Man's work

An epic show from a kinder, gentler Bruce Springsteen
By GARY SUSMAN  |  May 23, 2006

Took my baby to a picture show
Found a seat in the back row
Sound came up lights went down
Rambo he was blowin' em all down
I don't need no gun in my fist baby
All I need is your sweet kiss
To get mefeelin' like a real man
Well you can beat on your chest
Hell any monkey can
But you got me feelin' like a real man.

- Bruce Springsteen, "Real Man," from Human Touch

Bruce Springsteen may not beat on his chest anymore, but new songs like "Real Man," "Man's Job," "Real World," "Local Hero," "Human Touch," and "If I Should Fall Behind" suggest that he has been beating drums in the forest with Robert Bly. In the last four years, the well-documented upheavals in his life (getting divorced, firing the E Street Band, marrying back-up singer Patti Scialfa, and fathering two children) have apparently caused him to re-evaluate both his personal priorities and his definition of masculinity. The cocksure hot-rodders, the jealous switchblade Romeos, the bitter working-class heroes - Springsteen has replaced them on his new albums. Human Touch and Lucky Town, with kinder, gentler, more sensitive men who tuck their sons into bed, nurture their wives, acknowledge their clay feet, and "wanna find some answers [and] ask for some help." Critics have complained that the new albums don't rock as hard; listeners have been letting them plummet down the charts.

Is the Boss going soft?

Springsteen sought to put such notions to rest twice a week ago Thursday at the Worcester Centrum, the second stop on his American tour. "I don't know if I've ever been that rebellious," he said during a rare post-sound-check interview. "I've always been trying to present life as I see it. I want to follow my characters into the middle part of their lives."

Although he claims he hasn't been following the men's movement, he does acknowledge that in many men his age (42), "there's a hole there. I grew up in a time when men got mixed signals, wrong signals. It's hard to figure out what it actually takes to be a man." In recent years, though, Springsteen has had the financial security and the time on his hands to figure it out. "Most men don't have that. It's a luxury to be able to put in the kind of work it takes."

Springsteen proved himself a second time on stage that night, where he and his new band rocked a full house for four hours, a display of energy to rival the shows of his glory days. He played 15 of his 25 new songs (including the unreleased "Red Headed Woman," a bawdy tribute to Scialfa), plus 17 of his chestnuts, going all the way back to "Spirit in the Night" from his first album 20 years ago. The concert belied reports from the New Jersey shows that the Boss was playing short sets or that his band's repertoire included few of the old songs. If Springsteen is fat, rich, and content now, it certainly didn't show

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