Bruce Springsteen ended his US tour, full River album performance in Brooklyn last week. It was quite a journey.
The story goes that when the River box set was released, Bruce and his manager Jon Landau discussed doing a few shows performing the double album in its entirety. Bruce thought, “Why not do twenty?” Jon broke into an affirming smile and it took off from there. E Street Band members soon began reshuffling their own schedules and The River Tour 2016 was officially announced. Someone asked Nils Lofgren when did he first learn of the tour? To which Nils replied, "probably the day before you did". That's life on E Street.
But life is what The River is about. Bruce chose to bring this masterful work to the forefront today because it’s a reflection on life as he once saw it. And now it was time to reflect back. As Bruce said in many of his show intros, The River was a record where he was trying to see where he “fit in the broader community”. He had taken notice of the things that “bond people to their lives; work, commitment, and families”. And in writing about them, he hoped to get closer to them in his own life.
The River is everyone’s journey. I was fortunate to be part of the shows and witness this first hand. As I communicated with others throughout the tour I learned so much about how we had all grown and how the themes and the stories contained within The River were also our own. As Bruce reflected back, we did as well. From across the country, I was hearing from friends old and new who were being knocked out by what they were witnessing. It’s one wide, transcendent community, the community of Bruce.
A community is defined as "a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.” The lives we’ve lived and the times we’ve known are the same inspiration for his music. Our own histories are what he shares with us. From this commonality, over time a massive community has grown. And despite the numbers no one feels alone or separate.
But it wasn’t always like that. For some, it was once a small and even somewhat guarded secret. If you were from New Jersey or were witness to him in his earliest years on the East Coast, you felt you were in on something no one else knew about. But you couldn’t explain it. When I first heard Bruce and became involved in is music he was playing local bars in 1974 around Boston and Cambridge. When I moved to California that summer I brought his music with me. But who else knew? No one. He was an unknown. How I wanted the world to know his music and experience what I had seen and heard. In late 1975 a performance was finally announced for the Paramount Theatre in Oakland. I rushed over to the theatre box office to make sure I was in line to get seats the day they were available. It was no problem. I was the only one there. I was dumbfounded. Would the world ever find him?
A few years later I was back east visiting my family and on a bus one morning heading into Boston. I am gazing out the window and I’m hearing the chatter and cajoling of a group of pre-teen girls at the back of the bus. I’m trying to discern what the fuss was about. They’re giggling, teasing each other and just having fun. They start to sing. They’re getting louder and louder and I turn slightly in their direction when I recognize the song as they hit the refrain. And as if on cue, they turn to each other shouting/singing in unison …“TRAMPS LIKE US, BABY WE WERE BORNNNNN TO RUN”
I turn back to my gaze out the window and a smile comes over me. I thought, yes, he’s arrived. And then it hit me. He was no longer our small community’s much-cherished secret. It was time to let him go and give him to the rest of the world to enjoy. So they too could become part of the community; the community of Bruce.