Tag Archives: my city of ruins

Are We Missing Anybody?

With just a few shows left to go this year on Bruce Springsteen’s current Wrecking Ball tour (if you are on or can get to the West Coast, GO – some shows are better than others, but what that means at this point is that they vary from great, to greater, to ridiculous), and with the emotional residue of the holidays upon us, I find myself reflecting a lot on the overarching themes of this tour. Loss, survival, ghosts.

It has been fascinating, over the five shows I’ve attended and the many I’ve heard and read about, to watch how the songs and the shows (not to mention the band itself) have evolved. The setlists have loosened up dramatically, but that doesn’t mean they’ve veered from the essential themes. “My City of Ruins” remains at the heart of it. Unveiled at the Apollo Theatre show (which I was able to listen to live – thanks, SiriusXM; I knew I was saving that free trial for a good reason), it was clear that the song would be something special on this tour. The horn arrangement was, and still is, gorgeous and adds so much emotional texture. When Springsteen declared “Roll call!” and introduced each member of the band, I thought it was a little early in the show for band intros but was willing to go with it. Then: “Are we missing anybody?” made me catch my breath – and again, to make sure we all understood: “Are we missing anybody?”

(It wasn’t until Atlanta, my first Wrecking Ball show, that I realized the moment also included spotlights on the places where Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons would have been standing.)

And then the promise: “If you’re here, and we’re here, then they’re here.” Which, of course, reduced me to a soggy mess of tears as I listened that first time. I was more prepared for it in Atlanta, but it still wrecked me a little.

As the tour went on, the song evolved – not the song itself (which retained the stunning horn and choral arrangements, always underpinned by a particularly graceful Garry Tallent bass line) but the interlude. I’m not sure exactly where along the way Bruce started talking about ghosts. The first time I heard it, it made me catch my breath. Here’s how he said it in Chicago:

It’s great to be here at Wrigley Field, because this is a song about ghosts. When you come into old buildings, old cars, old ballparks, they carry so many ghosts of so many people that left their blood and their sweat in the dust and on the ground. This is a song originally about my adopted hometown struggling to get back on its feet, but since then it’s become about a lot of other things, and one of the things it’s become about is ghosts… ghosts… ghosts. You get older and a lot of ghosts walk along with you. Which is good. When you were a kid, you know, ghosts were scary. But when you get older they remind you, they walk alongside of you and remind you of the value of time and the preciousness of love and of life. Old ballparks, old cars, old guitars, old houses, old people. So we’re gonna do this tonight for our ghosts, and for your ghosts. May you walk with them well, and listen to what they’re telling you.

Listening to “My City of Ruins” on my way to a family Thanksgiving gathering, the message struck me all over again. Like any family, ours has missing pieces. And of course, this is always particularly apparent over the holidays. The rituals that aren’t quite the same, the voices that aren’t there.

This year I found myself the last one up on Thanksgiving night after everyone else had gone to bed. I sat down at the kitchen table to have a snack of cold turkey breast with a little salt, the way my dad always used to. He and I were the late-night people in the family – in fact when I was very small I once declared to my mother, “When I grow up I want to be a night owl like Daddy!”

My dad died in 1994. As I sat there eating my midnight snack, I thought about how he would have been up late with me, and imagined what we might have been talking about. Music, maybe. He was a musician and put himself through grad school in psychology by playing, though he gave up playing professionally when he got his doctorate and took a faculty position in a new state far from his musical community. Although our musical taste wasn’t identical he always encouraged me to love music and to go to concerts. In fact when I was an undergrad I once complained that I couldn’t afford to go to a particular show, and though he didn’t have much to spare (thank goodness for scholarships and part-time jobs), he started sending me a small allowance every month specifically so I could indulge my musical needs.

I sat there at the empty table for a while, sitting with my ghosts in the quiet, sleeping house.

Then I felt the need to acknowledge the empty place a bit more publicly, somehow. So I picked up my phone and tweeted, “I miss my dad.” And wouldn’t you know, of all my Twitter friends, it was a musician who responded. Ghosts everywhere, man. Ghosts everywhere.

The other thing Bruce Springsteen does now during “My City of Ruins” is to ask for some quiet. It’s not the traditional “moment of silence” in memory of someone, but a time to just sit with the ghosts – whoever yours may be – and listen to them, honor them. Given the predilection of an arena containing 18,000 rock fans to make some noise, and the unfortunate way a quiet moment makes a few folks think “hey, if I scream right now, Bruce will hear me and only me!” – he’s had variable success in accomplishing this quiet. In Kansas City it happened for just a moment: a soft, quick hush across that huge arena. Just a moment. Just long enough to breathe.

It reminded me of how silence is an essential part of music: you can’t have the beat without the spaces in between. And just so, the missing pieces are what make a family. We have ghosts in common, and sometimes we find the same silence to acknowledge them. Are we missing anybody? Yes, we are, and that’s what makes us human together. We should treasure our ghosts, and honor how they remain inside of us always. And to quote Mr. Springsteen: May you walk with them well.

Advertisements

8 Comments

Filed under ramblings, Springsteen

(Not a) Jersey Girl

Flooded neighborhood in Seaside, NJ

Seaside, NJ. photo/Office of the Governor

I’ve been to New Jersey a time or two, but never spent any time “down the shore” as they say – unless you count the time I visited a friend in Delaware and we took the Lewes-Cape May ferry because it seemed like a fun thing to do (and I’d never been on an oceangoing vessel before). We turned around and came right back, so that doesn’t really count anyway. And I’ve really only been to NYC once, over twenty years ago.

But still – the images of devastation from Hurricane Sandy are hitting me hard. Like any diehard Springsteen fan, the Jersey shore is dear to me, with landmarks that are familiar even though I’ve never visited in person. (When will I learn that “I’ll get around to doing it next year or the year after” is a line of thought guaranteed to end in regret?)

I watched the storm roll in on CNN and the Weather Channel – and on Twitter, where one by one my east coast friends tweeted “there goes the power” and went silent to conserve battery. It was a strange sense of being simultaneously very connected and very disconnected. Since text messages often go through when neither voice nor data will, I offered to receive texts from friends and pass along information to loved ones who might not have the ability to text or receive texts themselves – a sort of information bucket brigade. A couple of friends said they might take me up on it, though neither ended up needing to, but offering made me feel a little less helpless. As the days go by and it becomes more and more clear just how devastated the area is, though, I feel more and more helpless. I’ve done what I could in terms of trying to share information on Twitter – retweeting info about open gas stations, places to charge cellphones, etc. – and have been grateful to see friends checking in that they are OK (cold and dark, in some cases, but basically OK). I’ve made a tiny donation to the Red Cross, and will try to make another when I can. Meanwhile I’m living more or less my normal life – going to work, feeding the cats, voting (Indiana has early voting now so I went on Saturday) – and it feels kind of weird to be living a normal life when so many of my friends are literally battling the elements.

What can you do? This so-connected world is both larger and smaller than is really comfortable… so small that my heart breaks for people and places I’ve never laid actual eyes on, too large to be able to reach out to help. The human condition, twenty-first century style.

All I can do is to keep living my life, I guess. To that end – tomorrow night I am going to see the Indigo Girls here in town, and then Saturday I’m zipping a couple hours south to Louisville to see Bruce Springsteen, who will undoubtedly sing a few songs about the Jersey shore. (If you’re home tomorrow night, by the way, there’s a hurricane benefit show on TV and Springsteen is one of the headliners – and the E Street Band will be serving as the house band. Should be worth watching, and maybe make a donation while you do so?) That’s the world, I guess: terrible things happen and you feel helpless and at the same time you go on, you make what connections you can and you go on and live your life.

You can make a donation for disaster relief at the Red Cross website. I’d be interested in recommendations for other organizations doing relief work, as well.

EDIT: Here’s a nice list of ways to help courtesy of the NBC news show “Rock Center.” Includes the Humane Society, which is working on animal rescue – important work that sometimes goes overlooked in funding.

Here’s Springsteen & the E Street Band from Rochester NY on Wednesday night. Bruce introduces “My City of Ruins” by talking about the Jersey shore and how it will rise again. Video is shaky, but audio is good.

4 Comments

Filed under ramblings, Springsteen