Sunday, December 17th, 2017

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Artist returns to her hometown, finding solace and strength in Springsteen’s ‘Born to Run’

Bookjacket, “Born to Run”

By ROBIN PUNSALAN

 

An inch of grey abruptly confronts me through the rearview mirror five days into returning from Florida to my hometown, Cleveland. A pile of half-finished canvasses still leans in the trunk, along with a copy of Bruce Springsteen’s best-selling autobiography, “Born To Run” as I make my way through The Flats. My father’s art studio was here in the late 70s. Somewhere. I’m lost.

As unfamiliar as the streets are after many years away, I’m navigating through some spiritual familiarity that offers both comfort and an unnerving need for self-reflection. Home and much older … traveling back roads dotted by weathered homes with porches sinking into the earth. It’s beautiful that they withstand such a beating and yet remain pregnant with a story.

I was hungry for a good story. Hungry for a voice apart from the banter of Facebook updates congesting my news feed. I resumed reading Bruce. Am I a die-hard fan? Not really. Though, living a short while in Jersey during the late 80s, I was always meeting some guy in a band who knew Bruce or played with a girl that dated Bruce, or wrote a song with a mutual friend of Bruce. The tabloid sensation of any public figure has never appealed to me. Each page of “Born to Run,” however, was charged by honest storytelling and crafted as intimately as Springsteen’s songwriting. It felt like you were at the neighborhood bar talking to this guy about work, work ethic, boundaries, fear, unrelenting drive, screwing up but back on that saddle again before the next hard fall. I recognized this in my own transition of moving back home — tender and yet another hard fall.

Why a rock star bio when there are numerous other good books to read? “Born to Run” tenderly and skillfully engages the reader far beyond the number of audience members in a stadium and what happened with his first wife. Springsteen reveals an assuring voice of an artist who has struggled with his interior demons — negotiating ego, negotiating boundaries, negotiating contracts and through it all, work has been his anchor.

This book came into my life while I’m at a crossroads as an artist and confronting identity though family, work and that daunting question, “What’s my purpose?” I recommend “Born to Run” to any creative person or to any individual who genuinely wishes to explore the creative journey and also, what impact our voice has on our community, our humanity. Between the pages written by “The Boss” and its iconic album cover art, is the soul of a man still seeking — steadfast to his family, his responsibility as an artist and hard responsibilities within himself — admittedly still screwing up and finding solace hours after the show has ended, scribbling out a new story in the darkness off stage.

Each chapter instilled in me that current through an artist’s veins that’s always brave and risky. It will salvage and ease you through as you navigate any disconnect through change.

Recently, I decided to explore work as a painter that was not my usual to those who purchase the majority of my work — necessary though, as I was too comfortable and had ceased exploring. That night, the next chapter resumed with a confirmation — “I knew ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’ wouldn’t attract my largest audience. But I was sure the songs on it added up to a reaffirmation of the best of what I do.”

Cleveland nourishes the creative soul. There’s this reverberating energy from the artistic community to uplift one another, and an encouragement to take those risks. There is a creative community here dedicated to socially uplifting its city. We are filled with great stories and that’s the collective “Welcome Home” I’m experiencing.

Fragments of my father are everywhere here. He designed the Cleveland Cavs logo for the 70s and 80s as well as his work on other Cleveland projects, and since his passing, through any healing and transition, there is a supportive sense of hope. Many parallels in this incredible autobiography expand on this, but most of all, Springsteen delivers a great compass that reminds and encourages me to “Keep Going!”

Before finishing the final chapters, I was walking through Vermilion on Mother’s Day to visit Mom. With “Born to Run” under my arm, I passed St. Mary’s Church. A half-hour into the service just before communion, there isn’t a seat in the house. Directed to the nosebleed section, a reluctant parishioner scoots aside to make room for me. With the book planted down between us, I’m struck with a flashback. Last time I was in the nosebleeds was during that infamous Bruce Springsteen and The E Street band 2000 reunion tour performance at Madison Square Garden taped for HBO. Regardless of number of rows, heads blocking my view, beer tossed upon us, every bit of my soul was receptive to something that felt divine.

The last page of “Born to Run” turned on my lap after spending eight hours working on a large canvas. Did I accomplish anything? Who knows? I knew, however, that I felt strengthened and encouraged to “Just Keep Going.”

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