You Can't Start a Fire Without a Spark
March 31, 2023
I am so late to the party.
Bruce Springsteen has been rockin’ out for half a century now and it was only 11 days ago—11 days!—that I finally got to see the legend live.
Courtesy of my dear friend, Mary, who generously shelled out the big bucks for Ticketmaster’s over-the-top-expensive tickets, I shuffled off to Buffalo to join her and her sister, Anne, for Bruce’s show at the KeyBank Center. This was stop 18 on Bruce’s 11-month tour of more than 70 cities across North America and Europe.
I have to admit that lurking in the back of my mind were niggling doubts and questions: Have I missed the boat? Are Bruce’s glory days over? Does The Boss still boss? I mean, he is 73…
The answers to those questions? A resounding No! No! Yes!!! What a performer! What a band! What a show!
Bruce and his magnificent E Street Band took the stage at 7:45 p.m. (no opening act for these folks) and proceeded to raise the roof for three solid hours. Opening with “No Surrender” from his iconic album Born in the USA—“We made a promise we swore we’d always remember / No retreat, baby, no surrender”—Bruce and co. started at level 10 (maybe 11, if you’re a Spinal Tap fan) and just kept going.
As Joe Heim of The Washington Post put it when he reviewed the Washington show:
“It was the perfect opening statement for a night of music that did not back down and that reminded listeners of rock-and-roll’s ability to distill complex emotions and feelings into seemingly simple singalong anthems. Few do that better than Springsteen, who has delivered decades of irrepressible songs that also explore deeper themes of struggle and survival, resilience and resurrection, community and commitment.”
In my mind, three qualities that make Bruce so special are the very things you can use to spice up your writing—to take it from boring to bright, languid to lively, cloudy to clear.
No. 1: Bruce is a master of everyday language.
Bruce is widely regarded as one of the greatest songwriters of all time, a rock ‘n’ roll poet who radiates working class authenticity, according to Joshua Zeitz writing in The Atlantic.
Bruce radiates that authenticity through his eloquent use of everyday language, language perfectly suited to his recurring theme—the struggles, dreams, regrets, and occasional loves and satisfactions of the working-class American.
Here are just a few examples:
Poor man wanna be rich / Rich man wanna be king / And a king ain’t satisfied / ’Til he rules everything
Like a river that don’t know where it’s flowing / I took a wrong turn and I just kept going
But if dreams came true, oh, wouldn’t that be nice? / But this ain’t no dream we’re living tonight / Girl, you want it, you take it, you pay the price
“Prove It All Night”
Now, The Clarity Chronicles is no masterclass in songwriting, so the lesson for us mere mortals going about our daily, non-rock ’n’ roll business is to write simply and clearly.
Aim to write like a human being, like you’re having an actual conversation with another living, breathing human being.
Most times, a simple, common, everyday word will do more to get your message across than its fancy, ten-dollar equivalent.
And don’t worry…using simple, everyday words won’t make people think you’re not smart or knowledgeable. On the contrary, they’ll think you’re so smart and so knowledgeable that you can explain things, even complicated, technical things, with ease. People will understand you, and they’ll appreciate that.
No. 2: Bruce connects with his audience.
Just for fun, before heading to Buffalo, I Googled “Is it worth it to go to a Bruce Springsteen concert these days?” Another resounding yes!
In responses posted to Quora, everyone talked about how Bruce doesn’t just put on a show; he gives us a life experience. How Bruce exudes energy and charisma. How he connects with the crowd. How he somehow manages to make you feel you’re at a party with friends, sharing stories, not in a massive hockey arena surrounded by thousands of strangers.
Again, a lot of this has to do with Bruce’s lyrics. I may not be from Jersey, but I still relate to Bruce’s stories of love, loss, failure, disappointment and heroics. Bruce’s songs are so universal and so human that we feel he is singing about our lives. It feels personal.
You’re not likely to be writing about “death traps,” “hungry hearts” or the “darkness on the edge of town” in your business life, but that doesn’t absolve you from engaging with your audience.
Whether you’re crafting a blog post, an RFP response, or an article for a trade publication, you always need to be thinking: What’s important to the individuals in my audience? What facts and information do people need and want to hear? What will make their jobs easier and better?
Try to imagine how your audience will feel with the benefit of your service or product. Take a cue from all the great storytellers, Bruce included, and paint a vivid picture. Show, don’t tell.
No. 3: Bruce inspires action.
So many of Bruce’s songs are about action:
“baby, we were born to run”
“Rosalita, jump a little higher”
"Summer’s here and the time is right / For racin’ in the street."
“Meet me at Mary’s place / We’re gonna have a party”
And, of course, who can resist dancing to Bruce Springsteen? Bruce and the E Street Band’s high-octane, beat-driving, horn-blowing, guitar-licking style just gets you going, no matter where you are.
Well…business writing needs to do the same for its audience. If you aspire to influence people, to inspire change, to motivate them to take even a single step towards something as vital as, say, combatting climate change, you need to write with that goal in mind.
The question here is: What's the call to action? What do I want my readers to do once they’re done reading?
Be concrete about that crucial next step. It could be something as simple as visiting your website or signing up for a webinar. Whatever it is, be clear to yourself and your reader about why you’ve bothered to put pen to page (or fingers to keyboard) in the first place and why your reader should do something about it.
I may have been late to The Bruce Party, but I haven’t stopped thinking about The Boss since that concert 11 days ago. Thanks, Bruce, for inspiring me! (And thanks, Mary, for inviting me. Best bus trip to Buffalo ever!)
For more effective communication, channel your inner Bruce Springsteen: use everyday language, connect with your audience, and inspire action.