If you attend a Bruce Springsteen concert today, you will be treated to between two and a half to three and a half hours of the finest rock music to ever emanate from a concert stage. But those, like me, who remember pre-Born in the U.S.A. concerts, recall that Springsteen usually sprinkled these wonderful stories among the great songs. You can get a small taste of that on his first live album, the retrospective that covers the first 10 years of his live appearances. He introduces The River on that album with a universal tale about his relationship with his father. And although not many can relate to the story through its details (How many of us had our father shear our long hair while we were in the hospital recovering from a motocycle accident?), we can all relate to it as a study in parental relations, the causes of conflicts and the resolutions, especially the heartbreaking emotional climax to Springsteen's story: "He said 'That's good'." Every time I hear it I vividly recall my relations with my father who died 48 years ago. (I always wish, however, Springsteen had used that particular story to introduce Independence Day, but that's a minor quibble).
Springsteen's stories were carefully choreographed although they seemed immediately spontaneous. Listening to them you felt you were among a small handful of extremely lucky individuals to be in the audience on that particular night when Springsteen told a particular tale. I remember one show -- it was either in 1975 or 1978 -- and in the middle of his Growin' Up, Springsteen went into this extended recollection of his teenage years -- his lost teenage years -- as he struggled to make some sense of his life and to give his future a purpose. At one point in the story he talked about being lost in a dense New Jersey wood, trying to push aside the brush in a vain attempt to make it to a roadway that would eventually lead him out. Suddenly, he came upon a clearing in the forest "and ... there ... in that clearing ..." At that moment, an overhead spot illuminated a guitar in its stand that had been placed, without any of us noticing it, in the center of the stage. The audience went absolutely apoplectic and the intensity heightened as Bruce slowly walked over to the guitar as though it had been deposited by G-d or some intergalactic alien, picked it up, inspected it and finally began playing the chords leading into the last verses of Growin' Up. Choreographed? Sure. But, damn, it seemed so right at the moment.
I really miss hearing those stories in Springsteen concerts today. Quite logically, I guess, perhaps Springsteen feels that stories of teen angst would sound ridiculous coming from the mouth of someone who's going to turn 60 years old next month. But I'm betting Bruce has some feelings about how his emotional teen years has translated into the way he has raised his own sons, the oldest of which is a sophomore at Boston College and the youngest of which is 15. Those stories are universal as well.
I remember growing up we had some definite rules my little brother and I had to obey. I quickly placed these rules into two groups: smart rules and stupid rules. It didn't matter, however, which group a rule was categorized in, we had to obey them all. One rule we had to obey, for example, was "Don't run with a pair of scissors in your hand." Now that was a smart rule. You could trip, fall and seriously injure yourself by running with a pair of scissors in your hand. (I was so intent on self-preservation as a kiddo, I never thought about the fact that I could run blindly around a corner and smack into someone else with an outstretched pair of scissors in my hand.) Another rule in our household was "You don't sing at the supper table." This was a prime example of a stupid rule. Who could be hurt (except those purists who knew none of us could carry a tune in a bucket) by any of singing at the dinner table? I can tell you today that some of my best times are those my granddaughter, my son and I spend around the dinner table singing songs. And, following in a long and heralded family tradition, my granddaughter, who's 3 and a half, remembers all the words to every song and can't carry a tune worth a lick. But we have fun.
Of course, her favorite song right now is Oogum Boogum, but I have plenty of time to work on her music education. After all, I was 6 before I realized there was popular music beyond The Woody Woodpecker Song.