a PAW web exclusive column by Hugh O'Bleary (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Or how Bruce Springsteen,
auditor, reaches into the ranks of commuters
by Hugh O'Bleary
stood stone-like at . . . well, okay, not at midnight, as in the
opening line of Bruce Springsteen's Growing Up. It was more
like four o'clock in the afternoon. And actually, I didn't stand,
I sat at my desk in my office in New York. But I was transfixed,
I mean really stone-like. For there, in my on-line Daily Princetonian
was the news that Bruce Springsteen - yes, the very same Bruce Springsteen
who had written Growing Up and had then indeed grown up to
become a rock 'n' roll god and poet of the working man and all-around
cool dude, the Boss, himself - had audited a class at Princeton.
According to the Prince,
Springsteen had sat in on a session of AMS 308, "Prophecy and
the American Voice," an American Studies seminar taught by
visiting professor Greil Marcus. Springsteen, who, the paper said,
had arrived dressed in jeans, a thermal undershirt and work boots
and "kept a surprisingly low profile on campus," discussed
Allen Ginsberg with the class and seemed, in the words of one student,
"really, really smart." Oh, yeah, he also bought a Powerbar
and a bottle of water at the Frist convenience store.
I read the report through
twice, experiencing a serious case of - as one student in the class,
Sara Isani '01, had put it - "extra-flabbergasted-ness."
Bruce was on campus, walking around munching a Powerbar and discussing
Ginsberg's Wichita Vortex Sutra, and where the hell was I?
Schlepping to the Dinky? Buying (for shame!) a doughnut and coffee
at the WaWa? Working in the city? Home cleaning out the gutters?
I mused for about a second
on the fact that here I am, living in Princeton, with one of the
world's great universities at my doorstep, a cornucopia of intellectual
riches at hand, a veritable academic smorgasbord there for the consumption,
and I don't take advantage of it as I should. Then I switched to
just thinking how cool it would have been if I had run into the
Boss! Say, on the Dinky.
I could have made some
joke about how the train clearly wasn't born to run ... on time.
Har! Har! Well, maybe not. I would have played it cool. Really.
We might have discussed Beat poetry and populism and ecstatic imagery.
Professor Sean Wilentz,
director of the Program in American Studies, was quoted in the Prince
as saying that Springsteen doesn't shy away from serious intellectual
work. "I get the impression he's a very serious reader, especially
on things American," Wilentz said. "Springsteen takes
the life of the mind very seriously."
so do I.
The news of Springsteen's
visit inspired me. If a mega rock star fresh off a year-long sold-out
international concert tour could take time to read and discuss poetry
with ordinary - well, okay, Princeton - students, couldn't I step
out of the mold a little myself? The next day I left my overcoat
at home and broke out my old leather jacket instead. It looked a
little funny over my sportcoat and tie, true, but I felt a sense
of freedom I hadn't felt in a while. I curled my lip at the other
commuters, locked into their wing-tip world. When they said "Sit
down," I stood up. I had a Powerbar for lunch. The following
morning I went with jeans and an old flannel shirt.
By the third morning,
I was starting to get funny looks. "Did you switch jobs, O'Bleary?"
said Dan Shrake, as I slouched in my seat on the train, reading
Howl instead of my usual copy of the Times and sucking
on a bottle of Poland Spring.
"It's a town full
of losers," I muttered. "I'm pullin' outta here to win."
"Yeah? Well, what's
with your sideburns?" he added.
Okay, maybe I was taking
it a bit far. After all, Springsteen's drop-in jeans-and-Ginsberg
session was a one-shot deal. Even super-famous, ultra-rich rock
legends have to work for a living. Face it, only students get to
live like, well, students all the time. Bruce, it was clear, had
found a way to maintain his intellectual engagement amid the quotidian
responsibilities of his life. Surely I could try to do the same
- without feeling as though I had to look like an album cover.
The next day I trimmed
my sideburns, and went back to a jacket and tie. But I was still
reading Ginsberg. And singing a little Springsteen.
Carries saints and
Carries losers and
Hugh O'Bleary commutes
to New York City from Princeton. He revels in his daily sojourn
across campus to catch the Dinky. You can reach Hugh O'Bleary by
writing him c/o email@example.com