Think, for a moment, of a cold, blistery night in the twin cities. Gary & Keith arriving from a five hour drive from Madison, with a cause and purpose, two tickets in hand to return to the boardwalk of their youth and the e street shuffle.
Rosalita won't you come out tonight. Hand on the wheel. Baby, we were born to run. The feel in the arena was awe-inspiring, to say the least. A paean to the ballads of Springsteen song. A full, magical night with two tender-eyed friends, long in the tooth, bopping in the aisles amid the shadows of their minds back along the darkness on the edge of town where they used to live.
It's all good. Very, quintessantly good.
Gary and I wandered around Minneapolis beforehand looking for dinner after a stroll along the Misssssiipppppiii. We found our way to the 'event' site a few minutes before the scheduled time. Scheduled time, as you may know, was, naturally, not a lot to do w/ the real time for Bruce to appear. There was a period of flirtation w/ the crowd w/ flickering of the lights, the guitars being brought out on stage, folks in black coming out on stage for last minute arrangements, the lights dimming a bit more each time, a whole lot of beer being swirled around us, and the dense crowd starting to moo, 'Brucccceee. Bruuucceee! BBBBrrrrruceeeeee!!!'
Stage dark. Silence. The anticipation. The moment of longing. The ecstatic moment beginning in the darkness as a guitar string moved, the violin began to wail and the drums introducing their ritual rock n' roll beat.
Then, the light on the person, the person turns toward the chanting crowd.
Bruce, standing alone on stage singing, "Radio Nowhere", off his new 'Magic' album, driving down the shiney, black pavement of his imagination, longing and desire. Another dark night of the American soul. Desperately seeking companionship, if not a woman, at least, please g-d, let the radio talk to me, sing to me, a lullabye of late night repressed passion here alone in the front seat of the car when the crowds have gone home.
Bruce live. On stage. The voice still true. Not dancing or twisting spryly anymore, but shuffling with determination and pride on his stage. The Wall of Sound surrounding him. Two powerful keyboards. His iconic drummer center stage. Clarence, right guard, protecting the band's flank with his sweet wailing sax glimmering gold in the darkness. Patty, his red-haired siren, violin to her chin, threading the bow across the Man's heart. Three wailing guitars backing the band.
The sound. The sound. That sound. Off the vinyl, out of the speakers and into the arena. The crowd on its feet, swaying to the rhythmn. Some of us bouncing on the tips of our sneakers for hours. Women above us along the railings stretching their longing arms to evocatively pull the spirit of Bruce, this modern poet troubadour, toward them. Thousands of our peers, we of middle age, middle passage, Middle America, ecstatic in our primal urge, ignorant of time, dancing in the dark!
How it touched the soul. A return of the native son to his American roots, in homage to the son of Asbury Park and the E Street Band, and his own distant youth. What's ten thousand miles for a concert when one's waited for this moment of connection ('Only connect.') in one's own soul for years. After decades of listening records, CDs and even a DVD, in America, in Thailand and on the streets of Kathmandu, the real New Jersey Bruce was stage front & center (as well as on a 50' screen above the stage). A column of fearsome speakers stretched to the black heaven above the stage, like a rock n' roll Jacob's ladder to the aureal seraphim.
The songs rolled on, two hours of continual music. Bruce throwing his guitar to the aides behind the band while picking up a new one for the next song. A mixture of his latest "Magic" songs w/ the hits of his (and our...) past. 'The Rising' sung with his face lit red, illuminating the fires of that infamous day. Then, rock ovations like 'Thunder Road' and 'Born to Run'.
While he commented on the political situation of the country, full of tricks, deceit and manipulation before singing his latest signature song, "Magic" about 'not believing what you see and less than half of what you hear...' The tragedy of 'The Rising' long past and the misuse of patriotism and symbols over the past six years, Bruce's latest cry.
Then, with thousands of adoring fans holding up their cell phones, the glow of the minature monitors lighting up the arena, waving their phones as a tribute to the bard of their longings, lusts and anticipation. The revelry past, the secular passions cooled, yet the intimacy with the rock messiah still fragrant, we slowly left this church of our imaginations on to the cold streets of the American dream.
Ahhh, America, the blessed, blessed with Bruce on stage and blessed while driving back to Madison the next evening by an over-eager, young college student longing to show the world her love... for Jesus and teach them the Way to salvation. America, always full of her unique brand of idealism and misunderstanding.
Divided these days by imperial conquest and self-righteousness. Greed and hucksterism. Self-confident while alone against the world. Misplaced metaphors and oxymorons abound on the landscape. The American of my youth is not too distant from the American to which I return. Christian morals and military might. Utter sincerity and simplicity in a complex and cruel world.
From Bruce on stage in front of 15,000 adoring fans to the Baptist beauty in a gas station convenience store on the highway home. We neet while I'm ordering an A&W rootbeer float as my liquid dinner when she bubbles in with her gaggle of girlfriends on their way back to their bible college in Minneapolis.
When she finds out I'm from Nepal, she says, 'G-d's called me to go to Thailand or Iraq to share my love.' I tell her G-d called me even earlier to Thailand years ago, where the people also 'know' the Buddha. 'But,' she says, 'do they really know Buddha?' 'Well,' I say, 'it all depends on what you mean by 'know' and 'Buddha'. She looks concerned. 'Well,' she responds, 'according to our teachings, if they don't know Jesus in this lifetime then they won't be saved.'
'Yes,' I note, 'although there are many ways to name Jesus in different cultures and languages.' She looks sceptically at me, doubting that I ever found Jesus and gives me a gracious, slightly forced smile. 'Bye for now', she says as she prances away down the aisle of cupcakes and twinkies. While, in my mind, I hope she's smart enough to find the limits of her well-meaning, self-indulgent Minnesota Baptist calling when she finally, as she will, goes overseas.
As we drive on Route 90, we pass the open landscape of northern Wisconin, the dairy farms and cheese factories, past the indoor water parks, the dead deer along the highway, the distant horizon, the truckers, the golden leafs of the birch forest, the empty road, Hibbing on the horizon.
Ahh, America. How I love you. How I long for you. How I still search for you in your wide open spaces, your cloistered Midwestern communities, your intellectual campuses, your autumn forests, your tarnished idealism, your generosity, your stubborn pride, your corporate conglomerates, my lasting friendships and your sacred muse.
After all, for my generation, it's still a musical ride together anywhere, anytime, anyplace. Where the creative genie waits in her bottle, sparkler in hand, slippers on, tutu in place and -- whooosshhh!! -- the sound starts again, the beat goes on, the CD turns and, whether in the front seat of our own cars or a concert hall the sound of our lives, the tracks of our minds, the rhythm of our souls plays on.