Thursday, May 15, 2014

Springsteen Rocks Chocolate Town USA

The Fea Ladies enjoying the show
Let me begin with this:  If you have never been to a Bruce Springsteen concert you need to get the experience on your bucket list.  I don't care how old or young you are, the guy transcends generations like no other artist on the planet.

Last night at Hershey Park Stadium--the only stadium concert on the High Hopes mini-tour--he did not disappoint. Several veteran fans standing around me said it was the best Springsteen concert they had ever seen.  I can't argue with that because, as I see it, the last Springsteen concert one sees is always the best.  Springsteen and the E Street Band just keep improving.

It has been said before, but I will say it again.  A Springsteen concert is a religious experience.  It is a spiritual experience.  This was the topic of family conversation on the ride home in the car. We debated the definition of a spiritual experience.  What is spiritual? Can someone have a spiritual experience that does not involve the worship of God?  Is Springsteen's music Christian? (Of course all of these conversations took place within the bounds of our family's Evangelical Christian faith). At least it gave us something to do as we navigated the parking lot at Hershey Park Stadium, a place that has been hosting concerts like this for decades and has yet to figure out an efficient way of guiding cars toward the exits.

The concert was amazing.  The E Street Band was on fire.  It was a great night for guitar solos. Nils  Lofgren looked like a spinning top as he bounced around the stage during his solo on Prove It All Night.  This was the second or third time I have seen and heard Springsteen's powerful solo at the end of Lost in the Flood. But it was Tom Morello who really stole the show on guitar.   Morello's solo on the social justice anthem "Ghost of Tom Joad" (my favorite song of the night) was off the charts.  Not only did he play part of it with his mouth, but he also pulled the jack out of his guitar and played it (the jack) on his hand.  The Harvard graduate brings a lot of energy to the stage.  He is a welcome addition to the E Street Band.

Midway through the concert a rainy mist filled the air.  Springsteen adjusted on the fly with "Mary's
Two excited kids
Place" (Let it Rain) and "Waiting on a Sunny Day."  He also crowdsurfed his away through the 2000 member "pit" during "Hungry Heart."  Since we missed out on the lottery, we were standing in the back section of the pit.  Springsteen came out to see us a few times, which made my daughters go crazy. Both of them claim that they made eye contact with Bruce (and have a picture to prove it--see below).

As usual, I was enraptured by the entire experience.  It was not until I got home and climbed in bed that I began to reflect.  A Bruce Springsteen concert is a largely white middle to upper-middle class event. The parking lot was filled with some pretty expensive cars and SUVs.  All of those in attendance were able to afford the $118.00 ticket price.  The audience was filled with largely professional-types. I think it is fair to say that most of the people in attendance live relatively comfortable lives.
Though I live in a modest neighborhood, drive a modest car, and make a very modest salary, I would also place myself in this category of Bruce concert-goers.

I was thus struck by the inherent contradiction (hypocrisy?) of modern life that takes place at a concert like this.  I have lived in central Pennsylvania for twelve years now.  It is a very conservative place.  Our congressional representative, a Republican, often runs unopposed.  Assuming that most of the audience was from this region (I realize this is a big assumption--there were a lot of folks from Jersey in the stadium last night), I can't believe that anywhere close to a majority of them support Springsteen's left-wing politics or his songs attacking the way bankers and capitalists destroy home towns and shackle the working man in poverty.  Many of them are those bankers and capitalists.  Yet this does not stop Springsteen fans (myself included) from belting out, with much passion and at the top of their lungs, the lyrics to songs like "The Ghost of Tom Joad," "Death to My Hometown," or "Shackled and Drawn."

Bruce apparently made eye contact with my daughters
Of course Springsteen himself is the classic example of this.  He is a multi-millionaire who owns houses all over the country, spends most of his time on a secluded horse farm in New Jersey, and writes some of the most powerful social justice music of his generation.  I wonder how he handles this tension.

These are indeed difficult and important tensions to live. My hope is that the people who attended the concert were at least willing to think about them.

5 comments:

Jay said...

Epic! Great to see you guys connecting to your roots.

John Fea said...

Thanks, Jay! It was epic!

Devin C. Manzullo-Thomas said...

John: Maybe instead of teaching the course on Evangelicalism next semester, you should teach a course like "Bruce Springsteen and American Culture"! Thanks for this great reflective post.

John Fea said...

Devin: In 12 years at Messiah I have never taught a First Year Seminar. If I ever do, this will be the topic.

MSC said...

On whether or not there is such a thing as "Christian" music I highly recommend Harold M Best's book "Music Through The Eyes of Faith." It is like nothing you've ever read before - a very thoughtful theology of truth and beauty using music as his cue.