Thoughts about Bruce on Broadway

(I guess I never posted this … it’s been in my bin for some time. New Bruce music coming out had me thinking of this viewing again. — Kevin)

I have a friend who has long been a diehard Bruce Springsteen fan, who watched the Netflix special “Bruce on Broadway” (and even tried to score tickets during Bruce’s run in New York City) who dislikes the Springsteen he sees up on that stage. My friend thinks Springsteen comes across as too pompous and unapproachable and, well, fake.

Which I find interesting, since Bruce begins the show by telling us, his audience, that he is indeed a fake, a magician who invented his hard-scrabble persona for the stage of rock and roll by emulating his father, the one who showed little love during Bruce’s childhood but whose country-wide unexpected travel to see Bruce in California before his first child was born is one of the emotional touchstones of this concert. He never worked in a factory. He never worked as a car mechanic. His sole job has been making music.

I appreciate Springsteen as a songwriter (although I find the Born in the USA album years of over-produced pop a terrible turn for him, even though I know it was made him into a star) and I was impressed with how well he commands the stage when I saw him and the E Street Band years ago. He had us at the first power chord.

I find it sadly ironic that while he uses his stage to advocate for racial tolerance and economic equity, and weaves those messages into his songwriting, his longtime core audience of blue-collar listeners is likely the same ones who voted Trump into office. You can tell he thinks about this, too.

Unlike my friend, I watched this special, knowing what it was: a performance on the stage and not just another acoustic concert.  Bruce spent a year or so working on these stories, the flow and the pacing, night after night. He framed his songs as stories of his life, and as a songwriter, I am always fascinated to hear a musician peel the paint back on where songs come from. Bruce does that, although sometimes he reaches a bit too much for a grandiose approach (this is what bothers my friend).

A few things that stood out for me after watching Bruce on Broadway (you can stream/listen to the whole album on YouTube if you have 2 1/2 hours to kill):

  • The ghost of Clarence Clemons looms large in the show, and the section where Bruce remembers meeting the saxophonist and his huge personality, and the way the E Street Band coalesced around the two of them — characters in a story on the stage — is pretty fascinating. Bruce nearly tears up on the memories, and then launches into Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, about Clarence and the band during the New York blackout.
  • Bruce is a fine piano player. I guess I didn’t quite know that. He has a soft touch and I was pretty impressed with how he finds his way around the keys, as he alternates with acoustic guitars on songs.
  • The story of his father underlies everything, and the aforementioned tale of the day before Bruce’s child is born, when his dad arrives unannounced to tell Bruce that he wishes he had been a better father, is riveting. It’s not an act of forgiveness as much as an act of understanding. The song about his father he then plays is like a call to the past.
  • Bruce uses his position on the lighted stage to push back against anti-immigration policies, and for cultural awareness and understanding, before playing The Ghost of Tom Joad, and I wondered how this audience — paying top dollar on Broadway — differs from his other audience, the one that saw themselves in The River and other songs.
  • A revamping of Born in the USA as a swamp blues song shoutout was good, and necessary, pulling the song back from political hoorah of America to the story of how America has long left its war veterans with marginal support.
  • Bruce has a lot of guitars. Jealous.

Peace (singing it),

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