Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Springsteen's Charge

Already the internet is littered with concert-goers' memories of last night's visit with Springsteen in Boston. The set list is available, photos are downloaded, and nostalgia for those moments of heightened connectedness, group activity, and loud, loud LOUDness is upon us.

Before the show, I wondered about this nostalgia, which I predicted I would feel. Blearly with little sleep, listening to "Radio Nowhere" on my way to teach at 7am, it came. I felt a ripple of adrenaline as the chords began, like I did last night. As a younger fan, I don't have nostalgia for Bruce of the 70s, even much for Bruce of the 80s. I became a fan late in the game, after Human Touch, and now I'm still catching up.

But I feel entitled to my love, my fandom, and my little reflection, because I was among those last night who were truly permeated by the beauty of the show. In front of me were four people who incesantly drank beer, danced self-consciously or not at all, sat down, and yelled in each others' ears about things OTHER THAN THE SHOW. The worst kind of people to sit near, at a revivial. We're getting lifted up here! I wanted to tell them. Shut up and let it take you!

Then I became dreadfully sad, realizing that even this, this multi-sensory overload of color and sound and emotion and poetry, even this does not move them. If not this, what? If Bruce Springsteen, who can make me cry in secret soul recognition as he sings "I want to find one face that ain't lookin' through me," Bruce who sings for dead soldiers, for lovers, for people who dream and people who are too tired to dream, who kisses his wife on stage and reminds us to pay attention, if Bruce can't do it, who can? Then, I looked to my right and left. Left, Max. Screaming his lungs out, pumping his fists, overcome. Right, Tony. Brightened and bouncing, right hand thumping on his heart in time. Ok. I'm not alone in this. Boston crowds may be fickle and slow to excitement, but there are a few of us to want to hear this story about the work we have left to do.

"We're musicians," Bruce says. "We're going to sing about it," referring to the fear culture of our government and media, "and it's up to you to do the rest." Who heard this call? I wondered on the train home. What do we do with this grim knowledge and perservering faith we've got now?

Because there were moments during the show where a profound grief overtook us. At the end of Devils Arcade, when the blue light on Bruce's face held long enough to show his sadness, his acknowledgement of all the terrible realities we must face, in personal and in global arenas, I cried straight through to the next song, The Rising. A simultaneous experience of horror and hope--fully conscious of suffering due to mismanagement, fear, insecure and faulty reasoning, in myself and in my culture, in my relationships and in my country, AND the necessary faith to continue daily marching towards change.

In his VH1 "Storytellers" show, Bruce called Thunder Road his big invitation to a "long and very earthly journey." I thought about that invitation as he asked us to come on up for the Rising, I thought about the places we'd been--the garden of a thousand sighs, the paths of consequence, the old homes, the bars, the settings both literal and metaphorical in all the songs. And I felt their beauty, the dilapidated loveliness. What a mystery, that we can love broken things so dearly, but we must if we are to love ourselves.

That flag above the courthouse, means certain things are set in stone: who we are, what we'll do, and what we won't.

It wasn't quite nostalgia that made everyone scream during "10th Avenue Freeze Out," I think. For some, maybe. But it was the assertion of endless possibility--we can sing this, we can do it big and happy, even now, we can do anything we want. It was the way to tell us not to give up. Springsteen and E Street will play the anthems of our hope, and if we can open up to receive them, if we can acknowledge that we need hope, which demands we acknowledge we are trampled beneath so many mistakes, if we can be humble in that way, we escape the self-cancellation of self interested living and become something wonderfully transcendent, huge in our awareness, committed now to moral choices, and that is when we are free to laugh and scream and sing and dance and consider ourselves rock and rollers.


  1. thank you thank thank you! What an excellent response to Bruce's presents.

  2. Too many people live within a set of rules and standards that dictate how they are allowed to engage with their surroundings and with others. I struggle with similar rules as I'm sure most people do at some point in their life. Through your awareness of the power of art and your willingness to let it move you, others may be free to change how they choose to engage with the world and it's people. Your essay embodied this idea in a way that moved me. I can only hope that people read your work so they have these ideas to help free them. I know for me it served as a beautiful reminder of these ideas that can be lost through everyday life but must be to found and nurtured.

  3. If only you wrote for the music departments of suffocatingly hip publications like L.A. Weekly. Most music reviews are written from a nihilistic void called 'entertainment.' My ex-sister-in-law was the most fatuous half-listener of music I've met, and sure enough, she now writes reviews (of herself, more than the bands) for the SF Weekly.
    Someone save music criticism or music itself can't be saved!

  4. Yes, nostalgia, perhaps it signifies more of a dissatisfaction with the present than a longing for the past. Those old hipsters, no longer hipsters, who search to recaputre their youth through Springsteen's music will inevitably be disappointed. As you point out, they miss the point. The present is not the past. We've got new issues to address. While some may be the same old song, corporate greed, corrupt government, class inequality, etc., there are other issues as well, global warming, global capitalism, AIDS, unprecedented poverty in so-called developed nations and around the world, and on and on. Springsteen doesn't let us forget our responsibilites to the world in which we live and each other. I love that you make this point. I was inspired by your eloquent, thoughtful prose. Thank you.