On September 14, Bruce Springsteen and E Street Band completed the River Tour in Foxborough, Massachusetts at Gillette Stadium. On August 30th, the Band finished their three-night run at MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands, in Bruce's beloved home state of New Jersey. I was fortunate enough to be there each night with the rest of "E Street Nation," (the name for the community of people who love the music of Bruce Springsteen).
On the first night, August 23rd, Bruce set the North American record for his longest show ever. It was an incredible 3 hours and 52 minutes long, during which he and the band played 36 songs. Two nights later, he broke that record and played for 3 hours and 59 minutes (34 songs). On August 30th, the third and final show, he broke his record yet again, playing for 4 hours and 1 minute (34 songs). (He broke the record again on September 9 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at Citizen Bank Park at 4 hours and 3 minutes (33 songs). His world record was set on July 31 2012 at Olympic Stadium in Helsinki, Finland at 4 hours and 6 minutes (33 songs). The show also included a 5 song Pre-Concert Acoustic set, which was not included in the record holding time.)
It was not just the length of the New Jersey concerts that made those nights utterly magical to me; it was the fantastic music and the passion of this amazing man. A Bruce Springsteen concert moves me completely, both emotionally and spiritually, providing true moments of pure elation. What I really love about the Boss (Bruce's famous nickname) are the themes of redemption, introspection and transformation within his music. These themes thoroughly resonate with me, as they are reminiscent of the Prophets of the Bible, who also critiqued their world for its moral ills. Bruce sings and speaks out about those who are often marginalized in our society.
The timing of these concerts, just prior to the Hebrew month of Elul, was also very meaningful to me. Elul immediately precedes the Jewish High Holidays and serves as the preparation period for this important time of year. It is the month to start thinking about the issues of repentance: how to improve oneself, how to better the relationships with people in our lives, how to get closer to God and how to fix the world. Attending these shows was an essential part of my own personal preparation. Many of his songs have deep social messages so it was hard to choose only a select few to reflect upon here. It is likely that some members of E Street Nation will feel that I have left out an important song, so in the words of the Boss himself, "Bring on your wrecking ball!"
Perfect Transition! "Wrecking Ball" and "Badlands" both speak to the challenges of life, and how as individuals and as a community we can face those burdens head on. This reminded me of the of saying by the great Chasidic Rabbi, Nachman of Breslov, "One has to know that a person must cross an exceedingly narrow bridge, and the principle and the essence is not to frighten oneself at all." (Liqqutei Moharan 2:48:1) During this period before the High Holidays, like many people, I am reflecting on personal and world problems. There is nothing wrong with this. On the contrary, there is everything right about this. However, we can have a tendency to allow this reflection to devolve into obsession. Both Bruce Springsteen's music and this statement of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov teach us that we cannot be enveloped by the difficulties of life.
"Independence Day" deals with the age old conflicts that can sometimes exist between parents and children. "Hungry Heart" and "Brilliant Disguise" parallel "Independence Day," as they discuss the struggles often found in romantic relationships (although "Hungry Heart" does so with a much more melodic tune). As Bruce sang these songs, I thought about how in the repentance process during Elul, we need to start making amends with those who are closest to us. As Bruce demonstrates in these songs, it is usually the people we love the most who present us with the most challenges.
"Death To My Home Town", "Jack Of All Trades", "My Home Town", "Youngstown" and "The Ghost of Tom Joad" force us to confront economic issues and how they have affected so many Americans. "American Skin (41 Shots)", was inspired by the killing of an unarmed immigrant from Guinea named Amadou Diallo. Four New York Police Department plainclothes officers fired 41 shots at him, and the song has come to represent issues of minorities, police, and their use of lethal force in the United States. These songs keep me keenly aware of the Jewish approach to social justice, Tikun Olam, repairing the world.
"Born To Run" and "Thunder road" hit us very powerfully with the theme of a journey, like God saying to Abraham in the Bible "Go for yourself to the land that God will show you (Genesis 12:1)." Just as Abraham's journey is both physical and spiritual, Bruce Springsteen sings of transcending not only location but also the challenges of life.
"The Rising" is one of Bruce's many songs that honor those who gave their lives to try to save others on September 11. It tells the story of a New York City Firefighter who climbed one of the towers of the World Trade Center, after it was already hit. I would describe this song as well as other songs from the "The Rising" album as prayers for a Yizkor service (a Jewish memorial service that is performed on Yom Kippur and certain other Jewish holidays) for September 11.
There is something intangible about Bruce's music, which helps display his personality in a very spiritual light. He sometimes speaks like a preacher, enrapturing the crowd in the experience. A Springsteen show also contains tangible righteous acts. Bruce always invites local charitable organizations to his concerts and encourages audience members to donate to them. He has been involved in benefit concerts and often gives people the opportunity to sing or dance with him on stage during "Dancing In the Dark." These fans are totally diverse; they may be children, middle-aged people, seniors (including his 90-year-old mother Adele Springsteen), men and women. He hugs them, puts the children on his shoulders and assists those who need a little extra help getting on to the stage. He is a true mensch (a good and kind person).
These concerts have given me a tremendous start to my High Holiday prep. I am now much more focused on how I can better myself and the world, and I believe that anyone who chooses to reflect on these issues could find similar messages in Bruce's music. My prism is the texts of Judaism. While I have found the "Stein" (so to speak) in Bruce Springsteen, I am sure that people who are coming from other points of view will find different ways of processing these same ideas. He has created a complete American universalist theology, combining acts of kindness and charity, with a liturgy that is sung and played to some of the greatest music ever composed.