PERTH 1: The NEW American Resistance

To commemorate moving from my Broadway writing back to E Street, here’s a Sound of Music inspired question that wracked my brain in the weeks leading up to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s Australia/New Zealand 2017 Tour:

How do you solve a problem like touring without a newly released album?  

Here are the answers that I came up with, in ascending order of which I would’ve preferred to come true:

  • The River Tour continues to flow Down Under, specifically with a smattering of full album performances, especially in cities with multiple shows and small arenas (AKA Perth).
  • The final leg of The River Tour continues to flow Down Under, with a heavy focus on his cherished pre-Born to Run [1]
  • A Chapter and Verse/memoir inspired Tour, where the Band chronologically plays their way through material from Bruce’s entire career, with him intermittently sharing some stories from the memoir.[2]
  • Bruce may have not released a new album, but dear god did America give him some hardly comprehensible material to respond to post-River As such, he’d craft setlists on this tour similar to his recent White House performance, comprised of songs that implicitly comment on how Trump’s ascendency – and, crucially, everything it may represent – affects Bruce’s seemingly antithetical conception of America.

As always with the Boss, he surprised by managing to incorporate a smidgen of each of these ideas – some more than others, thankfully, which will be what I predominantly focus on here – in the first concert of the tour at the relatively small Perth Arena in…well…Perth, Australia, where else? 

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Let me explain that “thankfully:” as much as I would’ve undoubtedly enjoyed any of these proposed concert structures, I obviously prefer the ones that really deviate from his past shows. More than just valuing spontaneity, I desperately yearned for Bruce’s exceedingly insightful musical voice to shed some much-needed sanity on the lunacy of America’s 2016. Mind you, this is in no way a dig at Trump; even his most ardent supporters must admit his Presidency defies all reasonable expectations based on the country’s political history. As much as I love “New York City Serenade,” I just couldn’t be as excited at the prospect of Bruce rehashing his strings-aided opening performances instead of being inspired to devise totally new setlists that speak to the current state of the world, which he did end up doing in his post-speech ‘Resistance 5-Pack’ (more on that in a bit).

But this is why I was so surprised that very same opener actually elicited tears from this gradually-increasing setlist curmudgeon shortly after Bruce, the Band (sans Patti[3]) and the strings section took the stage – flanked by the sort of large, personally beloved rear-screen customarily only reserved for their stadium shows – at 7:55pm. More than just due to the otherworldly acoustics perfectly punctuating every word of the heartbreakingly beautiful story of “New York City Serenade,”[4] I couldn’t help but be touched not only from thinking about the Down Under fans who may have waited their entire lives and even given up hope of ever hearing this rarity, but also by the notion of how inconceivably amped the members of the orchestra must have been at the opportunity to share a stage with one of the mightiest, most legendary bands of all time. If the recent lack of setlist diversity persists, I shall try to continue to keep the experience of others in mind when evaluating these shows, because I’m obviously well aware that I’m one of the few this phenomenon affects.[5]

Luckily for me – and, given what happened, the entire world for that matter – Bruce followed up this stirringly heartfelt serenade with…a speech? When a block of text unexpectedly flashed onto his Teleprompter next,[6] I figured his memory has gotten so bad that he now even needs assistance with his perfunctory introductory greetings to avoid another Detroit 2009 incident. O, me of little faith! Instead, he transitioned into one of the absolute highlights of my entire Bruce-going life. Here’s the full text, which I’m thankful someone else recorded because I found out the hard way the difficultly of listening and typing while basically weeping of joy:

The E Street Band is glad to be here in Western Australia. But we’re a long way from home, and our hearts and spirits are with the hundreds of thousands of women and men that marched yesterday in every city in America and in Melbourne who rallied against hate and division and in support of tolerance, inclusion, reproductive rights, civil rights, racial justice, LGBTQ rights, the environment, wage equality, gender equality, healthcare, and immigrant rights. We stand with you. We are the New American Resistance.

As succinctly brilliant as that may sound, the effect of merely reading these words – though it helps elucidate their harmless yet all-important content – does not capture the urgency of how Bruce uttered them. Luckily, here’s a video of Bruce’s most powerful performance of the whole night:

After Bruce built his way to “The New American Resistance” climax, I literally almost hopped on stage to joyously kiss the man, Courtney Cox style. Leave it to the Boss to coin a simple term that should become the new official name for the current, yet both historically old-ish and pressingly new-ish progressive movement.

Before all of you Trump supporters angrily close this page and send me even more hate mail than I already receive from perturbed Bruce fans,[7] note how I used the phrase ‘current progressive’ movement as opposed to the ‘anti-Trump’ movement. I’m sure countless media outlets will cover this speech not with a focus on its content but with headlines like “BRUCE SHITS ON TRUMP AND AMERICA!!!” – which will no doubt wrongly incite Trump supporters to criticize Bruce for bashing his country and current President to a largely foreign audience[8] – but note how Bruce took a page from Michelle Obama’s book by never directly mentioning Trump’s name. Like the marches he referenced, Bruce wasn’t attacking Trump and he wasn’t even remotely attacking America; rather, he and the marches were responding to the abhorrent beliefs and behavior that Trump’s reckless rhetoric has inspired in some, and for what the intolerant concept of ‘Trump’s America’ has come to represent, potentially erroneously given the fact he’s only been in power for less than one week.

To those upset with Bruce’s own act of resistance, please read what he said again and tell me which part you find offensive. What specific sentiment do you disagree with? Because from where I’m sitting, he simply stated the sort of America he wants to live in, and I have a hard time believing many would disagree with his vision. Sure, we may fight over the best ways to make that ideal America a reality, but Bruce purposefully didn’t go into those types of details, nor did any of the marches. Instead, they were peaceful celebrations of what they believe America should become; their actions can only be considered resistance against what they believe Trump wants to revert America back to, as epitomized in his sadly iconic campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again!”

 “The NEW American Resistance” is such a disarmingly fitting moniker partially because of how it subtly reveals the fallacy of Trump’s longing for the past. In a way, resistance is more American than any of the virtues Trump promotes. Resistance is in the blood and soil of America, starting with its founding in the Revolutionary War’s resistance against Britain through the Civil War, the outrage over the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, right up to today’s Black Lives Matter movement and now the New American Resistance. Bruce has always conveyed his deep understanding of this aspect of his home country, which is why the ‘NEW’ portion of that name is so critical. The best way to Make America Great Again is not by returning to the past, which is A) not possible in any area of life, and B) a classic example of wrongly glorifying history, which is exceedingly dangerous given how many pervasive problems humanity has overcome (I’d love for Trump to name a specific time he believed America was ‘great,’ because I bet I could list off a litany of societal issues far worse than today’s that plagued his ‘ideal’ era).

The actual best way to Make America Great Again is to honor its history not by impossibly reverting to it, but rather by learning from it – adhering to what worked better, avoiding what didn’t – and progressing all of the above into the present and future in new ways. America has never and should never become a country of people willing to idly sit back, shut up, and patiently hope that its leaders take her in their preferred direction. No, America has always been about endlessly fighting for what we believe the country should become, and ensuring that each and every one of its citizens – regardless of any of their differences from the norm – has the right for their voices to be heard in this Great American Debate.

If the more negative voices are considered unpatriotic, then I guess I don’t want to be a patriot. But Bruce taught me through “Born in the U.S.A” that true patriotism is loving your country so much that you refuse to ever become complacent with her. “Born in the U.S.A” is not an anti-America song, as many people came to believe after realizing it was in fact not a HOO-RAH!!! anthem. Rather, it is an anti-America’s-role-in-the-unjust-Vietnam-War song. As such, it is also a highly patriotic song, for Bruce felt the need to tell the world how he believed America had strayed from the country it was born to be and the type of country he wanted to believe he was personally born in. He probably viewed the song as the sort of civic duty available to artists with big platforms in their attempts to make America – the country we all love so much – a better place to live. Leaders serve the people, not the other way around. And if people believe their leaders are veering too far from the preferred course, then they not only have the right but the duty to speak up and speak out. How is that unpatriotic?

Unfortunately, “Born in the U.S.A.” came too late to impact the Vietnam War, which was long over by the time the song was released. It of course still served the purpose of learning from history so that we don’t repeat our past mistakes in the present and future, but there’s no doubt Bruce would’ve given anything to put “Born in the U.S.A” in a time machine to send it back not to during the Vietnam War, but before it. The most effective resistance is not reactive but proactive, which is why Bruce and these marches felt the need to proclaim their ideal vision for America now, not after waiting to see if Trump is as bad as many believe, because by then it would be too late.

Oh, and for those wondering when these progressives – NOT liberals, because believing in the importance of America progressing should be a virtue held by all, regardless of what side of the political aisle they reside on – will ever shut up and be happy with America and just stop resisting, the answer is – as it should be – NEVER, because we all know there’s no such thing as Utopia. The day American citizens become totally happy with their country will be the day America dies, because complacency has always been death. Once we accomplish one tangible short-term goal, we’ll move on to the next, and so on and so forth, always adhering to our long-term goal of Making America Greater Again and Again and Again and Again and Again. Constant fighting for what you believe is not easy, but in the words of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America – one of the most seminal works of art, um, ever? – this is the Great Work of America.

And you know who’s spent his whole life dissecting the difficult necessity of hard work, in addition to writing about people who feel a desire to run away from their current conditions but may not actually know where the road they’re running on will take them but they still run anyways because they just hope it’ll be better? Bruce Fucking Springsteen, that’s who. He knows we will never case the Promised Land, but that doesn’t make running on the road that leads us as close as possible to it any less futile. One of the reasons I so wanted Bruce to implicitly comment on the current state of America in this tour’s setlists is because he’s basically been writing about this sort of movement – literally and figuratively – since the start of his career. To put it simply, “we’ll keep pushing until we’re ALL understood, and these Badlands start treating us ALL good” may be old lyrics – written when Trump believed America was Great, perhaps? – but with these few new alterations of the past, they could serve as the rallying cry of the New American Resistance.

And for those who bemoan the lack of a unified vision in these marches: welcome to America, a Land built on the synthetic importance of democratic dissent. To remix the lyrics to another song played in Perth: we may not know exactly where we’re going now, but we know we won’t go back to a less progressive, and thus less Great America Again. Marches are less about where they’re heading and more represent how our unknown but fantasized future comes into being by taking one small, concrete, tangible step after another, ala the literal steps the marchers took. This was an opportunity for a community to come together and express their dissatisfaction at the route it looks like America is about to take. And like the transcendent communal experiences of E Street Band concerts, it’s always about the journey, not the ever-elusive destination.

So no, Bruce did not take a dump on President Trump[9] in Perth, nor did the purest of the marchers around the world. Stating that they were about him A) feeds into his highly dangerous obsession with popular attention, regardless if it’s positive or negative, and B) is a disservice to the far more wide-reaching perspective of this activism. Bruce’s speech and these marches were not exclusively about Trump; they were about America, and all of our roles – including Trump’s – in shaping what she becomes. We’ll only resist Trump if he tries to silence us from shaping this country we all love so much (ESPECIALLY if he tries to silence our beloved Boss). As long as he ensures America takes care of all of its own people – which he has thus far not shown a willingness to do in his words – we’ll have nothing to resist.

Sorry for this extremely long tangent from the actual setlist – you may not remember, but this piece did at least start as a normal show report! – but I felt the need to share my thoughts on this matter because I’m truly a believer that E Street Nation – and the American nation – must encompass all sorts of people, as long as they’re tolerant of the rest of the nation, which is a very easy ask. Bruce’s speech should have in no way upset anyone in that nation, because he was simply talking about issues he’s repeatedly addressed in many of the songs I’m sure even his most politically critical fans adore, some of which he proceeded to play post-speech in what I’m dubbing the ‘Resistance 5-Pack.’[10]

Before I move onto writing about those – oh yeah, I’m continuing with the normal(ish) show report, baby! Thousands of words don’t scare me! Writing about Mr. Four Hour Concert Man should always honor his love of excessive length! – I just wanted to thank every single person around the world (including the Checkered Shirt Girlfriend![11]) who made your voice heard by participating in these marches. Even if your individual voice wasn’t heard around the world, you added to the communal presence that was undeniably felt around the world, including by one of our greatest living artists…

…which he once again reaffirmed by constructing a ‘Resistance 5-Pack’ of songs that deftly showcased just how often he’s explored themes and ideas as relevant today as they were when the songs were first written, and they’ll continue to be forever. Bruce understands that though history is progressive, it’s also cyclical, and the same universal forces and trends that changed history in the past will come back to do so again in the present and future, much like the continued, persistent importance of resistance. That is what bestows upon well-observed art the greatest of achievements: timelessness.[12]

Following up his speech with “Lonesome Day” – released 15 years ago – backed up this perspective. A seemingly infinite number of people have felt as lonesome, isolated, scared, desperate, and unsure of the future as many Americans feel today. And yet, all of these previous generations have made it through the dark times until the light of the sun rose again, as it always does. Check out this middle verse:

“Hell’s brewin’ dark sun’s on the rise

This storm’ll blow through by and by

House is on fire, Viper’s in the grass

A little revenge and this too shall pass

This too shall pass…”

Note the importance of the final repetition. America may feel shrouded in darkness at the moment, but this too shall pass, and when it does, well, it’ll be alright, it’ll be alright, it’ll be alright, YEAH (cue the crowd raising their arms in the air in solidarity). That parenthetical may have seemed like a pithy aside, but it actually relates to one of the most profound messages of the subtext of Bruce’s decision to play this song after the speech.

Most fans know that “Lonesome Day” is about September 11, a tragic event even Trump’s most vehement opponents would agree was indescribably worse. Since the American people successfully persevered through that tragedy – including those who personally lost loved ones, which is true for many of the characters that populate The Rising –  they should serve as an example to us all that upholding our ideal vision for this country and resisting regression should be a walk in the park in comparison.

It’ll still be difficult, but we should adhere to the ideals established by America post-9/11, which Bruce contributed to both on the album and in his subsequent concerts: the power of community, of coming together in musical, joint ecstasy not as like-minded people but as infinitely varied individuals rallying around our shared yet differentiated but always inextinguishable humanity. If 9/11 couldn’t break our resolve, and – as Bruce has made crystal clear since his passing – if death couldn’t take Clarence and Danny entirely away from the E Street Band, then you better damn well believe no one can take America away from the people. The best way to solidify this sentiment is by following the lead of how our forebears survived: by showing strength in numbers, as Bruce does at every concert and as the marchers did all around the world.[13] Is it really a lonesome day if you’re surrounded by similarly lonesome people?

Yet to convey that this wasn’t just a 21st century phenomenon, Bruce next went back to the 1970s with “Darkness on the Edge of Town.” Though most would not consider this an overtly political song but rather an intensely personal one, Bruce long ago mastered exploring the inextricable relationship between the personal and the political. He understands the political conditions of an era unavoidably shape the personal lives of everyone living in that time period, so by delving deep into the personal dimensions of his characters’ lives, he can’t help but touch upon their political implications. Note how the final, seemingly personal verse – by far the most pertinent portion of the song to the themes of this ‘Resistance 5-Pack’ – begins with a focus on innate wealth disparity, a political issue with personal ramifications:

“Some folks are born into a good life

Other folks get it anyway anyhow

I lost my money and I lost my wife

Them things don’t seem to matter much to me now

Tonight I’ll be on that hill ’cause I can’t stop

I’ll be on that hill with everything I got

Lives on the line where dreams are found and lost

I’ll be there on time and I’ll pay the cost…”

Once again, Bruce is using the past as an example of how everyone can always find the courage to stand up for their lives, even if it seems like some life factors are taking away their inalienable right to live. Many Americans – particularly not straight, white, men – feel disenfranchised and isolated from society due to Trump’s rhetoric; they’re living in that proverbial darkness on the edge of the town that allegorically represents American society. Yet much like the character in this song, they’re not going to stop, and they’re going to march to that hill with everything they’ve got. They’ll be a cost – for example, the vitriol subsequently spewed at many of them – but their passion should never waver, which Bruce orally and aurally captured with his song-concluding yelp that was so impassioned and so sustained that I wouldn’t be surprised if it was heard all the way back in America.

Even though Bruce lightened up the mood with the next two songs, they were just as socially conscious as the previous two. The title/chorus of “No Surrender” obviously pertains to Bruce’s belief that people should never give up fighting for what they believe in, but the song also reiterates Bruce’s commitment to the necessity of communal friendship in facing life’s woes through lines such as – which foreshadowed the real rarity miraculously and emotionally played later – “We swore blood brothers against the wind / I’m ready to grow young again.” The wind can be interpreted as the aforementioned life woes that we must all fight against.

I included the next line as well in that lyrical quote because it epitomizes the most profound connection the song has to the New American Resistance. “No Surrender” is of course a song of youthful recollection, and “I’m ready to grow young again” sounds an awful lot like “Make America Great Again” in that both express a desire to go back to a simpler time. For both, the past represents a more black-and-white, and thus much more manageably comprehensible world. In the words of “Blood Brothers” – “the real rarity miraculously and emotionally played later:”[14] “What once seemed black and white turns to so many shades of gray.” For Bruce and the country, maturity comes with an understanding of the infinite shades of the universally subjective grey of life, that which adults must perpetually wrestle with for their entire lives without any hope of – to use one of Trump’s favorite words – “winning.” Bruce has long been about exploring the answers to life’s unanswerable questions.

Trump, on the other hand, seems to think he knows the answers to everything, and the answer to America’s current predicament is: let’s just go back to a simpler time, when America was Great for white, wealthy people like Trump, when a far more homogenized, majoritarian America could easily believe they were better off while ignoring the large portions of this country suffering exponentially more than they do now. One of the key differences, however, was that those marginalized communities simply did not have as many platforms to voice their grievances. Just because much of America wasn’t aware of their problems does not mean they didn’t exist, and trying to shush up these dissenting voices now – besides just being painfully un-American and thus, yes, unpatriotic – will not bring the country back to a seemingly more peaceful time. Genies don’t go back into bottles.

And this genie shouldn’t; America takes care of ALL of our own, and we won’t know how to take care of each other if we don’t listen to each other by ensuring everyone’s voice can be heard equally. The ironic part about all of this, of course, is that America was founded upon this idea. To truly Make America Great Again, we must follow the lead of the writing – NOT the slavery/misogyny-filled lives – of our Founding Fathers to, yes, take care of our own.[15] Even if people don’t look like what you imagine an American to be, they’re still an American because there is no ‘American’ look except one of infinite diversity; America has always been and always will be an immigrant nation.[16] Let’s remember the quote that adorns the Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Lady Liberty is undoubtedly the ultimate symbol of freedom for those entering America,[17] and freedom relies on every voice having the freedom to be heard.  That’s the promise we swore we’d always remember, and we should never retreat nor surrender from our vow to defend it. Bruce’s decision to insert this constant tour staple into this portion of the setlist enlightened these dimensions of the song that I never would’ve realized otherwise.

The same goes for “Out in the Street,” which I must admit felt like the end of the Resistance portion of the show when it first started. What place does such a fluffy song have in serious matters?! Bruce soon made that clear by emphasizing, “I’ll be waiting for YOU…out in the street” – oh, he’s talking about the marchers going out in the street to resist! But the song was also an implicit defense of Bruce’s willingness to touch upon serious, political subjects in his otherwise blissful concerts, which he’s already been criticized for doing in Perth.

In the same way that the personal and political are in an inextricable relationship, so too is the fun and frustration of life. Bruce understands that no celebration of fun is complete without also factoring in the frustration of life that makes those fun moments that much more fun. “Out in the Street” may sound as fluffy as cotton candy, but it is in every way a response to the mundanity of working class life, and the desire – or perhaps even need – for people to temporarily escape the mundane. Concertgoers may attend one of his shows to escape the depressing aspects of their lives, but Bruce offers something far greater: a chance not to forget life’s frustration, but to make sense of what role it plays in the parts of life we do enjoy. Even in Bruce’s seemingly pop-iest moments, he always has one foot deeply grounded in the reality of life, which makes the pop, well, pop that much more.[18]

Similarly, Bruce also understands how all of his words and actions during a concert comment on each other. By virtue of following his speech, these songs were able to adopt new meaning, breathing fresh life into these tour staples, none more so than “Lonesome Day,” a song that’s been overplayed for anyone who’s attended multiple shows since The Rising Tour but here felt as essential as ever. The ‘Resistance 5-Pack’ may be the best recent example of how imperative it is for Bruce to shake up his setlists, which clearly does not even require playing different songs; playing them in a different order or even just introducing them differently is all it takes to interpret them – and thus make them feel – anew. Plus, the new ideas that these songs imparted in this context also allowed the rest of the setlist to be analytically enjoyed through this lens.[19] Without the speech, these five songs would’ve been just that: five songs, as opposed to the ‘Resistance 5-Pack.’

Which, by the way, ended with a rare mid-set appearance of “Land of Hope and Dreams,” a song that so embodies Bruce’s conception of America I don’t feel the need to explicate how it does any more than I already have. Remember: we don’t know where we’re goin’ now / but we know we won’t be back. Uninformed people could very easily read all of the song’s lyrics and believe they were written in response to Trump as opposed in the 20th century[20]…and that’s why the world so desperately needs Bruce’s musical, political voice at this – and really every, but ESPECIALLY this – juncture of history. Seemingly tempestuous, kneejerk reactions are not the best way to resist because they can too easily be labeled as excessively short-sighted. Yet by Bruce utilizing words written well before anyone could’ve even conceived of Donald Trump being President, his sentiments adopt a certain air of timeless legitimacy. Bruce’s speech was as much about Trump as any of the songs played in the subsequent ‘Resistance 5-Pack.’ The speech was spoken and these songs were played in response to Trump, but at the end of the day, they’re about America, the American Dream, the Great American Debate, the American Experiment, the Great Work of America, etc.

As long as Trump abides by these concepts in office, there will be nothing to resist. But so far, his rhetoric has opposed them, and if his Presidency follows his words, then you better believe that Bruce, the E Street Band, E Street Nation, the American Nation, and the entire goddamn world will do whatever it takes to ensure America continues to resist any impediment to its march of progress into the future. Consider these marches, Bruce’s speech, and the subsequent ‘Resistance 5-Pack’ to be a sort of warning shot, a harmless and always welcome proclamation from the American people of what they want America to be and to become. The American Dream will not be thwarted for anyone by anyone, and I can’t imagine many Americans would disagree with that dream. 

If Bruce wants to still be one of the true voices of America today, then he needs to keep building off what he started with his speech and the ‘Resistance 5-Pack.’ The ideas pondered within definitely affected how I interpreted the remainder of the setlist – for instance, during “Spirit in the Night,” I couldn’t help but finish “Can you feel the spirit…” with “of the resistance?!” – but the rest basically followed the same structures as the final shows of last year’s River Tour. Obsessive setlist gripers will no doubt complain about this – and if it continues, I probably will as well at some point out of spoiled fatigue – but I was just too ecstatic to be back in the arms of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, especially since they turned in near impeccable performances, not missing many beats as if they hadn’t just stopped touring for a few months, and Bruce’s voice was in as fine of form as I can remember. 

The only other setlist deviation from the norm was of course the fourth ever concert appearance of “Blood Brothers,” given a breathtaking solo acoustic rendition here. It clearly wasn’t planned because the performance was prompted by an organized group who distributed signs for it all around the Pit to honor the memory of a member of E Street Nation who recently passed away. Some of the first words Bruce uttered on stage last night were literally, “Let’s see if I can work that one out later” after spotting the sea of signs. And yet, if you read the lyrics, they seem to comment on the same themes I’ve already dissected ad nauseam, as previously noted.[21]

And that’s what has long made Bruce a voice of America; he understands how to convey everything from the relationship between the personal and the political, the fun and the frustration, the seemingly oppositional yet interrelated dichotomies at the heart of the country’s mission, and above all, its complicated history, present, and future. In times that defy reason, we need genius minds not to guide us back to the road of reason, but to show how we’re still on that road, even if we may have temporarily lost our way. Everything is connected in life in a sort of ordered chaos of universal interrelatedness, and only a few have the capacity to make sense of all these connections for the rest of us. Bruce has that gift, and we’re all so lucky he decided to share it with the world in Perth. 

And yet, to take a page from his book, we must always criticize what we love so that it becomes better, even if it’s already the best. As much as I loved the speech and the ‘Resistance 5-Pack,” simply rehashing it for the rest of the tour and never adding to it will be – as odd as it sounds – a disservice not to me, not to the fans, but to the world. Since Bruce has always valued honoring history by paying tribute to it while also changing it – “The NEW American Resistance” – he similarly needs to change up his socially and politically-conscious message every night to keep making new statements. And the only way to do that is by changing the order of the songs, picking new songs, and introducing them in different ways. Luckily, he has an almost unlimited number of songs to choose from, almost all of which contain some form of enlightenment regarding the state of the world today. 

For instance, Bruce barely even touched upon much of the questions I’ve wanted to ask him (if only) regarding Trump, namely how Bruce’s entire existence has almost become a dissonant paradox because of him. How does Bruce, the progressive person, come to terms with the fact that Bruce, the empathetic artist, has spent much of his life trying to share with the world his understanding of working class people, many of whom opposed Bruce’s personal progressivism when voting for Donald Trump? So much of Bruce’s music features characters that crave to better their lives, but simply do not have the resources to do so. When they do try, they often end up hurting themselves even more, though Bruce always finds the silver lining in their troubled quests. How is Bruce coming to terms with basically this separation of his self, which perfectly reflects the rift that has formed within America? By delving deep into his catalogue, Bruce can prompt all of his fans following his setlists from around the globe to think about America, the world, and their lives in new ways as opposed to his and their same old routines.

I’m well aware that I’m basically drowning in pretentiousness by this point – which calls to mind one of my favorite responses I’ve ever received to this sort of writing: “Sometimes, a concert is just a collection of songs, for fuck’s sake” – but I do really believe a person, be it Bruce or one of his fans, can change the world by changing how we think about the world through his music. Like so:

 On a dark day shortly after September 11, Bruce was walking along the boardwalk at Asbury Park trying to make sense of the world. Another person was doing the same, and when he spotted Bruce, this random individual had the courage to walk up to him and say, simply, “We need you.” Bruce responded with The Rising, an album that helped the entire world make sense of their shared loss.

I’m not naïve enough to believe that Bruce will actually read this, and I’m incapable of saying anything simply. But even so, I – and I’m sure many others – are currently once again struggling to make sense of what the world has become. Bruce’s speech and the ‘Resistance 5-Pack’ allowed me to remember who we are, how we got here, who we want to be, and how we get there. For the first time in quite a while, I recognized my country that I love so much, and it finally once again felt like the home I’ve always considered it to be, and that it has still not stopped being. New music would of course be preferable, but for now, stretches like these will provide so much, much-needed catharsis.

Bruce: I, E Street Nation, America, and the world need you.  

 

 

FOOTNOTES

[1] A necessary qualification to this ranking, one that many of you will find offensive: IN NO WAY am I implying that I like Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. and The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle more than The River. Quite the opposite, in fact. After watching diehard fans lambast the predictability of the first American leg of The River Tour but then not do the same when the final leg was just as predictable – only with The River being replaced by basically the same nightly stretch of songs from the other two aforementioned albums – I concocted this theory that some fans may conflate their adoration of the first two albums with their long-held desire to experience many of the songs performed live after chasing them for their whole Bruce-going careers, which does not hold true for me given the relatively short time I’ve been on Earth. And yet, if the decision is between being guaranteed the same 20 songs in the same order night after night after night, or most probably hearing most of the same 10 songs in mostly the same order night after night after night, I’m going to choose the latter 11 times out of 10 even if I enjoy the songs less because that’s how much I value spontaneity on E Street, thus the reason for this ranking. It’s just so smart of me to have my first footnote of 2017 result in many of you in all likelihood wanting to rescind my fan credentials due to a downright lack of taste. C’mon! The River is my favorite album of all time! Cut me some slack, here!

[2] These would be stories, NOT excerpts. The best way to kill a concert is to start reading from a freaking book during it.

[3] Apparently, Patti helped organize a march in Asbury Park. If that’s the case, A) there’s very few better reasons to miss a concert, and B) why didn’t Bruce mention that?! Unless she wanted her involvement to be anonymous, which clearly didn’t work.

[4] The acoutics were so good that they deserve their own footnote. Seriously, some of the best that I’ve ever heard…

[5] Though I must admit that even when I wasn’t going to many shows, I still enjoyed following setlist differences from show to show, and I was – embarrassingly – disappointed whenever they were static. Yes, I know I’m far too weird for my own good, so you don’t have to tell me that!

[6] Which I saw thanks to the aforementioned rear stage screen!

[7] Note: I always respect their passion, so I don’t really mind. With that being said…please stop.

[8] Though this would undeniably be an unfortunate development that obscures the universal resonance of Bruce’s words, I am nevertheless absolutely giddy at what Trump might Tweet about this whole situation, ala the recent Hamilton fiasco.

[9] Sorry, I just had to…IT’S TOO EASY.

[10] I hope you now understand why I would vehemently reject the moniker, ‘The Trump 5-Pack.’ Also, that makes me imagine Trump with a 6-pack…and like…no.

[11] Trust me, I’m as tired as anyone with the whole Checkered Shirt…thing (though to the person who came up with “Checkered Shirt Jerk,” you’re my Dad’s hero), thus the reason my old costume has been retired for this tour. But I just wanted to reference it one more time because my girlfriend will be appalled at being associated with what has become a loathed symbol of her boyfriend’s perpetual absence. THAT’S WHAT YOU GET FOR HATING BRUCE. P.S. I love you, and will be home soon(ish). And yes, I’m very aware there’s approximately a 0% chance she reads this far – that’s what I call having my cake and eating it too. And while I’m at it, let’s just go ahead and make this the longest footnote ever with an unnecessary clarification regarding the Checkered Shirt: truthfully, contrary to popular opinion, I never wore it in hopes that Bruce would recognize me; I’ve had my time with him, and now others deserve that same opportunity more than I do (plus, I’ve always been much more interested in interacting with Bruce’s art as opposed to Bruce himself). I wore the Checkered Shirt so that that FANS would recognize me and come up to talk to me because I love chatting all things E Street. But since many seem to have the wrong impression of why I really wore it, I decided to stop. So now if you want to find me at a concert, look for the goofy looking kid wearing a soccer/football jersey. I’ll still be making a fool of myself, because I know no other way to be…

[12] True story: I recently wrote about this very subject but through the lens of theatre, which you can read here. Was that a shameless plug based on the fact that almost none of you have kept up with my non-Bruce writing? In the immortal words of Fargo’s Marge Gunderson: “Oh, you betchya!” I spent so much time on those pieces! Show them some love! Please! Is it weird to ask readers to digest more of my excessively lengthy writing in the middle of an excessively long piece? Oh, you betchya!

[13] By the way, due to the fact – not an alternative fact, AKA a lie – that marches took place in every. single. state., can we do away with the notion that progressivism can only be found in the liberal coastal bubbles?

[14] Quoting my own writing from the previous paragraph, for the win!

[15] This kind of reminds me of my experience reading the memoir; the persona Bruce has created for himself in his written lyrics and subsequent performances is quite different than the person he may actually be in real life. Same goes for the Founding Fathers. And yes, I’m aware it’s unfairly anachronistic to judge them based on modern beliefs that have so changed since they lived, but still. Where were the Founding Mothers?! The term ‘Founding Father’ is in fact a great way to explain to people the meaning of systematic disenfranchisement. Since most of our societal systems were basically created by straight, white, men FOR straight, white, men, it’s not hard to see how many of them benefit straight, white, men over others, thus the reason they need to be resisted in the form of amending them.

[16] Hamilton: “Immigrants (aka Americans), we get the job done.” Though some have labeled this Broadway phenomenon as reverse racist for reverse-white washing, the whole idea of the casting is to emphasize the point that our Founding Fathers were immigrants in their time. As such, the performers’ skin colors are those still commonly associated with immigrants. If I convince one of you to think about theatre differently because of these random mentions, then they will have all been worth it, so expect many more in the weeks ahead!

[17] Also, xenophobes should try to remember this was a gift from the French. Buy American and Buy American, and yet perhaps our most famous landmark is a product of another country, and all of our founding documents were written by a bunch of British blokes. Never forget America is a global experiment based on the ideals of the greatest societies that preceded her, which is why the French-created but America-inspired Statue of Liberty is such a fitting welcoming presence.

[18] For those who clamor for Bruce to stick to rock and roll and leave politics behind: rock and roll has ALWAYS been political – the very form started as musical rebellion against conventional, archaic norms, which is inherently political. But also, are you really complaining about a one minute speech? Even if Bruce decided not to sing and just testify for four hours, I’m a big, big, BIG believer in artists having free reign to give their audiences whatever they want to (thus the reason I will endlessly defend the Hamilton cast speaking truth directly to power in the form of Mike Pence). You’re paying to see Bruce Springsteen, which means he can literally do whatever he wants and it’d be justified. You’re of course free to subsequently stop buying tickets to his shows, but I think that’s the best solution, NOT dictating what Bruce should and shouldn’t do (though I’d imagine very few would stop buying tickets based on a one minute speech). Complaining about Bruce speechifying when you didn’t pay for that is akin to people who complain about not hearing “Born in the U.S.A” at every concert because that’s one of the few songs of his they know. Bruce has the right to do whatever he wants, and you have every right to tell him to fuck off and stop attending. But personally, Bruce has always been my greatest source of making sense of life – his concerts included – and what so much of the world craves right now is making sense of what the hell is happening in America socio-politically.

[19] Oh believe you me, I reeeeeally want to break down how aspects of each song fit the resistance theme, buuuuut I think we’ve all had our fill of exegeses for one day. For those interested, I’ll include them in the subsequent post I’m planning to write that will be filled with the sort of mundane performance notes that are the bread and butter of conventional recaps. OH YEAH I HAVE MORE TO SAY…somehow and sadly. But in all seriousness, if you’re A) still reading this, and B) not my mother, I would take a bullet for you.  I love you so, so, SO much. You too, Madre.

[20] Bruce did change one lyric, specifying that this train also carries “immigrants.”

[21] Some of you may be upset at how little I focused on this momentous performance for diehard fans, but it so pales in comparison to the significance of what Bruce had done earlier.

 

 

SETLIST

  1. New York City Serenade
  2. Lonesome Day
  3. Darkness on the Edge of Town
  4. No Surrender
  5. Out in the Street
  6. Land of Hope and Dreams
  7. Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?
  8. Growin’ Up
  9. Spirit in the Night
  10. Lost in the Flood
  11. Kitty’s Back
  12. Incident on 57th Street
  13. Rosalita
  14. The Ties That Bind
  15. Darlington County
  16. Working on the Highway
  17. The Promised Land
  18. American Skin (41 Shots)
  19. My Hometown
  20. Candy’s Room
  21. She’s the One
  22. Because the Night
  23. The Rising
  24. Badlands
  25. Blood Brothers
  26. Born to Run
  27. Dancing in the Dark
  28. Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
  29. Shout
  30. Bobby Jean
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5 thoughts on “PERTH 1: The NEW American Resistance

  1. Anonymous

    I read it all Steven and I’m not you mother! Is there a prize? 🙂
    Certainly brevity is not one of your virtues. I was marching with Leanne and Britt and a group of friends in NY so I was delighted with Bruces’ statement . When i saw the setlist I didn’t really put together the “resistance 5 pack” although looking back at it through a different lens I see your point.I,too hope that the campaign rhetoric was just that and when he actually has to govern it will be different. We still must be vigilant.
    Didn’t mean for this to be a political response but it is in the “air”.
    On a lighter note i really,really, really wish that someday I get to hear Blood Brothers.
    Enjoy your time in OZ.

    Like

    1. Your prize is eternal love from yours truly – hope that’s enough! My appreciation goes out to you and your family for actually helping to make America even greater. And yes, I totally agree – all resistors must say ever vigilant, including our boy Brucie!

      Like

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