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Following her inner ‘Boss’

Antioch professor dissects the work of Bruce Springsteen

Following her inner ‘Boss’

Lorraine Mangione, Springsteen scholar and aficionado, at Antioch University New England.

Following her inner ‘Boss’

In high school, Lorraine Mangione disparaged Bruce Springsteen. Nothing personal against Bruce — she wasn’t existentially probing the intense psychological journey through darkness and light in his music. That would come later. No, this was simple teenage tomfoolery.

Two of Mangione’s best friends loved Springsteen growing up in Southington, Conn., circa mid-1970s, and Mangione loved nothing better than to needle them.

“We’d make fun of it; we’d say, ‘Bruce ... String ... Bean,’ ” Mangione says with a laugh, drawing it out in sing-song. “We’d just mangle his name.”

Springsteen was making the transition from small clubs to large arenas on his way to superstardom, and Mangione’s friends were along for the ride. It wouldn’t be long before she zoomed past them, eventually leaning on his lyrics as analytical tools in her own profession.

“With Springsteen fans, there’s this pecking order of when did you start (following him),” she says.

Mangione wasn’t there for the very beginning, when Springsteen played local clubs in the Northeast, but she did catch him at the Springfield (Mass.) Civic Center when he first graduated to the bigger arenas.

That was almost 40 years ago, and her life and his music have intersected ever since. Not only is she a Springsteen fan, she’s a Springsteen scholar.

Thursday night she went to her — well, somewhere between 26th and 50th — Springsteen concert at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn. Last month she saw him on his home turf at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

She’s seen concerts with family; she’s seen them with friends; she’s seen him indoors and outdoors, coast to coast. She saw him at the old Kemper Arena in Kansas City in the early 1980s while earning her doctorate in clinical psychology at the University of Kansas, where she cemented her respect for his depth.

“I see him as doing a lot of the same things as a preacher does,” Mangione says. “Be true to your relationships, be true to yourself. ... The issues are all there. It’s all the psychological issues that we’re all dealing with — existentialism, human loss, love.”

Mangione, 58, of Northampton, Mass., has been teaching at Antioch New England University in Keene since 1989, where she is a professor and director of practica in the clinical psychology department.

She has written articles and given presentations on the psychology behind Springsteen’s lyrics, journals with titles such as “ ‘Spirit in the Night’ to ‘Mary’s Place’: Loss, Death, and the Transformative Power of Relationships.” That was co-written with Susan Keady, an old college classmate from Clark University in Worcester, Mass., who really did grow up in the swamps of Jersey.

“She was like this other voice, and these voices were converging,” Mangione says.

Last month Mangione was one of about 100 presenters at a Springsteen symposium at Monmouth University in New Jersey. Unlike musical fan fests, the three-day conference — the first one was held in 2005 and another in ’09 — was an academic study of the impact his music has had on the world. Mangione’s presentation was “Psychological Theories of Grieving, Italian American Culture, and Springsteen’s Work.”

In it, she explores Springsteen’s reaction to the June 18 death of Clarence Clemons, the E Street Band’s famous saxophone player and close friend. Springsteen has been dedicating much of his current Wrecking Ball tour to Clemons and Danny Federici, the group’s organist, who died in 2008.

“One wonders if the legendary Springsteen faith is going to prevail or if it is fate that is cruel and unforgiving and leaves you with nothing?” she writes.

‘Sometimes adetached observerof the class’

A 7th-grade teacher wrote those words on one of Mangione’s report cards. She didn’t exactly view it as a compliment back then, but the words were uncannily accurate. She knew for sure by age 16 that she was destined for a career in psychology.

Mangione grew up in an Italian-American family, the second-youngest of four siblings, with parents who were fiercely independent. Her father was a self-employed contractor, then turned his love for cooking into a career when he opened an Italian restaurant when she was in college.

“My father never wanted to work for anybody,” Mangione says. “He was always the boss.” (Pun intended, naturally.)

She never adopted her father’s taste for opera, but grew up with an appreciation of groups like Lynyrd Skynyrd. Springsteen was rising, but it was more fun chiding best friends Martha and Kathy about their love for the Boss.

“We were snobby about it,” Mangione says. “ ‘Freebird’ was our theme song.

“Then something clicked. ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ did it for me.”

The 1978 album’s lyrics, its dark undertones of toiling through everyday life while seeking something greater, bore into Mangione. From there, she devoured album after album, each of which opened portals into Springsteen’s psyche, his moods and music-writing swaying with life’s experiences.

It dovetails with her passion for applying psychological principles to real-life situations. “I look at everything in life in terms of psychology,” she says, having penned “Bruce Springsteen’s Lyrics: Images of Male Development at Mid-Life,” in 1993.

Mangione opened her own private practice in Chicopee, Mass., for a few years in the 1980s, but says she always knew she’d make the jump to teacher rather than “be a hardcore researcher.”

And that’s what drew her to Antioch 23 years ago. Be true to yourself. A Springsteen tenet.

Her professional accomplishments extend well beyond Springsteen; it’s just that his music has always influenced her work. She’s written and presented about a dozen papers, including “The 1996 Mount Everest Tragedy: Contemplation on Group Process and Group Dynamics.”

She is chair of the Massachusetts Psychological Association training committee, and chaired regional conferences in 2007 and 2011.

Her husband, Jim Schumacher, is a physician in the Springfield, Mass., area and they have a daughter, who is a senior in high school. Husband and daughter will accompany her to an occasional Springsteen concert, but limit themselves to about one per tour.

As for her own reactions at a Springsteen concert?

You have to go with where he’s going, she says, and you can’t have an agenda. “The music takes you up and then suddenly brings you far down.”

Lately, mirroring Springsteen, she has written about mortality and the loss of loved ones. Earlier this year she published a poem in Italian Americana, an online journal of Italian studies, titled “Il Centro del Mondo,” about immigration, place, home, family, relationships, loss and hope.

She smiles warmly at the idea that someone can learn more from a three-minute record than a lesson in school.

“I think he’s a role model,” she says. “I think he’s a role model for how to deal with pain and life.”

Steve Gilbert is a columnist for The Sentinel.

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