Born to Run

I have been a psychoanalyst for 24 years and a Bruce Springsteen fan for 42. “What is purest and most consistent in his thoughts burns away his own suffering, while his art speaks to what is most deeply human in us,” wrote Alfred Kazin about William Blake. I believe the same can be said of Bruce Springsteen. As I got to know his work over the years, the “sadness, love, and madness in his soul” (Springsteen) caught and kept my attention. I am drawn to his sound, energy, authenticity, and his ability to articulate his relationship to creativity and depression. So, I was not surprised to learn he had been in psychoanalysis for over 25 years. He credits therapy with saving his life.

To Land a Dream: The Value of Hardship and the Courage to Be Yourself

A dream can stay a dream, never landing; or, a dream can land if the dreamer can be indifferent to the possibility of falling. Falling is often the first and one of the most important skills we must learn to master in many of the things we attempt. To land a dream takes practice and courage. The process can cause pain, frustration, disappointment, and suffering. It is not safe, but neither is it anything but a dream until it lands.

The ability to persevere, trust in what one believes, and proceed with intention are all necessary attributes to this end. To land a dream is to find and follow the spark, heat, and noise into the unknown. What precedes the landing of a dream is a kind of “extraordinary knowing,” as Elizabeth Lloyd Mayer calls it, that there will be fire. To land a dream is not dreaming; it’s grounding oneself in the reality of one’s dream.

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Springsteen’s fire sparked, as he tells it, after seeing Elvis Presley on television when he was seven years old. In that moment, he saw a reality different from his own. He saw how things could get loud and noisy, glitter and rock; that he could be other than the others around him; and that he had choices if he created and used his voice(s). Soon after this revelation, at his insistence, his mother rented him a guitar. By his own admission, he struggled to learn to play, and the guitar was returned, but the moment endured. As he said, “I smelled blood.”  Picking up a guitar again soon after because “he had to,” because it was no longer a choice, he began practicing what would eventually land his yet-to-be-known dream, his destiny. Along the way, practice heightened his senses, creating an inner life he could follow and that followed him. He heard and listened to himself. Sometimes this happens, but not often.

Luck aside, as a psychoanalyst, I am curious about those who intuitively follow the spark, willing to walk through fire to follow what forms their dreams, and those who don’t and why. “Go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows,” wrote Rilke. “Go where your psychology leads you,” wrote Springsteen. This doesn’t mean going it alone. Therapy can facilitate the exploration of places within ourselves not yet dreamed of.

Too often I hear the reticence of a creative mind dismiss therapy out of fear of anyone messing with their inner life, of changing anything about themselves, no matter how hard, painful, or bleak their experience of themselves is. They are too afraid of losing their often tenuous, fragile, bewildering relationship with their creativity, too often confusing suffering with creativity. They believe who and how they are is not to be second-guessed or opened up to analytic inquiry. Where it’s coming from, where it will go, and if it stops, will it return, are all unknowable, constant, and frightening aspects of the creative process.

As a practice matter, I can say that many of those who have committed to therapy find greater access to their inner, creative life over time. They are empowered by a sense of control that comes with articulating their concerns, fears, desires, and dreams as they hear themselves and are heard by another.

Hearing Voices/Having Voices

Starting out as a candidate in analytic training, I relied on

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the voices of the many who came before me—like Elvis for Springsteen—for inspiration, validating my evolving selves, and in the process, sometimes sounding like not myself. At times I was told by a supervisor I sounded like a well-known analyst I had not yet read. I remember those remarks as reassuring, as I relied on my supervisors to find theorists that might be sympathetic to my character. “Why do something unless it corresponds to the shape and language of one’s inner life?” asked poet Frank Bidart.

Soon after training, all those quiescent voices began to surface as I reimagined the stories I told of myself, to myself, as my voice, style, and rhythm as a psychoanalyst developed, finding what Springsteen called the music inside (my) language, using words that “hummed, strummed, jigged and galloped along,” according to Dylan Thomas. The music inside Springsteen’s language is what makes him a great storyteller. He has little pretense. He finds/creates, re-finds/re-creates that which flows from within, that which he is after.

His fidelity to where he came from is how he trusts himself and what allows others to trust him. His voice is constructed with a workmanlike clarity, moving us deeply despite or because of the seeming simplicity of the sentiments he expresses. I have been judgmental of his sentimentality and the often-romanticized memories of a rebellious past. He could sound provincial or sanctimonious. But my fault finding is always drowned out by his sheer, unencumbered “world shaking mighty noise,” and his consistent ability as a songwriter and performer to make the ordinary interesting.

As analysts we aim to do the same, bringing to life the everyday details of our patients’ lives, and along the way, renewing an interest our patients can have in themselves and that we can have in them. Patients knowingly or unknowingly come to therapy to find anew what has always been there to be found. As Springsteen puts it, “people don’t come to rock concerts to learn something. They come to be reminded of something they already know and feel deep down in their gut….”

BRUUUUUUCE: What I Learned He Knows

I don’t know whether to call him Bruce, like his fans do, or Springsteen, since I believe I know him because he knows a lot about himself and tells us what he knows, allowing me to imagine him to be the person I “met” in his music or the patient I “met” in my practice. But I don’t and he’s not. This is his gift, to be knowa-

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ble, another critical aim of psychoanalysis.

Music allows us to live in a world of illusion, a place where the music and audience often merge, a dynamic Bruce has mastered, allowing his fans to be in on the moment, as though co-created. As analysts, this is something we attempt to achieve in session with our patients; the co-creation of a vital energy crafted in a safe space where sensibilities merge and emerge as analyst and patient move in and out of each other’s psychic space, getting to know and be known, to oneself and the other.

Springsteen writes often of his limitations, a positive and important kind of self-knowledge. Knowing our limits gives us the space between them where “the seed for a spectacular style” can develop. He knows that his “overweening need for control has limited his pleasures.”  Springsteen learned he could “lose everything but his craft and inner life,” a vital realization in the continuity of belief in one’s dreams.

He knew he was lucky because he was doing what he loved, even before he had any success. “I was all I had… and will need to use every ounce of what is in me to push myself harder, to work with more intensity to survive.”  He talks about understanding the paradox of self-awareness, how we can never observe ourselves without our own knowledge, knowing that what is reflected back comes from one’s own eyes doing the looking. Therapy offers a third eye, looking with, as well as at each other.

I Am Reminded of Something Bruce Springsteen Said…

Springsteen’s straightforward, evocative way of reflecting on and expressing his psychological and emotional issues often resonates with what I hear in the consulting room. As I listen and associate with what a patient is saying or not saying in a session, I find myself taking quiet pleasure in saying to them, “I am reminded of something Bruce Springsteen said,” quoting or paraphrasing something he said, sang, or wrote about himself and how he lives his life, sharing with my patient, in the context of what is relevant in a particular moment, some version of what he has shared with his audience about himself.

These moments are often met with interest, a knowing nod, or a smile. For example, in no particular order: “…I can recall the details of what happened, but what is complicated here is why it happened…”  “…no one you have ever been and no place you have ever gone leaves you.”  “…you and your partner won’t always be

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walking side by side. What’s important is to remember to look back, to not to lose sight of each other…”  “…I know how I nurture an ambivalence that allows me an illusion of being removed from my ravenous ambitions…”  “…the songs that most held my interest over time, are the songs where the singer sounds happy and sad simultaneously….”  “…all you have to do to taste real life, is risk being your true self, a self we can never fully find, but can aspire to….”  “…We might start out in clichés, clichés, clichés… but then catch a piece of ourselves, and the moment becomes real…”

Perhaps this last one is a distillation of his view of art and how the artist can breathe life back into stereotypes, making once again, the ordinary interesting. About clichés, one could say the same thing about our role as therapists. We certainly can start out as clichés to our patients, thanks in large part to how we are depicted in popular culture, but as Bruce said, “I have to find words I can stand to sing,” or, in my case, say. As a counterpoint in my work, I find my use of Springsteen’s insights to be another way to share my subjective self unobtrusively in the consulting room, adding another facet for stimulating psychic growth.

A Brilliant Disguise

My patient walks in, in disguise. Story time. Process time.

How are you today?

What are you today?

Where are you today?

Who are you today?

The session begins, a process with the potential for telling a story of ourselves we haven’t heard before, that feels real and useful. Or, we can tell the same story we tell of ourselves over and over, when our imagination has been crushed with the weight of darkness, leaving us feeling stuck or trapped in a narrow, repetitive conception of ourselves.

Springsteen postulates about the art of finding or not finding oneself in his song, “A Brilliant Disguise,” saying “that when you drop one mask, you find another behind it until you begin to doubt your own feelings about who you are.”  Alas, the analyst, as a weightlifter, lifts, peels, culls, and coaxes stories from the darkness, creating breathing room in a dynamic moment between patient and analyst. In the safety of the consulting room, the process of unmasking, aka, peeling the Freudian onion, can uncover, recover, or discover over time feelings one can believe in, or doubts to have

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faith in.

Dancing in the Dark 

Feeling stuck in life is a common presenting problem in therapy. Being stuck for too long can bring a darkness too heavy to walk through or dance in. Music is often a companion we take into our darkness. It can put us into a regressed state that has no words while heightening our senses, beckoning us to dance to the unheard, unseen, and unfelt moments of life.

Springsteen has talked about his clinical depression and has written a number of songs evidencing a decision to walk into, instead of away from, his experience of darkness in both his personal and professional life. He is present in his creative capacities, having actualized himself, not so much through his search for self-understanding, but through the process of becoming more fully himself.

Hungry Heart

There is much to be learned from and inspired by those who have been analyzed. Following the work of Bruce Springsteen over the years has enriched my way of being a psychoanalyst, opening the analytic space up to a greater range of play, spontaneity, and what’s possible between my patients and myself in the consulting room. Having mastered the art of storytelling in his song writing and stage performances and later in his memoir, Springsteen has said that each has become a safe place for him to be vulnerable. To be vulnerable is to be present. When we are present, we sound and feel full of heart, a hungry heart. Everybody’s got one.

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References:

  • Springsteen, Bruce (2016). Born to run. Simon & Schuster.

Authors:

Ona Lindquist

Ona Lindquist, LCSW, is a psychoanalyst and senior supervisor in private practice in Brooklyn, NY. She is the author of “One Glorious Noise: how the voice of Bruce Springsteen entered my consulting room”; “A Barter To Be: a psychoanalysis in art and verse” (2018);Swimming in Space: fragments of a therapy in verse” (2015); and “What a Blackbird Told Me is Real and Alive” (2011). She may be reached at .

How to Cite This:

Lindquist, O. (2023). One glorious noise: How the voice of Bruce Springsteen entered my consulting room. Clio’s Psyche, 29(2), 159-164.

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