This past Sunday, I saw Bruce Springsteen perform for the 15th time. He is my favorite musical act, the best live performer I’ve seen, and one hell of a poet. Over the years, I’ve taken inspiration from him in a myriad of ways, from his skill adopting the voice of different characters, to his unique ability to stay in the right side of sentiment with out crossing the line into sentimentality, he has taught me so much about the craft of writing story and poetry. As I watched another incredible performance on Sunday with an E Street Band that sounds as good or better than it did the first time I saw him, I came to another realization: we need more poetry from older poets.
The creative industry in general trends younger. Everyone looks for The Next Big Thing, and much of the media coverage related to debut albums and novels, under-a-certain-age lists, etc., and while I get the appeal of the prodigy, there are subjects about which young people are not generally equipped to write well. Listening to this concert, I was struck by how much Springsteen’s later work—especially the songs from his crisis albums, The Rising and Letter to You—spoke to me. The song Ghosts, for example, stands up to anything else in the show, and is, in my opinion, the best song about the effects of the pandemic.
Springsteen is an especially good example of what an older poet offers. He has had a long and sustained late-career renaissance, which started with The Rising, his 9/11 album. While there was always depth and political meaning in his songs—even when they were nominally about cars and girls—but his later work has a depth and maturity that speaks to me as I get older. Thunder Road and Badlands remain both timeless classics and great poems. They have a timeless quality and bring the house down every time he plays them, but the guy who wrote those isn’t the same guy who now discusses the issues of the day with Barack Obama.
I still love the songs I grew up with—and seeing a favorite act perform the songs I grew up with is always going to be a highlight of this type of show, but hearing the music of an artist who continues to grow as I grow adds to the experience.
In a way, it’s a shame that only artists like Springsteen who were successful in their youth get to have an audience for their mature work. I wish we got to read more debut poets who’s writing has matured after their youth.