Posts Tagged ‘Born to Run’

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Sept. 27th, 2016: A line of predominately middle-aged men and women snaked through the aisles of the Barnes & Noble store in Freehold, N.J., as if an intricate design of human dominos. If one toppled, a staggered, spectacular collapse was sure to follow – well, maybe not. We weren’t packed in that tight. In fact, some sat on folding metal chairs while others plopped on the carpet. A few weeks before, the lot of us – 1200 in all – procured the right to purchase an autographed copy of Bruce Springsteen’s new memoir, Born to Run, and – wait for it – nab a picture with him.

img_2153Bruce was slated to be in the store from noon to 4pm. It was too good of an opportunity to pass up, even though the allotted time per person – 12 seconds, if my math is correct – was super short.

Diane and I arrived at 7:20am, met up with friends, and were quickly shepherded – by a small army of B&N personnel – into a cattle pen set up in the parking lot. (We weren’t the first in line – far from it – but closer to 150.) At the store’s normal opening hour, 9am, an orderly process unfolded: Those first to arrive were allowed inside to buy a pre-signed book and then placed at the front of the domino line. Additional clusters followed until the store was filled with fans awaiting a chance to shake Bruce’s hand and say…

img_2202“Lower your damn ticket prices!” That’s what I joked to Diane and our friends I’d tell him.

As it happened, Bruce arrived closer to 10:30am than noon, and the line started to move shortly thereafter. At a few minutes before 11, I handed my phone to a suited fellow, who handed it to the suited person next to him, and on down a small assembly line, and within a minute or so I was on a small stage beside the Boss. He offered me a hand and smiled for the picture, but I wasn’t thinking in terms of that. “Thank you for your music,” I told him.

“You’re welcome,” he croaked.

“It’s made a difference,” I continued. “It’s made the good times even better and the bad times much more manageable.”

“Thank you,” he said.

And before he or I could say anything else, one of the suits placed his hands on my shoulders and gave me a gentle nudge. My 12 seconds (actually, closer to a minute) were up.

It’s not the first time I’ve shared that sentiment with a music artist, I should mention, nor will it (hopefully) be the last. Life can be challenging. We wake, roll out of bed and, often, dread the day to come – maybe it’s the morning commute or pile of work awaiting us at the office; perhaps a dead-end job for dead-end wages; or, at times, something much, much worse. But the music takes us away from whatever it is, albeit for a few minutes, and helps us muster the strength to soldier on. On the flip side, it elevates life’s wondrous moments in ways that are near-impossible to put into print (and, for once, I won’t try). In short, it’s the great intangible that enriches daily existence. To be able to thank someone who, for whatever reason, has devoted themselves to doing just that? How could one not?

There have been a handful of artists – okay, maybe a dozen – whose songs I’ve turned to time and again, in thick and thin, throughout the decades. That Bruce Springsteen is one of those artists should come as no surprise to anyone reading this; for me, his artful treatises on life and dreams, and the many in-betweens, reflect his audience as much as they do himself. He doesn’t sing at us, but for and with us. He gives voice to our hopes and fears, joys and tears, no matter where we find ourselves on life’s highway.

To quote from something I wrote years ago, “no matter one’s age, the future isn’t here yet. Hope is to be had and, indeed, the darkness shall lift – at least for a few hours – when Bruce and band play the Wells Fargo Center two nights next week.” For him, I’m sure that our fleeting meet-and-greet blurred into the mass of faces and hands he saw and shook. How could it not? But to me? I’m grateful to have been able to say “thanks,” and not just for what his music has done for me in the past, but what it still does for me in the present.

 

The 1970s were an odd time in America, beginning with tumult on the streets and college campuses and ending with the closest thing to a whimper this country has ever emitted. Post-Watergate and post-Vietnam, the nation sputtered sighs that mixed relief with resignation, and a recognition that—for the first time since the Depression—the American Dream might just be out of reach. The post-WWII economy that birthed the middle class and suburbia was flailing from oil embargoes, inflation and unemployment. Times were tough, in other words, and best articulated by Merle Haggard in his classic “If We Make It Through December”.

In fact, despite his many misdeeds, and there were many, my hunch is that the Watergate scandal never would’ve gained traction if President Nixon had handled the economy with the same verve as he did, say, detente with China. Instead, inflation gradually increased; and, by his last year in office, 1974, it averaged 11 percent. While there’s only so much a government can do to lessen economic woes, perception plays a pivotal role. People expect the president to address their concerns; and Nixon never did.

Of course, when they do address them, they need to do it right. With little letup in the intervening years, President Jimmy Carter lassoed the elephant in the room with his “malaise speech” of 1979: “It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation.”

Unfortunately, the message wasn’t what Americans wanted or needed to hear. Carter would’ve been better off saying: “Times are tough, and getting tougher, but we’ll get through this. Here’s how,” and then ticking off his six-point plan, instead of hectoring the American people. Leaders lift folks up, and never chastise them about “self-indulgence” and “consumption” when, for most, such extravagances aren’t options.

Looking back, one can see why the decade’s music veered hither and yon, moving from fluff and escapism to grit and certitude. Saturday Night Fever, the movie, is a good encapsulation of the need, at times, for fluff and escapism: Tony Manero (John Travolta) leads, on a day-to-day basis, a dreary life. He doesn’t live to dance, but dances to live.

So, for today’s Top 5: Songs of the Seventies. There’s a decade’s worth of material to pull from, of course, and much that I could (and probably should) use, but these five songs – mainstream all – spoke to the hearts and minds of millions of people at the time, and have spoken to many more in the years since. They articulate the dreams and desires of and for escape, however temporary, and do so in a timeless manner while eschewing saccharine sentiments.

1) Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – “Born to Run,” 1975.

2) Jackson Browne – “Running on Empty,” 1977.

3) Linda Ronstadt – “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me,” 1976. (Video from 1977.)

4) Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band – “We’ve Got Tonight,” 1978. (Video from 1980.)

5) Fleetwood Mac – “Rhiannon,” 1975. (Video from 1976.)

And one bonus…

The Eagles – “Hotel California,” 1976.