Last night I came across a Springsteen concert on TV. I think it was on Palladia, a channel I don’t usually watch. Not sure what concert or which tour, but I know that Clarence was still alive. I stayed to watch and listen for a while because I’ve been a Springsteen fan for at least 30 years.
I first saw him in concert with my husband during the Tunnel of Love tour at the Spectrum in Philly in March of 1988. It was magical. Everything they say about Springsteen concerts is true–they go on forever; Bruce and the band seem to enjoy performing as much or more than the audience enjoys watching, and the audience is tuned in on a level that defies description–you truly do have to be there. I clearly remember calling in for those tickets (before the days of online ordering), and even though I started calling immediately–as soon as tickets went on sale–I could only get two seats–separated by two rows–in the peanut gallery, as they used to call it. Turns out it didn’t matter though. While we were separated from each other and far from the stage, we were surrounded by the show and joined in a way that made the physical distance from the performers and each other irrelevant.
I saw him for a second time, again in Philly and again with my husband, this time at the Wachovia Center in 2007 for the Magic tour. Like the first time, it was magical, literally and figuratively. Almost 20 years had gone by, and the show was every bit as captivating as the first one. It was a joyful experience. This time, we were close–we had seats off the left corner of the stage, almost behind the stage, but not quite. I remember thinking that 20 years hadn’t changed the magic of Bruce or the magic of sharing the experience with my husband. This time we got to sit together.
The third time happened three years ago–2009–in the Hershey Park stadium during the Working on a Dream tour, this time with my husband and our three kids. We wanted them to experience a concert of this caliber with an icon of rock and roll. His music was a soundtrack of sorts to much of our adult lives. We wanted them to know why. Just as the music was a part of our relationship, it was a part of their childhood, too, since it was playing regularly in the background of their lives. This third show was, at the risk of being repetitive, magical, even as we recognized that everyone on stage moved just a bit slower than before, and we had to acknowledge that our kids weren’t seeing the band at its peak, although the performance was nonetheless stellar as always. It was our first Bruce concert in an outdoor venue and a beautiful evening in every way bringing together perfect weather, soulful music, and family bonds.
I recently read a wonderful profile of Bruce in the New Yorker: “We are alive: Bruce Springsteen at 62.” It’s a long piece but worth reading if you’re a fan or even if you’re just curious about this man who’s been around forever. And he hasn’t just been hanging around living off his reputation; he’s always writing new songs. That sets him apart from some other iconic bands of his generation that no longer make new music but simply reunite from time to time for nostalgia’s sake. He’s not satisfied to rest on his laurels. He’s still looking for the next hit or at least to make the next connection to his loyal listeners or in a way as to engage a fresh audience.
Love him or hate him (it’s tough, but I do recognize that not everyone is enthralled as I am with the person or the music), I contend that the following elements, among others, keep Springsteen on top-
He is first and foremost a storyteller
I think what I love most about Springsteen songs are the lyrics. He is a poet. He always has so much to say and much of what he has to say tells a story.
He keeps evolving
He is not content to live in the past. He makes new music and continues to move forward.
He mixes the old with the new
He is always making new music; however, he never forgets where he came from and the songs that made him who he is today.
He gives it his all
I’m sure at 62, he doesn’t always feel like giving 3 hour concerts anymore, but he does because people expect him to, and he doesn’t want to disappoint. He is not complacent.
He keeps ’em coming back for more
My husband and I have seen The E Street Band 3 times. He has loyal fans who keep coming back because they want what he has to offer and they enjoy the way in which he offers it.
He attracts new audiences by remaining relevant
He’s not satisfied with serving only returning customers. He offers new music with current themes in order to attract a younger audience as well as keeping their parents happy.
He doesn’t make excuses
He doesn’t let age or declining agility or loss or change define him.
He knows who he is–no identity crisis
I don’t think Bruce worries too much about what people think of him or his music. He’s very political, and he writes with unvarnished truth about tough subjects. I doubt he aims to be all things to all people.
I could make the obvious connection (or in some cases disconnect) between these elements of success and libraries, which also enjoy longevity and have endured. But if they’re obvious to me, then they’re probably obvious to you, too. Except for one, which is the first on the list and may also be the most important-
Jamie LaRue has often asserted that libraries and librarians should be storytellers—telling the stories of their own libraries, and more importantly, helping to tell the stories of the people who live in their communities. He advocates for content creation as opposed to (or in addition to) content distribution. Kind of like the difference between an artist who writes his own songs and one who simply plays covers.
It’s time for libraries to start writing their own songs.