Where are all my Negroes at? Why aren’t there more Black people out here screaming Bruuuuce like Dolly Earshatterer to the rear of my right lobe? Could it possibly be because The Boss’s ascendancy roughly coincided with the landing of The Mothership and the rise of another hellified Jersey band by the name of Parliament-Funkadelic? But Springsteen? Man, I didn’t know, fool that I sometimes be. Wasn’t like folk hadn’t tried to tell a brother— Nelson George proclaiming Bruuuce The Hardest Working Man Since James Brown and whatnot, moreso than The Artist even.
But to finally see Springsteen live is to become some kind of believer. First, because he’s truly unruly and got That Thang, which one might roughly translate as the ability to enchant, delight, and power-fuck a crowd for two and a half hours as he did at the Meadowlands Saturday night. Second, because he’s not taking indifference for an answer and you’d have to be dead to not respond to his shock tactics. From his humble and introspective MTV/VH1 sound bites you wouldn’t necessarily know Springsteen was such a stage hogg, dogg. A shameless ham with an ego the size of Bill Gates’s money tree who lives to leave an already hysterical crowd limp or speaking in tongues.
Like David Bowie is the last rock star, guardian of that music’s aristocratic high castle, Springsteen is the last real rock and roller, final embodiment of that working-class music hero whose name and fame got built from hometown roots on up. Twenty-five years beyond superstardom Bowie and Springsteen still impress because they both still take it to the stage like they’re hungry for your love. To see Springsteen in a Jersey arena is to see Springsteen under a revival tent. It’s in fact where his blue-collar creed connects up with his all-American Confidence Man Carny Barker Televangelist shtick. So that you get band introductions being delivered as prophecy (“And the gypsy woman said you need looooove in your life! Introducing Patty Scialfa, ladies and gentlemen! And she said you need rhythm! Max Weinberg!”) and the man’s patented grandstanding on top of Roy Bittan’s grand piano being made into a forum for crowd-incitement that would give Robert Duvall’s Apostle a run for his money, or maybe even the Muhammad Ali of What’s-My-Name fame. Springsteen’s rapport with his folks staggers not only for the degree of adulation present, but for his ability to move them from vulgarity to deep thought in a heartbeat.
Growing up in public is an American commonplace, but few in popular music have ever managed to make being a fully grown man as charming to the national sensibility as living fast, decaying young, and dragging about a needle-pocked corpse. If Springsteen now stands for anything besides a fucking good time at the opera it’s the notion that you can keep the fire under That Thing lit well into middle-aged domesticity without plying the Pan card à la Mr. Jagger or ho’ing your relic status on the oldies circuit à la Mr. Berry.
And while the New Jersey bar band aesthetic is not my first choice for fun, there’s no denying the roughneck transcendence of the form achieved by Bruuuuce and the E Street Band— via a skintight and impassioned deployment of dynamics, and those wicked slambang segues that never fail to blow your head back vertical take-off stylee. Springsteen, Lofgren, and Van Zandt make guitar solos matter again by virtue of the sheer violence with which they attack their axes, and by virtue of how their leads leap out like sputtering dynamite sticks. And Bittan’s recombination of Tin Pan Alley Chopinisms with the right foot and left knee of Jerry Lee Lewis is an erotic thrill all its own.
Hearing Clarence Clemons blow brings to mind Ornette Coleman’s comment about the tenor saxophone being the definitive voice of African American musicality and masculinity. There is something about the Clemons/ Springsteen bond I suspect conjures up the ghost of Martin Luther King in the audience, judging from the instantaneous howls of delight whenever the Big Man drapes them with his bluesy warm blanket. Proof that Black don’t crack: Clemons actually looks more cherubic now than he did 15 years ago, less mean and raunchy and more living in the light.
The set list included a hella songs I didn’t know and some of the few I do— no “Born in the U.S.A.” or “Streets of Philadelphia,” which all my sista-friends tell me is their favorite
Bruuuce ever. Since I accepted my editor’s offer of a fool’s mission to write about some cat I’d barely paid attention to in 30 years of record buying, all I can offer by way of apology is that I’m now catching up on my homework.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band play Continental Airlines Arena August 11 and 12, completing their 15-show run.