Bruce Springsteen—from his ascent to rock ’n’ roll stardom in the 1970s, with Born to Run, to the cultural phenomenon of Born in the U.S.A., to recent ruminative work and a creative partnership with President Obama, he’s reigned as the Boss of our hearts, chronicler of the dreams and desperations of blue-collar Americans, teasing out the bit of New Jersey in all of us. Rich with frenzied guitar licks and sultry ballads alike, his music has played in the background of Little League baseball games, middle-school dances, backyard barbecues, and beach vacations. Now 74, he seemingly came of age with each generation: vinyl albums, 8-track tapes, CDs, Spotify. He’s sold hundreds of millions of records and won 20 Grammys, an Oscar, and a special Tony award.
But in his introduction to Terrence Real’s Us, excepted exclusively for Oprah Daily, Springsteen describes his own emotional isolation, how the demands of studio sessions and sold-out stadiums triggered a crisis in his 30s. “I was lost in a deep dark forest, largely of my own making, without a map,” he writes, a Dantean echo, “trying to find my way through the shadowed trees, down to the river of a sustaining life.” Real’s program pointed the way back to the anchors of art and family and responsibility, revealing that a man’s vulnerability may be his greatest strength. And there’s something to the Golden Rule, as Us underscores: “Terry’s writing is loving and kind, clever and strong,” Springsteen notes, “and he’s written a beautiful and important book, particularly for the moment we are in.” —Hamilton Cain, contributing editor
FOREWORD BY BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN
By my early thirties, I’d become aware enough to know, as things stood, I’d never have the things I wanted. A full life, a home, a wholeness of being, a companion, and a place in a community of neighbors and friends all seemed beyond my grasp. I didn’t have the judgment, the courage, or the skills to bring a real life to fruition. I was one of the most successful musicians on the planet, but work is work, life is life, and they are not the same. Even more frustrating, the things that made me good at my job—my easy tolerance, even hunger, for the isolation of creativity, my ability to comfortably and deeply reside within myself and put all my energy into my work for days, weeks, years at a time—doomed my personal life to failure. I lived a lonely but seemingly secure existence. Then at thirty-two I hit an emotional wall and realized I was lost in a deep dark forest, largely of my own making, without a map. So began forty years of trying to find my way through the shadowed trees, down to the river of a sustaining life.
With help I realized, in early middle age, that I was subject to a legacy that had been passed down from generations in my Italian-Irish family. A long and stubborn stream of mental illness and dysfunction manifested itself in my life as a deep, recurring depression and an emotional paralysis. I had a fear of exposing my inner life to anyone besides twenty thousand complete strangers at your nearest arena. The eye-to-eye democracy of real adult love struck fear and insecurity deep in my heart. Meanwhile I could feel my life clock ticking on the things I wanted to do and what I wanted to become.
So how do you transform that legacy? How do you break the chain of trauma and illness whose price is compounded with each successive generation? As Terry says, “Family pathology is like a fire in the woods taking down all in front of it until someone turns to face the flames.” Slowly I began to face those flames, mainly because I couldn’t stand the idea of failing my own children, my family, in the manner that I felt I’d been failed. And at the end of the day, the way we honor our parents and their efforts is by carrying on their blessings and doing our best to not pass forward their troubles, their faults, to our own children. Our children’s sins should be their own. It’s only through the hard work of transformation do those of ours who have come before cease to be the ghosts that haunt us and transform into the ancestors we need and love to walk beside us. Working even a small piece of this into my life took a long time, and I’m still a daily work in progress. My children will have plenty of work to do on their own, but we all have to learn and earn our own adulthood.
Looking more broadly, the price we pay as a society for our toxic individualism and patriarchy is our permanent estrangement from one another. If I can’t connect to you, I can’t connect to us. Whether it’s racism, class differences, or any of myriad other social plagues, its cost is always the same: a broken and dysfunctional system that prevents us from recognizing and caring for our neighbor with a flawed but full heart. Terry’s writing is loving and kind, clever and strong, and he’s written a beautiful and important book, particularly for the moment we are in. It helps lead the way to a more powerful and noble society based on the tenets of love, justice, and respect. He has laid out a process by which we can begin to understand our place in our own families and our society. I’ve worked hard, and I’ve been lucky. Over the years I’ve found some very good guides through that dark forest and down to that river of life. For my wife, Patti, and me, Terrence Real has been one of those guides, and this book is a map through those trees.
Be safe and journey forward, Bruce Springsteen