Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Boss Looks Back and Ahead

Attending a Bruce Springsteen concert triggered some thoughts about aging.  Bruce is Steve’s favorite singer—in fact the favorite of all the boys in the family.  Steve and son Matt went to see Springsteen and the E Street Band in Pittsburgh on Sunday, September 11.  Bruce is releasing an autobiography, September 27.  Like many of us, he has reached an age when he is looking back over his life. 

The current tour, which began in Pittsburgh January 16 with Matt and Steve in the audience, was originally designed to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the release of The River, a double album with many of Springsteen’s most popular songs (Hungry Heart, The River, Sherry Darling).   That first concert last January had the feel of visiting a museum, familiar and pleasant.

Last Sunday’s concert was a different story entirely--high energy, inventive, electric.  When it was over, Matt and I turned toward each other and said it was the best concert we had ever seen.

Springsteen didn't mention or hype the autobiography, but he has obviously been thinking about his whole career.  He played a lot of songs from his first two albums, like “New York City Serenade,” “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City” and “Kitty’s Back,” but they were done in new, fresh and energetic ways that highlighted the unique blending of jazz and rock from the early years.

Springsteen also marked the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks by playing intense versions of songs from his post 9/11 album, The Rising.  When he played “My City of Ruins,” the song he did for the 9/11 Benefit Concert about 3 weeks after the attack, he had the audience in a frenzy as he repeated the refrain, "Rise up, come on rise up."  Another song he did was "41 Shots," which he wrote in 1999 about the killing of Amadou Diallo by New York City police.  I have heard the song several times live and in recorded concerts, but never before with this intensity.  The anger was palpable but there was also sadness.  And Springsteen did all the standards like “Badlands” and “Born to Run” with energy and humor.   The concert started around 7:45 and ended at 11:40 with a rousing version of “Shout.”

This did not feel at all like a concert in a museum.  It was loud, raucus, and inventive, pushing old songs in new directions.  Bruce is looking back, not just out of nostalgia. He is rethinking, revising, making the songs and sound relevant again.  Part of the gift of aging is the knowledge and experience we have gained over the years.  But for Springsteen, it’s not enough just to retell “boring stories of Glory Days.”  He doesn’t just go through the motions of singing so that songs sound unchanged from 30 or 40 years ago.  Instead, he is making the past fresh, new and exciting.   

That’s a good lesson from The Boss.

One postscript.  Those of you who have been to Springsteen concerts know he takes requests from the audience.  In introducing one request, he told the audience it had been written on a copy of the constitution with the words “F*** Trump” written on it.  He smiled and then played the request.  It was a quiet and lovely song, “Long Walk Home.”

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