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Lorraine Mangione in convertible holding copy of her book, "Mary Climbs In."
"Mary Climbs In" author Lorraine Mangione has attended more than 40 Bruce Springsteen shows since the early 1970s. Photo by Tammy Suprenant

Why Women Love “The Boss”

Springsteen superfan's book says it's more than hotness

In Bruce Springsteen’s song “Thunder Road,” the Jersey-born singer encourages a girl named Mary to take a ride with him – far away to a new life. In Lorraine Mangione’s book, “Mary Climbs In,” legions of his female fans are already along on that journey, embracing how his music – and presence over the years – has helped them navigate life’s challenges.

The book is written for academics and for regular people, a crossover approach merging psychology and sociology in the study of fandom, says Mangione, a professor of psychology in the Department of Clinical Psychology at Antioch University New England who earned her undergraduate degree from Duke in 1976.

Springsteen (whose daughter Jessica ’14 is a Duke alum) is an obvious icon, a blue-collar poet of sorts who has captivated listeners since the early ’70s. He has sold more than 150 million records worldwide and earned 20 Grammy Awards, two Golden Globes, one Academy Award and a Tony Award, along with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Mangione and co-author Donna Luff, seeking to understand the Boss’ enduring importance, surveyed about 1,500 female fans who shared that Springsteen on some level had offered them a dose of heart therapy.

 “The longevity of Springsteen’s career and fans’ devotion contrib­utes to fans feeling helped over decades and across developmental phases and milestones,” Mangione and Luff wrote. “Many women noted low points of their lives and high points of his help. Research has shown that therapy can be similar when it is “intermittent,” such that one returns to therapy when in pain or crisis or at a turning point. These women described ongoing, intermittent kinds of help, sometimes from a spe­cific song or concert that evocatively spoke to them.”

Mangione has attended more than 40 Springsteen shows in her life, traveling as far away as Italy to rock out with the faithful. Her daughter, 29, has joined her in that pursuit.

Springsteen superfan Wendy Malloy, who now lives in New Jersey, turned out to hear Mangione give a talk about her book. She says it is valuable scholarship that hits on his fandom’s “fierce devotion.” Like many of the respondents to Mangione and Luff’s surveys, Malloy charted her relationship with Springsteen over a lifespan. She says it is so much more that his rock star curb appeal, even at 74.

In high school, “my brand new best friend was REALLY into Bruce. She had a stack of his albums and we listened all the time. One day I noticed that inside the (1975) "Born to Run" jacket sleeve, she had written: “Through his lyrics, I better understand myself,” Malloy said.

“Mind you, we were 15 at the time,” she added. “But that's really the heart of it, I think. He always says he's had a decades-long conversation with his fans, and that's how it feels – starting back when we were teenage girls listening to the romance and longing in the songs on ‘Born to Run.’ These days, though, the conversation is about mortality and aging and living every day to the fullest… I have friends who say that he saved their lives. Like, literally.”

Mangione’s story is the same. A friend of hers in the ’70s would talk about Springsteen and Mangione soon got interested. Her first concert was the “Darkness” tour in 1978, and “that’s when I totally climbed in. That was when Springsteen started to talk about some of the sadder and more tragic sides of life. And for someone who was going into clinical psychology, that album really spoke to me,” she said.

Her research on the book defined Springsteen in many facets – as teacher, friend, family member, spiritual guide and even a therapist. Sure, she adds, “some of them say he’s hot. “But there was just such another layer. With women, the music – and him – it gets into their heart and soul on such a level. It’s sort of a ‘we need him and he needs us’ – a reciprocity,” she said.

And as time moves on, he continues to be their fellow traveler in life. “The thing about Bruce, he doesn’t just go on tour with another record. He comes out with albums that resonate with his age and his place in life,” Mangione observes. “And I think people see him as growing alongside them.”