Scholars study Springsteen during weekend event

Hold still, Bruce — this won't hurt a bit!

Scholars from around the world are dissecting the Springsteen legend this weekend in New Jersey.

“Glory Days: A Bruce Springsteen Symposium” continues through Sunday at Monmouth University. The no-holds-barred intellectual romp, coinciding with Springsteen's 60th birthday, was organized by Virginia Tech and Penn State Altoona.

And yes, the scholars do get the comedic irony of studying a man who “learned more from a three-minute record than he ever learned from school.”

The festivities include several pilgrimages to the landmark Stone Pony nightclub, down the road in Asbury Park, N.J.

Educators spent Friday night singing, hollering and chanting a curse phrase at the impish urging of rock pioneer Gary U.S. Bonds, whose performance brought the house down. Springsteen resurrected Bonds' career in the '80s by writing his comeback hit, “This Little Girl.”

Professors, many of them veterans of dozens of concerts — one boasted 150-plus — vied to get out their first-person tales from the concert “pit.”

Fans of Run of the (Steel) Mill, Springsteen's former band, also entered the symposium fray.

Springsteen has “saved my life many times,” said textbook publisher Patty Pappas of Toronto, who detoured to the symposium en route to next week's Meadowlands concerts. “If you're sad, happy, angry — if you want to scream, rant and rave — there's always a song that can express it.”

Come the light of day, though, it's back to the books — make that the Power Point presentations.

“Fun?” said presenter Francesco Cassino of Rome, Italy, clearly startled by the question during his reverie on harmonic sequences. His expression grew otherworldly. “It's my life,” he said Saturday, expressing the common theme of fans everywhere.

“His music can call us to a higher purpose,” said Dr. James Kelly of Carlow University in Pittsburgh, calling Springsteen a vehicle for discussions on social causes, war, race, gender and class.

When the music that was to accompany Kelly's presentation didn't play, the audience told him to stop talking and fix it. From then on, Kelly — who referred to Springsteen as a “cool rockin' daddy” — jackhammered through his academic talk while competing with the music — blasts of “Sprung from cages on Highway 9!” and “Baby, this town rips the bones from your back!”

Discussion topics were dizzying. Springsteen and psychology; the movies; spirituality; American culture; history; the criminal justice system; the online community; family.

Bruce Geeks worship Springsteen as a storyteller and a poet. References abounded to the likes of writers Jack Kerouac and Flannery O'Connor; Springsteen has said O'Connor's work helped inspire the “Nebraska” album.

There were down-home moments, as well.

Fellow blue-collar rocker Joe Grushecky sheepishly admitted taking a sick day from his regular job as a special education teacher to collaborate with Springsteen. His peeved employer set out to track him down.

Grushecky's mother called her son to pass along his boss' message. Patti Scialfa, Springsteen's wife, took the call.

“Patti hands me the phone and says, `It's your mom,'” recalled Grushecky, who shushed Springsteen while calling back his other boss, and feigning illness.

When Grusheky's kids were little, they thought Springsteen was just “another of Daddy's buddies who played guitar. And lived in a bigger house.”

The “Springsteen and Social Consciousness” panel stressed that the boss puts his money — and his energies — where his mouth is. Singer-activist Jen Chapin, daughter of the late Harry Chapin, said Springsteen has raised millions of dollars for grass root causes including hunger.

“I've dealt with a lot of celebrities,” said Chapin, giving Springsteen an A-plus for his “integrity” and determination to “follow through on his promises.”

The symposium, also held in 2005, is the brainchild of 52-show veteran Dr. Mark Bernhard, director of continuing and professional education at Virginia Tech.

“Bruce and his music, through his lyrics as well as his performances and his social consciousness … speak to the common man or woman,” Bernhard said. “He resonates with many of us” — in all walks of life.

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