Finding a New Path in Springsteen's 'Thunder Road'

There is something bizarre about it — about a grown man crying because he couldn't find tickets to a Bruce Springsteen concert. And something quite childish in the sheer joy he experienced only 10 minutes later, when he found those tickets.

You see, three weeks ago, that man was me. It's a little childish, and to anybody who knows me, completely out of character. But, I've never been to a Bruce Springsteen concert in my life, and I've been a fan since I was too young to be one. And in a place where it made no sense to be one.

Why? You could cite the universal nature of music — about how a melody is a melody, a rhyme a rhyme — but it was something more than the music that made a disciple out of me, a native of India.

A First Love

My first Springsteen song was "Born in the U.S.A." It was 1989, and I was 9 years old, and I remember all the details. I saw him on a bright Sunday morning on national television in India. I had never heard anything like it. I didn't understand what he was singing, but it was angry — I knew even then that this was not a patriotic "Gee-isn't-it-great-to-be-Born-in-the-U.S.A." song.

This was passionate. And the pumping arms and popping veins on his neck left me floored. Given that I was leaving for a picnic in 10 minutes, where I would see the girl I had my first-ever crush on, I should have forgotten that song. But I didn't. That girl — her name was Puja — was merely a crush. This song, this new sound, was love.

We were stuck that year in a small town in the Southern Indian mountains, so I didn't hear Springsteen for another six months. But that song had grown roots in my head, and I waited patiently until we got back to Bombay. And then I dragged my mother off to a music store and convinced her that I needed the Born in the U.S.A. album. I loved it and played it hundreds of times over the next year.

A Turning Point

In 1997, I chose to study engineering. That decision would turn my teenage years into a nightmare. And oddly enough, it also turned me into a full-blooded Springsteen fan. I remember the exact moment. I was alone in my room studying for exams. I was bored, so I popped in the first disc of Springsteen's Live 1975–1985 album. The first song, "Thunder Road," about life, love and life's second chances, spoke directly to me.

By the time he sang the last line, I understood the song's implicit message: that I needed to get out. That I should do what I wanted to do. That I should make my choice, and take my chance. That what is life, if not about taking chances — and not just for love, but for life?

I can't say that that four-minute song was the only thing that set me on a different path, but that night — all alone with a textbook I didn't care about, and a calculator I could've thrown against a wall — I had one of those rare moments of blinding clarity.

Now, 10 years later, I'm in America. I have a ticket with a seat number on it. And today, I travel to Philadelphia and see Bruce Springsteen in concert for the very first time.

Nishant Dahiya is a producer at NPR's national desk.

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