Saturday, March 23, 2013

Bruce Almighty

Disclaimer: This is not meant to be funny. It's just about how much I love Bruce Springsteen.
The great thing about marriage is that you always have someone to go everywhere with you. When you say “we are going to see Hanson” for example, your spouse is legally obliged to respond “sure Pumpkin, here is my credit card.” So when my husband gleefully told me Bruce Springsteen was coming to Australia, I put on my married face and booked the tickets. I will freely admit that I was not a Bruce fan at this point in time. But BOY OH BOY am I one now. I read in an article “10 Reasons I Hate Bruce Springsteen” that any Bruce fan to whom you mention that you are not particularly fond of The Boss will respond that you can’t make this call unless you’ve seen him live. I have to whole-heartedly agree.

Last Monday night saw me arriving at the Allphones arena in Sydney and taking my B reserve seat. Hotdog and mid-strength beer in hand, I was fully prepared for the boredom which inevitably comes with seeing someone perform you don’t really care for. Shockingly, however, from the first strains of “American Land” I was enamoured. I literally had to hold back tears as the lights came up on Bruce and the E-Street band; it was just so damn stirring. I could feel the bass deep in my sternum, the brass section filling my ears and Bruce’s rugged, handsome face broadcasting a heart-warming smile to the stadium. Ah, Bruce. I now truly believe in the notion of love at first sight. His flavour-savour immediately made me regret all the times I had mocked Nick for his own stylish facial hair decisions, the deep crow’s feet etched into his face only giving more credence to the heart-wrenching, comical and stirring lyrics he sings. By the time he was crowd surfing the audience, he owned my Hungry Heart.

Looking around the stadium I could see that the feeling was well and truly not limited to my one little self. The audience, which was conspicuously sans-hipster and amazingly, missing the usual plethora of mobile phones – held high above the head recording the moment to be savoured at a later date – all appeared to be as smitten as I was. Even with the tiniest tilt of his head or wave of his hand, the crowd was under his control. And how could you not be? Bruce is like a god. The giant screens which hung high above the audience focused on Bruce’s face, making it all too easy to imagine I was sitting in a stadium somewhere in Middle America in 1983, not 2013. Either by design or just by some quirk of the lighting, the shadows which fell across The Boss’s face took years off him; the imperfection of his nose, the thickness of his hair and the glimmer of his eyes revealed him to be someone in their mid-thirties, not someone almost twice that. So I felt myself fall straight down the rabbit hole landing in a deep infatuation with a man who is forty years my senior. He moves around the stage staggering slightly, almost as if the legend that is “The Boss” weighs heavily upon him. Each time he lithely breaks into a dance or swings from his mic stand, he delivers on this legend, more beautifully and delicately than I could have imagined. I am occasionally distracted by what I think is the audience voicing their dissent – and then I realise they are simple saying “Bruce”. It must be difficult being a rock star with a name that is incredibly similar to the word “boo”.  

The kicker, though, is this. His inner beauty far surpasses his tight jeans-and-waistcoated-sexiness. Throughout his performance he constantly singles people out; giving a smile, a nod, a wave or a point, undoubtedly touching thousands of individual lives as he moves about the stadium. It is amazing to witness one individual having such reach, spreading unbridled joy throughout a stadium which holds 21,000 people. “Dancing in the Dark” became my new favourite song as he pulled an audience member onto the stage and held her tenderly in his arms; I have never been so overcome with jealousy. Every single woman in the audience swooned, those who didn’t were either lesbians or asexual.

Even writing this, I am still in some sort of shell-shocked state. Bruce turned a few of my fundamental beliefs on their head over the two nights we went to watch him. Upon returning home I knew we had to go back, “this can’t be the last I’ve seen of him” I thought “we had a connection!” So we purchased tickets for his final Sydney show and hopped back on the train to bask in the glory of his Friday performance. We were not disappointed. While he failed to play Born in the USA on Monday (a fact which I had lamented all week) he delivered right at the end of his epic final performance. Now, I usually loathe the type of Americana which makes those born in the States feel compelled to constantly remind us of this fact. However, this song is in a whole other dimension to even Simon and Garfunkel’s “America” or Lenny Kravitz’s “American Woman”. Springsteen’s rendition of this iconic song encompasses some sort of stirring magic usually reserved for only the best national anthems. There’s something in the way he delivered this song, like it wasn’t his, like it was all of ours. And to be fair, it kind of is. A shared history of war; a camaraderie we forged in the jungles of Vietnam and the difficult and unrewarding return home shell-shocked and broken, ties the Australian people to this histrionic hymn almost as much as it does the Americans. Every intake of breath and soul-shaking note sung conveyed this to us and bonded us more closely, uniting every audience member. The fact that he so rarely plays this, the best known of his hits, only solidified the impression that we are as special and important to him as he is to us.

As his three hour performance drew to a close, I felt like my favourite character in a novel was dying. “Don’t go!” I silently screamed. In that moment I felt I would never be the same again, how could this man who I have so recently come to love be walking out of my life, just like that? The house lights came on and I urged Nick not to leave immediately. Maybe we could see him one last time? I desperately wanted just one more glimpse. And while these sorts of hopes are dashed more often than not, again the almighty Bruce refused to disappoint. He emerged from beneath the stage and stalked towards us, handing out picks and signing autographs along the way. One fan even dropped the pick he was thrown and Bruce made a point of picking it up and returning it to him, ahhh, what a hero. He stopped right in front of us, a look of glee gracing his strapping features as he spied a young boy immediately to my right. A brief word to the security guard and he returned with a harmonica for the lucky young’un. The goodness that is at his core continues to give me goose bumps. “See you later” I called as he strolled down the hallway that lead backstage and out of my life. And I pray to God that I do, because until I am in his presence again I really will feel like something is missing. That essence of Bruce. That Springsteen magic. Those very specific tingles which can only be evoked by THE BOSS.  

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