Meeting Bruce

Bruce SpringsteenI met Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa the other night. It was a chance meeting in a restaurant in Calgary, while they were in town to watch their daughter compete at an equestrian event at Spruce Meadows.

He and Patti were sitting at the table next to us, but we didn’t bother looking their way. I’ve met enough famous people over the years to know how much they value their privacy. When they got up to leave, Bruce looked over and we made eye contact. He said hello.

It would have been so easy for him to keep walking, but he didn’t. He and Patti stopped at our table and we shook hands and talked about his music and my writing for a few minutes. I can tell you this – both Bruce and Patti are wonderful people. Very kind and warm-hearted. Success sits well on their shoulders.

But this blog isn’t about meeting Bruce and Patti. It’s about how his music shaped my life and my writing.

The story starts about twelve years ago, when I was working on my first adult thriller novel. I’d written two Young Adult books but was bored with that and wanted to try writing for grownups. I was selling real estate at the time and had to sneak in a couple of hours every day on my desktop computer in my home office. My wife didn’t take all that kindly to my writing. I can’t say I blame her. The time I spent laboring over the keyboard was time away from selling houses. My income suffered a bit and that had an effect on our lives. We still managed to eat and go on a vacation every year, so things weren’t too bad.

Except at the keyboard.

I was suffering from something I think every writer who has attempted a novel goes through. The discovery of just how monumental an undertaking it is to write a book. It’s not easy. It takes time and dedication to return to the keyboard day after day for months on end. I was burning out. There were times when I did not think I’d make it to the end of Three Are Missing, which was my first full-length novel. And there were many times when I was sure the project was going to crash and burn. But it didn’t. And I owe the success of getting through that book almost entirely to Bruce Springsteen.

Whenever I felt overwhelmed and couldn’t see the end of the tunnel, I would plug Bruce’s Greatest Hits CD in my computer. I’d close my eyes and listen to a song or two. It didn’t really matter which ones. I like his music and while I have my favorite tracks, any one will do.

So how did Bruce save me from giving up?

When I listened to a song, I imagined the process that had occurred to make it a reality. Maybe it started with a bit of the melody running through his mind. Maybe it was a lyric that had stuck with him and wouldn’t leave. Whatever it was, Springsteen had the most rudimentary element of a song to work with. Nothing more. From there, he had to flush it out. Write the melody and the lyrics and lay down the basic riffs on a guitar or a keyboard. Then he had to get the song down on paper and bring in the band. The instruments all needed to meld together to make the song the best it could be. Then it was into the studio to record what they had rehearsed.

Creativity is the order of the day in the studio, but it’s a tough grind. A lot of hours go into post-production in order to get a polished result. And when the musicians and the production team are finished, they have one song in the can.

All you need for an album is to go through this process fifteen times.

Any self pity I was feeling was gone. If Bruce Springsteen could hammer away at his music – in solitary, away from the crowds at his concerts – then I could finish my book. It got me writing again, and I did finish Three Are Missing. Then another book and another, until Bloodline, my eighth book, was finally picked up by Dorchester Publishing in New York.

When I say that my career as a writer is intact and moving ahead because of Bruce Springsteen, it’s the absolute truth. One Child, my latest novel, would not exist. Nor would any of the other eighteen.

I imagine being Bruce Springsteen would be pretty cool. Standing on the stage, guitar slung low and banging out the chords for Born to Run or Thunder Road. Watching the crowd go wild as you launch into hit after hit. But there was something there the other night when I told him how his music had influenced me – something in his eyes – that went beyond the moment on the stage.

He thought it was cool that he had, by musical osmosis, brought all these books to life.

And for me it was really great, because I had a chance to give something back to the man who has given all of us so much.

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