I have seen a lot of concerts. Most lived up to the hype and some were duds. There were acts that I saw once and they were great, but the second time, they sucked. Some played their songs straight, others improvised, and played their more obscure songs. Tonight, I’m going to see Bruce Springsteen for the first time and I think he might be the last of the big timers that I want to see. Only U2, stands to make my concert bucket list.
I can’t say that I’m a Springsteen expert, but I go way back with his music. Ever since he was on the cover of Time and Newsweek in the same week, I have been following his songs. I’m weak at remembering lyrics or titles to songs and in Bruce’s case I’m not great at either, but when I hear a song of his, I know it’s him. I want to believe I was drawn to his music because it moved me in some spiritual way. That’s probably a bit of hyperbole, but there some things that make me believe that his aura has touched my soul more deeply than pure entertainment value.
It started with Blinded By the Light, not Bruce’s version, but Manfred Man’s remake. When I learned that someone else had written that song, I was disappointed and wanted to hear the real version. It was the same feeling I had when I learned that Elvis mostly covered old blues songs. I lost it for Elvis after that. In this case, Manfred Man was out and Bruce was in. From there, I would follow Springsteen in so much as the radio allowed him on the air, but that all changed when Nebraska came out in 1982. Atlantic City would come on the radio at weird times, usually at night, and I was obsessed with the song. There were commercials on our local television stations promoting AC as a gambling destination, but the song didn’t jive with the glitz that was advertising the casinos. There was an honesty and rawness to the song, really the whole album, that spoke to my teenage angst. Truth is, it spoke to me in that spiritual way I mentioned earlier. The songs painted pictures that I could see as clearly as if I was there.
And then, Born In the USA came out…
I read once, maybe in Bruce’s biography, that the songs for Born In the USA were essentially songs that were written for Nebraska, but Bruce didn’t include them for whatever reason. I’m so glad that he re-did them in the way he did because the album was another big hit for me. I listened to the cassette in my oversized Pontiac Grand Prix until the tape got chewed up by the player. I promptly went and got a replacement and kept on listening. Every song wove the same magic as Nebraska with a different energy. It sounded more optimistic, but don’t forget the songs are still heavy and honest observations about life in America. After Bruce trashed Reagan for using his music in a campaign speech, I became a devotee. A couple of my hoodlum friends with deep pockets provided me with all the Memorex cassettes I could afford and before long I had a personal collection of Bruce’s catalog. The tapes would wear out and I would restock with CDs.
Now, with a big archive, I got to know the early stuff…
I would start the tapes as soon as I got in the car and began heading to school. My friend Randy would buckle in about the time Tenth Avenue Freeze Out would start and we would jam all the way across James City County. My cassette player was fancy enough to have auto-reverse which made listening easier and I could not have been in a better time musically. Once CDs became the thing, box sets became the new thing. Bruce’s box set saved my early days after moving to Philadelphia. I was alone there, but his music, with proper assists from Eric Clapton and The Allman Brothers kept me focused on being happy and not running back to Williamsburg.
Then 9/11 happened and the Towers came down. Bruce released The Rising. This became a non-stop player in my rotation. The songs were happy, tragic, poignant, and helped me to make sense of 9/11 better than any commentary on television or documentaries chronicling the attack. It was Nebraska and Born In the USA again, full of wisdom and a call to think. For me, Bruce is what rock and roll can rise to. He brings a high level of intelligence to his songs whether they are rocking party songs or messages of protest. They are honest, cerebral, and fun to figure out.
So the bucket list gets another check mark tonight. With the heat index pushing 100-degrees and my seats nowhere near shade I’m going Clubber Lang and predicting, “Sweat…”
I can’t wait.
I’m sitting in my basement with two fans blowing my direction, the lights off, and The Fuse from Springsteen’s album The Rising starting. It’s twelve hours since I got home from the concert last night and I’ve been up for only a couple of hours. I got up to walk my dog with Rosalita in my head. I sleep-ate a bagel that my wife made and when I finally felt the energy to get off the couch I was singing No Surrender.
What happened last night?
The Lead Up
Remember how long the school day was for Joel in Risky Business? That was me yesterday. I spent the whole day teaching in a room without air-conditioning (boo-hoo, Chris…) and got home to my cul-de-sac being torn apart for a new drainage system. None of that phased me. My son was only fifteen minutes late, which was no big deal because I had accounted for his lacking a sense of time by telling him to get there thirty minutes before I needed him to be there. We hopped in my truck and hit the road. Traffic sucked and by the time we made it to an Arby’s (it’s tradition for my and me when we go to concerts), I was wondering whether we should hit the drive through or eat inside. Here’s why we ate inside…
“May I take your order?”
I said, “I’ll have a #7 meal (sandwich, fries, and drink).”
My son said, “I’ll have a French Dip meal.”
Seriously, like I want him French dipping in my truck during rush hour traffic on 322. I prefer the smell of old sweat and wet dog to the potential of French Dip sauce, so we ate inside. Years of experience with my son have allowed me to understand that he will order the most eclectic item on any menu. He rang the bell as we left and it was back to the traffic wars until we made it to Citizen’s Bank Park. A crazy thing happened on the way, though. For those who have not followed my blog, I call crazy coincidences cosmic collisions. Who knows why things happen and I think there is more going on around us than can be explained. Here’s what happened…
We were passing the Philadelphia Airport when I said, “Wouldn’t it be crazy if he played the Ghost of Tom Joad and Tom Morello came out?”
Tom Morrello, from Rage Against the Machine, plays with Bruce on Tom Joad and absolutely shreds the guitar solo. Check it out on the Music Cares Bruce show. As I was saying this, we switched the radio to the E-Street Band Station. Rob Lowe was the DJ and he was talking about his brother. This is paraphrasing…
“I am jealous of my brother because he was in Anaheim when this song was recorded. It’s the greatest (Rob’s opinion) guitar solo ever. Here’s Bruce with Tom Morello doing, The Ghost of Tom Joad.”
WHHAAAATTTT??? Kyle and I could not believe it. The way the conversation was going, it was like Rob Lowe was in the truck talking to us; there was that immediacy to it. I knew then that all bets for tonight were off.
The Warm Up
We got there early, picked an easy spot to leave from, and sat outside the stadium to just hang. What had promised to be a hot night was turning into a bit of a weather forecasting lie. There was a breeze, the sun was lower, and it felt like autumn was trying to push in. Kyle and I talked about some heavy father-son stuff that meant a great deal to both of us and when the gates opened it was game on. To get to our seats, we had to pick up wrist bands. The line was chaos, but to our right was a fast moving line with a cute young lady handing out the wrist bands. I grabbed Kyle and handed her my ticket. She gave me the wrist band and I bowed out with the grace of good wingman. Kyle struck up a short conversation and got the requisite giggle and moved on with the puffy chested confidence that comes from feeling like “there’s a chance.”
“You liked the bow out, didn’t you?” I asked.
“Yeah, that was good.”
Even though the temperature was dropping, I was still thirsty, so I stopped for some hydration. Earlier in the day my colleagues and I had been talking about how some beverages tend to cause headaches. Since there were no snooty choices for me, I went with two of St. Louis’ finest, handed one to my son, and we headed to our seats in right field. We settled in and about thirty minutes before the show, there was a ruckus in the bleachers to our right. A crowd was gathering around a nattily clad man in a white dress shirt. It was none other than Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey. He’s a fan of Springsteen and goes to many of the shows. I really didn’t care that he was there, some in the crowd could not separate their feelings for him as governor from the fact that he was there to see a show. I don’t always like his politics, but I admire his willingness to stand for something, too bad he stands by Trump, though.
Then, the music started…
Earlier I mentioned that I had been to a lot of concerts. The tops for me were Bruce Hornsby, Santana, Eric Clapton, and Earth, Wind, & Fire. Each brought something that set them apart from all the others that I had seen, even though I enjoyed almost all of the others. Hornsby taught me that it’s okay to be a renaissance guy and not be a one trick pony. Santana showed me that being powerful can be beautiful without being hurtful. Clapton was about sheer excellence and showing that superstars can take a back seat to the talents around them. Finally, EWF is about fun and dancing (in a raggedy, dangerous way according to my sense of rhythm).
Bruce Springsteen’s show was all of that on steroids.
Add to all of the “stuff” I took away from the shows I just mentioned and add to that Springsteen as a master showman and you’ve got what we saw last night. People who casually know me would be surprised to know how deeply I think about things and the level to which stuff can affect me emotionally. Last night I was caught in a musical storm that tweaked my sense of what being creative is all about. Hornsby played alone and captivated me with pure musicianship. Santana blew me out of the Borgota and sent me flying back to Philly with the hugest smile. Clapton mesmerized me with the Slowhand style and EWF gave me an aerobic workout. Springsteen did all of that with his E-Street Band mates for nearly four hours. They were non-stop going from one song to the next either with a “1, 2, 3, 4” or a simple sliding into whatever they wanted to play. Citizen’s Bank Park was loud with music and the singing of however many thousands of people we there. I’m sure the park shook like when the Phillies won the World Series because everyone was dancing. And then, as the clock neared midnight, fireworks blasted into the sky.
Somewhere in there was the second cosmic collision. My wife texted me asking if they had played “Hungry Heart.” As I’m texting, “Not yet,” the first notes started echoing around the stadium. I kept right on texting, “Check that,” and added a bit of video.
Wow! Maybe something spiritual was happening.
There is so much made about leadership and charisma. Watching Springsteen live is nothing like listening to him in an interview. The interviews don’t capture the essence of who he is on stage. They do give insight into his depth of thought, but he gave the best performance I have ever seen. His connection to the audience is magical. Despite being top dog for however long, he is still available to the crowd. He made us feel like we were part of the show. Hornsby had that same easy going relationship with the audience, so it must be in the name. Whether it was the simple handshakes or leans into the crowd to say thank you, Springsteen appreciated the fans being there. His grabbing of signs from the crowd to help with the playlist or as an opportunity to bring people onto the stage is genius. He let us know that we mattered. While my seats were kind of close, I was far from general admission. I felt like I was right there because of the way Bruce did his thing.
Then there is the energy. The whole band works their collective butts off. In that way, the show is like Santana and EWF, but neither of those bands did it for four hours with the heat index pushing 100. He gave every song the emotion it was due. Bruce bent the strings hard in his guitar solos, Max Weinberg kept a crisp time on the drums, Nils Lofgren went off, and the rest of the band kept that same commitment to giving the best show possible. They jammed, they played songs straight, and they made the whole thing one big party. I was beat at the end of the show, but I could not fall to sleep two hours later. Adrenaline is a good thing…
Making life observations after a rock concert is risky, but as my friend says, “There are tiny bubbles over your head looking for connections.” I tend to the think in the relationships of things and look for connections no matter how illogical or obscure. After Bruce Hornsby, I knew that I wanted to do more with my writing. For better or worse, I felt the urge to share what I wrote with others. The blog rose from the concert.
Last night was the best show ever. I’ve said that already, I know, but I can’t begin to convey how perfect it was for me. Having been a Double A follower of Bruce Springsteen, I got to see what the major leagues are all about. No longer am I just one of those guys who has the music (on CD and streaming…). I can never listen to the songs the same way. I’ll always see the sweat flying off the drums, Nils spinning, Bruce with his eyes closed singing 41-Shots. I’ll feel the energy that builds in all of his songs and know when the gut punch of power and emotion is coming so that I can sort of feel whatever he was feeling when he wrote the song. I’ll always want to stand and sing Darlington County at the top of my lungs under a half moon with Chris Christie and all the others doing the same. I’ll always remember the simple handshake from Kyle after a serious guitar solo, it was just a cool moment with my son.