering my questions. He’s a deep listener and acts with intent. He has a calm nature and possesses a low, soft voice. He has a tendency to be self-deprecating, preemptively labeling certain thoughts “corny.” He smiles easily and likes to sip ginger ale. Sometimes before telling you something personal, he lets out a short, nervous laugh. Above all, he speaks with the unveiledness of a man who has spent more than three decades undergoing analysis—and credits it with saving his life…

Springsteen’s first breakdown came upon him at age thirty- two…On a late- summer night, in remote Texas, they come across a small town where a fair is happening. A band plays. Men and women hold each other and dance lazily, happily, beneath the stars. Children run and laugh. From the distance of the car, Springsteen gazes at all the living and happiness. And then: Something in him cracks open. As he writes, in this moment his lifetime as “an observer . . . away from the normal messiness of living and loving, reveals its cost to me.” All these years later, he still doesn’t exactly know why he fell into an abyss that night. “All I do know is as we age, the weight of our unsorted baggage becomes heavier. . . much heavier. With each passing year, the price of our refusal to do that sorting rises higher and higher. . . . Long ago, the defenses I built to withstand the stress of my childhood, to save what I had of myself, outlived their usefulness, and I’ve become an abuser of their once lifesaving powers. I relied on them wrongly to isolate myself, seal my alienation, cut me off from life, control others, and contain my emotions to a damaging degree. Now the bill collector is knocking, and his payment’ll be in tears.”

~ Michael Hainey, from The Mind is a Terrifying Place. Even for Bruce Springsteen. (Esquire, November 27, 2018)

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