Besides being one of the best Super Bowl games I've seen, this year's sports extravaganza claimed my keen interest for another reason. During half time, the music superstar who performed four of his best-known hits with his band of almost four decades was once our Freehold, New Jersey neighbor from around the corner.
And what better place to watch this show than in my hometown with my wife, parents and one of my sisters.
Before he became a local hero, we all knew him as "Bruce." When I first met him, he was one of the neighborhood kids who lived at 87 Randolph Street with his parents and grandparents. Our grandmothers were friends and his grandfather had worked as a house painter for mine at one time. My dad had been in school at the same time as his mother. He was a classmate of one of my future brothers-in-law. He and I (and many others) developed a common interest in popular music.
We were teenagers during the "British invasion" when guitar bands lead by the Beatles and Rolling Stones hit the Top 20 of our pop charts and visited America to play their sold-out concerts. Many of us who had interest in this genre of music learned to play instruments, formed garage bands and played "gigs" in high school gymnasiums, church basements, swim clubs and roller rinks. For most of us, it was a temporary stop-over before leaving home for college or the military while the Viet Nam war raged on.
But Bruce was tougher than the rest. All the while I was in college, he continued to play smoky bars with various bands along the Jersey shore, keeping his eyes on the prize. He and several other nearby musicians would later be credited with the "Sound of Asbury Park" (S.O.A.P.) – a distinctive, regional sound.
Bruce has been working on a dream for over forty years, first catching the nation's eye in 1975 when he released his third record album, "Born to Run," and appeared on the covers of Newsweek and Time the same week. Another milestone came about ten years later with an album filled with hits, "Born in the USA." Some years later he was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and continued to churn out hit after hit. Awards began coming his way, most recently one for a song he composed for the movie, The Wrestler. It's been a long time comin', but he is now considered by many as a musical iconic figure.
Rising from a struggling, working-class background, it is commonly acknowledged that he has realized the American Dream. During President-elect Obama's weekend inauguration ceremonies in Washington, DC, Bruce performed at the Lincoln Memorial along with many other well-known entertainers. America has been universally known as the country where "anything is possible" – where even the average person can rise to the highest office or to fame and fortune with hard work and "catching a break." From reports I've read, he retains that "average guy" character, even showing up in our community from time to time helping to raise funds for good causes.
Finally, this year Bruce agreed to perform at America's biggest sporting event, the football Super Bowl, viewed on television by an estimated 100 million people in the United States alone. For those of us who knew him "way back when," it was gratifying to see one of our own in primetime. The American Dream lives – but not all achieve it.
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