Joy and despair, vitality and darkness run through the songs of Bruce Springsteen. The joy, he told the world, came from his mother, Adele Springsteen, who died Wednesday at age 98.
When he accepted After winning the Ellis Island Family Heritage Award in 2010, Springsteen brought his mother on stage with his sisters, Dora and Eda, and said, “They put rock ‘n’ roll in me.” »
Adele, born Adele Zerilli in 1925, constantly listened to Top 40 radio when Springsteen was growing up, pulling her son up to dance with her. She scrimped to buy him his first electric guitar and encouraged him to become a musician.
She worked for decades as a legal secretary, an example that taught her son the dignity and camaraderie of a job. “It’s a show I’ve never forgotten, my mother coming home from work,” he said during “Springsteen on Broadway,” his autobiographical show. “My mother was truth, consistency, good humor, professionalism, grace, kindness, optimism, courtesy, fairness, self-pride, responsibility, love, faith in her family, commitment, joy in his work and an inexhaustible thirst. to live – to live and for life. And especially to dance. »
She also protected him from his father, who battled depression throughout his life – and whose darker view of humanity is the counterbalance that runs through Springsteen’s songs. “She was a mother,” he wrote in his memoir, “Born to Run,” and that’s what I needed when my world was about to explode.
As her career took off, she continued detailed albums of every little step. And she danced in the spotlight at her son’s concerts well into her 90s, even when her Alzheimer’s disease had taken its toll and music was an instinctive solace.
“Through my mother’s spirit, love and affection, she gave me an enthusiasm for the complexities of life, an emphasis on joy and good times, and the perseverance to get through the difficult times,” the musician wrote in his memoirs. It’s Springsteen, measured and adult, who finds his balance. But a key moment in “Springsteen on Broadway” was “The wish,” a song for his mother that radiates pure tenderness.
In it, he reflects on receiving a guitar as a Christmas present, and he remembers “me in my Beatles boots, you in pink curlers and matador pants/Pullin’ me on the couch doing the Twist for my uncles and aunts. .” He also considers “everything the guitar has given us” and offers to play his mother upon request, but with one condition: “If you’re looking for a sad song, well, I won’t play it.” »
Art is never more than autobiography, and children grow up to become much more than the sum of their parents. But anyone who’s ever screamed along to a chorus with an arena full of Springsteen fans — those choruses that often cut through the darkest thoughts of the verses — clearly owes Adele Springsteen some thanks.