Molly O’Keefe on Romance, Springsteen - and a Giveaway

Crazy Thing Called Love - Molly O'Keefe

Back at RT in 2012, Molly O'Keefe and I got to talking at the bar (like you do) (no, really, that's what you do at RT) and she told me she had to leave the convention early because her husband had scored tickets to see Bruce Springsteen live, and, well, yeah, she had to leave early. Because… Bruce.

As y'all know, I live in Jersey, and I spent every summer here as a kid. Springsteen is… well, he's Jersey. To quote Jon Stewart, another person from Jersey, when Springsteen was part of the Kennedy Center Honors program: 

“I am not a music critic. Nor historian, nor archivist. I cannot tell you where Bruce Springsteen falls in the pantheon of the American songbook. I can not illuminate the context of his work or his roots in the folk and oral history traditions of our great nation.

But I am from New Jersey, and so I can tell you what I believe, and what I believe is this:

I believe that Bob Dylan and James Brown had a baby. Yes! And they abandoned this child, as you can imagine at the time…interracial, same sex relationships being what they were…they abandoned this baby by the side of the road between the exit interchanges 8A and 9 on the Jersey Turnpike.

That child was Bruce Springsteen.”

So when O'Keefe emailed me some weeks back and said she'd been thinking about the intersection of romance and Springsteen, two things she loves, and had an idea for an essay, and would I perhaps be interested in reading it, I said, “Well, duh.”

What follows is O'Keefe's essay – and stay tuned for a giveaway at the end. 

Main Street and Thunder Road: The Intersection of The Romance Genre and Bruce Springsteen

Molly O'Keefe

I was introduced to the music of Bruce Springsteen when I was six, the year my brother got The River double tape set for Christmas. Listening from my room (a glorified hallway outside my brother’s door), I didn’t understand the adult and deeply conflicted nature of the song: Is a dream a lie that don’t come true or is it something worse? but still, recognition thrummed inside me.

I liked this.

Years later when I got my hands on Outlaw, Elizabeth Lowell’s fantastic Silhouette Desire, the same recognition thrummed.

I really liked this.

Thinking about it, despite the different mediums, I like romance novels and Springsteen in nearly exactly the same way, for the same reasons. It’s an easy argument that they share a multitude of themes:

Bruce by Peter Ames Carlin


At night I wake up with the sheets soaking wet
And a freight train running through the
Middle of my head
Only you can cool my desire

(I’m On Fire)


You use your muscle and your mind and you pray your best
That your best is good enough, the Lord will do the rest

(Rocky Ground)


Familiar faces around me
Laughter fills the air
Your loving grace surrounds me
Everybody's here

(Mary’s Place)

Loneliness and Alienation:

You been hurt and you're all cried out you say 
You walk down the street pushin' people outta your way 
You packed your bags and all alone you wanna ride, 
You don't want nothin', don't need no one by your side

(The Ties That Bind)


I'm ridin' hard carryin' a cache of roses
A fresh map that I made
Now I'm gonna get birth naked and bury my old soul
And dance on it's grave

(Long Time Comin’)

Love, hard-won, naked, raw, vulnerable, violent and honest:

And it's not that nursery mouth that I came back for 
It's not the way you're stretched out on the floor 
'Cause I've broken all your windows and I've rammed through all your doors 
And who am I to ask you to lick my sores? 
And you should know that's true

I came for you
For you

(For You)

The characters in romance novels pop up in Springsteen songs – the blue collar, hard-working dreamer. Men with debts no honest man can pay and women with their killer graces and secret places. And his songs, no matter how gritty and dark, are almost always hopeful.

Perhaps because of all the shared themes, characters and the love, sex and hope filter Springsteen uses to tell his stories, I shouldn’t be amazed when Springsteen and the romance genre draw the same criticism.

I think the real intersection between Springsteen and romance is the perception that both are simple or perhaps too earnest, repetitive in theme and bombastic in delivery. The fact that both are tremendously popular make them easy targets.

In a recent article in the New Yorker, David Remnick (quoting rock critic Tom Carson) asserts that Springsteen didn’t think music was a tool of rebellion against conventional society but the means with which it is redeemed.

To me this means Springsteen is holding a constant and diligent mirror up to remind us of the best of ourselves.

I believe this is exactly what romance does, why it’s popular and why it’s so important.

To say romance is escapist (something I’ve often said) sells the power of the romance novel far too short. That it’s mommy porn is patronizing and offensive. A small-minded, elitist effort to explain something that is emotional, sexual and wholly feminine.

Romance, like Springsteen is a mirror showing us the best of ourselves.

Romance burrows deep into the familiar, the mundane, the day-to-day to find new, transformative and heart-breaking ways to remind us of what should be important in our lives: forgiveness, laughter, pleasure, honor, love and family.

Springsteen takes that private reading experience and fills an arena, making the argument that those things are just as important in the wider world.

Both Springsteen and romance validate the sacrifices and choices we’ve made to be wives, mothers, husbands, fathers, feminists, friends, caregivers, soldiers, crusaders, readers and believers.

Listening and reading we can all be reassured that we’re human, we’re flawed but we’re beautiful.

This next part is ridiculous, trust me I understand: but I feel like I know Springsteen and he knows me. His songs speak to my heart and his stories are about people I grew up with and walk beside.

And wouldn’t you know, I feel the exact same way about Laura Kinsale, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, JR Ward, Cecilia Grant, Sherry Thomas, Jill Shalvis – my list goes on.

This last year my husband and I went to a bunch of Springsteen shows. For my husband there is simply no better live band and while I agree, I also find myself experiencing the very same spectrum of emotions that I experience reading a great romance novel. I’m joyful, turned on, moved to tears, utterly satisfied and when the lights come up, just like turning the last page on a great romance, a little better than when I started.

I finished reading O'Keefe's essay when she sent it to me, sitting with my chin on my hand, and thought, “Well, yeah.” 

Molly wants to give away a copy of Springsteen's biography, which, awesome, but she also has a book coming out at the end of the month, too. So she's offering up 10 copies, digital or print (winner's choice) for ya'll. One winner will receive both the Springsteen biography and a copy of Crazy Thing Called Love, and nine additional winners will receive a copy of Crazy Thing Called Love, in either print or digital.

All you have to do is tell us something you love as much as romance – or as much as Molly loves romance and Springsteen music. I'll choose 10 winners randomly at noon eastern time, Friday 11 January, 2013

Standard disclaimers apply: open to international residents. Must be 18 years of age or older and possibly wearing a bandanna. Do not taunt happy fun ball. Close cover before striking. Do not iron while wearing.

I think we learn a lot when we understand what is important to us – and important to others. Thanks for sharing this, Molly. Good luck, y'all! 

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
  2. 2
    Fran S. says:

    I absolutely love history.  Reading about the high and low points of humanity is amazing. 

  3. 3
    Faellie says:

    I’d give up every romance book in the house (that’s a lot of books) for my rescued collie dog, Duke.

  4. 4
    Kim in Hawaii says:

    Aloha!  I was introduced to the Boss by a Jersey Boy I met in Boston … his songs take me back to those carefree days!  These days, I enjoy Hawaiian music because it captures the essence of Paradise as much as Bruce captures the Jersey Shore.

    So my answer is music in general … it burrows into the fabric of our life much like romance.

  5. 5
    Lisa J says:

    My e-reader is the thing I love as much as books.  Okay, maybe I love my parents and dogs more, but my reader is a very close three.

  6. 6
    Amanda says:

    Leaving work early. Seriously awesome treat- what do you do with those extra hours? Cocktail, puppy hugs and a book- don’t mind if I do.

  7. 7
    Tam B. says:

    I’d have to say my Saturday morning sleep-in.  I get to stay up late Friday night (usually reading romance books) and fall into bed knowing that the next day I’m not required to do anything but snuggle down into the covers and pretend the world outside my bedroom does not exist.

  8. 8
    Suz_Glo says:

    My dogs. Unconditional love, 24/7.

  9. 9
    Tabs says:

    Um..  Bruce Springsteen.  I love Bruce Springsteen as much as I love romance novels.  His raspy growly voice, his amazingly descriptive lyrics.  I love his songs that make me smile.  I love his songs that make me cry.  I love his songs that make me sing them at the top of my lungs in the car. 

  10. 10
    orchid7 says:

    I love music. Singing in particular. It’s something that just makes my spirit sing too. I love that you can literally touch someone’s soul through music and leave fingerprints that can last forever.
    Thanks for sharing Molly’s article.

  11. 11
    claritygolden says:

    I love the Beatles in the same way Ms O’Keefe loves Springsteen!

  12. 12

    Back in high school I remember desperately trying to get my hands on tickets to Springsteen. I finally scored two very expensive seats to a concert in Providence (I lived in the Boston area). Best night ever. Music and romance provide the ultimate form of escape for me. They soothe my anxieties when little things feel overwhelming. They also boost my mood when chocolate isn’t readily available. My other great love is sports…playing and watching gives me an immediate lift.

  13. 13
    LauraN says:

    When I’m having a shitty day and I’m pretty sure that humanity is dooooooooomed (Every person I encountered today was terrible!  All of them!), the things that make me feel better are: music and romance novels.  I get the same soothing, peaceful feeling by taking a nice long walk in the woods.

  14. 14
    Gail Leinweber says:

    My ability to make things; food, art, etc. It’s as critical to my mental wellbeing as reading.

  15. 15
    Molly O'Keefe says:

    History and romance have such an amazing intersection too!!

  16. 16

    I have a rescue Border Collie named Daisey! But she’s nuts. I mean seriously. I might give up some of the romance novels, but not all.

  17. 17

    Ereaders have created some serious devotion in the last few years. It’s worse than losing your phone!

  18. 18

    OH!!! Those days. Those skipping work early days – a pretty amazing feeling.

  19. 19

    Tabs – you are speaking my language and the fact that he’s 63! And looks the way he does???

  20. 20
    Beccah W. says:

    Ugh, you lost me at Bruce…I seriously don’t get the hype at all. Sorry!

  21. 21

    I LOVE stories of people trying to get tickets to a show – the lengths people go to for a concert – awesome. This last year I actually THREW AWAY a set of tickets for a Bruce show – totally by accident and I’d like to say not really my fault but I’m owning this – Adam bought more tickets.

  22. 22

    restorative! to our souls – for our faith in humanity. They should be prescribed.

  23. 23

    what a beautiful answer – making things. I love that!

  24. 24
    Lightningrose says:

    Growing up in Jersey, I can safely say I love … Bruce! I still find the lyrics of Born to run hopelessly romantic (as well as an obvious candidate for our state song.). Wendy let me in, I want to be your friend, I want to guard your dreams and visions…

  25. 25

    Sarah – thanks so much for hosting me and my Bruce love and for not laughing. And if I could just add – Pumpkin scones. Pumpkin scones are third on my list of good medicine.

  26. 26

    For me, it would be the rock group Styx. Their music lifts me up after a bad day at work and revs me up at the beginning of the day.

  27. 27

    Travel magazines. I never manage to go most of the places but I love the fantasy of the possibility I might.

  28. 28
    Leigh says:

    I love comedy as much as romance. Because laughter is important!

  29. 29
    Deniz Bevan says:

    Wow, awesome essay. I really like the idea that both Springsteen and romance novels, by showing us every facet of the human character, can also show us people at their very best, when they’re striving for something. It makes romance novels all the more important, if they’re going to showcase women striving and achieving.

  30. 30
    Deniz Bevan says:

    Oh, and something I love as much as Springsteen or writing romance? Hmm, well, as a dedicated Anglophile, I’ll have to say England/Ireland/Scotland/Wales. Oh yes!

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