In the weeks leading up to the release date of Shut Down Strangers & Hot Rod Angels, I'll be featuring some of the pieces and authors here on the blog! Our fifth feature is Betsy Housten and her essay "Can't Start a Fire Without a Spark."
Betsy Housten is a queer writer and massage therapist who earned her MFA at the University of New Orleans and makes her home in Brooklyn. Her writing appears in Autostraddle, Rogue Agent, The Hunger, Lunch, Little Red Tarot, and elsewhere. Her work has been nominated for Best New Poets, Best of the Net, and the Pushcart Prize. You can find her at betsyhoustenwrites.com.
Which Springsteen song(s) inspired your piece?
Dancing in the Dark
What is it about these songs in particular and/or Bruce’s music in general that inspires you?
The answer to this is tied to the story of my mother. I started writing this piece to explore her adoration for Bruce that I've witnessed my entire life; in particular, "Dancing in the Dark" has been her favorite for decades. I never understood why, I just took it for granted, rolling my eyes with my brothers every time she'd put on a Springsteen record. But the more I spoke with her as an adult about her origin story with his music, and what that song means to her, the more I realized two things: one, that the vivacity and honesty of his music has allowed her to feel seen, encouraged, inspired, and saved in ways I never appreciated (because I never asked); and two, that I needed to write about my relationship with the song as well. I did not like Bruce's music as a teenager, but I've since come around, because I'm proud of being from Jersey, because I appreciate his range and his evolving sound and his commitment to telling a good story and speaking out against things he believes are wrong, because he loves his fans and never stops working hard for them, because sometimes you just need to blast a rock tune and there's nothing quite like the Boss. In writing this piece about my mother, and discovering more compassion for her, I found additional reasons to be inspired by Bruce, because I understand how he has helped her. Had I not rejected him so much once upon a time, precisely because of how much she loved him, embracing his music as I do now might not feel as meaningful. But it does. As for "Dancing in the Dark," it helps me too – it makes me want to take charge of my life, and in the meantime, dance whatever doesn't feel great all the way out.
What five Springsteen songs do you think everyone should listen to?
Thunder Road, 1973 (because it's lyrically gorgeous & a classic) Dancing in the Dark, 1984 (because it makes you feel like you can do anything) The Ghost of Tom Joad, 1995 (because it's understated & thoughtful) Waitin' on a Sunny Day, 2002 (because it makes you want to take a road trip with all the windows down) High Hopes, 2014 (because it swaggers & wails)
What’s your favorite line/section from this piece?
"The earnest scrape of Bruce's vocals over the pop-synth drumbeat as he spun a vulnerable yet spirited tale of starting over, again, in the face of exhaustion, depression, loneliness, and self-loathing caught my attention and kept it. At 23, I'd been through a few heartbreaks myself, and I recognized some of my own feelings in his lyrics."
Anything else you’d like to say, either about Bruce or about your piece?
I was never able to see Springsteen on Broadway live, but watching it on Netflix makes me cry every time. The man is a born storyteller, and I admire the humility & grace he brings to the show.