I know it’s easy to be cynical in this day and age.
In fact, unless you live in a yurt out in the middle of the woods where you hunt for your food, abstain from all media, and focus on growing a neck beard that you only occasionally trim with a dull bowie knife, it’s hard to be anything but cynical these days.
We’ve got fiscal cliffs and government gridlock.
We’ve got Honey Boo-Boo and the Kardashians.
We’ve got divisions between black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight, Christians and Muslims.
Hell, even the vegans and carnivores are pissed at each other these days, it seems.
And we’ve still got a shameful amount more war in this world than we do peace.
If, like a lot of us these days, you find yourself in desperate need of a reason to hope for something better, a reason to believe in the inherent good of your fellow man, a reason to cut away all the ugliness we see around us each and every day and get back to those things that connect us all to one another, here’s my simple advice:
Go see a Bruce Springsteen concert.
No, it’s not an especially cheap proposition, I realize, though it should be noted that a $100 dollar ticket will get you well within 20 rows of the Boss whereas getting that close to any other “major” rock artist, like the Rolling Stones for example, will cost you more than 8 times that amount.
And nothing against the Rolling Stones but they haven’t had a truly relevant or original musical thought in at least 30 years.
So is a Springsteen concert expensive?
But in terms of return on investment, I’m not sure you can beat the Boss.
It’s not just the songs in Springsteen’s catalog, that staggeringly deep and broad collection of musical and cultural touch stones, impressive though they are.
It’s not just watching the impeccably precise E Street Band tear through their 4th decade on stage, continuing to move in note-perfect lock step with each other for 3 hours, though that also gets more impressive every year especially as popular music continues to drift into a technological art form driven by computer geeks and i-Mac nerds who’ve never touched an actual musical instrument in their lives.
And while there may be an element of nostalgia to a Springsteen show (how could there not be given all the personal connections between our lives and his music?) this is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an oldies tour or a chance for artist and band to cash another paycheck while vainly struggling to stay in the public spotlight.
Not by a long shot.
In its most powerful incarnation, and in its purest form, (something we see all too rarely these days) music is a promise.
It’s a solemn vow between artist and audience that says “I may be leading us on this journey, but wherever we go, we go together.”
Music is congregation. It’s redemption. It’s salvation.
Music is the best of everything we are but it never turns a blind eye to the worst of everything we are.
It tells a story about where we’ve been but it also tells a story about where we’re going.
Music is not a passive art form. It doesn’t hang on a wall in a gallery.
For it to actually matter, music demands that you interact with it. Become one with it. Welcome it into your heart and soul and reflect it back out into the world.
And whether you’re talking about 1972 or 2012 or any point in between, there is NO artist who has taken or continues to take that promise, that solemn vow, as seriously as Bruce Springsteen.
If you’ve seen him live, you already know this to be true.
And if you haven’t seen him live, this is why you must.
And at the risk of hyperbole, it’s still as true today, in the “elder statesman” phase of his rock career, as it was when Springsteen was the scruffy rat from the beaches of Jersey just fighting for a chance to make another album.
If there’s a trick to Springsteen’s longevity, to his “magic” as a live performer, it’s this: There IS no trick.
No smoke and mirrors.
No half-assed phoned in performances.
No creative stagnation.
No resting on laurels.
Springsteen shows are so absolutely captivating because he requires, demands actually, that the audience go on the journey with him.
And while he may have unbelievably high expectations for us, the audience, they pale in comparison to what he demands from himself and from his band.
How else could a single man with a microphone make a crowd of 20,000 silent enough to hear a pin-drop?
It’s just music, after all, right?
Just stage craft and spotlights and souvenir tee shirts, right?
Just a guy with a guitar and some songs he wrote, right?
This particular guy will be the first to tell you, he was saved by music.
It connected him to a world he felt separated from.
It gave him a purpose.
It gave him a voice.
It gave him hope, and divinity, and reconciliation plus equal doses of lust and mischief thrown in for good measure.
For more than 40 years as a performer, Bruce Springsteen has continued to be mindful of that gift. Supremely protective of it, in fact.
All he wants for us, the audience, is to be saved by music in the same way he was.
Tall order, right?
Not if you really and truly believe, it isn’t.
In a world where cynicism reigns supreme, belief can be hard to come by.
Unless of course, you’re at a Bruce Springsteen concert.
Every time I see a Springsteen show I walk away with this single thought in my head: “Wow. That guy believes. I mean, he really believes.”
I challenge you to see Bruce Springsteen perform live and not walk away feeling that exact same way.