Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Am I glowing? (The Aftermath of Spruce)

I need to make a confession. I love Bruce Springsteen, but I have not been a loyal fan. I spent fifteen years away from rock 'n roll due to a misguided notion that I ought to only ever listen to worship music: "Call the elders of the church!" (Kevin Prosch, anyone?)

During those years, the Boss created albums like "Born in the USA" and "Tunnel of Love." I never owned either. I was an early fan, who learned about Bruce from a friend who'd heard about him from another friend who had been to a concert. And that's how it was in the old days. You didn't know Bruce from the radio. Nah. He was waaaay too good for that (so we said). You heard about him because his concerts rocked!

So I remember the first time I heard "Born to Run" and almost lost consciousness. It was just so incredibly tight and right and a song I knew I had to learn by heart right away...

And then I stumbled on "Thunder Road" and wept. I sang that song at the top of my lungs so many times—in the window frames of dorm rooms and old youth hostiles in Europe and as I went jogging or while I washed dishes in my little college apartment. That song became the theme from my college soundtrack—the one that called to me that there was a chance worth taking, that it wasn't too late.

If there were credits for my life story, this would be the song you'd leave to.

Once I had been bit by the Bruce bug, I went backwards and bought all the rest of his albums (we called them albums back then, for those of you who were still in diapers—you know how you are). I saw Bruce for the first time on the River Tour right before I left for France as an exchange student. Right before, like two days before.

My boyfriend bought seats on the floor. We were spitting distance from the stage. I prayed for that spray to hit me in the forehead. It nearly did during "Rosalita!" Bruce jumped and sweated and screamed... and threw his sweatrag into the audience. One of my girlfriends actually caught it! We cherished that thing all year in France. And then...

Only God knows why: between 1985 and 2000, I fasted from rock 'n roll as unto the Lord.

My return to the fold occurred about the time my faith unraveled. Probably no coincidence.

And since that return, I'm amazed in a whole new way at what a talented poet our Bruce is. "The Rising" stands apart, in my mind, as a generous gift to America, a gift of grief that we can share so that we might heal. My husband and I went to that concert in Cinci two years ago and I felt like I'd come all the way home.

This most recent CD is stunning. "Devils and Dust" has many stories to tell. English professors of America would understandably drool over the quantity of material Bruce offers. I'm in awe... still full from just listening to him sing the lives of people I'll never know save through his songs.

Last night, we got to attend the performance of many of those songs...

I'm still processing the whole thing. Right at the end, a man grabbed my husband and me by the arm to say, "Now there's talent. I mean, the E Street Band is great, don't get me wrong. But that there is talent. He was AMAZING! THAT THERE, my friend, is TALENT!"

Jon whispered to me as we walked away, "He just had to tell someone, didn't he?"

And that's how I feel today.

Suffice to say that the acoustic solo performance by Bruce Springsteen last night might be the most memorable concert I've ever been to. (U2 fans, don't throw tomatoes...) As Jon said, Bruce sang more words in one night than some artists write over the course of ten albums. Bruce is a poet story-teller. He casts a spell.

I was deeply soothed and refreshed this morning, like, to the bottom of my soul.

Bruce sang about parents and their kids, about the sounds we make when we breathe in our sleep, about the struggle of Mexican migrant workers and how some of them die in their attempts to get to America and leave behind the loves of their lives. He sang about dreams and Mary's love for Jesus and her desire to protect him, he sang about what happened after Thunder Road and Rosalita, he sang about lost love on the Amatitlian Plain and a dreary hotel room, he reminded us of the empty sky after 9/11 and the confusing fight for our soldiers in the Middle East where faith and trust meet doubt and fear...

He stomped his foot for percussion on "Reason to Believe" and wheezed into a distorted mike. Chilling. He smacked his guitar and thumped it on "The Promise." He strummed or picked or slid his hand up the neck. He changed guitars for every song and even played the hammond organ, the piano and some other cute little piano who's name I didn't quite catch (electric, apparently). He gave us "Janey, Don't Lose Heart" on that little one and chuckled at his struggle to play it well. And there were the rich tones of the ever-present harmonica. A master at that like no other.

There were no big rocking tunes like he plays with the E Street Band. Instead, the audience was subdued into quiet while we watched a master at work. But we didn't just watch. It was a fully participatory experience. Chills and tears, smiles and hope.

All around me couples were snuggled close to each other. A surprising number of little kids were in attendance and really engaged. He played a couple of his older songs: "Racin' in the Streets" and "Darkness on the Edge of Town" (one of my favorites).

A few times, I just started crying. "Jesus Was an Only Son" absolutely split me open. He contributed commentary between verses that put his writing into context. I hope to blog about that at another time.

"Matamoros Banks" broke my heart it was so beautiful.

He closed the night with a song that repeated in a meditation "Dream Baby Dream, I just wanna see you smile." No big flashy finish. Just this mantra over and over again with crescendos and dimuendos... as he shook hands and handed out his characteristic guitar picks. One cute little girl rode her daddy's shoulders and Bruce made a special effort to say hello to her.

Bruce is the real deal: raw, honest and true to his calling and his message...

His message? Hope, dreams, faith, proof, promise and above all - struggling to reach each other through love, especially that one love.

That's enough church for me for awhile.


Bari B. said...

Julie...thank you. I was there...I felt it in your words. He is amazing. When people ask me why it is I like him so much, I just can't put it into words. What I wish I could do is hand out a CD of his best works each time. Bruce is on the cover of Esquire Magazine this month. I told my husband and he said he knew because he read it at a magazine stand at the airport last week while waiting for his father's delayed flight. He said the article was ok, but then he paused. "You will like it," he said. "You definitely will like it."

Yes, this English teacher can't wait for her History of Rock and Roll class in the fall. May I have an Amen? The Church of Bruce is dismissed.

Dave said...

That's a beautiful testimonial and nice writing too by the way!

I'm eager to see (a bit) and hear (a lot) of Bruce tomorrow night! I'm not sure I'll be quite as eloquent or knowing of Springsteen's music as you, but I will have something interesting to say, I'm confident of that!

bethd said...

Beautifully written, Julie. Like Dave said, I felt that I was there. I wish that I had been there! Going to listen to my Bruce now - and download Devils and Dust on my Ipod. I have to admit that I have not done that yet. Looking forward to hearing more on his commentary when you have a chance to share.

Dave said...

OK, I'm gonna shamelessly plug my own blog here and let any visitors know that Julie isn't the only person who's got an up-to-the-minute Springsteen review to share with the world!

(I think I can get away with this because she likes me.)