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The Boss's Magic Trick
"Last Thursday, at the Harvard Square Theatre, I saw my rock ’n’ roll past flash before my eyes. And I saw something else: I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen. And on a night when I needed to feel young, he made me feel like I was hearing music for the very first time. . . . He is a rock ’n’ roll punk, a Latin street poet, a ballet dancer, an actor, a joker, bar band leader, hot-shit rhythm guitar player, extraordinary singer, and a truly great rock ’n’ roll composer. He leads a band like he has been doing it forever. . . . He parades in front of his all-star rhythm band like a cross between Chuck Berry, early Bob Dylan, and Marlon Brando. — Jon Landau, The Real Paper, May 9, 1974
I’m currently listening to “Springsteen on Broadway” on Spotify.
Man. What a show!
What a time we live in!
Right now, I can listen to The Boss’s Broadway show on Spotify and in two days I can watch it on Netflix.
Think about that.
Ten years ago, maybe HBO picks up the show.
Maybe it airs once on CBS then disappears into pop culture oblivion. Would it even be considered popular culture? Probably not. The long tail of this kind of content was non-existent. Imagine people asking: “Did you see Springsteen on CBS?” Nope. Here today, gone tomorrow.
Ten years ago, “Springsteen on Broadway” is probably a thing that superfans brag about seeing live or hearing on iTunes but remember streaming didn’t exist yet: you had to pay for the album!
Ten years ago, do millions of people pay for this DVD or buy this album on iTunes? Not likely!
Instead, it probably gets relegated to Concert DVD-land: A place where many great concerts by many great bands were available as long as you were aware of their presence and willing to fork over the money. Basically, you had to be a superfan. But let’s be honest, this wasn’t really a thing. It wasn’t an event and it was certainly not popular in mainstream America!
Today is different.
Today, Netflix buys content that has the potential to drive the discussion on art and culture in America.
“Springsteen on Broadway” is one of those pieces.
This show comes at a time where he has something to say and it deserves a platform as large in ambition as his show for all to see and hear.
So…is it prescient? Absolutely.
Is it timeless? Sure is.
Is it brilliant? Hell yes!
And while I continue to listen to his performance on Spotify it’s not actually new.
Instead, it’s bringing back great memories.
Last weekend, I went with my father to see “Springsteen on Broadway” for the second time since he started in October 2017.
You see, I didn’t really grow up on Springsteen but I certainly knew his music. Songs like “Hungry Heart” or “Born in the USA” were constant hits on the radio but it took until I was 31 to finally appreciate and understand the real Bruce Springsteen. The Boss from ‘Darkness’ and ‘Nebraska.’
The poet, the performer, the perfectionist. But still, a man.
Watch “Wings for Wheels: The Making of Born to Run” or “The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town,” and you’ll know what I mean.
You’ll see a 25-year-old who had to make a HIT album or else! Or else, he’d lose his record deal with Columbia Records, or else he’d be a failure to himself and his parents, or else a band would disband.
In 1975, the stakes were high and in his bid to create his masterpiece, only perfection was acceptable.
So what did he do? He recorded and recorded and well, he took over six months just to record the hit track ‘Born to Run.’
Famed music exec Jimmy Iovine worked as a sound engineer on Born to Run and said, “I learned my work ethic from Springsteen. I was a guy who would say, ‘Five o’clock, I’m out of here.’ Springsteen worked all the time. We were in a room with no window—no one ever knew what time it was.”
Or during the recording of “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” when he had a specific BIG drum sound in his head and spent weeks with Max Weinberg to make merge the two sounds in “The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town.”
These are just minor characteristics of a perfectionist who dreamt of being nothing short of the biggest thing in rock n’ roll since Elvis.
Anyways, I was lucky to get seats both opening week in October 2017 and this past weekend which happens to be the final week of the show to bear witness to Springsteen’s “magic trick” where 1+1 equals 3.
Both shows were immaculate productions where approximately 960 die hard fans bore witness to a living legend.
236 sold out shows. That’s how many shows Springsteen played in his 1.5 year run on 48th street.
We could talk about the insane success of the show. $76 million earned as of July. But that’s boring. He’s not The Worker. He’s THE BOSS!
In some ways, this was Bruce’s first real five-day a week job.
Before the first show, he told the New York Times, “This is my first real job, I think (laughs). That’s the one thing I’m going into with a certain sense of faith. I go, well, I’m not using myself so totally physically on a nightly basis. And I’m not using my voice — you know, you’re not screaming. But the mental energy that it takes to do it is the same. People come to see you be completely, completely present. Any time you’re trying to do that, it takes a lot of energy.”
Rarely do I encounter anything whether it’s a piece of “media” or a performance that truly captivates me to the point of speechlessness.
“Springsteen on Broadway” is that captivating.
While he entertains, he entrances the soul.
It’s rare to see anything that captures every human emotion. From joy to tears (yes, tears) to suspense to pain. Springsteen’s performance has it all.
Dressed in all black on a background of red brick with nothing but his guitar, piano and a microphone, The Boss brings everyone in and takes them on a journey. It’s not a concert. It’s a show. A performance paired with his story, much of which is taken from his excellent autobiography, Born to Run.
While each setlist was nearly the same (he later added the “The Ghost of Tom Joad” to the show); the length of the show, the tone and feel were completely different.
In the first show as people started clapping to ‘Dancing in the Dark’, The Boss motioned down then said “I got this.” Other times when folks tried to stand up, he sat them down…no one was upset.
Because we all want to see the magician pull off his magic trick.
Man, it worked!
I remember leaving the show with a unique feeling. It was the feeling that I hadn’t breathed for two hours.
That’s the power of rock n’ roll!
I thought about the show for weeks upon end and eventually got lucky to get another set of tickets for this December.
The second show was just as good but between the first week and the last something happened.
The monologues didn’t change. Nor did his voice. It was something else.
Bruce loosened up.
The poetry in his stories became more unstructured. “Buttoned up” stories became unstructured but as I sit here and listen to the show on Spotify, it’s the same monologue!
He just told his stories more casually….He just...loosened up!
And the voice, my God his voice! It remains the same as we’ve heard since the early 70s.
How does he do it? How does he make this connection that all of us feel when we watch him?
I don’t know. It’s different for everyone but I can say with 100% accuracy that on both evenings everyone in the audience was transported in ways I’ve never seen before and might never see again.
It was magical.
In today’s world, there’s SO MUCH CONTENT. But there isn’t much perfection. There aren’t many people in any creative field whether that’s acting, music, art, writing, etc…whose bulls-eye is aimed at perfection.
This show hits that bullseye, but that’s always been Springsteen’s goal.
Anyways, I’m not going to give anything else away but when the show drops this weekend on Netflix, carve out some time for The Boss on Broadway. You won’t regret it.
So re-read Jon Landau’s passage at the top and realize, he wasn’t wrong. He even doubled down on his bet and became Bruce’s manager for the last forty years but he wasn’t wrong.
Last Friday, I saw my rock ’n’ roll past flash before my eyes.
And his name was Bruce Springsteen!
SPRINGSTEEN READS & LISTENS
Springsteen on WTF Podcast with Marc Maron #773
Just two Jersey guys hanging out, talking about dads, depression, fear, fulfillment and the future. Bruce tells Marc how and why he constructed "Bruce Springsteen" and what he's learned about the struggle we all go through to become who we really are.
This episode changed my life!
Steven Hyden’s Celebration Rock podcast eight-part series 20th Century Boss on Bruce Springsteen.
This podcast series is absolutely EPIC!
The Mind Is a Terrifying Place. Even For Bruce Springsteen, Esquire, December 2018
“DNA is a big part of what the show is about: turning yourself into a free agent. Or, as much as you can, into an adult, for lack of a better word. It’s a coming-of-age story, and I want to show how this—one’s coming of age—has to be earned. It’s not given to anyone. It takes a certain single-minded purpose. It takes self-awareness, a desire to go there. And a willingness to confront all the very fearsome and dangerous elements of your life—your past, your history—that you need to confront to become as much of a free agent as you can. This is what the show is about...It’s me reciting my ‘Song of Myself.’ ” - Bruce Springsteen
The Boss Observed, Esquire, December 1985
“All you needed to do,” Springsteen says when he unpacks the lesson Elvis taught him, “was to risk being your true self.”
It’s probably true that all Springsteen fans remember the precise moment and place they heard their first Springsteen song and knew the world to go “click.”
Bruce Springsteen at Sixty-Two - The New Yorker, July 2012
The House Springsteen Built: An Oral History of the Stone Pony - New York Times Oral History, October, 2018
Natalie Prass Listens to Bruce Springsteen: "This Sax Solo Just Keeps Going"
"I feel like New Jersey dudes have this tough guy thing but they would be super kind who would drop everything on a dime to help someone. That's what this sounds like."
The Stone Pony - Jarrod Dicker
The late 1980’s were a time of rising costs and insurance expenses. It was difficult for any venues offering live music to survive during such drastic inflation. As Bruce says in his song Atlantic City, “Everything Dies, Baby That’s a Fact.” And so seemed true, as Jack and Butch were forced to sell the Stone Pony in bankruptcy court in order to obtain protection from creditors. Through all the history and unforgettable moments, it all came down to money at the end...but...as the Atlantic City lyric continues it unveils that maybe, “Everything that dies, someday comes back.”
Backstreets.com: 40 Years of Darkness
“It's as if Springsteen was saying the American Dream might be bullshit, but the American Dreamer is the sum total and collective soul of all that's worthy in us.” - Dennis Lehane, Author of Mystic River, Shutter Island
By the way, Coach Pat Riley’s excerpt in this post is incredible! ‘Darkness’ changed his life!
Special thanks to Noah Chestnut for pushing me to just. press. publish!