Thanks again to Trish S., you are about to be regaled with yet more words devoted to unpacking the performance of Springsteen on Broadway.
What this audience member felt most poignantly while watching Springsteen performance was his insistence that even the most downtrodden amongst us has a powerful presence and one that should not be discounted or judged too harshly. So, after explaining to us that his relationship with his father was a difficult one, since as a 7-year old he was often sent into the bar to tell his dad that it “is time to come home,” and since as his father tells him upon the birth of his first son “I was not very good to you,” he then proceeds to describe a dream that he had after his father’s death. In that dream, he is performing and the audience is in full idolizing mode. The performer looks out into the audience and who does he see but his father. So, Springsteen, the son, separates himself from Springsteen, the idolized performer on stage, and walks down from the stage out into the audience to his father. He touches his father’s arm, and looking up at himself on the stage, tells his father “that is how I see you.” It is a beautiful and tear-filled, perhaps tear-flooded is more apt in the case of this particular listener, moment. Tear-flooded not in some cheesy-Hallmark-celebration-of-fathers way, but tear-flooded because of the story’s communication of the generosity of spirit to look past flaws to see the human being trying and not always succeeding.
There are many such moments of poignancy, poetry and positivity (and, yes, I couldn’t resist the possibility for alliteration in this sentence) during Springsteen’s performance. Numerous phrases struck me as I listened intently to his storytelling.
There is the moment…
When Springsteen described his compulsion to write song lyrics on “that blank page daring you to write on it”
When, after sharing how he was able to get out of being drafted in the Vietnam War, Springsteen asked “Who went in my place? Because someone did.”
When Springsteen recognized the ordinary people who daily “fought the very best they could do to fight off the demons threatening” them, their homes, and their families.
When Springsteen insisted that “bands come out of towns, neighborhoods, cities,” leaving us to understand that bands certainly do not come out of computer-generated algorithms.
When Springsteen asserted that “One plus One Equals Three. It’s the central equation of love, art and rock-n-roll” in order to account for the magic that happens in love and performance and in order to allow him to celebrate Clarence Clemons.
When Springsteen talked about how the past year’s March for Our Lives re-instilled a faith in an America, in a democracy, and in a connection with one another that counters that other harmful, dark America that separates migrant or refugee children from their parents.
But what’s a Springsteen performance without a Song List, you ask? Well, ask, and you shall receive and what follows is Bruce Springsteen’s Song List for the night of October 4th, sometimes interwoven with a few of my observations about how the storytelling and song work together:
Springsteen began with a prolonged version of Growin’ Up, and then moved onto My Hometown, and My Father’s House. Next came The Wish which he set up first by talking about his mom’s dancing as well as her determinedly upbeat persona, which after telling us that his mother was eight years into Alzheimer’s, gives life and poignancy to the last line “if you’re looking for a sad song, well I ain’t gonna play it.”
Next on the list were Promised Land and Thunder Road. Following that was Born in the U.S.A. which was introduced by the story of Springsteen meeting Ron Kovic, author of Born on the Fourth of July, which in turn leads him to think about three of his friends, who were eminently talented but never had the chance to realize that talent because they were killed in Vietnam. Then came Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out which was a sustained celebration of his saxophonist, Clarence Clemons, who, alas, is no longer with us. Next came Long Time Comin’ which was set up first by talking about his father’s visit on the birth of Springsteen’s first child and his father’s admission that he had not been “very good to you.”
Then came the exquisitely haunting rendition of The Ghost of Tom Joad which was prefaced by the discussion of how, in 2018, children are being separated from parents at the border. As he sings this song, the lighting creates a huge and looming shadow silhouette of Springsteen on the back wall thereby creating a kind of echo of Henry Fonda’s famous rendition of Tom Joad’s “I’ll be there” speech in the 1940 film version of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. As those of you familiar with Steinbeck’s novel or Fonda’s performance or Springsteen’s lyrics, the key line that gets repeated is “I’ll be there” and that line is followed by promises of solidarity such as “wherever there’s a fight so hungry people can eat.” Springsteen then performs The Rising and Land of Hope and Dreams and Dancing in the Dark, urging us to keep in mind that even though the future is not given, we should “do as my mighty mom might do” and dance,.
And, finally, after two and a half hours, but impossibly also much too soon, Springsteen gives the audience what they have been waiting for and sends us off into the night with a most rousing Born to Run.
During the very last moments of the performance, Springsteen takes his hand and pounds out a continuous beat on both guitar and strings, creating the effect of a heartbeat and a pulse which we can take with us out of the theater and into the night.
And, astonishingly that pulse beat stayed with me because, perhaps as a fulfillment of the “magic trick” Bruce Springsteen has promised us at the beginning of the show, for the first time in my life, on the morning after the performance, I woke up with the words and melody from a Springsteen song running through my head. The words were the repeated refrain “This is your hometown” spoken by the father to the son from the song “My Hometown.”
And though I am not a son, I dedicate this post to my father. Not because I love my father more than my mother which could never be the case since I grew up in a household that refused to play favorites among the three daughters so no daughter could ever play favorites among the parents, but because my dad, all 86 years of him, needs a little extra love and positive energy right now. Perhaps your dad does too.