Still Rocking For Three Hours
My companion Bruce Springsteen came to town last week. I was fortunate to see Bruce him play a typically high-energy three-hour set at Hyde Park on Saturday. He promptly walked on at 7 pm and left at exactly 10 pm. In those three hours, he spoke at length only once. And for the balance of the time, one song rolled immediately to the next, the next, and the next song. 29 songs in all.
A seventeen-strong E-Street Band supported him. Several of them have played with him since the early 1970s. Death has thinned the ranks a little, although the great saxophonist Clarence Clemons has been ably succeeded by his nephew Jake.
The Master Of Connection
It was classic Bruce Springsteen. Lots of action on the edge of town. Mostly in darkness. Trains leaving town at inconveniently late hours. The night pregnant with impending rumbles between the good guys and bad guys. Red-headed women. Various fires. Cars with poor environmental credentials storming down highways. And the steel mill closing.
Close to cliche and parody, but never reaching that point. Simply because Bruce pours emotion, authenticity, and raw passion. And connects with his audience so deeply. He understands their hopes and fears. The vast audience reaching with their hands to connect with this man who intuitively tunes into the anxiety of any particular era.
In his Broadway show in 2018 he admitted to building a songwriting career based on a life he had never experienced. Yet for decades he has told through his lyrics the challenges of the male experience. Unemployment, going to war, mental health problems, difficult father-son relationships, the power and loss embedded in male relationships, soured and broken marriages. Lived experience or not, I cannot find another artist with such a deep insight into the male condition.
But far from this disenfranchising women in the audience, they are engaged. For Bruce talks with emotion and empathy and lays out the shortcomings of the male identity, in a way that women can identify with. No glossing over the difficulties. His profound insights into the human condition, not just the challenges confronted by men. Often the theme is of men desperately trying to escape their blue-collar struggle. And in many cases them seeking to enable escape for their female partner too. He has also written material from a woman’s perspective, again with powerful empathy. The 1973 ‘For You’ being an illustration of this.
Springsteen emerges at key points in Amercian history and makes powerful statements with his music. The Rising, following 9/11, awash with sadness yet offering the promise of better times. Wrecking Ball, laying waste to the financial carnage of 2007. New material prior to the presidential election, directing articulate and critical lyrics at Donald Trump. There is now some introspection in his latest writing, as age and loss become his realities.
Confronting The Inevitable
While Bruce Springsteen is now 73 years old, and other band members are in their seventies, too. But there is no attempt to circumvent this. Vast views of craggy faces, slightly flabby biceps, and wrinkled hands loom on the several stage-side screens. A Godzilla-sized, swashbuckling Steven Van Zandt, looking for all the world like Keith Richard’s half-brother. A behatted and leathery Nils Lofgren.
This expression of mortality was taken head-on and indeed changed the tone of the evening from my perspective. Readers of the blog know that I am trying to make sense of ageing, given I am now officially a pensioner. The most powerful moment was in the introduction to Last Man Standing when he paid tribute to lost friends from his teenage band. He spoke with visible emotion when saying –
“Death is like you’re standing on the railroad tracks with an oncoming train bearing down upon you. But it brings a certain clarity of thought.” It pushes you to seize the day, to savour, with urgency, the time and the people you have left.”
The audience ranged from children through to women and men in their seventies. All were having the time of their lives. What were twenty-something young women doing, rocking out to this old guy? His energy, his seizing of the day, his unstoppable passion for his craft. It draws each and every member of the audience in.
Music has been the storybook of my life. I can relate great concerts and timeless albums to key moments in my life. So evocative and powerful that listening has both a physical and emotional effect.
As a much younger man, I stood in an audience listening to Bruce pouring out the burning frustration of small-town life and his need to escape it. The Streets of Philadelphia, his 1993 song of a man dying of AIDs can make me tear up to this day. 9/11 shocked the world and My City Of Ruins poignantly spoke for all of us, not just New Yorkers. And today, Bruce confronts the latter years of his life, adding rich texture to my own musings on the life left in front of me.
My companion Bruce Springsteen has quietly walked with me on my own life journey. From a young man burning to escape a suffocating small town environment, to today’s older and wider man contemplating how to round out his journey. Saturday’s “Last Man Standing” hit like a hammer. I realised Bruce Springsteen will take his leave at some stage, and then I will be that last man.