Nobody Ages Well Quite Like Springsteen

Image: Nobody Ages Well Quite Like Springsteen

Spectrum's CEO Sandra Ketchen on what we can learn from Bruce Springsteen on aging and aging well.

I’ve waited more than 20 years to take my children to a Springsteen concert – my eldest got her turn recently in Buffalo. Thanks to my older brother, back in the 1970s I became a dedicated Bruce fan for life. His music speaks to my soul, carries me through life’s ups and downs, and delivers on the promise of better days ahead. But watching him tear through just a fraction of his library in an epic three-hour non-stop celebration of life’s stages, I had to remind myself – this guy is 73 years old. Beyond rockstar status, he has now become a role model for aging well and the irrelevance of that birth year number.

In his October 2020 article for The Atlantic, David Brooks claimed that “Springsteen is the world champion of aging well – physically, intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally”. Watching him leave everything on the stage, it’s hard not to endorse this statement. But for me this goes deeper – it’s his philosophy that aging isn’t something to be resigned to – rather something to be celebrated. Bruce was quoted once as saying “You can’t be afraid of getting old. Old is good, if you’re gathering in life. Our band is good at understanding that equation.”

There are a handful of ways I think Bruce has become at least MY poster child for what it means to age well:

First and foremost, he takes care of himself both physically and mentally. Diet and exercise have always been part of his regime and, like myself, strength training has become a bigger part of the equation to fend off the ravages of passing time. How many 73-year-olds do you know still sporting a ‘6-pack’? He’s never been afraid to talk about his demons with depression, normalizing something that millions of people struggle with daily and particularly in many cases related to aging. And back in 2021 he candidly shared his mom’s journey with Alzheimer’s, the ravages of the disease, and the power of music that maintains his connection with her. Without a healthy body and mind, the soul and the spirit won’t have a proper channel to flourish.

Bruce doesn’t try to be something he’s not – he recognizes and laments the passage of time but still celebrates life’s journey. Through his music he delivers an experience that is about spirit, the possibilities for the future, the transition from hopeless to hopeful, and the importance of living in the moment of every single day. The irony here is that while he is authentic about the joy of aging, he doesn’t act his age according to modern day perceptions – which reinforces the notion that age really is just a number.

According to Dr. George Vaillant in a Harvard Study of Adult Development, “aging successfully is something like being tickled – it’s best achieved with another person. Whether your social connections are with a spouse, offspring, siblings, bridge partners and/or fellow churchgoers, they’re crucial to good health while growing older.” In many ways a self-described loner, Bruce still nurtures strong connections with people around him, and in particular with his band. Watch them on stage – there’s no other act out there that comes close to the spiritual communion those 19 (yes 19!) people share every night performing.

Without question Bruce has the good fortune to do something every day that he is passionate about – creating and playing music, bringing his characters to life with the stories he shares with his fans. At the same time, he is always challenging the boundaries, creating something new, and showing us different paths or alternative ways to think. In a 2017 study by Forbes, they found that “people with purpose beyond the self reported higher life satisfaction and experienced more gratitude, sense of perspective, and empathy”. Lucky for us, Bruce has always known his purpose and shared it with passion.

My younger daughter will get her turn to attend a Springsteen concert in November. By then, Bruce will have celebrated another birthday, turning 74 in September. As he writes in his autobiography “aging is scary but fascinating, and great talent morphs in strange and often enlightening ways”. But in the end, the number won’t matter as the lights go down, and he performs what he calls his ‘magic trick’ once again – regardless of age, he will always be Born to Run.