I grew up in the type of family where you didn’t aspire to “be” anything. You graduated high school, got a job, and life—both the good and bad of it—happened to you after that.
I grew up believing my ability to exert any control over those events was limited.
In high school I never saw myself as becoming anything important, including (and especially) a college graduate. I finished high school with a 1.7 GPA, graduating something like 248th in a class of 252.
But something happened a couple of years after I graduated that changed things for me, forever. I found a book about Bruce Springsteen, and after that, to quote Jon Stewart’s Kennedy Center induction of Springsteen, “Everything changed. I was no longer a loser.”
What I Heard I Heard in my Heart
That Springsteen book changed my life. After I read the book, and the story of the author’s personal history with Springsteen’s music, I went and bought the Born to Run album. For months after that I would drive around aimlessly at night in my Honda Civic, listening to that album with intention.
I would try to really hear and feel the lyrics, and allow them to flow through me.
Born to Run begins with “Thunder Road”, and so does my life, as I know it today. I heard something in that music, and I heard it with my heart, and not my ears. The lyrics and music in Springsteen’s songs allowed me to see a part of myself that I didn’t know existed, and I will forever feel a kind of debt because of that.
That might seem weird to some, but if you are one of the many people that have had a piece of art touch you and change your life, it will make perfect sense.
Inspiration in Art
Every day, since I was 20, I have had a fear that life is passing me by, and that I will never achieve the big goals that I’ve set for myself. When that fear threatens to overwhelm me, I listen to the following lyrics in “Thunder Road”, written when Bruce Springsteen was just 24:
“Don’t run back inside
Darlin’ you know just what I’m here for
So you’re scared
And thinkin’ that maybe we ain’t that young anymore
Show a little faith there’s magic in the night
You ain’t a beauty but hey you’re alright
Oh and that’s alright with me”
Those lyrics don’t make my fear go away, but they do give me a place to put my fear so I can continue the work of living life.
This isn’t an article that tries to convince a reader that he or she will find the same thing in Springsteen’s music that I did. If great art said the same thing to everyone, it would not be great.
While millions of people have found the same things in Springsteen’s music, far more haven’t. And that’s okay. I’m not suggesting anyone run out and buy a Springsteen album (or, more accurately, download a Springsteen album).
But everyone should actively look for inspiration, and don’t exclude unconventional sources in the search.
Don’t shy away from looking at art for that inspiration. One of the reasons art is art is because it has the power to help us see and construct a better version of ourselves.
The next time you need to find that better version of yourself, try looking at something others might call splatters of paint, mere words on a page, or notes in a song.