Bruce and I

Bruce Springsteen’s music is often the soundtrack of my weekend mornings.

There is something about waking up and fumbling through the first cup of coffee while listening to Springsteen’s unpretentious — and mostly irony-free — heartland rock that makes me believe the day ahead has worthwhile things in store.

It’s not that the themes are always light or the lyrics always rosy, it’s that even through his most plaintive songs he manages to convey empathy and (dare I say it) hope. The implicit message is: someone understands and someone has survived.

On one recent Saturday morning I listened to perhaps his most plaintive album: Nebraska (1982). It begins with the wailing of a lonely harmonica and proceeds to weave a tapestry of burdensome American life.

His song “Highway Patrolman” tells a complex story of brotherly love and obligation on both sides of the law. Springsteen croons:

My name is Joe Roberts and I work for the state

I’m a sergeant out of Perrineville barracks number 8

I always done an honest job, as honest as I could

I got a brother named Franky and Franky ain’t no good.

Another song, “Atlantic City,” is about, among other things, love weighed down by financial hardship:

Well I got a job and tried to put my money away

But I got debts that no honest man can pay

So I drew what I had from the central trust

And I bought us two tickets on that coast city bus

But amidst the tale struggle comes a chorus of hard-won wisdom:

Well now, everything dies baby, that’s a fact

But maybe everything that dies someday comes back

Put your makeup on, fix your hair up pretty

And meet me tonight in Atlantic City

The album had a haunting effect on me. As the final notes trailed off, I wandered aimlessly around the kitchen, feeling not exactly sad, but rather full of gravity. It was in this state that I grabbed my disc-golf equipment and headed to Mount Mac for a quick round.

I hit everything. I nailed long-distance birdie puts, I saved par after flubbing my tee shot, and I wove my disc through stands of unforgiving evergreens.

When I finished the 18th hole I realized I had just tied my best round of the season — and the mood created by Nebraska pervaded the whole enterprise.

It’s a stretch, but I must consider the possibility that Springsteen’s album caused my season-best round.

Like Nebraska, disc golf thrives on nuance. Registering subtle changes in wind speed and direction can be the difference between a beautiful toss and a deep trip into the woods. And knowing how a battered old disc will fly in a particular situation can save your round.

With that in mind I would hereby like to extend an invitation to Bruce Springsteen: anytime you feel like it, you are more than welcome to play a round of disc-golf with me at Mount Mac. I will provide the discs as well as a few key pointers. The offer stands as long as it needs to.

Truth be told, I feel a little funny calling you the Boss until I’ve seen you nail a birdie putt from 40 feet out.

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