Thanks to the amazing generosity of a wonderful friend, I can write today’s blog post about THE solo performance event of the century because on Thursday, October 4, 2018, the birthday of said incredible friend, she and I attended Bruce Springsteen on Broadway.
Believe it or not, even though I am from New Jersey (and as Bruce joked during the performance, he invented Jersey, and he’s not far wrong about that) and came of age listening to Bruce Springsteen’s music, this was the first time I had seen him live. My friend, on the other hand, has seen him a bazillion times, including when she was in the 9th grade and saw him perform at Seton Hall University. She recognized then that he WAS that good and made it her mission to see him again and again and again.
My first thought, after the thunderous reception Bruce Springsteen received in the form of an ever-increasing crescendo of applause and shouts of “BROOOOOOOCE,” as he walked upon the stage, was
“I AM IN THE PRESENCE OF A LEGEND”
And that legend, dressed simply in a black t-shirt and jeans, proceeded to give us a full, 2½ hour performance of story and song, sometimes accompanying himself on acoustic guitar (and several different kinds of guitars throughout the evening), sometimes on piano, and sometimes on harmonica. This performance was truly a solo performance because, though he is usually accompanied by his wife, Patty Scialfa for two of the songs, this was not the case on Thursday, October 4th because as Springsteen explained to us, her presence was required by her children who needed “the full monty” on that night. So, the 2 ½ hours was all Bruce Springsteen all the time, sharing stories, songs, and aphorisms with us.
One such aphorism, delivered when Springsteen starts talking about Clarence Clemons, the one-of-a-kind saxophonist for the E Street Band for many years before his untimely death, is “one plus one equals three.” It is, as Springsteen asserts, “the central equation of love, art and rock-n-roll” because, as is the case when he and Clemons played together on the stage, something more is created that goes well beyond the sum of the parts.
This aphorism is also connected to a thematic strand of the evening, which is what Springsteen refers to as his “magic trick.” The magic trick of making us believe that the singer of the songs has experienced things that he has not. And so, we discover that the writer and performer of Thunder Road didn’t actually know how to drive when he created that song or we learn that he wrote the songs about regular folk working in factories without having ever actually worked in a factory. As Springsteen points out to us, Springsteen on Broadway is the first time he’s had to work a steady job, five nights a week. Still, Springsteen has been able to write songs that make us believe they are his experiences and Springsteen tells us, “that’s how good I am.” But when he talks about the fundamental equation of one plus one equals three, he is also acknowledging that when people come together as artists or musicians or lovers, there is also the possibility for creating something more.
So, what is the something more that Springsteen on Broadway creates? Throughout the performance that centers around celebrating the hopes, fears and joys of ordinary people (surely another kind of magic trick since Bruce Springsteen the performer is clearly no ordinary person) as well as the ghosts and ancestors who made him who he is, Bruce Springsteen tells us stories of his seven-year old self and of how his life f***ing changed after just three minutes of watching a rock-n-roll genius playing guitar on tv. He also tells us stories of his father working as a truck driver or at various factory jobs whether that factory was a rug mill or Ford automobile or plastics factory and then of his father returning home to spend long nights drinking at the neighborhood bar or sitting at the kitchen table alone in the dark in silence. He also tells stories of his mother working for 50 years as a legal secretary with a never-ceasing positive attitude and a strong love of dancing that continues even as she loses her memory and ability to talk.
Bruce’s storytelling, interwoven between his songs, does several things. His stories provide context for some of his most famous lyrics so when he sings “the Big Man joined the band” from Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, we know he is singing and channeling and loving Clarence Clemons. Or, when he tells us that his home is in New Jersey he beckons those famous lines from Born to Run, “it ‘s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap” to underscore the irony of his having decided to move just ten minutes away from the New Jersey town he was trying to run from.
His stories also conjure up the spirits of various ghosts and ancestors to make them present again night after night. These ghosts and ancestors include his deceased father, his mother pre-Alzheimer’s, the saxophonist extraordinaire Clarence Clemons who died much too young, and his friends Walter and Bart, killed in combat in the Vietnam War.
I will write more about what I heard and saw during Springsteen’s performance in the next blog post.
For now, though, I want to dedicate this blog post to my very cool friend, Trish S., without whom my musings on Springsteen’s version of the solo performance would have been impossible, thereby attesting to the truth of Springsteen’s aphorism that one plus one does indeed equal three.