Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Road Notes from the E Street Nation

I am home after a Grand Adventure. I drove 1350 miles in a rental car and saw Bruce Springsteen perform in Nashville, St. Louis, and Kansas City. All three shows were wonderful; St. Louis was probably the best concert I have ever seen by anyone, ever. (Some people who've seen 50+ Springsteen shows over 30+ years are declaring St. Louis to be at least in their top five.) He played for just under 3 hours in Nashville and over 3 hours in the other cities. And when I say "he played" I do not mean that he came out on stage and sat there while the band did stuff, or that he came out and sang for a while then declared an intermission and took a break. No. These shows were relentless. It was incredible.

I feel like this little trip has changed my life in some way, although I have yet to put my finger on just how.

I met a lot of really nice people at the shows. Many dedicated Springsteen fans refer to themselves as the "E Street Nation" and, cheesey as it may be, there is something to that. There is a real community feeling, a pool of shared imagery and shared experiences. There is, often, a sense of the need to take care of one another; there are always charity efforts going on (in KC a group of fans put together a raffle and raised $1100 for a local food bank, an effort which garnered onstage thanks from Bruce himself), and many fans take care to watch out for one another on the general-admission floor -- you get out there a couple hours before the show starts, and if you've come alone, it's pretty easy to get someone to hold your spot for you while you dash to the restroom or get a drink of water. One of the people I met emailed me to make sure I'd made it home safely.

There are a lot of things I want to write about, after this trip. It's going to take me a few days to wrap my mind around it all. It was about the music (and oh, how I need to remember that music is what saves my soul, over and over again) but it was about much more than that.

Kansas City was the last official show of the "Magic" tour. (The band is playing at HarleyFest in Milwaukee this Saturday night, but it may not be a full set, as there's an opening act and stuff. And Bruce himself said that KC was the last night of the tour.) There was a definite farewell feeling to it. A bunch of fans had made up small (just sheet of paper size) signs that simply said "Thank you!" on them, and coordinated a moment at the end of the show to hold them up; Bruce and the band were clearly very touched by this and it was such a sweet moment. (After all these years, you'd think it would come as no surprise, how we feel about this band. You'd think they would start to take it for granted. But I really don't think they do, and that's why it's so magical.)

The first encore began with "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)," dedicated to Danny Federici -- the E Street Band organist/accordionist who died of melanoma this past April -- and to Terry Magovern, Bruce's personal assistant and close friend who died just over a year ago. I wept through the whole thing. It's been a long tour for this band, punctuated by too many funerals. It's not the same band it was a year ago when they kicked this thing off. It's not the same world it was a year ago. I can't imagine how exhausted they must be, physically and emotionally. And yet they gave us their absolute all, night after night after night. Just amazing.

For the final encore, Bruce sang a sweet, tender version of "Save the Last Dance for Me" -- not a song that's normally found on their setlist -- that roared into a loose, rollicking rendition of "Dancing in the Dark" and then a purely celebratory "Rockin' All Over the World." And then one final bow, as Bruce thanked us for supporting the tour, supporting the "Magic" album, and supporting the music for all these years. He thanked the E Street Nation by name, and for some reason that was tremendously touching to me.

The last few shows of this tour have been just off the hook, insanely good. They were added sort of at the last minute, and people have wondered why. I have a theory, now. You know how, when you're about to leave on a long journey, you make sure you tell the people you love that you love them? Just in case something happens? Well, I think that after the losses they've suffered in the past year or so, Bruce and the band are keenly aware that there are no guarantees. I think they have every intention of touring again -- I don't think this is the end of the E Street Band. But these guys are in their fifties and sixties, and nobody lives forever, not even Bruce Springsteen. And I think that these shows have been a little love letter to the E Street Nation ... just in case.

I hope they know we love them, too.

It seems so cheesey to be saying these things, talking about "love" in the context of a rock & roll band. I sound like such an over the moon fangirl. Of course I don't know Bruce personally, or any of the band members, and probably will never even meet any of them. But there is such a sense of love in that community and in that room when they are playing. I mean, most of those guys have been working together for 35 years or more. The love among them is visible onstage and it's such a strong thing. I know, I know, it's part of the mythos they've developed, and it's part of their job to be entertainers and look like they're enjoying themselves. But you can NOT fake what they do & what they have. You can't fake that much fun and that kind of brotherhood. And it's contagious. I know that this band & this music has made me a stronger, braver, better person in the 30+ years (eek) I've been listening to them.

Well, I didn't intend for this blog post to veer so far over into a pure declaration of fandom. Oh well. Them's the breaks. I'll talk about poetry again sometime soon, I'm sure. :) I've got some writing (and maybe even some poems) percolating in my head after this little road trip. For now, I'm just struggling with the return to the "real world" after the Summer Vacation to the E Street Nation.

(For setlists and full reviews, check out the best source for all things Springsteen: backstreets.com)

(P.S. As a result of this little trip, I'm way behind on every-freaking-thing again. I owe some of you email! I will get to it over the next couple of days. I had my laptop with me, but as soon as I got out on the road, it was like nothing mattered but the shows, and even when I had time in the hotel room during the day before a show, I was just sort of pacing around waiting until it was time to go over to the arena. Sigh. Now I know, just a little bit, how touring musicians feel... )

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Super quick notes

Last night's Springsteen show (2nd of the 3 I'm chasing) was nothing short of jaw-dropping. I didn't have the amazing spot I had in Nashville (right up front with one person between me and the stage), but I had a pretty nice spot fairly close where I could see just about everything; I've always hesitated to go for general-admission tickets because I'm 5 foot 1 and figured I'd just end up staring at some six-footer's back, but both nights it has worked out well. (For Kansas City, my sister & her husband are driving out and we have reserved seats. I'm going to feel like we are verrrrrry far away, sigh.)

Bruce was about as happy as I've ever seen him on stage. He always seems to love performing; yes, as an entertainer it's his job to make it look like he's having a good time even if he's not, but folks, you can't fake that much fun. Last night he was positively radiant! And some nights, you just can't drag that boy off the stage. After the usual encore set, he's been adding on a bonus second encore pretty frequently, generally just one song. Last night he played two songs in that spot, and after the band took more bows, there was yet one more! They ended with "Twist & Shout," which is the same way the very first Springsteen show I ever saw ended... back in 1978. Wow. All in all this show was about 20 minutes longer than Nashville, clocking in at a sweet 3 hours and 15 minutes. For a guy who's pushing sixty, and a bunch of band members around the same age, that is amazing. And no, they don't take an intermission. Not a lot of "stand there and talk to introduce the song" breaks either. His shows these days are relentless.

His guitar players (Little Steven Van Zandt -- yes, the guy from The Sopranos; he was in the E Street Band long before he was on TV -- and Nils Lofgren) have been absolutely on fire both in Nashville and St. Louis. They both tore the roof off the place last night. Steve's solo on "Gypsy Biker" might be the best I've ever seen him do. Just incredible.

The other thing I want to say is that if you're ever looking for a moderately priced hotel in downtown St. Louis, the Drury Inn at Union Station is highly recommended. The room is well-appointed, clean, and comfortable; the amenities are great (and I didn't even get to take advantage of the evening reception where you get up to 3 free alcoholic drinks!), and the staff has been very helpful and professional. Also, the breakfast buffet is huge, with pastries, sausage, scrambled eggs, french toast, make your own waffles, decent coffee, and lots of other stuff. Not the cheapest hotel I've ever stayed in, but quite reasonable, and just very nice.

Tonight: Goin' to Kansas City!

Oh, and Friday night when I got here I met up with Julie and Laine, who showed me a bit of St. Louis. Beer, a used bookstore, dinner, and gelato. Yes, that covers the bases of almost all my favorite vices right there. Thanks, guys! :)

P.S. After 3+ hours of singing along, whooping, and "Bruuuuuuuuce!"-ing, I have almost no voice. I sound like a cross between Mickey Mouse, a gravel road, and a mime. I don't know how Bruce does it without ripping up his voice every night... I guess that's called "actually knowing how to sing." *grin*

Friday, August 22, 2008

Quick rockin' notes

Sorry I've been a blog-absentee lately! Things have been fairly nuts.

I am on my "chase Bruce Springsteen around the south/midwest" road trip... last night was the show in Nashville, Sat. night is St. Louis, Sunday is Kansas City. Last night's show was possibly the best concert I have ever seen in my life (and since the previous holder of that title was Bruce's show in 1978, that is definitely saying something). The setlist rocked, the band was incredibly loose and playful, and I had only one person between me and the stage (and that person was about my height, so I wasn't looking at the back of some six foot dude all evening). I was over towards the right (audience's right) of the stage, and could see Bruce most of the time, and had a particularly good view of guitarist Steve Van Zandt -- who I am quite certain grinned right at me more than once. (Okay, I was sort of uncontrollably playing air guitar now and then and I'm sure it was quite amusing. Ahem. Stop laughing at me.)

This morning my voice is shot from singing and cheering and whooping and "Bruuuuuuce"-ing, and I have a big grin on my face that ain't going away for a while, I'm sure. I met up with a librarian friend for breakfast and she gave me a tour of the Nashville public library, which is really gorgeous! So I have indulged the rocker-chick side of me and the librarian-nerd side of me all in one trip. If I could just take in a poetry reading and pet some kittens, all my bases would be covered. *grin*

Time to shut down the laptop and head on to St. Louis, where I will be meeting up with the fabulous Julie & Laine for dinner tonight! You guys, this is the best road trip ever. I am so happy and having so much fun.

Monday, August 11, 2008

AWP hotel heads-up

Hey, everyone who's going to AWP in February -- for some reason I thought to check the Hilton website tonight and lo & behold, the only non-smoking rooms left at the lowest price level (which is still more than I make in a day, sigh...) are rooms with one double bed. If you're going, and planning to stay at the Hilton, it might be prudent to go ahead and book now, or soon.

I'm sure there will be cancellations, and rooms with a king or two doubles will probably open up. But I'm a low-risk kind of gal, so I booked my room tonight just to be safe.

There are probably cheaper places to stay nearby, but I decided it's worth at least 20 bucks a night NOT to have to go outside in a Chicago winter. :) The Hilton charges a ridiculous amount for parking, so I'm going to drive to my mom's in northern Indiana, leave the car there, and take the train into Chicago. Should work fine. I may decide to forego paying for wi-fi in my room to save a few bucks -- maybe some nice poet who's less broke than I am will let me bring my laptop into their room and sponge off theirs for a few minutes a day if I ask real nicely. ;)

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RIP Isaac Hayes.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Available for weddings, bar mitzvahs...

... exorcisms, tent revivals, rummage sales, protest marches ...

No, seriously. Now that my chapbook is due out in a month (and I have galleys in hand which makes it seem real), I am definitely seeking reading opportunities. I don't know that posting it here will necessarily garner any, but it can't hurt either! So if you are looking for a not-so-young but up-and-coming (heh) poet to do a reading, workshop, Q&A, or anything else poet-ish, drop me a note! I am happy to travel so long as my expenses get covered.

I will also gladly accept any tips about bookstores, reading series, etc. that might be interested in booking me. I've done lots of readings locally, and I think it's time for me to try expanding beyond my little neck of the woods.

For those of you who've done a lot of readings: have you put together a press kit to send out? If so, do you find that it helps?

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One of my poetry groups met yesterday afternoon, out at the home of one of our members who lives a little ways outside of town. It was an absolutely gorgeous day (as was today), so we sat outside enjoying the fresh air and watching birds -- more than a dozen soaring vultures, a hummingbird, a dainty little gnatcatcher, a red-headed woodpecker, etc. It made me wish I had the wherewithal to move out in the country a bit myself. So nice to look out your window and see nothing but green trees & fields & wildlife, and the neighbor's horses across the fence, instead of seeing into your next door neighbor's kitchen window. I'd love to open my windows & hear birds instead of hearing ambulances roaring down the busy street that intersects mine a couple houses down from me. Maybe someday.

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Despite myself, I found myself glued to the opening ceremonies of the Olympics the other night. Wherever you stand on China's politics, you have to admit it was a spectacular spectacle. Really beautifully choreographed and performed, and the ceremony put technology to very good use. Plus, best fireworks display ever!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Chapbook update and a something

Chapbook update: Finishing Line Press is running a bit behind. For those of you who ordered a copy of Breach, you can now expect it to ship around September 12. Sorry about that!

The good news is that there were enough pre-orders to justify a larger press run. So I'll get 50 author copies, and the press run will be 500. Whee! I'll be able to get at least a couple of local bookstores to stock it, and I'll have copies to sell at readings. Oh, and I know of at least two libraries that have ordered it. That part makes me extra happy. I feel like once your words are safely on the shelf in a good library, in a way, you're going to live forever.

I know, I'm a nerd. Deal with it. :)

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Here's a drafty something for you. I'll leave it up for a day or so. This is from the series I mentioned in my previous post.

[--gone. I think it ran away to join the circus.]

Sunday, August 03, 2008


Perhaps because finishing up (inasmuch as something I expect to continue tweaking for another year or two is "finished") my book manuscript has freed me from my usual constraints and expectations, I find myself working on something entirely new for me: a series of poems about a fictional persona, whose life story (from about age 14 to about age 50) I've been exploring. Some of the poems are in third person, many are in second person, and a few are in first person; some of the first-person poems are in the voice of the main character and some are in the voice of someone else, either addressing or thinking about the main character. There is an ongoing story or narrative involved, though the poems function as a series of scattered vignettes rather than anything quite as organized as a novel-in-verse; I'm interested in opening up windows on various moments of my character's life, peering in, and then moving on to the next. So far I have about a dozen poems in various stages of draft, and there will be more (though who knows how many of them will end up feeling strong enough to send them out into the world). I have no idea whether they're going to end up being arranged chronologically, though I suspect they may, more or less.

This is way more narrative than I'm used to juggling! It is an interesting challenge for me. Even though many of the individual poems function on the lyric as much as (or even more than) the narrative level, the overall trajectory relies heavily on things like character, setting, exposition, and the passage of time. As I draft the poems, some of them are coming out really prosey -- or what feels to me like "prosey" anyway. Which means they feel flat in places, overly expository. Anyone have tricks for revising drafts that start out like this? I want them to be poems, not jumpy little stories with line breaks!

These are fun to write, though. I feel like I get to play dress-up a bit. And my character has some damned cool boots. :)

Friday, August 01, 2008

Ain't no cure

The Boss & crew in New Jersey:
Springsteen performs Summertime Blues

[Review of Night 3 of Springsteen's 3-night Giants Stadium stand, here.]

Three weeks from tonight I'll be in the midst of a small road trip, chasing this guy around the midwest(-ish). I'll be getting to shows in Nashville, St. Louis, and Kansas City -- three shows in four nights. It's not that much of a road trip by some people's standards, but for someone who's never driven more than a couple of hours for a concert before, it's fairly monumental. I anticipate exhaustion and a very, very good time. (I have general admission, standing-room tickets for Nashville and STL. Springsteen's shows run three hours or so, plus standing and waiting before the show. When I say exhaustion, I mean it! It will be so worth it, though.)

I've always had romantic daydreams about jumping in the car and chasing rock stars around the country, but never have done it before. This will be small-scale as those things go, but should be a nice way to close out my summer anyhow. I've been working on a set of rock & roll-inspired poems, so with any luck, the trip will serve double duty as vacation & inspiration.

Sorry I haven't been blogging much lately. Life gets in the way sometimes, you know. Should have my head above water a bit more very soon.