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Personal Notes on Springsteen’s “River” Show

You can find my more formal review/recap of the show over at Blogness on the Edge of Town. But while it’s fresh in my mind, I wanted to jot down a few more personal notes about my experience of Bruce Springsteen’s Jan. 19 show at the United Center in Chicago, featuring a beginning-to-end performance of “The River” album.

Full album shows fascinate me. On the one hand, I miss the insights I sometimes get from the mixture of old and new material – how newer material can reach back to converse with the old, shedding new light on both. And it’s a different experience knowing, for at least a good part of the show, what song is going to come next. On the other hand, if an album is carefully constructed, it tells a story that is more than the sum of its parts (songs). There’s a cohesiveness to the performance that can be revealing and informative. And, well, even I don’t spend as much time as I once did just putting on an album and listening carefully to it from beginning to end. I listen to playlists, I put stuff on shuffle… it’s different.

And “The River” is for sure an album I’ve spent a lot of time with as an album. When it came out, I was in college, living in the dorm, prone to a bit of drama (as most 19-year-olds can be). When I had a solitary evening, I’d often dim the lights in my dorm room, maybe light a candle or some incense (both, as I recall, forbidden in the dorm… such a little baby rebel I was), put on an album I loved, and just immerse myself in it. Oftentimes, “The River” was that album. I was especially obsessed with the song “Point Blank,” lifting the needle at the end of the song and moving the arm back to listen again. (Which was so much more deliberate an act than clicking a “repeat” button.)

My least favorite song on the album was “Wreck on the Highway.” Just morbid and depressing, I thought, set to an inexplicable tune – not exactly bouncy, but melodic and pretty, and a little singsongy. Certainly not as mournful as lines like

There was blood and glass all over / And there was nobody there but me / As the rain tumbled down hard and cold / I seen a young man lying by the side of the road / He cried “Mister, won’t you help me please”

oughta be. I mean, singing merrily away about “blood and glass all over”? Shouldn’t the music be darker, gloomier? Maybe some good angry punk stuff? And why end the album on something so damn gloomy anyway? And then the narrator just goes home and looks at his girlfriend and thinks about this stupid wreck that he’s obsessed with for some reason. What the hell, Bruce.

Well. I was nineteen. And I thought I knew a lot, but as anyone who’s been nineteen and gotten over it knows, I didn’t know much.

The concert was on January 19th, 2016. The 20th was the 22nd anniversary of my father’s death – some 14 years after “The River” came out. I remember watching my mother that week, realizing for the first time that signing up for a lifetime commitment with another human being meant committing to seeing them through the whole dying business too, if they got around to dying before you did. And realizing what that meant – the pain and difficulty of it, yes, but also the pure privilege and honor of bearing the weight of that journey. So this was on my mind a bit at the concert. Yeah, time tends to fold in on itself a bit when you get to be middle-aged. I’m learning that.

“Wreck on the Highway” comes right after “Drive All Night” on the River album. A lot of people love “Drive” as a hopelessly-romantic love song. “I swear I’d drive all night again, just to buy you some shoes.” But the song opens:

When I lost you, honey, sometimes I think I lost my guts too. / And I wish God would send me a word / Send me something I’m afraid to lose.

One, he’s not just singing to a woman; he’s singing to someone he has ALREADY LOST. Maybe he lost her and got her back again, but maybe not. “I swear I’d drive all night again… I just wanna sleep tonight again in your arms.” Is he singing to someone he’s lost to something more than infidelity? Is this a grief song?

In Chicago Tuesday night, Springsteen introduced “I Wanna Marry You” as being a song about the fantasy of what marriage might be like, not the real thing. (It was never one of my favorites on the album, either. Funny that.) But wishing for “something I’m afraid to lose” comes, I think, much closer to a real understanding of commitment. Who knows whether Bruce understood that when he wrote the song – he’s certainly said in many interviews that he didn’t understand love and commitment until some years later. When you commit to someone for life (whether that’s marriage, or any other form of deep lifelong emotional commitment with a peer [as opposed to, say, your children – who you expect will outlive you anyway]), you’re saying: Losing this person is my deepest fear. And I’m committing to staying with them until that fear becomes reality. I’m willingly accepting the near-certainty of my greatest fear coming true.

That’s pretty weighty. And that’s the understanding of marriage that Springsteen arrives at in “Wreck.” It’s not the fun-and-games part of love, it’s not the unrealistic interpretation of marriage we see in “Marry You,” it’s not even latching on to someone just because, well, two hearts are better than one. It’s something a whole lot scarier and harder and truer than that. It’s something that acknowledges mortality as fully part of the deal – and mortality, man, that’s hard to take.

Springsteen closed out the River album portion of the show, as the last notes of “Wreck on the Highway” played, he talked about how he’d realized the album was also about time:

“One of the things I was writing about on The River was time,” he said. “A friend of mine [who] was around last night said that time catches up to us all. You’ve got a limited amount of time to do your work, to take care of your family, try and do something good.” (from Rolling Stone’s review of Pittsburgh show)

For sure, talking about time and mortality is not new for Springsteen – that’s what the “Wrecking Ball” album is all about, after all, and plenty of his other songs from the past couple decades. And anyone in the demographic he and I share (roughly 50-70) has seen some of their heroes and some of their loved ones die, knows that there’s more of that inevitably coming, and is probably grappling with how best to deal with that part of life. It’s sadly fitting that the first two shows of this tour included songs played in tribute to fellow musicians who’d recently died (David Bowie and Glenn Frey).

Mortality, man. We don’t sign up for that willingly. But when we love someone, the kind of love that means we plan to stick together, we are willingly taking on not only our own mortality but theirs. That’s crazy (says the longtime spinster who’s perfectly happy about that situation). But it’s also pretty damned profound.

And that’s the long story of why the song I least liked on “The River” when I was nineteen or twenty is probably the most important song on the album, and why the damned thing ends with such a melodic bit of gloom. Because that’s life, you know? Life.

Which is what rock & roll is all about.

_______________

A couple of other takeaways from Tuesday night’s show:

  • Whether I’m elbows on the stage or battling altitude sickness up in the rafters, an E Street Band show gives me something no other concert does. It feels like home. Sometimes the furniture gets rearranged while I’m away, but it feels like a place where I just belong. I sink into the show, settle into it, like the most comfortable pair of shoes that make my feet happy. Which is not to say that I just sit there. They’re dancing shoes. They’re rock & roll shoes!
  • As for the people NOT on stage: Hanging out with the friends I’ve met through Springsteen’s music is maybe the best part of these shows. I knew this already, of course, but it’s good to be reminded. I don’t think I would have met any of these people without this connection, although we have so much more in common than just the music and the concert experience. They are creative, compassionate, interesting people and they make me laugh like nobody’s business. Love y’all – you know who you are!

Here’s “Wreck on the Highway” from Pittsburgh. Yes, the people chattering should be smacked upside the head immediately.

 

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In the wake of Bataclan: For my people

I’ve written before about why live music is so important to me. While terrorism anywhere in the world appalls me, the recent attack at the Parisian music club Bataclan strikes close to home. It’s like what a religious person might feel if terrorists opened fire on a church. Perhaps even something like what a parent feels if it happens in a school. Music venues are my holy ground, my home away from home. Yes, bad things have happened at concerts before – going back to Altamont, and farther – and in the world today it does occur to one to be aware of one’s surroundings when in a crowd of people, and annoying as it is to be wanded or have your bag searched going into an arena, you realize that we live in a time when there have to be precautions.

But even so, even so. You just don’t expect this. And I feel like music people are my people – like music fans are fellow citizens of a (large and very diverse, but still real and precious) sort of country of the heart. The people who died and were injured at Bataclan, those were my people. Bono talked about this in an interview he gave hours after the attacks; U2 was in fact scheduled to perform in Paris – at a much, much larger venue of course – the next night and the night after, and of course those concerts have been cancelled. I would have spent this afternoon listening to someone’s stream of the show on Mixlr, most likely, and in fact I’d just downloaded the HBO Now app so I could watch the near-live broadcast of the show tonight. I was looking forward to that. My disappointment in not getting to hear and see the show is a tiny, tiny thing compared to the pain and suffering experienced by those who came under attack and by their loved ones. But it brings it that much closer to home for me. Those were my people.

So, to the musicians – and also the crew, staff, merch managers, promoters, bus drivers, instrument techs, sound and lighting folks, even the spouses and families who share their loved ones with us when they go out on tour – thank you. We follow you because what you do helps us navigate a world in which awful things happen, and it helps us celebrate a world in which beauty exists and needs to be noticed every day of our lives. We know touring is often hard, and after Bataclan it may be even harder in some ways. What you do matters deeply. Please know that.

To the music fans – let’s don’t let this stop us from getting out there and going to the show. Yes, look around you as you go into any venue and be aware of where the exits are. Maybe stay sober enough to make rational decisions should an emergency arise. But then let go of the awful world and dance, dance, dance in the beautiful world. Let’s don’t let anything keep us from that.

peace sign with eiffel tower

image by jean jullien

 

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My Six Top Musical Moments of 2014

Musically speaking, I was a very lucky girl in 2014 – I saw some really terrific concerts, many without even having to leave my lovely smallish town. I tried, and failed, to come up with a Top Five Concerts of the Year listing – but how do you compare a teensy two-person show in a teensy dark little club in downtown Bloomington with a giant arena spectacular featuring approximately one billion E Street Band members and supporting musicians on stage? You really can’t, and yet that describes two of my favorite shows this year.

So I’m going to come up with a list of my favorite musical moments. Lots of great shows, but these were the moments that made my jaw drop, made me shriek with glee, made me hold my breath so as not to miss a note. These are in chronological order, because I can’t figure out how to rank them.

  1. Josh Ritter (at the Buskirk-Chumley in Bloomington), “In the Dark” With a small acoustic group, Josh Ritter gave an absolutely luminous performace for which I was lucky enough to be front row center. For “In The Dark” the stage and house lights were turned out and Ritter & band came out to the very edge of the stage to perform barely-lit and completely unplugged – risky, but an absolute goosebumps moment, stunning, filled with hush and echo. My first time seeing Ritter, and I was pretty well knocked out – does anyone else, short of Springsteen, perform with such an air of absolute joy? 
  2. Bruce Springsteen/E Street Band (at the US Bank Arena in Cincinnati), “Lost in the Flood” One of the songs I’d never managed to hear live and had been longing for – had even brought a sign for it once or twice when I had a GA ticket. I’m grateful for the person who brought a sign for it on this night, and the song was just as ferocious and spectacular as I could have hoped. It transitioned right into “Because the Night,” a pairing perfect as any fine wine could offer. Honorable mention goes to “Dream Baby Dream” that same night, cellphones lighting up one by one in the audience till the arena was spinning with stars; honorable mention as well to Springsteen’s Nashville show, not so much for the show (which was excellent as usual, especially the darkest-encore-ever salvo of “The Wall”/”Point Blank”/”Born in the USA”) but for the spectacularly fun few days I spent with great friends there. 
  3. Amanda Shires/Jason Isbell (at Schuba’s in Chicago), “Mutineer” I was lucky enough to see this absolutely gorgeous cover of one of Warren Zevon’s greatest songs twice this year, once at an Amanda Shires show with Jason Isbell sitting in with the band and once at a Jason Isbell solo acoustic show with Amanda Shires supporting on fiddle & vocals. I give the slight nod to the Schuba’s performance, partly because it was my first time hearing it, partly because I was with friends who appreciated it as much as I did. I just want these two to sing me this song every night before I go to sleep so I can float away on a little cloud of bliss – is that too much to ask? Honorable mention: Isbell’s appropriately loud-and-sweaty show at the Bluebird in Bloomington, where he performed with his band the 400 Unit and blew the roof off that little club multiple times. As a side note, though both Isbell’s “Southeastern” and Shires’ “Down Fell the Doves” came out in 2013, I listened to them about a bajillion times in 2014 – if I had to pick two studio albums as the soundtrack of my year, these would probably be the ones. 
  4. Rosanne Cash (at Clowes Hall in Indianapolis), “Ode to Billie Joe” Again, I was lucky to see this multiple times – in South Bend, Bloomington, and Indianapolis. Rosanne Cash’s “The River and the Thread” shows, in which the first set consisted of the album played straight through followed by a set of other material, were a major highlight of my musical year. No, she hardly varied the setlist at all – but it was one of the most perfectly constructed setlists I’ve ever witnessed, so why screw around with a good thing? I’m sometimes skeptical of “album shows” but the album performed live creates a near-perfect journey, and then the second set pleased the audience with a number of Cash’s hits and old favorites. “Ode to Billie Joe” harks back to the landscape and themes of the album, and each time the audience initially responded with raucous applause as they recognized the familiar song – and each time, by the midway point of the song, the audience had gone absolutely still. Cash sings the song like it’s something she’s just witnessed and she NEEDS to tell you the story right now, and her vocal reveals the darkness and mystery at the heart of a song you’ve heard a billion times and maybe hadn’t really thought about. I give the slight performance nod to the Clowes Hall show only because that was the rowdiest audience so the transition to breath-holding silence was the most remarkable. Honorable mention to “Money Road” at all three shows, which closed out the first set with an unexpectedly ferocious – and entirely delicious – guitar rave-up. 
  5. Pearl Jam (at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis), “Imagine” This was my first time seeing Pearl Jam (I know, I know, about time!) and I was appropriately blown away by the energy and passion both onstage and in the crowd. The first encore opened with an acoustic set, kicking off with Eddie Vedder performing John Lennon’s “Imagine” for the first time at a PJ show – just Vedder on guitar and vocal with Boom Gaspar adding a bit of keyboard. My initial expectation was that it would be a bit cliché, but in that sold-out arena with thousands of voices joining Vedder’s heartfelt vocal, it became a real goosebump moment. Honorable mentions from this show: “Footsteps” which is just a fantastic song and didn’t let go of me for weeks following the concert, and the absolute no-holds-barred kick-ass rock of “Porch.” 
  6. Lera Lynn (at the Bishop in Bloomington), “Fire” Yet another cover makes my list. Lera Lynn was a favorite musical discovery this year; her album “The Avenues” has been making a lot of best-of-2014 lists for good reason. Her whole show at the Bishop was great and had that “you’re not going to be seeing this artist on a stage this tiny much longer” feel to it; I single out her cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Fire” mainly because it was not only a great cover (YouTube it; she does cool things with this song!) but because it was a real pivot point in the show – starting with this song the setlist went somewhat out the window and the audience interaction kicked into high gear. 

So that was 2014 – lots of other great moments too, of course. 2015 is shaping up nicely so far; I’ve got tickets for Iris DeMent, Keb’ Mo’, Glen Hansard, the Gaslight Anthem, and a U2 doubleheader in Chicago among others. As always I’ve got my eye out for announcements from my favorite artists and venues; in particular, I’m hoping Nils Lofgren will make use of some E Street downtime to play some stateside shows after his UK winter tour. (The Midwest would be lovely, but I’ll get on a plane for this one if I have to.)

It’s been a crazy year in the world, with a lot of things that just make me want to hide under my blankets and never leave my house again. Music helps. Ann Powers hit the nail on the head with her essay accompanying some best-of-the-year album picks. There are probably more important things in the world than so-and-so musician singing such-and-such song and giving me goosebumps – in fact, delete that “probably”! – but those moments kept me alive, kept me getting up in the morning, reminded me that the world is worth holding on to. And you know, that’s not such a small thing after all.

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Macca’s Magic: Paul McCartney in Indianapolis, 7/14/13 (Part 1)

Paul McCartney

Part 1: The Miracle

I’d known for a while that Paul McCartney was coming to Indianapolis. I don’t remember why I missed the initial on-sale date for tickets, which was back in April; perhaps I was expecting some stateside Springsteen dates to show up and didn’t want to spend the money, or perhaps I just wasn’t thinking. Whatever happened, by the time I wised up and realized I really wanted to go (aided & abetted by friends who saw the tour in other towns and raved about how terrific the show was), it was way past sold out. I kept on checking Ticketmaster daily, and a few weeks ago some “obstructed view” seats off to the side of the stage showed up (and for a reasonable price), but I was boneheaded and said “eh, obstructed view, I’ll wait for better.” Then when the “PILLAR – NO VIEW” seats showed up for 70-some bucks, I flat-out refused. No view? No thanks. (Seriously, Bankers Life Fieldhouse? I’m hoping these seats weren’t as bad as they sounded. They did get bought, so I guess there were enough people really desperate just to be in the building.)

Now, it’s not like I’m a new McCartney fan. I was fairly obsessed with the Beatles through junior high and high school and college or thereabouts, and in fact the very first album I bought with my own money was “Wings at the Speed of Sound,” which had just come out. But somehow, inexplicably, I had never managed to see him (or in fact any of the ex-Beatles) in concert before. In recent years I’ve come to realize that you can’t just say “eh, I’ll catch ‘em next time around” because things happen. I really should have bought that ticket in April, you know. I had only myself to blame at this point.

As it got closer to showtime, I started checking StubHub for scalped tickets. I’m pretty firmly against ticket scalping in general, and in the past have refused to patronize StubHub on principle. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and I started looking. There were some balcony seats ($70 face value I think), way up in the upper stratosphere of the arena, that somebody was asking $250 for. I just couldn’t do that. There were, of course, plenty of lovely seats to be had for $400 and up – in some cases way up. Again… uh no. The other problem with StubHub is that most of the tickets are sold in pairs, and can’t be split up to purchase a single, so if I was going to fly solo it was starting to look like my best option was to purchase a pair of $250 balcony seats and give somebody a really nice present… UH NO.

I’m something of a veteran of Springsteen-related ticket drama, my own and others’, and I do know that very few shows are ever truly sold out. I know that, almost always, there’s a “drop” of tickets that are released within a few days of the show for one reason or another – they were being held for VIPs or press, or it wasn’t clear that they would be usable until the production crew got the stage set up and equipment loaded in – and often these are pretty darn good tickets. I also know that people sometimes get desperate when it gets really close to the show and start dropping their prices on StubHub. So I didn’t lose hope, but by the time Saturday night rolled around and it was 24 hours till showtime, I was feeling pessimistic.

Cue up Sunday morning. I’m hanging out on Twitter (who me?), checking Ticketmaster every so often, poking at the TM iPad app in hopes of seeing anything other than “sorry, no tickets are available.” A bunch of my Twitter friends, big music fans who’ve mostly gone through similar drama at one time or another, commiserated with me and encouraged me not to give up. My Twitter friends rock.

Then about 1:30 a music journalist from Indianapolis tweeted that he’d just been notified of a drop. I went into action – pounding away at the TM site on my laptop and my iPad as well as the iPad app, and calling the phone line. No dice anywhere – no tickets to be found. The Indy journalist kindly tweeted me the number for the box office at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse, which was great because I got a real human being … who confirmed that there had been a drop about an hour ago, but it was just a tiny handful of seats and they were sold immediately, and they had no more tickets.

At this point StubHub was starting to loosen up – some of the prices were dropping (I had my eye on a single club seat that was originally listed for $500 but had dropped to something in the $300s, as well as some balcony seats that were down to less than double their face value) and there were more tickets available than there had been the day before. And there was also the possibility that there’d be a drop right before the show; Brian Ray (one of McCartney’s guitarists) tweeted that people should check the box office about an hour before the show just in case. But did I want to drive an hour, pay premium event-parking prices downtown, and risk being shut out anyway? That would just be SO DEPRESSING.

Oh well, I thought. I’d been about to fix some brunch when the drop drama had happened, so I went back to that. I’m OK whatever happens, I tweeted, life goes on. “Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on, brah!” I sang as I chopped veggies. As I finished sautéing mushrooms and went to get eggs out of the fridge, I saw my phone where I’d left it on the counter. What the hell, I thought, picked it up and poked the Ticketmaster app one more time.

Wait a minute. That screen doesn’t say “sorry” on it anywhere. THAT SCREEN HAS A ROW AND SEAT NUMBER ON IT HOLY SHIT! I managed not to drop the phone as I processed the fact that I was being offered a floor seat for … well, let’s just say more than double the highest price I’d ever paid for a ticket before in my life. I’d told myself I wouldn’t go for the top-tier tickets, only the club level or balcony. But … it seemed like this might be my only option. And… and… and…

Reader, I bought it.

You know, it’s fairly difficult to type in your debit card number on a little touchscreen while your hands are absolutely shaking. And my reaction when I got all the way through and got the purchase confirmation email told me that I was definitely making the right choice. Is it possible to tremble all over and at the same time dance a jig while you are tweeting some pretty excited tweets? Yes, yes, it is. I’m going to see a Beatle tonight! I’m going to see a Beatle! I’m going to see A BEATLE!

Stay tuned for part 2, in which a good time is had by all and sundry…

 

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Learning to ride the waves: Indigos, Springsteen, Obama

It’s been an eventful couple of weeks. Concerts, crazy weather, and oh yes, a little election…

Indigo Girls in concertOn 11/2 I saw the Indigo Girls for the first time in a couple of years. I am not wild about their most recent album, but always enjoy seeing them in concert. I was in the front row (which seldom sucks) at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater in Bloomington, which is one of my favorite concert venues; it’s a renovated old movie theater, large enough to feel like a show but small enough to feel relatively intimate. I’ve seen a lot of great shows there.

The Shadowboxers opened – young band out of Atlanta. I have to admit that their music is not completely my cup of tea; they’re a little bit pop for me, but they did what they did very well. Good vocals, nice harmonies, good energy onstage. I can imagine them doing well on radio and garnering a pretty decent audience. I was reminded of how I felt about fun. when I saw them open for Janelle Monae, actually, and that was right before they got so popular you couldn’t avoid them.

Indigo Girls’ set was higher-energy than I’ve seen from them the past few times, due at least in part to having the Shadowboxers as their backing band. I love seeing IG with a full band, and it had been a while! They pulled out a few songs they don’t usually do without a band, like “Trouble” and “Tether” (which was absolutely killer) and an exceptionally funky “Shed Your Skin.” Quite a good show overall.

Bruce Springsteen & Steven Van ZandtAnd then there was the next night: Mr. Springsteen in Louisville. I’ve already written up some of the musical highlights over at Blogness, so I won’t rehash those here. Instead, a few more personal thoughts.

Louisville is only about 80 miles from home for me, so it was lovely to see a Springsteen show without having to fly, drive for hours, or even get a hotel room. I’d persuaded my friend Karen to go with me, so we left in the morning in the midst of a cold rain and arrived in downtown Louisville in time to meet up with some other friends for lunch. (Side note: the Bluegrass Brewing Co.  is terrific! Nice selection of beers, and good food for both vegetarians and carnivores – I had some vegan bbq wings that were very tasty, and Karen’s bison burger looked great too.)

We watched a sleet/rain mixture outside the windows for a while, and when that let up, we headed across the street to the arena to get our wristbands. (For those unfamiliar with the process, General Admission ticketholders obtain numbered wristbands, which are given out from 1-4 pm. Then at 4:30 you have to be back at the venue, where they draw an allegedly random number; the person whose wristband matches that number gets to be first in line. It is not a complicated procedure, although some audience members and some venue staff try to make it complicated sometimes.) Then we had a couple hours before we had to be back, so – back to the BBC for dessert and coffee. (Bourbon bread pudding with caramel sauce, for me – fantastic.)

And then back to the arena, where venue security did not seem to know which end was up. Usually they line up wristband-holders in several queues by number – the 100s here, 200s here, and so on. There were some barricades set up to create queues, but there was nothing else going on. We all milled about, then security tried to sort us into lines … sort of. Basically we stood there smooshed together (which is really fun when you are 5 foot 1 and mildly crowd-phobic, let me tell you – especially when somebody nearby is being rude enough to smoke). Fortunately we were under an underpass; I say “fortunately” because the nasty cold rain started up again, so we were dry, although it was noisy as hell under there.

Finally they announced how many wristbands they’d given out (six hundred and some) and how many would be allowed in the front part of the GA floor, aka the pit (300) – and drew the number. We did some fast math and figured that our group had missed the pit, but not badly; we’d be within the first 40 or so people onto the back part of the floor after the pit people went in, which meant we had an excellent chance of being right on the back rail – a great place to be, actually. So we were content.

pit wristbandsAnd then they started letting people in, keeping track of wristband numbers, making sure we were in order. This is the part where you start feeling a bit like cattle, but it’s also the part where you are closer to getting into the actual arena. They checked my number, scanned my ticket, inspected my small shoulder bag… and then… slapped a second wristband on me. A pit wristband. We were all a bit dumbfounded, realizing that after not making the pit, suddenly … we’d made the pit! Apparently they decided to let more people in than originally planned, and we were lucky.

Then there was more waiting. And more waiting. Did I mention there was waiting? I don’t really mind the waiting, to be honest; even when I’m at a show by myself, by this point I’ve made friends with the people around me in line, and we usually find enough common ground to be quite congenial. When you’re with friends, it’s actually kind of fun. You speculate about where you will end up on the floor, scheme about which side of the stage to head for, text distant friends to let them know you’re in the pit… then before you know it, you’re being ushered into the arena.

I’d been of the opinion that we should head for the back of the pit, where there’s a smaller stage set up and where Bruce usually stands to sing at least a couple of songs. I figured we’d have a chance at being “up close and personal” for a few minutes that way, and probably a little better visibility for us short people than we’d have packed into the center of the pit. Others in my party wanted to go for the center of the pit, so I followed along. As we settled into our spots and sat on the floor to (three guesses) wait some more, I’m afraid I got a little cranky and snappish; it looked like I was going to have some tall and broad people right in front of me, and I dreaded having one of those shows where I never get to see the actual stage. Also I’d only had about four hours of sleep the night before, so I was a bit of a toddler who’d missed her nap. (I’m learning, after all these years, that sometimes the same events can bring out both the best and the worst in me. I am such a Gemini.)

Springsteen with the horn sectionI shouldn’t have worried. Once the band came onstage I could see well enough, though I occasionally had to crane my neck around one person or another. And the show was intensely energetic! The third song was “Hungry Heart” and this is where Bruce usually goes to the platform in the back of the pit and then crowd-surfs his way back up to the stage. And, well, we were right in line. Bruce checked in with the people at the platform, made sure they were ready to catch him, then turned his back and fell gracefully onto the sea of waiting hands. Don’t steer him off to the side, I pleaded silently… and then, there he was. Okay, so you don’t necessarily have a lot of options as far as which particular little bit of Bruce’s anatomy presents itself to you when he crowd-surfs over you… and, well, sorry, Bruce – we probably should have been properly introduced before I laid hands on your, er, posterior. What was I supposed to do, DROP HIM?!? No. Certainly not.

The crowd-surfing thing, from underneath, was actually kind of wild. I’d seen it from up in the seats, and I’d seen it from over to the side of the pit, but I’d never actually taken part. The rush of people trying to get closer to the man himself is intense. There were people pressing at me from three sides, and then as Bruce – the eye of the hurricane – passed overhead the tide shifted and I was being pushed in the other direction. It felt like being wiped out by a big wave and just having to trust that you will surface head-up when it passes. Surface I did, and there were different people around me than there had been before the surf, but my friends were still nearby and I actually had a better view from there on because a couple of the taller people had been shifted over to the side a bit.

It was a show of extremes. “My City of Ruins” had me in tears, thinking of Hurricane Sandy’s devastation and about how much I regret not having visited the Jersey shore before. “Streets of Philadelphia” was a song I never would have expected to get in Louisville, and it was intensely emotional for me; that song came out right around the time my dad died, and lines like “my clothes don’t fit me no more / I’ve walked a thousand miles just to slip this skin” are a devastatingly poignant description of what it’s like to see someone gradually fade away. The song was beautifully performed and it wrecked me. Then the transition into the most ferocious, determined “Atlantic City” I’ve ever heard, into a soaring “Because the Night,” into the always-primal “She’s the One” – that might have been one of the finest four-packs I’ve ever gotten at a show.

Springsteen & Van Zandt - the clowns! I’ve never been to a Springsteen show I didn’t love. I’m not sure I would put this one in my top five of all time, but it was certainly one of the most intense in a way, one of the most present and participatory shows I can recall. And you know, it was strange – but good – to end up in my own home a couple hours later, instead of in a hotel room or somebody’s guest room.

On Monday, the guy whose posterior I’d been standing underneath on Saturday night was flying around on Air Force One – accompanying Barack Obama to campaign rallies in Madison, Columbus, and Des Moines. I saw pictures throughout the day of this and you know what, it blew my mind a little bit. I wanted to go back to 1978 and tell that shy 17-year-old holed up in her room writing bad poetry that someday, that scruffy rockstar whose posters were hanging on her wall would be flying around on Air Force One with the President. (Not to mention that writers for Slate and the New York Times would be assigning said formerly-scruffy rockstar some measure of the credit for a presidential campaign victory. Whoa.) And that she would, despite being a perfectly respectable (oh hush) middle-aged lady, still be standing in line for hours and getting as close to the stage as possible and going absolutely crazy at that same guy’s concerts.

I don’t think she would believe me. I think she would probably demand to find out what I was smoking.

I won’t try to go back and tell her that the President Bruce would be flying around with would actually be a couple of months younger than me. And African-American. My face doesn’t like being laughed in all that much. 🙂

Next stop… Kansas City!

Bruce Springsteen

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