The Rising At The Kennedy Center

What kind of crazy fucked up world do we live in where it takes Sting to render the classic version of this Bruce Springsteen song, nearly a decade after it was first released?

Mellencamp reworked "Born In The U.S.A." to the point of butchering it.  Loved seeing Kenny Aronoff on the kit, but this was more about Mellencamp than Bruce, and that’s just wrong.

Ben Harper and Jennifer Nettles?  Yup, that’s who comes to mind when I think of Springsteen.  At least Jennifer didn’t overemote, but "I’m On Fire" possessed none of the haunting intimacy of the original.

Melissa Etheridge did her best, but the band just didn’t swing behind her.  Watching her just reminded me how time marches on, how he/she who’s a star once eventually becomes a has-been.

I thought Eddie Vedder was going to hit it over the wall.  He had the vibe right, the feel.  But "My City Of Ruins" really shouldn’t be sung by someone from San Diego, but a denizen of New Jersey, who saw the boardwalk collapse, only to be resuscitated by gambling and then fall into disrepair once again.

And then came Sting.

At first I thought we were experiencing another Melissa Etheridge moment.  Didn’t Sting put out a Christmas album?  Other than being reviewed, poorly, it didn’t seem to have any traction at all.  Just like the opuses of not only the classic rock artists, but those from the late MTV era.  It’s like we’re at endless batting practice.  No one can get it out of the infield, and the assembled multitude in the stands are all on their BlackBerries, more interested in Facebook updates than manipulated music.

And "The Rising" was a manipulation.  Faded rock star who hasn’t done anything great since "The Streets Of Philadelphia" is implored to bring our country together with an album.  Which ended up sounding like a facsimile of his greatest hits.  It was akin to watching Mighty Casey strike out.

Terrorists might have blown up the World Trade Center, but the Internet seems to have blown up the fabric of America, the unity, the integration we once had is now gone.

And it’s not only in music.  We may have a black President, but too many people think he’s a communist who wasn’t born in America.  And legislators are beholden to corporations.  And fat cats on Wall Street believe they’re entitled to their riches, even though they bet against the investments they sold, even though they owe their continued existence to the American public they screw at every turn.

What a time for an anthem.  What a time for an artist to lay it down straight, with a song so powerful it doesn’t need to be featured in a TV show, doesn’t have to provide the bed for a commercial, but can stand on its own.

Even Bruce lost his way.  He played the Super Bowl to sell a new album no one wanted.  He released a greatest hits album at Wal-Mart, home of the oppressed worker the Boss used to try and liberate.

And now we’ve got an Englishman, deplored almost as much as our President by many.  For his tantric sex pronouncements.  For his self-satisfaction in his abilities.

He emerges on stage with a battered Fender bass.  Not a faux clone of a classic sold at Guitar Center, but an axe with miles.  Sans refinishing, sans plastic surgery, this bass shows the miles of its life, just like the lines in Bruce Springsteen’s face.  And Sting starts to sing:

Can’t see nothin’ in front of me
Can’t see nothin’ coming up behind
I make my way through this darkness
I can’t feel nothing but this chain that binds me
Lost track of how far I’ve gone
How far I’ve gone, how high I’ve climbed
On my back’s a sixty pound stone
On my shoulder a half mile line

Our country’s in sad shape.  Suddenly, every city is like Asbury Park.  Decrepit, in need of repair.  With its citizens jobless, and hopeless.

Sting evidenced the intimacy of great rock and roll.  His almost sotto voce delivery gave the lyrics meaning they lacked in Bruce’s original.

Come on up for the rising
Come on up, lay your hands in mine
Come on up for the rising
Come on up for the rising tonight

The Chinese have all our money.  Japan makes all our cars.  The Middle East provides all our oil.  Instead of being dominant, we’re suddenly in chains.  There must be some way out of this place.

But only if we come together.

That’s the power of music.

Meryl Streep was grooving.  Mel Brooks was clapping.  The President and the First Lady stood.  That’s the power of song.  It has the ability to unite us.  Both black and white.  Rich and poor.  Republican and Democrat.  We’re all Americans.  When are we going to stop fighting and join together to solve the myriad problems facing our nation?

Come on, everybody’s entitled to health care.  A chance at an economic future.  A climate where skin cancer is not a given.  It’s time to jettison the mine for me mentality that’s ruled this country for decades.  Sixties values need to return.  That’s right, it’s time to love your brother.

And what made us love our brothers forty years ago was the music.  If you wanted to know which way the wind blew, you put on a record.

And that was true again tonight.

Sky of longing and emptiness
Sky of fullness, sky of blessed life

For five minutes at the Kennedy Center, in millions of homes tuned in on CBS, we had smiles on our faces, we had hope.

And that’s what we need.

Start with Jon Stewart’s introduction.  It’s worth it:

32nd Annual Kennedy Center Honors 2009 Part 10 HD 1080p

Then go the following clip, which starts off with Eddie Vedder’s performance and goes into Sting at the 2:20 mark.

32nd Annual Kennedy Center Honors 2009 Part 12 HD 1080p

These clips are data-intensive.  Which means they can take a very long time to load.  But the benefit is they’re of an extremely high quality.  If you’ve got a good connection, click on the HD button and then the icon right next to it to blow the image up full screen.

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