Posted by: shannynmoore | December 30, 2009

The Kennedy Center Honors…Fill ‘er Up, Bruce!

Jon Stewart gave an amazing tribute to Bruce Springsteen tonight on the broadcast of the Kennedy Center Honors.  I couldn’t find that YouTube, but something Jon said resonated with me; “Bruce Springsteen empties his tank-for his family, for his fans, for his art and for his country.”

My first radio showed aired three years ago this month.  I opened that show and every show

front row...

since with the inspirational, “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day”.  Bruce Springsteen has been part of the foundation of what I attempt to do on my radio show, my television show and in my writing; to promote a community alive with social justice, equity, organized sweat (also known as labor), and a vision for a progressive society where everyone is invited to the table.

I have no idea how many times I’ve seen Bruce Springsteen in concert, but every one of them was like going to church.

Dave Marsh summed up in the program exactly why I love Bruce Springsteen and why he is America’s favorite son…

REPRINTED FROM THE KENNEDY CENTER HONORS PROGRAM:

After Born in the U.S.A., I used to tell people who asked what it was like to know Bruce Springsteen that when he left on that tour, he was my friend who used to come over and sit on the couch and afterward, he and Clarence Clemons had become Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.

This was a lie. After the tour, he was still my friend, and still sat on the couch. Other people may have thought he and the Big Man were characters out of an American fable but Bruce knew better. That is not to say that he didn’t live out, write out, act out and play out the American dream about as well as anyone ever has, even down to writing his own second act with The Rising and the records that followed it.

I’ve been writing about popular culture, as boy and journalist, for 40 years. In that time I’ve known or at least interviewed or met most of the classic rock stars. None of them has kept his persona so close to his person and, for certain, no artist I know in any medium has worked so diligently as Bruce Springsteen to keep his work personal without sacrificing what makes it universal, to at least a large swathe of his fellow world-citizens.

Bruce pulls this off because he’s blessed with a singular fearlessness about being ordinary, an unsurpassed ability to turn the everyday (I was going to say “the quotidian,” but he wouldn’t) into drama and romance. He also possesses a native sense of stagecraft and narrative; an abiding belief in the verities of rock ‘n’ roll, particularly devotion to repetition and the backbeat; a subtle understanding of the minute distance between Saturday night and Sunday morning; a concrete determination to reach the lowest and the most distant people in his universe; a genius for creating musical anthems and lyrical summations; a stock of characters so deep it seems impossible that all of them aren’t as real as Madame Marie; a faith in the genius of simplicity and a refusal to apologize for his own complexity.

OK, that’s the art stuff. You probably want to know about the person.

A friend of mine claims that Bruce once served him the best turkey sandwich ever made. (I was there. It was really, really, really good.) Bruce also has excellent taste in, among other things, tequila, bourbon, soul and gospel music, painting and photography, dogs and musical instruments. I know him just well enough to be unsure I know him (as opposed to his work) deeply, but when the darkest deal went down for my family, he was there with all he had. Which is to say, I am quite sure he knows me.

Now that Bruce has boogalooed down Broadway and come back home with the loot, he’s probably got enough money to run for Senator from New Jersey, if not for mayor of New York. But when someone asked if I thought he’d stand for office, the answer came easily: “Why would he want a job with less power and prestige than the one he’s already got?” In the history of the United States, no Senator has ever had hundreds of fans crowd into a side street, and stand all night long beneath a hotel balcony to serenade him with his own songs, which is what happens when Bruce plays Barcelona.

I don’t think of Bruce as very political, despite his involvement in the last couple of Presidential campaigns. He’s really a moral actor, a person of strong convictions whose basic life experiences, starting with an economically insecure childhood and then a struggle through the ranks of professional musicianship along the Jersey store (OK, it was more a rocket ride than a struggle, but he still didn’t get paid much). His root allegiances, as derived from his songs because they are the most trustworthy source, are to people endangered, erased or forgotten—Vietnam vets, the homeless, the unemployed, single mothers, unwanted immigrants, the broke, the hungry, the uprooted, and those who travel the turnpike with broken radios.

Bruce Springsteen may someday be known as a first-rate photographer, a slapdash but hilarious cartoonist, one of the consummate rock ‘n’ roll guitar players and, for that matter, as one of the greatest blue-eyed soul singers ever. He already is all those things, it’s just a matter of the world figuring it out.

He is as private as any public figure of our time. I don’t mean private as in secluded or hidden. He doesn’t just still own a house in central New Jersey, where he grew up. He actually lives there: Walks down the sidewalk with his kids, shops in the stores with his wife, parks on the street, hits the beach and the gym as often as time will allow, these days even does some important recording (his version of work) there. Not that nothing’s changed: I bet he doesn’t get as many speeding tickets as in the old days.

Let’s see, what have I left out. Ah yes: Love.

Love is Bruce Springsteen’s center, the one tour sponsor he’s ever acknowledged, the thing he wanted to know at the beginning (and yes, he tells us, it is real).

I’m not talking about Bruce as co-crafter of a long-term marriage with a fellow artist or as the very active father of three terrific kids. Once he got going he made doing that stuff look a lot easier than it is. More to tonight’s point, Bruce is the wizard of nurturing an audience toward community.

It’s impossible to overestimate how much he has given the people who share his musical life, the tramps like us, the ones who had a notion, the people working on their dreams and counting on a miracle. On stage, he lets those folks get close, basks in their adoration and then he pours it right back out to them. More important, he trusts them to share it, with each other and with strangers. That’s really what his nightly talk about this city’s food bank or that town’s shelter for battered women is about.

Bruce Springsteen is, like Woody Guthrie and damned few others, a democrat in spirit and in practice, and he challenges all of his listeners to be and to do the same.

His train that’s bound for glory carries saints and sinners, losers and winners, whores and gamblers, fools and kings, the brokenhearted, thieves and souls departed. His train is not destined for a metal-flake city on a hill; it comes from down in the valley and while it doesn’t intend to stay there, it doesn’t mean to forget it, either.

He set out to change himself and he wound up, in a hundred little ways and a couple of big ones, changing the world or our perceptions of it, which is pretty much the same thing. In the process, he has not remained the same person—because that would be a colossal failure—but he has become something like the guy he wanted to be. He has walked tall, finding poetry in guys wearing tube socks and women at checkout stands, has truly rocked all over the world and found the rock ‘n’ roll heart of Ellis Island. He’s made us proud of our nation when we should have been and left us ashamed of its behavior when that needed to be said.

Let me end with the way I feel about him, as a friend and as an artist, and let me say it directly: Bruce is the brother I would like to have, and more than that, he is the sort of person whose brother I would like to be worthy of being.
—Dave Marsh


Responses

  1. Miss Shannyn:
    What a great article from you and the tribute
    from Dave Marsh. I love “The Boss” as you do.
    (I see you in the front row of the picture)
    As an “Okie”, I also can see the connection Marsh makes between Woody Guthrie and Springsteen.
    Both men care about justice and treating all people with dignity and respect.
    Shannyn, I also see that trait in you and others fighting to keep the truth out there for all in this great country of ours.
    God Bless you and I hope that you have a safe and terrific 2010.

    • Amen to your comment.

  2. Bruce is someone I’ll always look up to.

    My friend’s brother had to go to a group home for developmentally disabled people in Asbury Park, where he could learn basic life skills and get the therapies he needed to function in society. I live in Philadelphia, and kept in touch/visited with him regularly for four years.
    One friday, I got this frantic phone call…”OMG! I met The Boss!” I immediately asked what he sang, because I only saw him as a celebrity. Well, he DID sing a few songs, but the main reason he was there was to volunteer his time in the kitchen, and to visit the people there. To give them dignity, courage, and hope to do better.

    His lyrics, as raw and visceral as they can be, just scratch the surface of his talent and vision.

    I saw the neighborhood he came from, the streets he walked, and it blew me away that anyone could accomplish what he had in one lifetime, but I could tell by your post, and his demeanor during the sho,w it helps keep him grounded and humble.

  3. On a sluggish morning when I’m having a hard time getting started, you and Bruce gave me “a little of that human touch.” Thank you, ma’am, and Bruce.

  4. I’ve seen Bruce in concert several times. He & his band give their all.
    He is so honest & raw. It was a spiritual experience. Saw him at Madison Square Garden which is a mecca for entertainers yet seeing him in his hometown of New Jersey was insane.
    50,000 people singing Jersey Girl brought a tear to my eye.
    Bruce’s music has been the soundtrack to my life. The male equivalent to Bruce is Melissa Etheridge. I love the way she did Born To Run last night.

  5. The Celts had their bards. We used to have bards – Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie. . .then the late Steve Goodman and then John Prine. . .I’ve always seen Bruce as a bard – he tells the story of our lives and his words inspire us, they remind of our shared history, they heal our wounds. And they celebrate the very soul of who we are as people.

  6. Shannyn, thank you. God bless you for posting this. I love Springsteen … the Boss. I am the same age as he is. I was more the Neil Diamond fan when I was 20, but my son got me listening to Springsteen only about 5 years ago. Two years ago, he and I went to my first Springsteen concert in Atlanta, Ga. Wow! The experience lives on in your head and heart for weeks and weeks, and then forever. For weeks after, I would wake up with a Springsteen song in my head (and it sometimes wasn’t even one he had played in the concert I attended). Thanks again for posting this tribute. Happy New Year!

  7. “a democrat in spirit and practice” that just sums it up. Not “Democrat” as in party member: “democrat” as in understanding and passionately loving what “by the people” really means.

    I’ve never been as energized in my life as when watching “The Seeger Sessions”, and that was just on TV. I can’t imagine what it would be like to experience him in person.

  8. Saw the program last night and Jon Stewart was great. Saw the “Boss” back in the 80’s in Houston 2 nights in a row. He played 3 hours both nights and burned the house down.

  9. Thanks Shannyn for posting this; I love the Boss and have for many, many years. Some of my fondest moments of living in Scotland was going hiking in the northwest with a good friend, and at night when we would get back to his cabin, we would cook a wonderful meal, open a bottle of wine and put on Born in the USA. We were miles from anyone, so we would crank it up to and go out in the moonlight and would always say to each other “this is heaven as far as I am concerned”. I have to say the Live in Dublin DVD has been my favorite for the past few years. Whenever I have to clean my house, I always pop that DVD in because it inspires me so I am done and have a clean house before I know it!

    What a beautiful tribute from David Marsh to a man that has mean so much to millions. I think “Bruce is the wizard of nurturing an audience toward community” says it all.

  10. Shannyn,
    Thanks for a great post!
    My husband and I are both big Bruce fans! I grew up near Detroit and my Spouse in Pennsylvania, We met here in Alaska and music was one of the many things we had in common. But Bruce… well his music is something we share, turning on Bruce is more than just listening to music it is an experience.
    Now any chance you could help us get him to Alaska for a show? That would be a dream come true!
    A few days ago you asked on face book for songs for opening your show. I almost put “Mary’s Place” from the Rising. The song to me is a great build up of how things happen, start with an idea and turn it into rousing roar of “Turn it Up”.
    Which is what I say every time the “Boss” comes on the radio!

  11. I have seen Bruce countless times…the first being Red Rocks in 1981!

    The place was packed on a hot August afternoon. We arrived around noon. There were people setting stuff up on stage because at Red Rocks, there is no curtain!

    Around 4pm, someone picked up a bass and strummed it. Then a guy started checking the drum kit out. Then a couple of “sound techies” checked the sound on the Steinway and the Hammond B-3…And then…out walked Stevie Van Zandt, Clarence Clemons and Bruce Springsteen! Those “techies” were, in fact, E Streeters Garry W Tallent, Max Weinberg, Roy Bittan and Danny Federici!

    Bruce, ever the perfectionist, did his own sound check! “We got a little matinee for you!” He then launched into “Rave On” and “Quarter to Three!” He closed by saying, “see you in a few hours!”

    That night Bruce played one of his lengendary 4 hour shows…

    Last year, when Danny Federici passed away, I flew to the first show after his death in Tampa, Florida. Bruce and the band took the stage in the dark and stood there with their backs to the audience and watched, along with all of us, a Blood Brothers video tribute to their fallen band mate. It was the saddest, most tear-filled gathering ever.

    The band opened with Backstreets-sans Danny’s organ; which was ghostly illuminated by a mournful blue spotlight. It was the most extraordinary performance I had ever seen of one of my favorite Springsteen songs…

    So, thanks for posting your own thoughts and Dave Marsh’s program tribute, and thanks for including Bruce Springsteen’s music in your radio show!

  12. Thank you for printing that, Shannyn. It really was beautiful. I hate to use this word, as the people of the right have really tarnished it, but Bruce is a real Christian. He walks the walk and talks the talk of the real gospels of Jesus.
    I am not a religious person. But I do believe in treating people the right way, with equality, love and respect no matter where they have been or are. I admire that quality in any person who has it. And with most celebrities, they tend to lose it. Not Bruce. Or Jon Stewart. They are not ashamed of showing their true selves, something that would be nice if more people would do so.

    • Mary B

      Amen to your comment too……Like you stated, I believe that Christians should walk the walk….It is so refreshing that there are millions of us out there that see these important principals in life and how to treat all people equally. Hopefully the “hate” of the extreme right wing do not take this country down!
      (this is what I fear)


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