There's a dark cloud rising from the desert floor
I packed my bags and I'm heading straight into the storm
Gonna be a twister to blow everything down
That ain't got the faith to stand its ground
Blow away the dreams that tear you apart
Blow away the dreams that break your heart
Blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted
The dogs on main street howl,
'cause they understand,
If I could take one moment into my hands
Mister, I ain't a boy, no, I'm a man,
And I believe in a promised land
I believe in a promised land...
Bruce Springsteen has captured a central narrative of many Americans who grew up in the post-1960's. We were the younger borthers, sisters, cousins or neighbors of those who fought in Vietnam, or participated in Selma or Berkeley. It's an America that is both nostalgic and optimistic, past and future. What Bruce has captured is the present. It's a present that has a lot of brokeness in it. In reality all times have brokeness, so the theme is universal and timeless. This is probably why his recent appearance in Boston gathered people from ages 7 to 70.
When his iconic 1975 Born to Run was released, I had just acquired my driver's license, so all the imagery of cars was highly appealing to a 16 year old on the steets of southern California. Forget the Beach Boys, I listened to the Boss. I missed his appearance at the LA Roxy Club in 1977, but stayed home to record it on my TEAC cassette recorder since it was broadcast on FM radio. While the automobile continued as a thread in his music, Springsteen moved on and his many recordings have reflected both the changing times of our society as well as his own growth as an adult. He reflects on the dreams of the common man in the song The River
Now those memories come back to haunt me
they haunt me like a curse
Is a dream a lie if it don't come true
Or is it something worse
Or in the title song to his Nebraska album, he tells the story of mass murderer Charles Starkweather, and using an economy of language, he describes a broken sinfulness of life
They declared me unfit to live said into that great void my soul'd be hurled
They wanted to know why I did what I did
Well sir I guess there's just a meanness in this world
A meanness indeed. Yet, he is not limited to the darkness that lies on the edge of town, or on the edge of our own hearts, Bruce Springsteen is also able to capture the resilience of humanity. This can be heard in songs like Reason to Believe, Hungry Heart, and the recent Land of Hope and Dreams a kind of ode to the best that is America, is it the best of humanity.
Carries saints and sinners
Carries losers and winners
Carries whores and gamblers
Carries lost souls
I said this train...
Dreams will not be thwarted
Faith will be rewarded
His post - September 11th album the Rising holds a special place in our house. We had lived in New York at the time of the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, so when 9-11 came, we grieved the loss of many people. None we knew directly, but it felt close. The Rising was Bruce Springsteen's emotional response, and it contained songs that reflected both the heartache of that time, as well as the resiliency of the city. His song "Further on up the Road" is such a visceral response of anger, but even Bruce himself regretted seeing how it had been misused to justify acts of revenge. He stopped playing the song on that tour after only a few shows, and has not performed it live since. The album's title song captures the perspective of a New York City Firefighter on that fateful September morning.
Can't see nothin' in front of me
Can't see nothin' coming up behind
I make my way through this darkness
I can't feel nothing but this chain that binds me
Lost track of how far I've gone
How far I've gone, how high I've climbed
On my back's a sixty pound stone
On my shoulder a half mile line
Come on up for the rising
Com on up, lay your hands in mine
Come on up for the rising
Come on up for the rising tonight
Left the house this morning
Bells ringing filled the air
Wearin' the cross of my calling
On wheels of fire I come rollin' down here
The New Jersey born musician has not shied away from controversry. In American Skin 41 shots, he tells the story of Amadou Diallo, the young man killed with 41 bullets in a NYC walk up by NYPD. It was performed live in 2012 following the Trayvon Martin murder. Bruce had been a hero of the northeast working class white man, here he was reminding all of us that there is a call for justice that surpasses skin color alegiance.
Going to a Bruce Springsteen concert is not a musical event - it's a revival. His E Street Band has changed a few members over the years, as both saxophonist Clarence Clemens and keyboardist Danny Federici have passed away. But, the music rolls on. It's Rock n Roll, it's story telling, it's lament, it's celebration - heck, it's just good liturgy. Toss in a meal, and you've got the whole deal. The man I saw live in 1978, 80 and 84, who used to have wild screaming 19 year woman running on stage to dance with, has moved on. Last week, he sang Hungry Heart with a 7 year old held up by her daddy, and Bruce danced on stage with a 10 year old. The Boss, as he is sometimes called, is now 66, and while he is no longer running across the stage and sliding on his knees as he did in the 2009 Superbowl halftime concert, he is still rocking the show for a full 3 and a half hour concert. He has penned an autobiography, which is due to be released in September. The New Yorker Interview from 2012 is a wonderful reflection of a man who has captured much of the mindset of a generation or three.
If you get a chance to see him live. It'll stay with you.