Bruce Springsteen At The Sports Arena

We’ve been traveling over rocky ground, rocky ground
We’ve been traveling over rocky ground, rocky ground

What kind of crazy fucked up world do we live in where the highlight of a Bruce Springsteen show is not only a new song, but one that features rapping?

We don’t go to the Springsteen show to look forward, but back. To when we were thin, our skin was smooth and our hopes and dreams exceeded our losses, when we still had our optimism.

But decades have taken their toll. It’s not that we don’t smile, it’s just that it didn’t work out how we planned. So we go to the Springsteen show to remember, who we were, when music was the most powerful medium, when we felt we could change the world.

Unlike MTV, the Boss blinked. He wanted to reinvent himself, test boundaries, but the audience wouldn’t let him. MTV is all about going forward, baby boomers are about a preservation of the past. You don’t want to mess with their memories. You need to record albums, you need to play the hits, you’ve got to look thin and better than they do. Because if you got old, that means they did too. And that’s their worst nightmare. You’re their last, best hope.

So Bruce Springsteen brings this almost twenty person troupe on the road to satiate his fans, to help them escape. Unfortunately, he’s a prisoner of their desires. If he played the entire new album, they’d freak, not only go to the bathroom, but change the cries of "Bruce" to boos.

Billy Joel’s got it right. No one wants to hear the new material. Elton knows this too. They don’t live in fantasy land.

But the Boss must. Because if he’s not the icon his fans expect, they’ll collapse, like humans deprived of oxygen on the moon.

There’s white hair, creaky bodies. Looking for another hit of adrenaline, in a world that cares not a whit about Bruce Springsteen or them. The future has passed them by. Rock and roll does not rule the airwaves, people listen to singles, not albums. And musicians whore themselves out to corporations.

But this is not the way it used to be. When the dinosaurs known as rock stars used to walk the earth. When politicians couldn’t hold a candle to musicians, never mind bankers. When the best way to communicate with each other was via a vinyl record spun at a radio station broadcasting its FM signal in a fifty mile radius.

Those days are through.

But for three hours last night, the assembled multitude got to revisit them.

If you could hear Patti Scialfa’s acoustic guitar, you’re a better person than me. Hell, most of the time I couldn’t even hear Nils Lofgren’s electric. But the one person who dominated, the engine, the freight train behind this performance, was Max Weinberg.

He was on his own riser, right behind the Boss. With a tiny kit resembling a bar mitzvah gift. His job was not to dazzle, but to keep time, to anchor this enterprise. Watching him was a thrill. You could see the effort this job required.

And Bruce himself threw off some special leads. After all, even though it is show biz, to do it right, you’ve got to know how to play.

And about ninety minutes in, the mixer turned up Garry Tallent’s bass way too loud. I thought I was experiencing a Jaco Pastorius tribute concert. I could hear every one of his notes, but not those of the guitars…and I had a great seat.

And I’m not nitpicking. I can tolerate a lot. But this was too much.

And they didn’t do "Jungleland". Which I thought was a requirement. I think Jimmy Buffett has got it right, with his "Big 8", if you’re gonna play forever, there are certain numbers you should not leave out.

But they did do "Born To Run".

And the secondary highlight was a version of "Racing In The Street" that made me tingle. With Roy Bittan’s piano and an understated performance by the Boss, it was a tour de force.

And Tom Morello came out and wowed us on the guitar.

And the soul medley was magical.

And when Bruce crowd-surfed from halfway back to the stage we marveled.

But the peak came near the very end. When Bruce brought out Michelle Moore and they performed "Rocky Ground".

We’ve been traveling over rocky ground. We were all in it together. Protesting the Vietnam war, listening to FM radio, going to the stadium shows. And then suddenly there were winners and losers. Rich and poor. And those who pulled themselves up no longer cared about those they left behind. LBJ’s Great Society was passe.

But today, decades of misadventure have come home to roost. If you took the road less traveled, there’s no way to get back to where everybody else now belongs. Social Security is not enough to pay your bills and you’re on your own.

And the deejays who were your best friend have been replaced by greedy nitwits. Yup, we’ve gone from Pete Fornatale to Ryan Seacrest.

And now being a musician is barely different from being a reality TV star. It’s a way for the great unwashed to win a momentary prize, like those victims of misfortune on "Queen For A Day" way back when.

And even if someone told you there was a good new album, you don’t have time to listen to it. You used to be able to kick back and get stoned, now you might do a doobie now and again, but you’re too busy trying to stay afloat to waste any time.

And you no longer get your news from the radio, but the Internet. And it’s all bad.

So you scrape up a hundred bucks and go to see Bruce Springsteen. Who’s like a traveling preacher of old. And despite all the press, most people don’t care. Just you.

And that’s enough. You just want to go to the show and hang with your brethren, whose names you do not know, but whose lives you’re very familiar with. You had the same experiences, you bought "Born To Run", you went to the show, it energized you, made you think of the possibilities.

And for three hours, the Boss did just that.

And I’m not gonna defend a single element of it. Not the songs, the performance or the audience. Either you had to be there, or it was irrelevant.

We no longer live in a rock nation.

We’re a minority.

But at least we’ve got each other.


You use your muscle and your mind and you pray your best
That your best is good enough, the Lord will do the rest
You raise your children and you teach them to walk straight and sure
You pray that hard times, hard times come no more
You try to sleep you toss and turn the bottom’s dropping out
Where you once had faith now there’s only doubt
?You pray for guidance only silence now meets your prayers
The morning breaks, you awake, but no one’s there

Once upon a time Bruce Springsteen was hungry. Dismissed by his peers and abused by his dad, he had something to prove. And that’s why we were drawn to him. He was not doing what was expedient, playing by the rules, but forging his own path. And even if you didn’t play music, you could use this as a beacon. Hell, Steve Jobs loved Dylan and was inspired by him, and so was the Boss.

And it’s hard to cope when you’re the voice of a generation. People have expectations. But on one hand you just want to be left alone, you want to live a normal life.

But Bruce Springsteen is not normal. You can’t make it if you are. You may think he’s your best friend, but he’s not. He can’t be the life of the cocktail party, can’t be a regular guy, this is all he can do, and he’s doing it for you.

And we don’t take care of our own. The Boss blew his chance by releasing a substandard cut that radio wouldn’t play anyway. You lead with your best. Which in this case is "Rocky Ground".

I didn’t see a single African-American face in the audience. But we all embraced Michelle Moore’s rap above.

Because deep inside we know we’re all in it together. And that things have taken a wrong turn. That we’re truly been traveling over rocky ground. And there’s no smooth highway in sight.

Music still has more power than any other artistic medium.

But you’ve got to take your best shot.

Our whole nation is in ruins.

But maybe this could be our new anthem. Maybe we could all sing this together. Black and white and Democrat and Republican. We’re all just people, we all want a good life, we make up society.

Set Bruce Springsteen free. Let him grow old like you and me. Don’t make him play his hits, that’s selfish. But the Boss must adapt to the new world. No albums, just a steady stream of music. We shouldn’t have to discover "Rocky Ground" in concert. Buried deep in the album, most people in attendance last night had never even heard it.

But they needed to.

Because more than "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" or "Bobby Jean" or "Darkness At The Edge Of Town", it gave them hope.

Music is now a live medium. The recording is secondary. The Boss should continue to play to his fans, but it’s time for him to try to convert some new people too, to recapture the power he once had.

It’s time for him to move forward. To take up the challenge.

And it’s time for the rest of us to regain our optimism, to link arms, to try to save our country.

Bruce can’t do it alone.

Comments are closed