Walk Like a Man

Tuesday, 3 July 2012
Here’s the thing. I’m not a Bruce Springsteen fan. It’s not that I don’t like his music. I think Nebraska is a fucking amazing album. “Streets of Philadelphia” gives me goosebumps. I even own Born in the U.S.A on vinyl. Every time I hear Springsteen’s gravelly voice on the radio, I think to myself, “Man, I’ve got to listen to more of this!” But I never do. It’s not intentional; Springsteen just isn’t on my radar.

My indifference toward Bruce might make reading Walk Like a Man: Coming of Age with the Music of Bruce Springsteen seem like a peculiar choice for me; however, Robert J. Wiersema’s reading at this year’s gritLIT hooked me, proving that this book is less about Springsteen and more about Wiersema’s nostalgic relationship with music — a bond I’m very familiar with.

I couldn’t help but stumble, pause, and reread Wiersema's following words:

“Nostalgia is, by its very nature, bittersweet, the happiest memories laced with melancholy. It’s that combination,  that opposition of forces, that makes it so compelling. People, places, events, times: we miss them, and there’s a pleasure in the missing and a sadness in the love. The feeling is most acute, sometimes cripplingly so, when we find ourselves longing for the moment we’re in, the people we’re actually with.”

You don’t have to be a Springsteen fan to know that feeling. The one where you hear a song, and it instantly reminds you of a place you haven’t been in a while or a person you’re not supposed to think about anymore. And for a few minutes, that song fills your head, and there is a pleasure in the missing and a sadness in the love.

Sometimes I provoke these feelings of nostalgia, purposely choosing a song that scratches an itch, making me think of a different time and place, even if scratching that itch only reminds me that those days are long gone. My own personal soundtrack may not be made up of Springsteen tunes, but like Wiersema, I love being transported backwards through song, reliving that summer between high school and university or a road tripping adventure to see a favourite band.

In Walk Like a Man, Wiersema crafts his perfect playlist, providing readers with not only the story behind how the song was made and received, but also how his own personal story is tied to it. One of the things I like most about Wiersema’s playlist is it’s not just a list of his favourite Springsteen songs. In fact, some of the songs on his list aren’t his favourites at all. Some of the songs that are most tied to my own memories are songs I can't stand. I'd argue that Sublime is an awful band, yet I can't hear "Smoke Two Joints" without thinking about sitting on the hood of my high school car with friends, trying to figure out how we'd get beer and smokes for the weekend. (Who am I kidding? Back then I was drinking Blue Typhoon).

I'm high on nostalgia right now after a quick weekend tour to one of my favourite places — Ottawa. Music is so tied to the hundreds of memories I have from the four and a half years that I lived there that certain songs instantly bring me back. I can't hear the first few songs off Summerteeth without thinking about walking up Bank Street in Old Ottawa South. I can't hear The Band without thinking of standing under the stars with good friends and a Mill Street, hearing Levon Helm play "The Weight" in 2010. And sometimes I pull up songs like this simply because I want to relive open mic nights at The Georgetown.

I loved this book. I loved how it instantly made me think of Pearl Jam, and how Eddie Vedder's voice has been a constant in my life through high school, university, and the rest of my twenties. The book made me think of all those times I climbed in a car after a show with a bunch of sweaty guys, making the long trek home across the border. It made me think of the dozens of times I've been pressed up against a stage, belting out a favourite song, thinking to myself, "Man, it doesn't get better than this." Any music lover needs to read this book, if only to relive the experiences in his or her own life.

Look at me getting all sappy. Time to crank some Pearl Jam and call it a night.

3 comments:

  1. Nice post. The title will make Frankie Valli jealous. I have always liked Bruce Springsteen's music, now have another book to add to my reading list. I hope to enjoy reading about Wiersema.

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  2. I was wondering whether you would be happy to put up a link in my monthly series called “Books You Love”. The idea is for people to link up posts about a book they loved. It could be an old fave. I am hoping we will end up with a nice collection of books that can go on our reading lists. Here is the link Books You Loved July Edition

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  3. I really like Bruce's music & I love Pearl Jam. Thank you for this wonderful book review. I like that you are focusing on the powerful & dangerous emotion of nostalgia. Thanks.

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