It wasn’t long after I started listening to Bruce in high school that I stumbled upon a link to his work in the unlikeliest of places: my AP (i.e., college-level) Latin class. We spent an entire year reading Vergil’s Aeneid (in Latin and English) when I was a junior, and towards the beginning there is a line (“Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit”) which translates to something along the lines of, “Someday perhaps it will help to have remembered even these things.” (The verb “iuvabit” literally means “it will help,” but in this case it probably means something closer to “it will be pleasant.”) My Latin teacher pointed out that this had always reminded him of the “fine song” (as he called it) “Rosalita” by Bruce Springsteen, which sports the classic line, “Someday we’ll look back on this and it will all seem funny” towards the end. Even back then I was a huge music junkie, and I thought the parallel between the line from the Aeneid and “Rosalita” was way too cool. There was just one problem: I hadn’t heard the song.
I was familiar with Springsteen’s more populist albums Born in the U.S.A. and Born to Run, but the rest of his work was unfamiliar territory for me. The easiest (and fastest) way to correct this problem was to invest in a greatest hits package, so I went to Best Buy and plunked down some cash on the career-spanning triple-disc Essential Bruce Springsteen, which has “Rosalita” and “Blinded by the Light” and some other songs from his pre-Born to Run days. For some strange reason, we always had school the day before Thanksgiving, and it was always an absolute joke. It was always a half day, and most people wouldn’t show up, either because they were already away or because they knew no one was going to be there except for a bunch of old people. (Yeah, it was always “Grand Friends Day,” a broader and much lamer name for Grandparents Day.)
We ended up just sitting around, and I must have thought ahead because I brought my copy of The Essential Bruce Springsteen to Latin class and put on “Rosalita.” (Well, actually, that’s not true. I put on the CD, which starts with “Blinded by the Light,” and started to walk away, but I was scolded with mock seriousness to put on “Rosalita.”) I ended up getting a lot of mileage out The Essential Bruce Springsteen (it spans thirty years of work, after all), but at some point I decided I wanted more. When I spotted The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle at the library I jumped at the chance to listen to it, since I knew it was frequently heralded as one of Bruce’s classics. It struck me as a much different record than I was used to hearing from him, particularly since I was hearing his work in backwards order.
If Born to Run, Bruce’s third album, is him leaving Asbury Park, The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle is him packing his bags. It’s a street-level stroll down the Asbury Park boardwalk on the Jersey Shore as he soaks in little details and presents them like wisps of memory, as if his life is flashing before his eyes. It’s kind of interesting, now that I think about it, that both of my Latin teachers share the same kind of interest in music that I do. My middle school Latin teacher was always telling me about how vinyl is better than CD, a sentiment I didn’t share with him back then (due to lack of familiarity) but certainly do now. (I should probably tell him that sometime.) As for my high school Latin instructor, I opted to take the easy road my senior year and not take any more Latin (a year of translating Latin poetry will do that to you). But maybe someday the three of us will sit down in front of a turntable and listen to the absolutely perfect second side of The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle together.