A rock concert may be just a collection of songs just like an art exhibit may be just a collection of paintings. But in the right hands, the whole can be so much more than the sum of its individual parts. When it resonates, it elevates the form.
In Columbus, OH on Monday night, Bruce Springsteen elevated the form, again. He put on a show that was more, much more, than a few tour premieres and resurrected gems. It was a showcase, to be sure, spanning an amazing body of work over a nearly 40-year career. But to me, it was much more personal.
For the last 30 years or so, I’ve seen close to 80 Springsteen shows in almost any kind of venue imaginable. I’ve enjoyed those shows with total strangers and the closest of friends and a horde of people that fall somewhere between. Monday was the first time I enjoyed one with my daughter who, at almost 20 years of age, is roughly the same age when I saw my first show in 1978. It couldn’t have been a more appropriate moment.
Less by sheer luck than humble design, Springsteen perfectly bookended the experience and his remarkable concert with an opening and a close that not only captured the central themes of his expansive career — personal connections and how they ultimately play themselves out in a larger context — but the central message that a dad has been struggling these many years to impart on his oldest daughter before she’s off to fend for herself.
By the force of his personality and his power as an entertainer, Springsteen led an incredible journey that illustrated for her, for everyone, how the disaffected loner wannabe saved from a life of abject disconnection in "The Ties that Bind," from 1980’s "The River" that opened Monday’s show, may then become part of the solution, some 30 years later, for restoring dignity to the immigrants that built this "American Land," the song that closed the evening. By solving the smaller problems, we can tackle the larger ones more effectively. And by the way, in between you had the chance to hear some of the best music ever made or played.
There was a stretch in Monday’s show, beginning with "Something in the Night" (a tour premiere) and culminating with "She’s the One," where I felt like this was absolutely the best concert I had ever seen. This particular grouping of songs, which also included "Because the Night," "Reason to Believe," and "You’ll Be Coming Down" (also a tour premiere), itself provided an effective mini-retrospective of Springsteen’s career. But the overarching message, delivered in note-perfect passion and urgency, was that anything worth doing is worth doing well. Another great life lesson.
Standing, clapping and singing on Monday like I had done dozens of other times, the sense of belonging, of inclusiveness that I’ve felt before but had lately been ground out of me by life, by age and by responsibilities, returned and could not have made me feel more alive. There’s something about 18,000 plus singing “because the night belongs to us” in unison that is life affirming. But even more so was what was taking place next to me. My daughter and her roommate were doing likewise, singing, dancing, and clapping without pretension and with total commitment to songs that were written well before their births. The ties that bind indeed.
When the kids are young, you always think you’ll be the guiding influence on their choices, musical and otherwise. Play enough Springsteen, eventually they’ll love the music and learn something along the way, or so the theory goes. But generation to generation, kids don’t change all that much. Parents have their music, the kids have theirs and you have to let them find their own musical way, hoping that maybe they’ll pick up an influence or two from you. But sometimes you just have to grab the bull by the horns, or in this case the kid by the hair, and drag them to something important. Fortunately, it required nothing more than a little Target shopping before hand, a nice dinner, and a couple of beers.
The particular symmetry of my daughter’s (and her roommate’s) first Springsteen concert was not necessarily planned, but the intent was there. Springsteen has been the defining musical voice for nearly three-quarters of my life and I certainly had every intention of sharing that connection in the most meaningful way possible. It was a matter of timing. The show in Columbus, on her campus, was the harmonic convergence. The albums and CDs are one thing, but what has made Springsteen such a transformational figure has been his live show. See it once and it makes every other show before or after pale in comparison.
I don’t necessarily harbor exactly the same hopes for her, but she at least ought to understand that there’s more to music than the flavor of the week making a quick buck by mailing in another 86-minute performance. Introducing her to the core of my music passion by the best there’s ever been presented only a moderate amount of risk for a far greater return.
The best part of all is that once inside it required very little on my part outside of the standing, clapping, and singing. Springsteen and band did all the leg work. My daughter may not appreciate Eddie Manion making a guest appearance during "Born to Run," but she appreciated the power and the fury of a crowd bathed in house lights singing each word of one of the great signatures songs of all time as if it would be the last song they sang. She didn’t need to understand the difference between "Spanish Johnny" and Spanish class to absorb the romanticism of "Incident on 57th Street," a song Springsteen sang by request.
In a night of outstanding moments, one that won’t be forgotten is Springsteen standing in front of the stage while he let what had to be the youngest member of the audience, a boy that looked to be no more than nine or 10, strum his guitar. That goofy sweet image, the goofy sweet delivery of "Sherry Darling" (another tour premiere) and the personal connection with the crowd at every possible turn created an indelible image that even the most jaded seen-it-all college co-ed couldn’t possibly ignore.
Springsteen may not have changed their lives Monday night. He may not ever change their lives at all. Indeed there’s every chance that the rush of the evening has already been forgotten, actually. But those two will wear the t-shirts we bought. And the other thing I do know is that some day probably years from now, when I least expect it, she’s going to say “thanks.” And when I ask “what for?” she’ll say, “you know.” And I will because it’s the reason I’ve been silently saying thanks to Springsteen the same way for years.Powered by Sidelines