This place matters

This place matters

Monday, April 2, 2012

Hold tight to your anger, don't fall to your fears

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I find it nearly impossible to communicate in any sort of coherent way what Bruce Springsteen means to me. 
Which I'm going to prove true again by trying to tell you about last night's concert.
In one of the reviews I read for this post on Bruce's newest album, Wrecking Ball, CNN reviewer Melissa Maerz writes that "whenever there's a moment in need of an anthem, it turns out Springsteen has already written one." She speaks cynically, but she also speaks the truth.
She points out that while Springsteen wrote much of Wrecking Ball before the Occupy folks began taking to the streets, the album seems to speak directly to, or even for, the movement. While Springsteen wrote the title track from this album in 2009 about the demolition of Giants Stadium in New Jersey, it could just as easily apply to the financial collapse and the devastating times that followed for so many; about our new national disillusionment and the cold war between the classes that began cooking long before occupiers took to the streets and doesn't seem to be getting any better. 
I can't tell you how often I've felt, and even tried to write what Bruce expresses when he says:

Now when all this steel and these stories, they drift away to rust
And all our youth and beauty, it's been given to the dust
When the game has been decided and we're burning down the clock
And all our little victories and glories have turned into parking lots
When your best hopes and desires are scattered through the wind
And hard times come, and hard times go

Yeah just to come again




Similarly, even though Springsteen had already written much of 2002's The Rising before the towers fell, the album became a beautiful requiem for all we'd lost that day. The song from the album most closely associated with the tragedy, My City of Ruins was actually written before the attacks about the fall of Asbury Park, New Jersey. He first performed these words in December of 2000, but it's so hard to imagine he was writing about anything but the attacks. 


Now there's tears on the pillow
Darlin' where we slept
And you took my heart when you left
Without your sweet kiss
My soul is lost, my friend
Tell me how do I begin again?
My city's in ruins.
My city's in ruins.




Events unfolding right around the time Melissa Maerz wrote her review would prove her right again. Springsteen wrote these words in response to the 1999 shooting of Amadou Diallo by four NYPD officers - the unarmed man was shot 41 times while attempting to offer the plainclothes officers his wallet. Yet he might just as well have written them for Treyvon Martin.

41 shots, Lena gets her son ready for school
She says, "On these streets, Charles
You've got to understand the rules
If an officer stops you, promise me you'll always be polite
And that you'll never ever run away
Promise Mama you'll keep your hands in sight"
Is it a gun, is it a knife
Is it a wallet, this is your life
It ain't no secret (it ain't no secret)
It ain't no secret (it ain't no secret)
No secret my friend
You can get killed just for living in your American skin

One thing Springsteen and I share is that we love our country so passionately; believe so passionately in its potential. If we didn't love it so much, maybe we wouldn't be so devastated when our bloody history of hate rears its head. And I think, really, that the senseless slaughter of Treyvon Martin at the hands of another asshole cowboy is a symptom of this disease America can't seem to shake. This disease where we see everybody who isn't like us as a threat. This disease where we think a boy with a pack of Skittles is a deadly danger. This disease that makes us shoot first and blame the wardrobe later. 
I'm sorry ma'm, we understand your son probably didn't know that we were police officers and not muggers; we had to shoot him 41 times in our own defense. 
I'm sorry officer, but a teenage boy seemed suspicious and then hit me. I think it's obvious I had no choice but to gun him down.


--- 
I want to write other things. I want to write, for instance, that I never believed the band could perform with such joy and exuberance so soon after losing the heart of the band, Clarence Clemens. I was afraid that the spaces in the music where Clarence used to be would sound like broken glass if anyone else tried to fill them. I couldn't have been more wrong. Clemons' nephew, Jake Clemons, felt more like a medium for Clarence than a replacement. I'm not a particularly spiritual person, but it barely felt like the big man was gone. 
For as long as I've been going to shows, Springsteen has introduced each of the members of the band as they play a song; and after he has introduced everyone else, he says, "Am I missing anybody? Do I even have to say his name?" At which point the audience stands up, holds up its hands as one, and begins screaming the big man's name. I didn't expect to hear that introduction this time around; I don't think anyone else did either, because when Bruce asked, "Am I missing anyone," the audience went quiet. Well, as quiet as a giant sports arena full of Bruce fans gets anyway. I was not the only one crying when Bruce asked, "Do I even have to say his name?" And then he said "I know it seems like he's missing, but he's not. As long as you're here, and we're here, then he's here. Now let him hear you."
Later, the band closed out the show with Tenth Avenue Freeze Out, the song I think most people associate most closely with Clarence. After they sang the line, "The change was made uptown and the big man joined the band," the music stopped and the audience got to its feet. An arena full of exhausted fans who had been clapping and screaming for three hours clapped and screamed some more, with aching hands and sore voices, for maybe five minutes without ever tapering off. 
You could barely hear the music when it started again, and man, I remembered that this is so much more than a band, so much more than a show, so much more than an aging pop act. This was a religious experience, pure and simple. If you don't know Bruce, please do me a solid and give him a chance. Pick up Wrecking Ball or Born to Run or The Seeger Sessions or The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle. Even though I'm always hearing otherwise, I've got a really hard time believing that people who don't love Bruce just haven't given him enough of a chance. 

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