EVERYBODY'S GOT A HUNGRY HEART
by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- At first it was, "Oh no, Bruce, no." This is no way to hear your music.
My friend Sheryl and I have endured a lot of stadium concerts in our day - the Rolling Stones, U2, Dave Matthews - but even though Bruce Springsteen can sell out a stadium in a matter of minutes, on August 2 it just didn't seem right.
The huge new Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., littered as it is with corporate signs for such rock-and-roll items as toothbrushes and aluminum, is antithetical to what Springsteen's music is about - rebellion and fighting for your own individuality and humanity against the corporate machine.
"He's going to do his best to make it work, but still..." Sheryl said.
"We're a long way away from barefoot girls sitting on the hood of a car," I said. "Oh no, Bruce. No."
First of all, we found that our $75 tickets didn't include parking - the Kraft family apparently wanted to squeeze another $30 out of us. So we U-turned, parked at a motel lot about a mile away for half the price and hiked back in.
As we approached the stadium, the walkways and ramps were so high that the people moving about on them look like ants. I felt I had entered a science fiction movie and was shuffling with all the other drones into some kind of a huge cold space ship.
Even passing through the gate was an ordeal, because - who knew? - my canvas tote didn't fit into their small wooden box. "The bag has to fit in easily," I was told when I tried to stuff it. Finally I put on all the clothes I was carrying - the sweatshirt in case it got cold, the raincoat in case in rained - the bag fit, and I was allowed inside.
Inside, the place proved so overwhelming that just finding our cramped seats gave us the illusion of safety from the vastness. Even though we had tickets on the 50-yard line, the stage was very far away.
Fifty thousand people roared as the band opened with "Adam Raised a Cain." Since we couldn't see the musicians' faces, even with binoculars, we watch them on television screens.
"It's just like their HBO special, only louder," Sheryl said.
It took the better part of an hour for our environmental alienation to wear off - a tribute to Springsteen, who remains at heart a working-class hero. With sweat pouring off his face and onto his hands, he drove his band hard and put everything he had into every song. When he did "Candy's Room," the ultimate Springsteen "chick song," Sheryl and I were thrilled.
He chose to do a lot of songs from "The Rising," the album he recorded in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Back then, Springsteen was the only artist (where were you, Bob Dylan?) who internalized the pain of that terrible day and put it into music that helped the healing. Those songs still resonate today.
When he started an acoustic version of "Empty Sky," backed only by his wife, Patty Scialfa, who provided haunting harmonies on lines that rip your heart out - "Blood on the streets/Blood flowin' down/I hear the blood of my blood/Cryin' from the ground..." - most of the men around us got up and went for beer; their wives and girlfriends used the opportunity to chat.
They only paid attention again when the full band reappeared, doing "Workin' on the Highway" in a zydeco mode, with Clarence Clemons playing washboard, and then "Badlands," and then breaking into the Bo Diddley backbeat of "She's the One." That's when Springsteen ran halfway across the stage, dropped to his knees and slid across the rest of it.
"He's been doing that for years," Sheryl said. "Why hasn't he shattered his kneecaps?"
At that moment Springsteen grabbed the mic stand, turned himself upside down, and wrapped himself around it. It's something to see, isn't it, when one man's joy in his music and his friends can elevate an entire stadium? But when he couldn't get any higher, when his beautiful soul was completely exposed, and when the audience was out of its collective mind, I became afraid.
This is the time, I thought, when someone in the audience with a gun can end Springsteen's life and achieve eternal infamy. Or maybe something worse can happen. I began scanning the sky, suddenly needing to see fighter planes in formation flying overhead.
We're living in a dangerous time, a time of enormous vulnerability combined with false security, a time in which our president has sacrificed our safety for a faux-war in Iraq that was decided upon long before he took office, long before Sept. 11, and on which billions of our dollars are being spent instead of on preventing another attack at home. Having one lone man, Saddam Hussein, on the run should not make us forget how terrifyingly unsafe our world has become.
Dedicated terrorists could have taken a plane or two from nearby Logan Airport - as they did on Sept. 11 - and dived into this crowd of 50,000 exposed, dance-crazed, Bruce-happy people. Our only protection was the kind of minimal security more concerned with my bag of clothing or whether I was smuggling in booze to deprive the concession owners of their contracted profit than about the possibility that I was wearing a belt of dynamite around my waist. Listening there to the "heart-stopping, pants-dropping, music-making legendary E Street Band," we were sitting ducks.
Interesting, isn't it, that in my moment of greatest pleasure I felt most vulnerable to attack? But nothing happened except that Springsteen elevated the stadium further with rockers like "Mary's Place" and "Racing in the Streets." Then he went back to songs from "The Rising" and the guys in front of us went back to get more beer.
After three hours or so, however, all my thoughts were gone and Sheryl and I were dancing in hyperspace, that strange and beautiful and unknowable place that is reached only through the sheer joy of great music.
So I will be seeing Springsteen and the E Street Band again and again, whenever I can get tickets, even in stadiums that make me feel tiny and way too vulnerable. Yes, Bruce, oh yes.
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.