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... )


Jilly said...

whoo! Hope you had fun in Nashville!! I almost bought a ticket for the concert but I'm pretty much signing my paycheck over to Drs. these days hahaha & Bruce concerts take a lot out of you when you are feeling tip top let alone tired haha.

Anonymous said...

"'For You,' the hardcover book collection of Springsteen stories from the rock troubadour's most devoted fans, is not a well-written book in the traditional sense.
But somehow, those less polished pieces add to the book's charm — and taken together with some of more insightful entries they help form what, in the end, turns out to be one of the most fascinating and moving books I've ever read.
In reading "For You," at first it's hard to believe that one performer could possibly have touched this many people this deeply — lifted them from depression, kept them from suicide, helped them through divorce or the death of a parent, or worse, a child. But story after story reveals just how much Springsteen's music and his almost superhuman presence on the concert stage have penetrated people's lives and, in as much as it is possible for music to do so, made them whole. There's a running theme of these reminiscences, one that is sure to warm any Bruce fan's heart: that you are not crazy. Not crazy for seeing dozens or even hundreds of concerts; not crazy for feeling that Springsteen's songs and lyrics have actually helped carry you through some of life's toughest moments; not crazy to think that this man whom you've never met has and continues to fill some kind of void in your life.

Lisa Allender said...

Hi there, Land Mammal! I stopped in, Ms. Haines, to try & catch up with your Blog, and began with this entry--I'll be reading several other etries today, too.
I am struck by the influence "The Boss" has had in your life/thoughts/feelings, but truly not surprised. My Mom, Demetra, dated a fellow who grew up in Jersey and was able to see Bruce and E-Street Band play at their original watering-hole, and he spoke of how humble he (Bruce) is, etc.
What a great legacy as a performer, as an artist--that you are universally celebrated for your kindness, and engagement with your audience!

MDDave on Backstreets.com said...

Hi Anne. I found your blog while looking into the "E Street Nation" for a paper I am writing for Glory Days: A Springsteen Symposium in September. My paper is titled, "The Aging of the E Street Nation," and your blog from last summer touches on a number of my themes, including community, growing older, mortality, and the shared experience of Bruce and the E Street Band. Thanks for the blog, and I will be sure to cite your work appropriately if I use any of your work.