The headline on David Remnick’s new New Yorker profile of Bruce Springsteen is “We Are Alive,” a nice bit of understatement for a 62-year-old rocker who’s not only an enduring icon but a “preposterously fit” wild man on stage, his performances “joyously demonic,” as Remnick puts it, “as close as a white man of Social Security age can get to James Brown circa 1962.”
But it’s also a good headline because Springsteen’s creativity has always been powered in part by “the darker currents of his psyche,” as Remnick writes, and in the piece Springsteen acknowledges experiencing periods of profound depression for more than 30 years, including crippling bouts of self-doubt and self-loathing. “He was feeling suicidal,” Springsteen’s friend and biographer Dave Marsh tells Remnick about an episode in 1982 that sent him to a therapist for the first time.
“He was on a rocket ride, from nothing to something, and now you are getting your ass kissed day and night. You might start to have some inner conflicts about your real self-worth.”
Why is it important that Springsteen is open and thoughtful in this interview about living with depression? Because his candor could actually save lives other than his own. The biggest contributor to teenage suicide is unrecognized mental illness. Especially at risk are teenage boys who hide their depression and anxiety from their parents and friends, because they are ashamed to admit their feelings of despair and worthlessness. What we need most, notes Dr. Alan Apter, an Israeli psychiatrist who is an expert in suicide, is prominent role models to tell teenage boys that it’s not unmanly to ask for help. For Israelis, he notes, it might be military officers. For American boys, he suggests, that might be sports stars.
Or maybe an entertainer? Granted, the Springsteen-fever of the mid-80s and “Born In the USA” has ebbed a bit, and he isn’t that young anymore. But who could resist the Boss as a masculine role model—rock and roll’s answer to a legendary Israeli fighter pilot? “I’m thirty years in analysis!” he tells Remnick, and he’s still up there, trading energy with the crowd and his band, “exciting people and exciting yourself into some higher state.” Or, as he sings, you might feel stuck or down, but “the night’s busting open / These two lanes will take us anywhere.”