Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Thoughts on Bruce Springsteen, NY, NJ, LA 2012

I was raised on Springsteen. I have been to over fifty shows, probably more. I can't keep track. I loved him when I was a child and I loved him when I was a teenager and I am in my early thirties and I only love him more. When I was little, I saw the way my mother transformed into a lovesick horny teenager when she encountered anything Springsteen and spent many hours wondering if she was going to leave my father for the Boss.

Some kind of magic happens at Bruce shows, some healing, beautiful, incessant energy that is almost impossible to find in other live music.

My first indelible memory of a Bruce show was at the Brenden Byrne Arena in Jersey. My mother and I went to all the shows that year, but it was in a certain moment, on a random night, I am only 12 years old, and we are all bathed in red light.  The lights go dark and the music is gentle, tinkling, and I am twelve but I am already starting to feel a deep sadness, a sunken loneliness, a general dread, it seems like I've been caught up in your trap again... I know someday I'll find the key. I am twelve but there is something happening to me here in the dark, listening to these gentle words. He is talking to me. I know someday I'll walk out of here again, but now I'm TRAPPED. The lights come on and we all raise our hands, TRAPPED. We scream. Crescendo. I am shaken by the truthfulness of the dichotomy, at the same time we are trapped and free. The lights go dark, and the music slows. I will teach my eyes to see what is beyond these walls in front of me. I was twelve but I could sense I'd be trapped in my imperfect brain, in my imperfect body, at home with my crazy family, trapped at school, trapped in a world I didn't understand. I would feel this way into my teens and into my twenties and last month I flew home to go see Bruce at the Izod, the same building with a different name, and I stood in the GA pit with my mother, twenty years later, and I hear the gentle, sad music. I am twelve again, standing next to my mom, and these twenty years have gone by and I have aged, I know someday I will walk out of here again, I won't walk out a loser, but now I'm trapped. I am still trapped, but in totally different ways and learning to deal with what I have--this brain, this body, these insecurities and doubts but there is joy in this song. We are in this together. The lights go on and we scream TRAPPED together, with Bruce, there is joy and community and above all there is hope. I never could've predicted these past twenty years and I can't predict the next twenty, not by any means.

Trapped is the song that cracked me open twenty years ago and now, again.

I went to four shows this leg of the tour. Izod, MSG, and both LA Sports Arena shows. I thought I wouldn't fly home to NY for the second leg east coast shows, but I know I will. I will have to.

Bruce opens night one in LA with Badlands. I am with my husband. He is a Bruce fan because he has lived with me for eight years. In 2000, Bruce did ten MSG shows and I don't know-- but I went to most of them. It was the first time I was in charge of tickets. Those days, you could show up at the venue at 4am the day of the show, and wait for the best tickets to be released.  I waited all night for tickets with my friends, many times. My mom had created a monster. This is not something that happens anymore, of course, but it was a lovely time when the fans that wanted it most were the ones to be rewarded.

In 2000, I was not all sad. I had moments of happiness, bliss even, but I also had moments of despair. That year, I had a lot of moments of despair. I drank a lot. I smoked a ton of pot every day. I hated the college I went to. I hated myself. I knew there was a vast ocean between the girl I was and the girl I could be. He played Badlands at every show. That year, I went for Badlands. I needed it. My mother needed it too. We still do. I feel every line of this song. I could write an essay about every line. It is a poem. It is political: Poor man wanna be rich, rich man wants to be king and a king ain't satisfied until he rules everything... I believe in the hope and I pray that someday it may raise me above these badlands... Let the broken hearts stand as the price you gotta pay. At that time, I was one giant broken heart. For the ones who had a notion, a notion deep inside that it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive, I wanna find one face that ain't looking through me I wanna find one place I wanna spit in the face of these badlands. You are with thousands of people who feel the way you do, who feel lost and sad and that no one really sees them and they do not really belong anywhere. You feel this. I feel this. Everyone in the stadium feels this. This is what heals you. I am beginning to think I won't ever get out of the badlands, but I can work to leave my heart open to moments of transcendence. I can work to always push myself towards what I think may save me.

This was a song Bruce wrote for Asbury Park, a falling apart, decaying seaside city. He started to play it after 9/11 for New York. We may tiff with New Jersey but we love each other. In our hearts, we claim the other as ours. There is very little difference between Jersey and Queens. Bruce gives us songs, at these live shows, that are relevant for us. They are songs we need to hear. New York needed this song. We raise our hands. WITH THESE HANDS. He has brought the song back for this tour, because we are struggling. You took my heart when you left. We have lost people and we have lost jobs and we have lost our sense of safety, of security.

In both Jersey and LA on this most recent leg, we get CANDY'S ROOM and SHE'S THE ONE. I adore both these songs, irrationally. Candy's room makes me jump up and down, lose all inhibition, dance like a lunatic. There's a sadness in her pretty eyes, a sadness all her own from which no man can keep candy safe...she says baby if you wanna be wild, you got a lot to learn , close your eyes let them melt let them fire let them burn... I have always loved the way Bruce sings about women, with reverence and awe. With her killer graces and her secret places that no boy can fill... these women enchant him. French kisses will not break her heart of stone. I spent my twenties wanting to be this woman. This is what I want to hear, even now, still now. I want to hear that I make someone feel thunder in their heart. Women won't, can't allow access to their insides, but he adores women, loves women. At the core of so many Bruce songs is our inability to connect with one another, but to pay attention, to try.

In LA, my husband is getting a beer during these two songs. I'm alone, and I realize it's not my husband I am missing during these songs, but my girls, the ones who really understand how these songs address the emptiness a woman feels. I want them to be here, my female Bruce friends, my mom, who have sung with me and waited with me.

This song was a show opener for many of the 2003 shows. He played 10 shows at Giants Stadium and I went to at least seven of them. A few nights, I took the bus from Port Authority with different friends and wandered the parking lot with a twenty dollar bill. I didn't care where I sat,  I just wanted to get in. As a country, as a city, we were still reeling. We were at war. We were angry and lost. For me, college was over. We were all still fumbling about. Sometimes i feel so weak i just want to explode. Take a knife and cut this pain from my heart. Take this moment into my hands. I think about this line many times at Bruce shows, and whenever I want to live in a moment. How can I take this moment into my hands? How can I stop time and really feel this, really he here, elongate a moment so I have time to remember?
There's gonna be a twister to blow everything down, blow away the dreams that tear you apart, blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted. He instructs us. He points to kids in the pit, dancers in corners, people in the back. He makes you feel like he is looking right at you.


Tom Morello is at these LA shows and is like nothing I have ever seen. I don't know what the hell he is doing with that guitar but I am amongst the youngest of the old fogies here and this mostly fifty-something crowd goes absolutely nuts over the insane things this man is doing with those elegant hands and that guitar. This song is made for Tom Morello.
Now Tom said, "Mom, wherever there's a cop beatin' a guy 
Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries 
Where there's a fight 'gainst the blood and hatred in the air 
Look for me Mom I'll be there 
Wherever there's somebody fightin' for a place to stand 
Or decent job or a helpin' hand 
Wherever somebody's strugglin' to be free 
Look in their eyes Mom you'll see me." 

Tom at these LA shows energizes Bruce, who then energizes the rest of the band. Bruce feeds off Tom Morello, who moves around like a rubberband, even his body movements are defiant, like he fights the air he breathes. It is thrilling to watch these two men.

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These Wrecking Ball shows are about death and rebirth, they are political--about the collapse of the economy, but they are very much about people we have lost. The E Street Band lost Clarence and Danny, but Bruce makes clear that these shows are also about people we have lost too, and the sense of loss itself. Bruce explains that he wrote this song, We Are Alive, in the perspective of ghosts. I think of the family I lost and the one I still have. I think of T, who loved music more than anything, and whose death sent ripples through so many people. The song is about what happens after we die. 
My eyes filled with sky. We are alive.


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