Rock legend and all-around American icon Bruce Springsteen is hailed as one of pop music's great showmen. Jumping about the stage like a bottle rocket for hours at a time, he and his E Street Band embody rock 'n' roll's love of cutting loose, unhinged freedom (however vague and fleeting), driving cars up and down the strip, and, in the words of his hero Dion, "lookin' for the heart of Saturday night." This Boss is a total hoot. He can even turn a bummer trip like "Glory Days" ("Now he just sits on a stool down at the Legion Hall, but I can tell what's on his mind ... glory days") into a jukebox bar anthem perfect for sipping suds and hanging with old pals.
But then there's the other Springsteen, the one who can't find any good in anything, the brooding prophet who picks apart our country's decay and all the dark roads that have been forgotten, unseen and cast aside forever. This Springsteen has been most famously captured on the albums The River, Darkness on the Edge of Town, The Promise, The Ghost of Tom Joad and, of course, the quietly harrowing Nebraska. But he has popped up in numerous other places, from Born in the U.S.A.'s "I'm on Fire" to "My City of Ruins" on The Rising. Sometimes, his brooding turns from the social to the intensely personal, as it did on Human Touch and Lucky Town, records that, however flawed, contain some of his most intimate confessionals.
Party-time Bruce might be the one America wants to grab an ice-cold beer with, but it's his somber alter ego that ultimately exerts the more profound impact on us.