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Life lessons: Bruce Springsteen

Life lessons: Bruce Springsteen

Life lessons: Bruce Springsteen

Earlier this month Bruce Springsteen addressed Boston College's class of 2024 as they began the next stage of their education.

The incoming students were asked to read Springsteen's memoir, Born to Run, before arriving on campus.

Springsteen not only addressed the students but patiently dealt with their questions afterwards. The granddad of rock had some marvellous pearls of wisdom to share. You'll find them as helpful as the students did.

"Greetings, Boston College, incoming class of 2024," The Boss began. "If you completed your assignment and read my book, you will know I got into rock and roll for the sex, the drugs, and the sex. Wait a minute, that's the wrong speech. Only joking. Let's start again. I wish we could have all been together tonight, but as you know, circumstances don't allow.

"Now I, like you, have a high school diploma, but I am 70 years old and I do not, and will never have, a college degree. I've grown up in the music business, which is filled with many odd and unusual creatures and one learns experientially, not from the book. In my business, you graduated, as the saying has it, from the school of hard knocks. That's your degree.

"I lived that. It has its merits, but overall, I regret missing out on college. It's going to be unforgettable [for you]... My son, who graduated from this very institution, told me so. You will spend your next four years living in a place where the life of the mind is paramount. The life of the mind is a beautiful thing. Along with your spiritual life, it's the apotheosis of human experience. Take pleasure in your body, your physical life and in your youth. Don't waste it because aches and pains are coming."

Bruce was honest and practical. He used his life, his mistakes and his achievements to reach his students yet he had a philosophy and a spirituality to share with them.

"But here, in this place, you will not neglect the life of your mind. I missed that my first time around and I had to do my best to make it up on my own. I had to seek my teachers and my mentors in libraries and on the street. I was not able to immerse myself in a place entirely dedicated to learning and I wished that I had.

"What you're about to embark upon will be the greatest adventure of your young life. You can waste it, you can half-ass your way through it, or you can absorb every minute of what you're experiencing and come out on the other end an individual of expanded vision, of intellectual vigour, of spiritual character and grace, fully prepared to meet the world on its own terms…"

He highlighted the unique circumstances we are living through now. Everything has stopped. The future will be different.

"We will soon look to you for answers for a safer and better world," he told them. "So where do you start? Spend your energy doing and studying something that inspires you and that you love. You will never regret it. At your age, I was making 15 bucks a night playing in a little bar in Asbury Park, and I loved every minute of it because I loved what I was doing.

"Work that satisfies and inspires is one of the most important aspects of a fulfilling life. Money is great, but alone, it ain't going to do it. Everybody wants to do well, but don't just do well, as they say, do good. Choose something that makes you happy, that makes you want to get up and go to work in the morning and allows you to rest easy at night. Then find out where and how you can give back, because you're going to always get more than you give."

These are priceless insights from the superstar who rose from humble beginnings. That is the kind of practical leadership so often missing from the 'glitterati' here in Ireland. He then moved on to relationships.

"You've got to learn how to love and how to let yourself be loved. This is essential to the health of your soul. That is how you will prove yourself of value to your community, your family, your partner. Find your place in their lives and find out how to thrive there. Find out who you are…"Express your emotions; share your inner life and be emotionally generous with your friends and your partner. All of these things will make you a stronger presence in your community and will allow you to give more of yourself freely and lovingly. This will make you happy. Learn how to be an informed, active and engaged citizen. Your country needs you, your vision, your energy and your love… Love your country, but never fail to be critical when it comes to your country's living up to your and its ideals. Listen to the voices calling you from our founding documents and keep faith with them.

"And vote. Only half of all Americans vote. It's a sin. Voting is an enormous privilege and one of our most sacred rights as citizens. You can change the course of history. The 2000 election was decided by 500 votes or less. We've recently seen how fragile our democracy can be.

"You stand sentry at the door of a free nation. We need your judgment. We need your vigilance and your commitment to a greater America, the America that we carry in our hearts. The American experiment, just as you are today, is an unfulfilled promise. The distance between the American dream and our American reality remains greater than ever.

"It will soon be in the hands of your generation to do your damnedest, to make up and heal that divide. That's a lot to ask, but that's what it means, if you will excuse me, to be born in the USA.

"Last but not least, heal thyself. We all come into this world in trauma. The first thing that happens is we're thrown out of our motherly home, and the first thing we do is cry. We don't come out laughing. There will be plenty of laughter to come, and love. Love is all there is. Love your neighbours, love your friends, love your family, love your partner and love yourself." After the talk the students' questions allowed Bruce to plant even more positive thoughts in their heads.

"I was brought up in a small blue collar neighbourhood. I drew on what I knew for the setting and the details of all my stories. But to make your characters come alive, you've got to process their stories through your inner life. You've got to plumb the depths of your own emotional, spiritual and psychological experience to create, whether you're writing in song or on paper, three dimensional beings whose lives will resonate with your listeners or your readers… if you're a writer, you will have enough pain, sorrow, laughter, joy in the first 12 years of your life to write for the rest of your life. I've tried to keep faith with the people I came from, the town I lived in, my neighbours, my friends, by writing about my and their experiences."

He was asked what he learned from the era he grew up in. He told them he did 10 years apprenticeship playing in clubs and bars before he felt he was ready for a life in music. It gave him a good foundation, as did his family background. Faith also played a part.

"I have an ambivalent relationship with my faith, I guess. I would call myself a lapsed Catholic. I went to Catholic school for eight years, and it almost cured me of Catholicism permanently.

"But my faith was something I thought I could walk away from after those eight formative years in Catholic school, but I was wrong. I really couldn't. I could walk away from my religion, but not my faith. My faith remained with me, informing my writing, affecting the language that I wrote in and the themes I wrote about. I often wrote incorporating biblical language. I consider myself primarily a spiritual song writer. I make music that ultimately wants to address your soul. I made my peace with my Catholic upbringing for better, for worse and I have had to nod to the fact that I wouldn't exactly be who I am without it… Enrich your mind, address the health of your soul and spirit and you will set the circumstances for your most creative life…"

Like many musicians, Springfield, in the beginning, signed contracts which cost him dearly.

"The music business is an undependable and inherently risky place. When I was 22, I would have signed my name to your underwear to be able to make a record. I would have signed, and I did sign, anything. And I signed terrible contracts, which later cost me time, friendships and large amounts of money to extract myself from.

"I gave up my rights to my songs, the creations that I held dearest. I lasted, thank God, and it worked out, but it wasn't the way to do it. So before you take that leap, be aware, and be aware of those you're involved with… I was young and I had nothing, so I didn't have a lot to lose, and life is risk. Betting on yourself, you could do worse. That way, you know who to blame for your failures and who to credit for your successes. All that being said, if you're making music for a living, it's a blessed occupation. I've done it for 50 years, and I've been the luckiest guy on earth. So it's nice."

Loyal friendships are a rare blessing in the music business and in life.

"I wouldn't be the same person sitting in front of you tonight if it weren't for the friendships I cultivated and then nurtured in my band and amongst the people that I work with. My friends are a necessary part of any success that I've had. And more than that, they've enriched my life in ways that I couldn't have imagined.

"In any friendship, you're going to fight, you're going to love, you're going to argue, you're going to hate this about the other guy, and he's going to hate this about you.

"But my band and I, we held the value of our friendship higher than of our personal grievances or disputes. So 45 years in, now we receive the grace and the benediction that lifelong friendships can bestow upon you. And I wish that all of you sitting out there tonight may be so lucky.

"And what am I the most proud of? Well, besides my children, I am most proud of the 30-plus-year relationship I have with my wife.

"Nothing will expand your horizons or make you grow individually more than the partnership that you commit yourself to and the person you choose to share your life with.

"More than my work, more than whatever success you might achieve, nothing altered or enriched who I would become as a man, more than my relationship with my wife, Patti. Everything else stands behind me and my gal."

(Bruce Springsteen's talk to the first year students in Boston College was widely reported on. These are a few thoughts extracted from a much longer report in the Jesuit religious magazine AMERICA).