The Boss & The Bard

Right now I’m high above the Nevada desert on my way out west. There was a brief layover in Las Vegas, and now, flying over the brown mountains, it’s got a desolate beauty that makes me wish I had stayed – left the airport, driven out and found a little house alone in the empty landscape.

The last few days have been a whirlwind. I flew to Lansing, Michigan Friday morning for some work meetings, and then in vain tried to find a flight from Lansing to Philadelphia (ha!) or New York in the early afternoon. No luck. So I settled for an early afternoon flight to Washington, DC – but as soon as I got there I hopped on a train for Philadelphia. Why? To see the Boss at the first Vote for Change concert. Then I got up this morning and caught the first flight out of Philly for the West Coast. Four states in 24 hours. But it was worth it.

Earlier in the week I had a chance to sit in on Springsteen’s practice session with the E Street Band in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Now I had a chance, five days later, to see them do the same show, but this time in front of 30,000 screaming fans instead of two. It was no disappointment. We had great seats, right next to the Mayor of Philadelphia. Thanks to my travel shenanigans, I was late and we just missed REM’s set. But Bruce – man, he was on fire – hard to put it all in words. He opened with a spotlight in the dark stadium just on him as he played an acoustic version of the Star Spangled Banner – a nod to Hendrix. It looked like he was using a 12 string guitar. He had an electric guitar slung over his back, and as soon as the national anthem was done he tossed the acoustic guitar and launched into Born in the USA with the full E Street Band. The songs were excellent, a mix of stuff. John Fogerty came out for a few songs, including a blistering version of Fortunate Son. Michael Stipe came on stage after Fogerty and launched into an intense duet with Springsteen, Because the Night Belongs to Lovers. Springsteen at one point during Mary’s Place did this wild, southern preacher impression, encouraging anyone in “a bow tie” to come up and “get saved”. “If you’re swinging, on the fence, unsure, we will help you cross over to the other side…” or along those lines, but more articulate and clever.

The grand finale included a great cover of Elvis Costello’s (What so Funny about) Peace, Love, and Understanding?. I just love that song. One of the coolest parts of the whole evening was that I had seen them practice this whole set earlier in the week – and watching them in full concert mode was a lot of fun. I haven’t written much about my encounter with Springsteen – in part because there isn’t much to say, in part because it was fun and I’m not keen on anecdotalizing it (the play/movie Six Degrees of Separation comes to mind, on the dangers of anecdotalizing experience). But one thing that was great was that he was on the one hand just a normal guy, tremendously down to the earth – but on the other hand, he was wildly charismatic, oozing that intangible stuff where you just want to be around him, handsome, articulate, intelligent, soulful. In short, you could see why he was the Boss. I made some comment like that to my mother, and she commented on my blog post about how “Pop musicians live in the world of symbology.” Which leads me to the Bard – Bob Dylan. In the midst of my travels over the last 24 hours, I’ve been spending a lot of time in airports reading magazines. The current issue of Newsweek has an excerpt from Bob Dylan’s autobiography, “Chronicles”. It’s excellent, fascinating – I’d highly recommend it. The excerpt included in Newsweek is about the nature of fame – how terrifying and disorienting it is, how Dylan feels like it corrupted or ruined his life in some critical way.

Reading it after my recent run-in with Springsteen lead to a reflection on my experience on the Dean campaign – how I watched Dean become, over a few months, a national figure. But Dean was looking to provide leadership, to lead the country and all of its citizens. In the excerpt from Dylan’s book, he keeps stressing how he just wanted to write songs and play them, how he did not want to be a “leader” of his generation.

Two other thoughts from the Dylan excerpt. One was that in the excerpt he rails against being labeled all sorts of various labels, from savior to legend. And as I finished reading it and put it down, I noticed that the cover of Newsweek said “Exclusive from the Reclusive Legend” and I just laughed. The other thing that was of interest was how Dylan talked about his creative process – how when he was young, it was a “vision”, visions that just came to him out of nowhere, unprompted. And now that he’s older, it’s a more conscious process – he calls it “dreams”. His language in the excerpt was wonderful – poetic, kind of obtuse, but making sense, bringing clarity. I guess I was surprised to find his prose, the language of it, has a truly creative, original voice. And I was even more surprised to find it in Newsweek.

2 Responses to “The Boss & The Bard”

  1. anne Says:

    ‘pop musicians live in the world of symbology’ was your mom’s excerpt of my blog post directly above her, which was, in fact, an interview quote from the Boss himself. no wonder it fit so well!

  2. Julie Reyburn Says:

    “Blessed is he whose fame does not outshine his truth.” – Rabindrath Tagore, Poet

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